The Rose Petal
by Jordan Faber
Cars skim over the red-bricked street below my apartment’s veranda—schooling fish detouring around the ridges of a coral reef.
A sinkhole opened up on Hydraulic Avenue today, its depths swallowing a USPS mailbox. Wayward letters float through the streets, cling to arborvitae bushes. These papers’ lost words scrape against our city’s mortar.
The humidity carries a voltaic current. Layers of cool, dry air from Canada flow over damp sheets of warm air pouring in from the Gulf of Mexico. Behind my back, a news anchor on television says a tornado has been spotted south of here in Wellington. But all I can worry about are the ashes falling onto my potted roses, burning holes in their petals. Flecks of gray sifting down, embers smolder through their pale pink and yellow hips, green leaflets—honed thorns.
My fingertips are sallow, pale against a crimson petal I trace over. I blow away the ash, pluck it free. Burn marks pinpoint its velvety skin, freckles left by an unwanted kiss from the sun.
A man’s wrists hang out from the ledge of the veranda above me, cigarette flicking between this fingers. The pulsing sky is part aquamarine: the calm before the storm.
“Hey,” my salutation floats up, a balloon that I can’t reach to get back.
More snow-ash drifts down.
“You want to talk?” his voice is deep, crackled, suddenly cast down to me. The coarse words reel me in closer.
“Yes, my roses—”
“514,” the wrist disappears.
His door feels as hollow as mine. My knuckles rap against its pine laminate. Hinges grate together, announcing his gently pockmarked face, his rail-thin body.
“Seaborne Miller,” he gestures for me to come in with his lanky arm.
He wears a canary-yellow T-shirt with the face of a scruffy dog printed on it and the words ‘DOG WEDDING’ beneath the canine.
“Dog Wedding?” I break with my plan to speak only of my roses.
“It’s the name of my band.”
An industrial floor fan spins in a corner next to a gleaming, silvery drum kit. The wind catches its ride and crash cymbals so they oscillate in silence. He turns to look in the direction of my sight path.
“Don't worry. I play pianissimo,” he moves his hands in slight, percussive motions as though he plays holding feathers, hits faintly resonating.
My hair blows off my shoulders in this windstorm he has cultivated inside his apartment.
“Yes,” the word tastes sour on my dry lips. “You’re burning holes in my roses.”
I hold out my petal. He moves his thickly calloused thumb over the tendrils of its veins.
“Did I put holes in your roses, or did you put roses in my holes?”
His eyes are trained on my fingernails, their chipped seafoam-green polish. They are large eyes with light soaked, warm-honey colored irises.
My pulse speeds. “You put holes in my roses.”
He shrugs, throws his sinewy, muscled arm out into the space between us, beckoning me to follow him to his balcony.
The platform is as small as mine but vacuous. He has no furniture. He has no plants. He raises his hand out to the ominous, violet-spiked skyline, “Look, you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”
“We are too in Kansas.”
“Not really. This is Wichita. We’re in the big city now.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to treat my garden like an ashtray.”
“The whole world is an ashtray. You’re either stubbing shit out or getting burned.”
A pack of Marlboros sits on the ground. I pick it up. My fingers tremble.
A force from outside me presses against my hand. The nearly full pack crumbles inside the weight of my grip. Tiny amber bits of tobacco sift out, flecking onto my skin then floating down to the street. He watches as all the cigarettes fall to the road below with its drifting letters, trafficked rainbow of cars. I hand him the empty red and white pack with its gold threaded, clear encasement.
A lopsided smile sparks across his face. His shaggy, dishwater-blonde hair blows away from his eyes. The tornado on the horizon of our future pushes in.
“Now you’re getting it. That was stubbing shit out . . . you’ve got a flash of lightning inside your soul.” He inhales the air deeply, as though its molecules contain nicotine, “And now you’ve struck me.”
He looks at me. But farther than that, he looks into me, and I feel his solid gaze reach inside. His languid stare grasps my voice in my throat, holds it still.
“Did we just become a couple, Jane?” he exhales.
“Did we just become a couple, Seaborne?” I take a step closer to him; it feels like coming into shelter from the pelting rain of a sudden storm. The charred, crimson petal drops from my fingertips, eddying in the electrostatic air between us, “Or did a couple just become us?”
Jordan Faber is a writer based out of Chicago. Her fiction has most recently appeared in: FIVE:2:ONE’s #thesideshow, Deluge [Radioactive Moat Press], Bull & Cross, Dream Pop Journal, Lunch Ticket, and TIMBER. Jordan received a BA from Knox College in creative writing and an MFA from Northwestern University. www.jordanfaber.com