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A white rosebud makes a beguiling appearance
At last it was just the two of them. Marianne had assured the others that, no, she didn’t mind. She was happy to stay.
Often Marianne found it essential to lie, but this time it was the truth. This room, which was bland as a bedroom in a hotel, had a soothing quality. And since everyone had gone, the place was quiet.
The last words she’d heard him speak were ten days ago. That was on her earlier visit, during which he hadn’t once acknowledged Marianne. Her father’s silence wasn’t a surprise – it was something she was accustomed to. Even so he was quieter than usual.
Marianne shut her book. She got up and approached the bed. His head, propped with many pillows, was turned towards her. His mouth was open, as if he’d been struck by something he wanted to tell her and then changed his mind.
Suddenly it struck Marianne she might now say – or do – whatever she liked and there was no danger.
It was an unlooked-for gift
On the table beside her was a buzzer. Pushing it would spoil everything. But the gift was too great and Marianne had no idea how she might use it. She pressed the button.
‘There are things we need to do,’ they told her.
‘What things?’ Marianne wondered, but didn’t ask. They might reckon she was odd, discussing her over coffee and biscuits midway through the shift. Or while sneaking a quick cigarette.
‘Yes, of course,’ she said – and went to reception where there was a display of cards and crafts for sale, along with a shelf of old paperbacks.
Marianne looked carefully at each item, wishing she’d thought to ask how long the necessary things would take. In the meantime it would show the right spirit to buy something. But what?
Those painted stones were not too bad. Marianne picked them up individually before deciding the oval one was best. She liked how it grew warm, the way it fitted snug in her palm. Automatically Marianne reached for her purse, then realised she’d forgotten her bag.
‘I’ll be back,’ she told the receptionist.
As soon as Marianne walked in she saw they’d interfered. So that was what things meant.
His mouth was closed. They’d straightened him and pillows had been taken so he lay almost flat. They had brought in a rosebud, a white one – except rather than hunt for a vase they’d left it by his face. Marianne couldn’t think why.
Had they wished to suggest the man in the bed was a special bloom, a flower? If so, it was laughable. They didn’t know the first thing. Her father was brambles, ivy, a curved thorn.
Or was the rose meant for her? Perhaps Marianne was supposed to sit having fragrant, uplifting thoughts till the others came.
Soon her relatives would pile in and she must decide what to tell them. But the sun had moved and, in spite of the shut curtains, the room was stuffy. She couldn’t settle. Something – a voice almost – was nagging at her
Go to the window.
Cautiously she approached. What harm could it do, letting the light in?
The room looked onto a small courtyard, dotted with shrubs. It was the sort of place where people might drag out chairs to enjoy the weather. Someone could walk by.
And if they did pass, if they glanced in, what would they see? A visitor and a dim shape.
Still she hesitated. The absence of locks and catches didn’t mean a thing. There’d be a rule – same as there was for pillows and roses. It’s just Marianne couldn’t work out what the rules were.
The air was almost unbreathable. Marianne blamed the rose but having sniffed – she didn’t want to touch – it had no perfume. More of a sensation, really. Like when some winged creature, a bee, kept crashing against glass, desperate to escape.
Only the far-off buzz of a television. No insect. Even so Marianne opened the window.
And then her father was gone.