He promised you a rose. And thus it started. You didn’t ask for it; you would have been quite fine without it, but he walked past you on the staircase one day and held your stare. That was nothing new. You were beautiful, men looked at you; it was normal. Then he walked up behind you as you looked at your favorite painting in the lobby, the one of the single red rose, and he promised to bring you a red rose, one almost as beautiful as you yourself.
A few weeks later he told you he loved you. You looked into his eyes and knew it was real. You’d spent many years looking for love, wondering what made you so unlovable. You changed everything about you, your clothes, your hair, the places you spent your time. You tried to imitate the girls with the social lives, hoping that if you were less prudish, more free, someone would love you. And they did. They came and you were amazed at their numbers! You thought you were happy until one after the other they took what you had to offer and walked out of your life, breaking your heart again and again and taking a piece of your dignity each time. Each time you had hoped it would be different but it never was and so as you grew older you retreated back into your shell and closed the doors. You decided that whatever had plagued your mother and made your father walk out on her and you and your sister so many years ago also plagued you and you, too, were impossible to love. You resigned yourself to fate.
But here he was, heaven sent, to make you feel wanted and needed and loved by a man for once in your life. It was a strange and welcome experience when he passed by your work one day, saw you talking to a group of your male colleagues and went into a jealous rage. No man had ever gone into a jealous rage over you and you savoured the feeling. And he went on to show the strong, manly side of him by forbidding you to spend time with them anymore. And the day you mentioned to him that your boss was taking you out to lunch to celebrate your promotion it gave you quite the thrill to see him seated a few tables down watching over you.
When you gushed to your sister about him and his romantic jealousy she didn’t seem as thrilled as you were, she said she thought he was too controlling. But you laughed it off. What did she know about men? She had been single for as long as you cared to remember. And he was handsome and romantic, generous with his time (of which he had little) and money (of which he had plenty), and since he spent whatever free time he had with you you knew he was faithful. A little jealousy and control was a small price to pay for that kind of love. A love you would do anything to keep, a love you were petrified of losing.
And then one evening he invited you out to dinner, got on one knee and presented you with a yellow rose around whose stalk was a diamond ring, and as your tears blurred his smiling face you knew your lonely days were finally over for good.
You had your first quarrel over the wedding date. He wanted to be married to you as soon as possible but you wanted to wait till your sister was back from her training overseas. You tried to make him understand that your mother had fallen apart and neglected you both after your father left, and your sister was for all intents and purposes the only family you had. He looked at you with pain in his eyes and said he was terribly hurt that you didn’t think of him as family. You could see the tears dancing at the corners of his eyes and you felt like an ingrate for throwing all the love he’d shown you back in his face like that. If you kept on acting like this, how much longer could he manage to love you? You begged him to forgive you and told him he could fix the wedding whenever he wanted: after all it was you getting married, not your sister. She could look at the pictures when she returned.
He wanted a little quiet wedding at the registry, with drinks afterwards at a local bar. You were afraid to tell him that you’d always dreamed of a big wedding with a big white dress and many guests. You guessed you should appreciate the fact that he was paying for it all and had allowed you bring a few guests of your own. Besides, it wasn’t all about the wedding; you just wanted to be his wife.
On the wedding night you sat on your side of the bed and he sat on his with his head bowed. This wasn’t how you’d anticipated it. You could tell he was sulking over something, but you didn’t know what it was. So you went over to his side and bent over him to ask “What’s wrong, my darling?” And when his hand shot out and struck you across your mouth you were more startled than hurt. You saw him reach for his buckle and instinctively knew what was coming. You weren’t able to hide your face before you felt the first crack of his belt across your cheek and neck and you could smell the blood before you felt the pain. Seconds passed and then the second blow landed across your back. And the third. And the fourth. And then they rained down as you scurried for a corner trying to protect your face. It didn’t help that you had started undressing and were in just your slip. From somewhere in the distance you could hear a woman screaming and crying and it took a while to realise that woman was you. And just when you thought you couldn’t scream anymore, the blows ceased as suddenly as they started but you remained curled up in a ball and you could still hear the woman whimpering. You felt rather than heard him leave the room and you knew you should hate him but that was an emotion for tomorrow; today you just cried yourself to sleep curled up in a ball on the rug in a corner of what should have been your honeymoon suite.
The next morning a sweet fragrance pervaded your dreams and you woke up to bright sunlight and a single red rose lying on the floor before your face and as your vision became clearer you saw him lying on the rug as well, face to face with you. There was so much love and adoration and concern in his eyes that despite the soreness you could still feel on your back and thighs and belly you smiled a little. You hurt pride tried to protest but you pushed it down. Love is patient, love is kind. You knew he wouldn’t hurt you for no reason: if he had had to hurt you it was because of something you had done.
He smiled back and helped you sit up. He had brought you breakfast. You didn’t want to be the one to bring up last night’s incident so you ate in silence while he watched. No one had ever looked at you like that.
When you were done he led you back to the bed. He used a wet towel to scrub the blood off your face and laying you on your tummy he rubbed oils on your sore back, it felt good. When he was done he slid his hands further down your body and between your legs. It was a mystery how the same hands that caused you so much pain could bring you so much pleasure.
When you were both spent, you simply asked “Why?”
He got up and began to pace. He said he was very sorry he lost his self-control, but he was driven to it by the love he had for you. “You see,” he explained, “Yesterday at our wedding you spent all the time with your guests, the girls from your office. Did you forget it was our wedding? Where was the devotion of a wife to her husband? But I was willing to let that go. After all you don’t know everything and as your husband it is my duty to teach you.”
Your pride tried to take umbrage at that: you weren’t a child that needed to be “trained.” But you pushed it down once more. Love does not boast, it is not proud. You weren’t going to lose this love, this new home, because of your foolish pride. You wouldn’t make the same mistakes your mother made.
“But then,” he continued, “As we were leaving you went round hugging everyone including my guests. My male guests. In my presence. And the wink David gave me when you left made me realize that you had allowed him touch things that are mine alone to touch! I’m sorry I couldn’t allow that to continue. I love you too much.” And then he stopped in front of you and knelt. You could see it in his face. He was begging and pleading. “Please, don’t ever make me do that to you again. I couldn’t bear it.”
You held his face in your hands and cradled it to your breasts. It was all in your hands. You wouldn’t put him through the pain of seeing you cry again. You knew it must have hurt him to see you in pain as much as it hurt you to be in pain. You would behave. You wouldn’t let it happen again.
You had a week off from work after the wedding, and since he owned his business he spent the week at home too. He had people do all the shopping and run all your errands that week. A new bride shouldn’t have to bother her pretty head with going outdoors during her honeymoon, he said. When you began to feel cooped up and decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood he insisted on coming with you. He also went with you to the salon and was there to pick you up after you’d had your hair done.
You loved your husband, you really did. But when the week was over and you went back to work it was with a sigh of relief. A little part of your mind told you it was good to taste freedom again, but you slapped it down and told yourself you were just happy to see the girls again.
Tonya had her birthday that day and the girls were going out for drinks after work. You joined them, planning to text him on the way out to let him know. Damn it: your battery was dead. Well, you weren’t planning to stay out too late, anyway.
When you thought about it later you didn’t know if it was actually the company of the girls or reluctance to return to what a small stubborn part of your mind was now beginning to call your cage that kept you out so late. But you were one of the last to leave the bar and as the taxi pulled up in the driveway after 3 a.m. and you saw the living room lights on, you knew he was waiting for you and you knew what to expect. You were shivering in the warmth of the early morning as you opened the door and saw him standing there, waiting for you. His hand went to his belt and this time you knew to shield your face early.
This time it was a pink rose and it waited for you on the dining table beside a breakfast tray and an envelope. He wasn’t there. You looked at it all with mixed feelings and then you reached for the envelope. There were two sheets of paper folded inside, a little one and a full page. You opened the little one first and in his scrawl it said, “You promised never to make me do it again.” The large one was a resignation letter all typed and ready, waiting for your signature.
It was one of the toughest battles you’d ever fought. Yes, he made much more than enough money to cater for you both but your work gave you a sense of worth and independence that you would probably go mad without. Then you remembered, your mother has been a career lady when your father left. Was that what drove him away? Love is not self-seeking. You signed the letter.
The second time he came home to see the girls from the office in your living room he called you into the kitchen and told you angrily to get rid of them or he would. You could see he wasn’t joking and you rushed out and made an excuse. They got up to leave. You could tell they didn’t really believe your excuse and just before they left Susan asked again about the bruise on your neck. You snapped at her and asked her to mind her business.
You were quite peeved and marched upstairs to demand an explanation. He looked at you in total disappointment and asked in a voice wracked with pain if you were saying his company wasn’t good enough for you. This was how it always started: with the low, pain-filled voice or just plain silence. But it always ended up with a belt in his hand and a rose in yours. You hadn’t healed yet from the last episode; you couldn’t take another beating. You knelt down and begged him. You said you were sorry and he was everything you would ever need. But it was too late. This time you didn’t even scream you just cowered in the corner and wept silently as you felt your skin break as new lashes fell on old welts and you bled.
The pain woke you up in the middle of the night. You were in bed and your body screamed in pain as you tried to get up. He was sleeping quietly beside you and as you looked at him you felt an emptiness inside. Your throat was dry from all the crying and you thought to go downstairs for a cup of water. As you swung your legs off the bed and made to get up you felt his hand close around your wrist and yank you back roughly.
“Where are you going?”
You looked at him in the pale light of the moon filtering in through the windows and saw a shade of him you had never seen before. You saw the hatred, the selfishness, and even the meanness and petulance and you wondered how you could have ever mistaken those for love. You tried to stammer something about going downstairs for water and he cut you off. He pulled you back into bed and roughly grabbed you tight, making your wounds open and begin to bleed again, and he whispered into your hair, “You know I can never let you go, we cannot live without each other.” Your heart stopped for a minute as you recognized the threat. You forced yourself to smile and say, “You know I’ll never leave you,” and he let you go and fell asleep almost immediately with a small smile on his face. And then you realised the trouble you were in.
You called your sister in a panic the next day and though she was unhappy at being estranged she rallied to your side. He didn’t like you having friends or family around but she arrived at your house two days later anyway and you cried for hours when you saw her. You had forgotten what real love felt like. That evening you left her at home and dashed out quickly. You had something really important to do and had to be out and back in before he returned from work.
You saw his car in the driveway as you drove in and you knew you were in trouble. You hoped he would at least show your sister some respect and keep the belt sheathed while she was here. As you drew closer you heard the raised voices. You clutched the object you’d gone out for tighter in your palm and ran for the house hoping you’d get there on time. Your sister was known for her blind temper and your back and thighs reminded you of what he was known for.
You flung the door open just in time to see his backhanded blow land squarely on your sister’s cheek and knock her down. The little box in your hand fell to the floor and its contents slid out. The last thing you remember is your sister getting up and reaching for the heavy brass candlestick on the mantelpiece as he reached behind him for a weapon of his own.
Silence. Roses are red. So is blood. The realization hits you as you stare at the viscous liquid pooling around your shoes. It’s made patterns on your white table cloth, and somehow that suits it; it now matches the red roses in the vase. That’s all you can seem to think about. Or that’s all you allow yourself think about. You won’t let yourself think about the body on the floor looking vaguely surprised or the bloody carving knife clutched in your right hand.
You let the knife go and it clangs on the floor shattering the silence. You turn around in a daze and walk back to the door leaving bloody footprints in your wake. You pick up your little box and its loose contents and head back into the blood and carnage. You show it to your sister and in a whisper you say, “I had to do it.” She doesn’t answer you so you repeat it a little louder. “I had to do it.” Soon you are shouting at the top of your voice and shaking her lifeless body, showing her the pregnancy test stick and trying to make her understand that you couldn’t let her take your baby’s father away before he was born.