The man was old, older than old, and you could almost hear him creaking. He gripped a smudged red can and a faded lighter as he slammed the door behind him. The rosebushes crackled when he poured the liquid over them and went up in a whoosh of smoke, petals quickly fading grey. The man pulled his tattered hat over his ears, hunching his shoulders, and not just because of the autumn wind.
His steps sounded like hammer blows on the porch, and he slammed the door again. His worn jacket flapped once. The house was dark, but he knew every creaky board and rapid turn. Something was out of place. Something was not right. On the windowsill, behind the curtains…there it was.
He pulled the white fabric back, squinting in the harsh light. A rose. It sat in a jar, light shining through the water. Beside it sat a flowerpot, old and painted with quivery lines, filled with dry dirt.
“What?” the old man demanded.
His voice sounded like wind in the pines, like needles crunching underfoot.
“Good evening,” the rose returned in its musical tone. “She left me. She left for you, you see.”
A dark crevasse appeared in the man’s face, spreading into millions.
“I thought I got them all,” he said, and his branchy fingers curled tightly, “I don’t want you here.”
“May I suggest,” the rose said, “you put on your shoes, go up to the mountain, take in the view? Sometimes these things they change us, and when you return you find you’re more than you.”
The man wiped his nose, he put the can down. He stared at the floor, then put on his shoes.
“Maybe you’re right,” he muttered. “Maybe you’re right.”
The door slammed, and a gust of cool air ruffled the rose’s petals. The man came back with a bang. Two shoes hit the floor like gunshots, and his face was wound tight.
“Fool of a thing,” he murmured. “What could you know?”
“May I suggest you go again? Take in the view and feel the wind? Sometimes you come back and you’re not who you’ve been,” said the rose, gazing out the window.
One swipe and the flowerpot was gone, and dirt poured out on the boards like blood. He stood still for a moment, like an oak tree against a summer storm.
“I hope you’re right,” came the dull tone, like the wind picking up before the thunder; “I hope you’re right.”
Then he put on his shoes and tied the laces. Dust flew into the air as he tied the final knot. The door banged like a cannon. When he came back, dishes shattered on the floor. The rose fell to the floor in a shower of clear glass and water; then the storm went silent. The sky had already gotten dark, and the bedroom door creaked shut.
The rose lay there, breathing in the night. His footsteps sounded again in the moonlight, and bedroom slippers patted their way forward. The chair sighed as the man sat down, his figure stooped and curled.
“It’s not right,” he muttered to himself, spitting the words; “It’s not right.”
So the days passed, and the rose did not move. The rose watched the bedroom slippers making lines of agony on the old boards day after day. The rose’s petals began to curl at the edges, and the single leaf laid its head on the floor. Then the bedroom slippers didn’t come out anymore, only darned socks that had seen too many work days. The muttering got worse, and the socks moved to the windowsill often, standing in place for hours. The rose understood as the night fell and the moon came out one one last time.
“May I suggest,” the rose whispered, “you put on your shoes, go up to the mountain and look at the moon? Sometimes it takes one last try to find you.”
The man stared at the shoes in the corner. The socks disappeared behind a door, and the rose sighed. Another petal fell off, and the colors had gone grey. The rose took one last breath and accepted, giving in at last. So the rose did not see the socks inch their way to the corner, scared, but hopeful. The rose did not see the broken, cracked hands pull on the shoes and shuffle timidly out of the room. The door did not slam this time, no, it whispered shut with a faint click.
The man went up to the mountain. He craned his neck upward and looked at the moon. His withered lungs took in air, and the man, he looked at the view. Then he bowed his shoulders, curled inward again, and headed home. The door did not slam as the shoes came back off, and crooked fingers with split nails picked up a dead rose. The socks shuffled to the windowsill, watching over the night, but there was no storm. The man stroked the petals and laid the rose to rest, whispering, “You were right.”