MY Specter of the Rose
Whether we are a filthy capitalist or a communist now so out of fashion like me, the real thing is that merchants have really spoiled our lives with that custom of having a perfect Valentine´s Day having all the possible gifts that your beloved´s wallet can afford, or if he or she chooses to give you something…and even if you´re poor I stick around. What would handsome Roman Valentine say, he who had the habit of marrying couples even when Emperor Claudius II had the macabre idea of forbidding weddings for his soldiers, if he knew that nowadays we are only in love on his namesake day and nothing more? Was it all in vain, getting killed for being a matchmakers, or wasn´t he aware that a marriage certificate is barely a free license that authorizes people to inflict the largest damage possible onto their spouses without any risk of going to clink for this? All these things were running through my head, through the patient and well-balanced head of auburn hairs, letting you know that the I is s Adrith Fourrel de Méndez, a fortyish teacher who still wears miniskirts because her husband is “updated” and her prodigy of a daughter looks like a Byzantine princess..
But that doesn´t allow me to keep my anger down when at lunchtime, I took out the gift for Valentine´s Day for my husband and he left the soup spoon halfway up to his mouth, staring at me in shame and with an idiotic look which is his trademark every time he realizes he is far from perfect. He almost choked up on the soup, and he reluctantly said he had not yet gone to pick up my gift . which was still being packed at a boutique. I almost died laughing. Boutique. I have never found anything pleasant about them, he wasn´t even able to bullshit properly. He should have rather told me that he would go by the bookstore to pick up my book, my gift, and it would have been more believable. I smiled like Mona Lisa-because poor Gioconda undoubtedly was a Renaissance woman at the mercy of her husband, a receptacle of pleasure-and I wanted no hassle. I had too many things to do. I had to be at the uselessly overexpensive school where I worked on the afternoon and evening shifts, and I wanted to get there early so I could write up a few reports. I faked as if it didn´t matter. It wasn´t any secret that all soups get cold, and that surely applies to marriages, even for those matches that were formed based on a hormonal pseudomagic provoked by pheromones in a state of insurrection.
Once at school, I updated my grades, printed a few English grammar exercises for my students on the 4 pm shift and I tried to digest the slight. It wasn´t worth dying for. At 4 pm, the 10 pre teenagers that I had in my level 11 class gave me a nice surprise. They brought an enormous cherry and chocolate cake, pleasantly heart-shaped, and a few cold beverages to celebrate Valentine´s Day. It was curious, these kids whom I had not given birth to, had remembered it was a day for love and friendship…After the grammar quiz, in which not all of them sailed with high colors, we had the little party.
Jordan Vázquez, my pet student and not exactly because he had the best score, as usual started to behave like a monkey, and he spilled his glass of soda on the hem of my dress. Y went to the ladies´ bathroom, which was 4 doors away from my classroom. After rinsing the hem with cold water and liquid soap, I tried to dry it up by turning one of those hand driers which make more noise than hot air by turning it upside down. I decided that it was useless to dry it this way.
One in the hallway walking to my classroom, I saw at a distance along the hall a figure. It was a man with a huge bouquet of red roses. He was wearing military uniform, he wasn´t very tall but he was brawny, with a muscled build that even Arnold Schwarzenegger would have envied. The uniform looked like one of those worn by soldiers during World War II, and he was wearing a poilu helmet like the ones worn then. As I approached him, I saw that he was very young, maybe around 24 years of age. He was swarthy, with fiery hair and stunning green-blue eyes. I had the impression of having met him ages ago, since who knows when. The man got closer and when he was only inches away fro me, he extended his arms to hand me the roses and he smiled radiantly. At this precise moment, man and roses disappeared into thin air. After a few seconds, I was still open-mouthed, and I managed to run to my classroom..
The students gaped at me, surprised.”Hey you didn´t see the devil himself, teacher!”-said Jordan Vázquez. Another of my students asked me,” Did you find the man, Adrith?”
“You guys saw him too?” I asked while seating myself at my desk..
“Of course, he came to ask us where you were, and we told him you were where the King goes alone,”quipped Almalila, the best student..
Jordan Vázquez approached me with suspicion written all over his face.”Hey, that guy is not your husband.”.
“Of course not, he is my father, ”I replied, recalling my father´s pictures of himself as a young man in the midst of the horror during D Day in Normandie..
Jordan Vázquez sat down next to me and took my hand into his.”Teacher, your dad died in the SAHSA plane crash at Cerro del Hule in Honduras in 1989, you told us yourself. Your mom died there, too.”
“But it was him. Ok, your parents don´t pay ir order to have me speak about ghosts. Let´s go to page 34 in the green book and let´s get down to business,” I concluded.
Concluded? Oh no! Not at all! At 6 pm when the class was over, I knew that the whole thing was far from over. I put my books into the bookbag and I got ready to go to another classroom, where I had a first level to teach to adult students in the shift that concluded at 8:30 pm. I was turning off the fans when Mayra poked in her round Little candy face. She was the chief charwoman.”A man was looking for you, first he came by the administration with the accountant, and he sent the guy over here. Did you see him?”
“Sure, Mayra. I saw him. Did you?”
Mayra slyly smiled.”It was impossible not to see him properly, how would I miss a handsome man, so reddish and hairy and with those eyes?”
“Well, don´t fash yourself. I did see him. Now I´ll go, I have to go and get these photocopies run before I enter the other shift. See you around, good evening, dearest Mayra.”.
Once in my other classroom, I tried to concentrate but couldn´t make it. My dad had had the custom of sending me roses on all Valentine´s Day, even after I had married. He used to tell me that every woman´s perfect man was only her father, and he wasn´t mistaken. He had promised that even after he died, he would come back for me. When he said this I would just keel over laughing, and I would tell him he was just a doting old fart, how was it possible that two materialistic and atheistic old communists like both of us would be believing in specters and clatfart? We didn´t even believe in gods, which was a socially accepted form of hysteria and collective deception..
The simple reality was that my husband had simply forgotten to buy me a gift and although I hated to admit it the idea really vexed me. Frankly speaking, the unique perfect love was the one coming from father, maybe because it had no sex included. Hormones were all to be blamed for this.
But it was really too much coincidence that the head accountant, the chief charwoman and 10 kids had seen my father in all his splendour, young and radiant as he was when he was the European sub champion for weightlifting. Wearing an Allied soldier´s uniform, as he was during World War II. And with 13 roses for me, as he used to give to me every Valentine´s Day. Collective hysteria? Mass delusions? Compensation coming through ESP? Your own husband didn´t even give you salt for a xocote and your father crossed over the Great Divide to bring you roses? Hey, dummy, you aren´t Tarzan´s Mom! I believed only in what I ate, wore and walked on.I believed in my salary because I always had i ton time. But I believed in nothing else.
When I got home, my husband and daughter were all dressed up to the nines.”We are eating out, even though it is almost nine, but it still is Valentine´s Day,”said my worried consort. I saw my daughter´s enthusiasm and I didn´t wish to disappoint her. It wasn´t worth it anymore. I accepted with a humility in which I didn´t believe, because I knew I was not going to forget and least of all forgive. I let out a sound that was more of a snort than a peal of laughter, I put my bookbag on my desk and I went with them to eat 5 blocks away from our house, to eat what they wanted to eat, not what I wanted to eat, of course. It was part of the mantra for family peace. Was it Emperor Tito, the guy who concluded the construction of the Colosseum which was begun by his dad Vespasian, who said “family sucks”?Greetings Tito. I chewed automatically, but I was satisfied. It was ironical, but the Perfect Man had crossed scores of kilometers of inexistence in order to cheer up my life with 13 roses.
Once back home, I brushed my teeth. I felt slow and heavy. I went into the kitchen to drink some cold water. After I shut the refrigerator, my blood ran colder than the freezing water I had just drunk. Poked into a blue Chinese vase, which used to belong to my grandmother, was a huge bouquet of long-stemmed red roses. 13 roses. As I was getting into bed I thanked my husband even while I knew that he would never do something like that.
“I didn´t bring them. At 5 pm they were brought here, without any card. I have no idea who sent them. You were at school teaching. I hope you liked the book I brought you.”
“Oh sure, although this is the first time I hear that books are sold at a boutique. Thanks. Well, good night, we have to get up early tomorrow.”.
The roses took a very long time to wither, one month. I still keep one of them, dry yet still odorous, amidst the pages of a World War II history..
Cecilia Levallois. Managua,7 de febrero 2006