Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Flowers for Lily

Flowers for Lily
by
Tiana Bodine


I’ve brought you flowers, Lily, like I promised; just like yesterday, and the day before, just like every day since you came here. They’re in that purple vase on the shelf by your bed, do you see? I’ve changed the water. It will keep them alive just a little longer, keep them blooming; they’re so beautiful, all of your favorite colors, do you see? Can you smell them, Lily? Something to cover that awful antiseptic smell, something to bring some color to the cold white walls. It’s funny. They’re so bright, so colorful, so soft, you forget they’re already dead—you forget the water’s just keeping them barely alive, holding them here just a little longer so you can see them. You forget that somebody went out and killed them for us.

You look so pretty, Lily, delicate and pale, not a blemish; so strange that your bruises should heal, your cuts vanish, your belly steadily swell even as the rest of you grows so thin—and still they say you won’t get better. The doctors tell me that all of these machines you’re hooked up to are the only thing keeping you alive; they tell me that your brain stopped working the night you came here, and that you’re only breathing because of the tube in your throat. They told me that if they can keep your heart beating for just a few more weeks, then the baby can be born, can be pulled out of you like plucking the ripe fruit from a tree and leaving the withered remains of the blossom behind on the branch to drop to the earth and disintegrate. They say you won’t wake up, you know, that you’re already dead. I don’t understand. You look alive to me, Lily, alive and gently blooming, so white, so pure, like the roses at our wedding.

I’m bending to kiss your forehead. I feel like Pygmalion, leaning over his alabaster bride, stony-pale flesh so supple to the touch; not alive, but I can feel your warmth, can see your soft breath rising and falling under your breasts, straining against your stomach. The machine makes a soft whirring noise with every breath it gives you; the other machines are beeping, or clicking, or making other noises like a whole flock of invisible birds was living in your room, singing to each other in their own language. There are numbers and lines and dots on the screens of some of the machines, but I don’t know what they mean. I just know that you’re hooked up to them, the way the baby is hooked up to you; they’re keeping you alive with their own mechanized umbilical cords, here cozy in the fluorescent-lighted hospital’s womb. I touch your belly with my hand, feel the soft movements of the baby inside; she’s kicking, Lily, can you feel her?

I remember when you told me she wasn’t mine. I asked you whose it was, and that’s when the tears came; they flooded out of you, the same as your words, when you told me all in one gasping breath that you’d been sleeping with one of the men you worked with, the one who always had such nice company picnics in his backyard, who I’d talked to a dozen times without realizing the truth, who you’d been with for nearly a year, and you were scared, so scared that I’d be angry with you. But I wasn’t angry, Lily, do you remember? I held you close, and told you not to be so scared; I promised I would never, ever hurt you, and I wiped the tears from your beautiful cheeks and I told you I would love the baby like it was mine. You remember that, don’t you Lily?

You said you’d never see him again. You promised me that you’d never go back; I told you we could make it work, and you promised me that we’d try. And we were trying, weren’t we Lily? Even when you started working late into the night, when you wouldn’t come home for hours, when you didn’t tell me where you were all those times—we were still trying to make it work. I was never angry with you, Lily. When you came home smelling like alcohol and another man’s cologne I knew you’d been lying to me, but still I was never angry with you; I never blamed you, Lily, not even when I lay awake next to you in bed wondering why you were falling out of love with me, wondering if he was better than me, wondering why I didn’t satisfy you.

He hasn’t visited you here, you know. Every day, I’ve brought you flowers; I’ve sat here talking to you, Lily, holding your hand like I am now, and I’ve told you that everything would be all right. He hasn’t come to see you. He hasn’t come to feel his baby growing inside of you. He walked away from the accident with a few bruises, and left you to die here; he didn’t love you, Lily, not like I do. I love you, Lily—I love you even now, when you’re so quiet, so still, when everyone tells me that you’re dead, that you’re not even inside of yourself anymore. I love you the same as I loved you when we were in college, all bashful smiles and awkward glances, and the way I loved you at our wedding, when you were a white blossom of silk and lace. I love you enough to keep you alive, the way I love the baby inside of you who I’ve never seen and who isn’t mine. He tried to take you away from me, but he couldn’t do it. I love you too much to let you go.

He tried to take you away from me, Lily.

That night, the night the hospital called me, I knew where you had been; I knew because I called all of the friends you said you were going out with, and none of them had seen you, and I knew because you left your computer on, and I read the emails you sent him—I read all of them, Lily, even the dirty ones—and I knew you wanted to leave me. You wanted to leave one night and never come back, didn’t you Lily? And that’s what you did; you left me one night, and you never saw me again, even though I came to see you every day.

What were you doing when his car swerved into the wrong lane, Lily?

When they take the baby out of you, they’ll want to take away the machines. They don’t know that she isn’t mine, you know; nobody knows but me, and you, and him; nobody else ever has to know. But I’m scared, Lily. I’m scared that since he can’t have you anymore that he’ll take away your baby, the last part of you that’s left. It would be like losing you again, and I’ve lost you too many times.

I might not be here tomorrow, Lily. I might not bring you anymore flowers.

I know where he lives, now. I remember, from all those backyard barbecues. I know his phone number, from your cell phone bill, and I know when he’ll be home, because it’s all the same hours you were gone with him. Tomorrow, I’m going to go to his house. I’m going to cut the fresh red roses from the hedge in his yard, and I’m going to tie them together with a pretty black ribbon for you, to show you when I come back, so you’ll know I did it.

I don’t want to hurt anyone, Lily, but I can’t let him take you away from me again. If the doctors are right, and you’re never going to wake up, then this baby is the only part of you left, and I promised you I’d take care of her, didn’t I? I said I’d treat her just like my own daughter, didn’t I?

No one will have to know how he died. I’ll be careful, Lily, I promise.

It can be our little secret.

You won’t tell anyone, will you Lily?

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