Blow up the Roses by Randy Attwood
How much pain, horror and anguish can one cul d’sac endure?
Why is so much murder, mystery and sexual brutality condensed among the few duplex homes built so close together on the Elm Street cul d’sac? The answers lie within the language of flowers; and the language of flowers can be brutally frank. They can also save your life.
A dangerous suspense/thriller in the vein of such psychological horrors as Tom Harris’s Hannibal Lecter series, Blow Up The Roses marks one of the boldest statements by Curiosity Quills in what unique, sometimes dark gems small presses can produce.
Mr. Brown closed the door on the whimpers and walked up the stairs to take a shower. He stood under the stream of water and leaned his head against the wall of the shower stall. “Mommy loves me. Mommy loveth me. Mommy loveth me,” he whispered to himself as his heart slowed. Those pictures should really be something, he thought to himself. As good as these stills would be, though, he knew there was no way they would show the wriggling. That’s what he loved, how they wriggled trying to get away from him. The audio cassette tape he supplied with the pictures made quite a package, but it was time to get into video-taping. He could invest some of the profits from the stills in good equipment. He already had the lights. If only he had a partner. But who could you trust in a thing like this? Sure there were plenty of others out there, if the way his distributor bought his picture-cassette tape packages were any guide, but how could you find one you could trust to work the camera? He’d just have to find some way to rig the camera in a static position. If he could afford it, he could buy about three cameras and ring the area, then splice the tape. He could be as careful as he was with the still pictures and the cassettes to ensure that nothing in them identified him. Maybe they offered some lessons on video tape splicing at the community college. They taught everything else there.
He reached for the soap, brought it to a lather in his hands, and then washed the blood from his penis.
When Michael Keene reached the interstate, a few blocks from his home, he turned left instead of right and headed south, steering his nifty little gray Honda Civic against the direction a group of geese were flying overhead. Thinking he might hear the honkers, he opened the window of the car, but they were too high, or maybe the wind carried their calls away from his ear. Or maybe they just were traveling silently, as was he.
Later, on that chilly morning in April, when Mrs. Keene received the call from the office asking if her husband was ill, she first thought of an accident, then car trouble, then foul play, then desertion. She should have thought first of desertion because when Mr. Keene didn’t show up the next day or the one after that, the police investigator put on a smile deep with practiced kindness as she mentioned the possibility that Mr. Keene had been kidnapped and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry, I’ve seen this before. Were you having any marital problems?”
But Mrs. Keene remembered the distant looks her husband often had at the breakfast table. Part of the normal February gloom, she had thought, a gloom that would leave when spring came. Instead, it was Mr. Keene who had left.
In a few more days, the worry and concern turned to a deep anger. She took all their accounts and changed them to her name only. Maybe it would have been better if he had just died, she told her daughter, Debra, over the phone, who was studying at a posh college back east. “I can’t afford to keep you in school there, Debra. You’re going to have to come back, live at home and go to the state school.”
“Didn’t he have any insurance?” was all her daughter asked.
“That’s why I say it would have been better if he’d just died. We’d still love him and I could collect on his life insurance, company insurance and the mortgage life insurance would have paid off the home loan. Now I suppose we’ll have to wait seven years to get him declared dead,” she said and added the thought, the bastard.
Mrs. Keene was not a hard woman, but she had a heart that kept a hold on itself. She had learned how to keep such a tight rein on her heart during that long fall and winter when Melissa, her first daughter, just seven years old, was missing. Nine months later, the following spring, Melissa’s decomposed body was found in a creek bed. Mrs. Keene had felt something break inside her. And it hadn’t taken too much jiggling for her to feel the pieces of whatever inside her was broken grate against each other. But she had had their son, Robbie – who was older than Melissa – and their other daughter, Debra – who was younger – to look after. So Mrs. Keene had wrapped her emotions in tight bands to stop them from ripping herself to shreds, and had gotten on with life.
Wrapped so tight that she hadn’t cried those many years ago when the Highway Patrol called and told her that Robbie, who was 17 years old then, was killed in an automobile wreck. She hadn’t cried until a week after the funeral. She had been looking out the kitchen window at the backyard and glanced down at the tall green glass she was washing – the glass that had been her son’s favorite – and burst into tears. She cried for two hours. But she stopped before her husband came home from work. She told him she didn’t feel like cooking that night. He went for fried chicken, the family pack.
Mrs. Keene was a practical woman and after she realized Mr. Keene had deserted her, she quickly counted her assets, the greatest of which was the duplex they owned, almost free and clear. They lived in one half and rented out the other. Their renter was a bachelor. Mrs. Keene suspected him of being gay. She computed the cost of converting the space he rented into two apartments and the rents that would bring in, and decided to boot the bachelor out. That would be tough on him, Mrs. Keene realized, but far less so than the hard knock of being deserted she had received.
Soon, Mrs. Keene’s married friends avoided her, as if she had a disease. Maybe they feared their own husbands would get the same idea that had possessed Mr. Keene, whatever that idea was. At night, she often wondered about him. Did he have a second secret family somewhere? She had heard about such stories. Or did he just disappear into Mexico or some small town to start life over? How would his disappearance affect her next IRS tax return? Oh well, she now had her own life to start over. High on her list of things to do was to find a part time job. She took the first one offered her, as a clerk in a department store in a nearby mall. She worked eight hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays and four hours a day during the week, taking only Mondays off.
Her daughter surprised her by not leaving the posh Eastern school, but actually snaring a marriage proposal from a boy about to graduate from law school who came from a well-to-do family. Well, Debra had not been salutatorian of her high school class for nothing. She had brains. But Mrs. Keene had hoped that the lesson of being independent from men would not be lost on her daughter. Evidently it had been. Mrs. Keene did not meet her daughter’s fiancé until his family paid her way back East to the wedding. He was very nice. Everyone was very nice to her. No one mentioned Mr. Keene, but she knew they were all relieved when she left, as if they, too, felt she carried some sort of wife-desertion disease, if not a curse, too, that caused her children to be taken from her.
Mrs. Keene dealt with Mr. Brown, her renter, in a matter-of- fact way. She knocked on his door, entered when he invited her in, and looked around with that once-over glance check landlords give their places. She found it, as always, cleaner than her own side and more expensively furnished. She felt that slight vertigo she always did in the place because it was a mirror image of her own space. The design was the same, but everything was on the wrong side.
Mrs. Keene explained to Mr. Brown her circumstances. She had to bring in more rents by breaking the space into two apartments. She could utilize the basement as another apartment. Would he like to rent one of the spaces or leave?
Mr. Brown held his chin in his hand. His thick black mustache quivered slightly. He blinked five times, then spoke with his slight lisp and a nasal twang, as though his tongue were too thick for his mouth. Mrs. Keene thought he wore such a thick mustache to hide a cleft palate. Though she never noticed that he brought anyone home with him, the way he talked, the obsessively neat and clean apartment, plus the highly polished French style desk with all its curved ornamental wood had convinced her he was a homosexual. She was surprised when he asked: “How muth more do you want justh to keep it the way it ith?” She hadn’t anticipated that question. She blinked five times as she calculated the costs of making the space into two apartments verses the extra rent, and said, “another $50 a month.”
He batted his eyes twice and told her he’d increase his payment by that much, starting next month.
Mrs. Keene walked back to her own side in wonderment at how easy it was to make money – if you were in a position of power and got tough.
Mr. Brown sat down when Mrs. Keene left and wiped some sweat off his brow. The thought of having to remove the sound-proofing and the various devices and instruments from the basement had almost made him faint. He made himself a scotch, sat back in the Swedish designer leather chair to drink it, and hoped that in another year he’d have enough money to buy his own house and not be subjected to such intrusions. Then he turned his attention to the agenda of the coming evening and felt the rush that was almost as exciting as the fulfillment itself.
Mrs. Keene discovered she enjoyed her sales clerking work. She worked in the linen and towel department and she liked to see the neatly-folded soft bath towels in colorful array and the unused white folded sheets in their orderly stacks. She could put on a phony smile for customers as though she really cared that they purchase just this towel or that tablecloth or the yellow-flowered sheet they needed. She was 50 years old and calculated she had at least 25 years left in her life and had absolutely no idea what she was going to do with those years. She felt like one of the white sheets, folded, put in a plastic packet, set upon a shelf and waiting for someone to buy her and take her home. But no one did, nor would, she knew, because she wasn’t a new sheet, she was a used one – cleaned and pressed – but still used and worn. Tossed away, really. Yet she rebelled at the idea that the rest of her life was useful only as rags.
Even though she had her teaching degree, she had fallen into that generation of females who, if the husband made enough money so that she could, stayed at home – especially if you had three children within seven years. She had been used to filling her life doing domestic chores. Those had lessened when her children died. The lack of work had left her feeling a void. When Debra had gone to college two years ago the void grew deeper. With Mr. Keene just to care for, she had had more time on her hands, and went to more lunches with the few friends she had, did more needlepoint and considered volunteering at the hospital. She was good at detail work and liked to make doll house furniture from kits, but really wanted to make the pieces from scratch. Every semester when the list of courses arrived from the nearby community college she read them over and was tempted to sign up for something, but it seemed like too heavy a commitment. She knew if she signed up for a course, she’d feel compelled to get an A in it.
Now, with Mr. Keene gone, she realized her husband had been the last clock in her life. First there had been the children clock. Off to school, back from school, these clothes needed cleaning and pressing, those meals needed preparing – poof, children gone. But she still had the husband clock. Off to work, back from work, these clothes needed cleaning and pressing, those meals needed preparing – poof, husband gone. Now she’d have to develop a clock of her own. She liked her work at the mall for the clock it provided as well as the money.
She enjoyed seeing the crowds come through the store. On her breaks, she would go get a cup of coffee at one of the mall cafes to sit alone and watch the swirl of people pass by. Watching different people walk by gave her the feeling that things changed, but, she knew, nothing really changed. The carrousel ride only seemed different until it completed its cycle. It only looked different until you watched it run by again. Whether you were on or off the carrousel made no difference at all.
Randy Attwood grew up on the grounds of a Kansas insane asylum where his father was a dentist and the State provided housing on the grounds. He attended The University of Kansas during the troubled 1960s, getting a degree in art history. After stints writing and teaching in Italy and Japan, he had a 16-year career in newspapers as reporter, editor, and column writer, winning major awards in all categories. He turned to health care public relations and served as director of University Relations at The University of Kansas Medical Center. Attwood finished his career as media relations officer of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Now retired, he lives in Kansas City and pursues publishing his works of fiction and creating new ones. He has ten published works: eight novels and two collections of shorter works. His works touch many genres.
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