There were sirens in her voice. Not the come-hither-to-sailors kind. The duck-down-in-the-trench, scramble-headlong-to-the-shelter kind.
Too late for the scramble. He ducked.
Pansies, bluebells, gauzy-winged fairies exploded off the wall. Dropped in shimmering, razor-edged rain. Her rage was for him, but sheâ€™d always hated his motherâ€™s china.
â€œItâ€™s her, isnâ€™t it! That cow-eyed bitch at the florist! All those flowers, just an excuse! One red rose, thatâ€™s all I ever wanted. But you gave me lilies! Funeral flowers!â€
A tea-cup spat dainty shrapnel. He crouched, arms raised in surrender, as roses rat-tatted, leaving tearless wounds in the white wall. The unbearable sound of roses.
It had been an excuse, yes, to see Lena: not her comfortable, slow, body, but her soft brown eyes. Danâ€™s eyes.
Dan, pressed warm against him in the ghost-cold trench. Danâ€™s hand over his, pretending to adjust the angle of the gun with its entombed, silky deaths. One kiss in the night, one whispered promise: â€œafter the war.â€ Three words their path of hope across horror. Until the momentâ€”he always remembered it as silent; the breaking-china gun-chatter stilled to a held breathâ€”when Danâ€™s head bloomed. Crimson petals. A rose unfolding. Unthinkably, unimaginably, red.
Another cup. A fairyâ€™s pointed toes jigged down his cheek. He felt the polite trickle of blood, the delicate taste of rust at the corner of his mouth. Afternoon tea for the lost.
She deserved an explanation for his failure to love. For the funeral flowers that were not for her. And a small, mean, part of him wanted her to know how he could love: punishment for the blurred, slow-plodding years.
â€œItâ€™s not Lena,â€ he tried to say. But he couldnâ€™t tell about roses. So he cowered, unheard, in the blaring rain: a moth, wide-eyed in Hiroshimaâ€™s deadlight; a cricket chirping at Dunkirk.