(This story was in the final six shortlisted for the Swanezine 2011 Short Story Competition)
Blanche sat up in bed staring at the wallpaper opposite; at red roses playing on a pale blue sky, till they slipped out of focus and merged into a river of blood. Savouring sweet tea she closed her eyes and indulged in the warmth of the mug between her hands. Suddenly Matt stirred. Blanche flicked her eyelids open. Matt groaned. Blanche’s fingers gripped the mug. Matt turned … and his breathing resumed the rise and fall of waves on a sleeping shore.
As the sun streaked the sky early morning red, Blanch carefully placed her mug on the bedside table, lifted her legs from the bed and swore that one way or the other, by the end of the day, she’d have caught Matt red-handed.
“Where are you off to?” Matt’s voice muffled from beneath the duvet.
Blanche froze, dead still, her toes gripping the soft pile of the carpet. “I told you,” she said, “I’ve got a dental appointment in Exeter,” she lied.
“Hhmph,” Matt muttered and went back to sleep.
Upton Standing was always busy on a Thursday, even this early. It was Market Day and the wide, cobbled street in the centre of town thronged with stall-holders setting up stalls, shopkeepers hurrying to work and early morning shoppers searching for bargains amidst brightly coloured canvas canopies. Blanche fed on the scent of fresh baked bread, and herbs and spices dancing with the fragrance of flowers packed into deep green buckets. She paused at the flower stall, before scurrying into the book shop behind and positioning herself in front of a shelf. She pulled out a book and waited, casting constant glances through the window. Minute after minute ticked by, and book after book slid from the shelf in her pale hands.
The girl at the flower stall, dressed in crimson flowered frock and shoes with heels that would give Blanche vertigo, began slicing ends from the stems of cream coloured roses with the quick flick of a sharp bladed knife, before placing them artfully in a bucket. She looked as pretty as a rose herself, Blanche thought; a dark red rose with a rich red bloom caressing her cheeks.
Suddenly Matt appeared, wearing his pin-striped suit and a smile Blanche hadn’t seen for … oh … so long! Her breath stopped. He strode up to the flower stall. Blanche pushed her fingernails into the cover of the book gripped tight in her hands. The flower girl sliced the creamy head off a rose and smiled up at Matt, slipping it into his buttonhole. Matt bent to kiss the forehead of the thief who’d stolen his smile, and then bent lower to kiss her lips; her deep red lips.
Blanche’s heart pounded and the blood drained from her face. She pulled for air and grabbed the bookshelf. She mustn’t lose control; the control she’d clung to this last week of waiting; the week since she’d discovered the red rose in Matt’s lapel when he came home from work, late.
“What’s this?” she’d asked.
“A rose,” he’d said.
“Where from?” she’d asked.
“The flower girl in the market,” he’d said.
Blanche had seen the flower girl before.
Blanche eased herself from the bookshelf and forced her legs forward. Somehow she made it through the shop, outside, and on to the cobbled stones of the market place. But Matt had gone. She pulled a bunch of ivory blooms from a bucket, drew deep on their sweet perfume and approached the flower girl, still slicing stems, with the shadow of a smile still lingering on her lips and the bloom of love still kissing her cheeks. Blanche held the flowers out as if to have them wrapped in pretty pink paper, but her foot kicked out; quick-sharp and sudden, catching the flower girl’s stiletto heel and toppling her to the ground. She’d lost control. That was all. And high-heeled shoes and cobbles were never a wise combination.
Blanche bent, swiftly stretching out her hand. “Help!” she cried weakly, as the flower girl’s blood-curdled cry faded to a pale whisper, and a satisfying warmth seeped past the steel blade and caressed her fingers.
A crowd gathered. Matt rushed forward and stopped, his eyes wide but no words came from his gaping mouth. He fell toward the flower girl. Blanche reached out as if to catch him. And dark, red drops fell from her hand, splattering onto granite cobblestones like rose petals on tombstones, until they merged into a river of blood.