GRACE

“GRACE”

It was the flowers he started with.

Brian left them for Analise on the kitchen island. He made no mention of her birthday. There is no card, just a bouquet of roses, fifty in all, one for her every year. Twenty-seven of the roses were white. Twenty-three, one for every year they had been together being red.

He liked the idea, it tickled his romantic leanings.

Analise lifted them gently. She cradled them, ran her fingertips slowly and with delicate care over the satin smooth petals.

Brian hid his smile. He kissed her good morning and left for work.

Tonight, he would take her to her favourite restaurant and they would be served a Barolo 1965 Grimaldi he ordered specially for the occasion.

Later he would play Foreigners, “Waiting for a girl like you” on the old turntable. And as Lou Gramm warbled on, they would make love, surrounded by candles and contentment the scent of Jasmin and rose filling the air, covering them like a sweet ephemeral blanket.

XXX

“How long have you been planning this” Gary asked as he sat across from Brian, chewing his lunchtime burrito very loudly.

“Including the time, it took to order the Barolo” Brian replied, “em, seven weeks and this morning.” He smiled. Tonight, would be a night to remember.

“Well eh,” Gary chuckled wiping copious amounts of guacamole from his beard, “good luck with that.” He chuckled again.

“Thanks, what does that mean,” Brian asked.

A lonesome renegade bean escaped Gary’s maw. It tumbled to the diner table before slowing, leaving a dark brown streak in its wake.

As he spoke, Gary dipped and hoovered up the bean.

“Nah, it’s great, that’s great. To be honest I didn’t know if you older types, you know.” Gary gestured with his condiment stained fist. Then seeing Brian’s confusion, he leaned in and whispered, “You know, aggressive cuddling, attacking the pink fortress, gland-to-gland combat, loading the clown into the cannon, opening the gates of Mordor.”

Brian winced. “Do you mean sex?”

“Sure” replied Gary with a sigh, glad the older man had finally caught on, “you know, putting the wand in the chamber of secrets.”

“Right,” said Brian, “but you sounded earlier like I was going about this all wrong.”

Gary muttered, “ayh” before pardoning the burrito and dropping its shredded remains onto his plate. “Look, I get it. A 1960 something drink, because she was born then, fifty roses and all that and the ancient shtupping music to get in the mood.”

“Ancient,” said Brian with a pout, “it’s from ’81, you troglodyte.”

“Sure” Gary continued, “1891 and all that.” He took a deep breath. “Listen. Do you really think she wants to be reminded that she’s old?”

“Fifties not old you asshat”

“Well it’s older,” said Gary. “Do you think she wants to be reminded that she’s married to an old man?”

“That depends” brain replied, “would you like to be stabbed with a fork?”

“Ok, ok,” said Gary raising his hands in surrender. “I’m only trying to help but if you don’t want any…” he let the words trail off.

The two sat in silence for a moment. Brian stared at his BLT, a single nibble taken from one corner. Gary ran a finger through the burritos guts and then sucked on it.

Brian closed his eyes. What if I am wrong, he thought. What if all I’m doing is reminding her of the passage of time? What if she doesn’t want to be reminded of past likes or fancies but wants something new?

He clasped his hands together and out of habit began rolling his wedding ring around the breadth of his finger. Once it fitted perfectly, a little loose perhaps, roomy. Now he needed effort to get it moving and wondered if by the time a mortician got his or her hands on him they might decide that a bone saw was the only way to remove it. Was he old? Were they old? No. but older?

Brian released a long drawn out breath before speaking. “Fine,” he said and opened his eyes.

XXX

Annalise chose the wild rose perfume. She chose the off-shoulder bow waist dress in light grey so that the red rose in her dark hair would stand out more, like a dash of colour in a black and white movie.

She loved the flowers, loved the silent kiss and the expectation of what the night would bring. It was so Brian to play the romantic. And so right, the kiss, the smell of roses, they lingered with her all day.

She wondered about their evening and settled on dinner at La Fête. It was sweet but obvious. To be fair, it is her favourite. Then maybe a dance, maybe a martini or two, or three, it is her birthday after all and home for a cuddle. Perfect. Fine flowers and fine food, fine scenery and booze make for a fine night but spending that night with Brian that makes all the difference. After fifty years of life and twenty-three years of marriage, Brian made all the difference to her.

She’s not expecting a call. Her family rang earlier in the day to wish her well and have a good time. She met her closest friends for lunch. Most had to go back to work after but her and a few planned the day off. So, when her mobile jingled on the bedside table, she instantly knew something was wrong.

With trepidation, she answered, “Hello”

“Is this Analise?” asked a gruff hollow voice, the kind that can turn like an air raid warning into a shrill squeal at a moment’s notice.

“Speaking, who is this?”

“Eh,” the other voice started before pausing, as if the man on the other end of the conversation was deciding to answer that or not, “a friend of Brian’s actually.”

Analise’s grip tightened on the phone, “is he ok, what’s happened?”

“Yeah” whined the man noncommittally, “he’s… fine, in hospital though. Thought I’d call.”

“Hospital? Where? How? Why?” a nerve skipped quickly beneath her right eye.

“Yeah” replied the man, “he should explain that. Yeah, that’s best. Did you know people can be allergic to ink?”

XXX

Analise raced to the hospital. She threw her fare at the cabbie and almost knocked over a man in a wheelchair as she made her way through the entrance. She got the number of Brian’s room from a stereotypically surely nurse and only avoided crashing into a gurney by slipping sideways into a closed door. But finally, thankfully, she found the room.

Brian sits on a bed. A tube leading from his arm makes its way to a bag hanging on a chrome wire skeleton. His face is red, his eyes too.

Beside him stands a wide younger man with a thick beard. He immediately turns away from Analise as she enters.

“Oh Brian, are you ok?”

“Yeah, sweetheart I’m fine. Intact even.”

Analise notices the bandage low on Brian’s arm. She eyes the stranger angrily. “What happened?”

Brian clears his throat. “I was worried that I wasn’t making enough effort for you, for your birthday and” he clears his throat again, “someone convinced me that I wasn’t being, huh, edgy enough so . . . I got a tattoo for you.”

Tears come to Analise’s eyes. “Silly man, I loved the roses, and I’m sure whatever else you planned was perfect. You didn’t need to do anything. You’re my gift.”

Brian smiles, winces, checks the bandage and grimaces. “Turns out I’m allergic to tattoo ink. The tattooist had to stop and here I am.”

“Can I see it?”

“Best not to sweet heart. It’s kind of a mess.”

Ignoring him, Analise lifts the bandage carefully. At first, the horror doesn’t compute. She’s taken aback by the raw redness of the raised skin. But then the image comes into focus. It’s two roses, one white and one red entwined. Beneath them lies a banner and in delicate swirls, it reads, “I love you, Analise”.

The idea touches her deeply but the laughter won’t stay down. It erupts, unbidden, horrible in the stillness of the ward.

Because it doesn’t say, “I love you, Analise”. Poor Brian never got that far and since he’s allergic to the ink he never will. Instead, and forever, he has two roses entwined and the words, “I love you Anal” scrawled deep into his skin.

v

A Little Extra

I have (at present) six tattoos. Each one has meaning, it represents something. Some are expressions of who I am and some are ways I have marked the birth of my children. I love tattoos.

People get them for all kinds of reasons, sometimes just for a laugh. But each one is a massive investment in terms of our bodies. And each one requires a tough choice because there is no going back for many.

And what if you can’t go back?