The Second Rose: A Short Work of Fiction


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What do you fertilize that with?

It was the tradition of the El Segundo Ladies Garden Club to hold an annual luncheon each spring when the roses bloom to award the lady with the best rose the coveted title of Master Gardener for the year. And it was a tradition that Daphne McLeod Campbell was going to uphold even if it did happen to be raining. As a founding member of the Garden Club, no, as the founding member, she felt it was her personal obligation to uphold tradition; especially considering… Well, considering Keenwa.

None of the ladies of the Garden Club quite knew what to do with Keenwa with her floaty floral layers and her feather earring and her chemical engineering degree. She worked at the refinery in a job with a description involving words like “environmental impact” and “advisory research”. Why She should have any interest in a Garden Club was mystifying, considering that she seemed to be incapable of growing so much as a tomato plant. Not that Daphne was in any position to raise an objection- her  skills were limited to staying out of the gardener’s way while he tended her grandmother’s Award Winning heirloom roses- Hancock’s Pride. The luxuriously sensual Hancock’s Pride had won Daphne her title every year for fifty six years. Not counting nineteen seventy seven, which was never spoken of. Daphne was the Master Gardener, which meant she could tell people what tho do. And she was very good at it. That, and planning luncheons.

She was very good indeed at planning luncheons. Rain was not going to get in her way.

The ladies who arrived early, hoping to find Daphne out of countenance with the weather, were primly disappointed to discover that the luncheon table had already been brought in from the garden and laid with the Desert Rose dishes for the occasion. A sprinkling of tea light candles arranged around bowls of florid, unabashed blooms of Hancock’s Pride roses brightened the gloom inside the parlor.

The ladies came bearing roses from their own gardens- a bowl full of American Beauties, a vase full of Gay Princesses, a single, exquisite Dame de Coeur. And then there was Keenwa.

“Where should I put these?” she asked, proffering a bundle of roses of indeterminate breed wrapped in newspapers that gave off a strong smell of gasoline. Daphne sniffed daintily and pursed disdain between her lips.

“And what, might I ask, are these?”

“I was hoping you could tell me- they’re some kind of roses that I’ve never seen before.” Keenwa set down her oversized, undyed, fair trade, muslin shoulder bag and began to unwrap the bundle. “They reminded me of your fancy roses, but…”

They did indeed look like Hancock’s Prides- long and elegant of stem, a plush, buttery bloom of velvety petals and glossy leaves, but where Hancock’s Prides were the blushing pink of a maidens cheeks, these new roses shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow, glistening and dark over a red so rich and dark it bordered on black.

“They were growing outside the administration building- they’ve been there since the plant was built but no one knows who planned them or what kind of rose they are.” Keenwa was prattling on to the rapt attention of the other Garden Club ladies. “They smell like gasoline- can your smell that?”

“I’ll just put them in some water, shall I?” Daphne excused herself and took the bundle into the kitchen, silently fuming. It was nineteen seventy seven all over again- there was no way Hancock’s Pride could win against these. Daphne considered her options while She snipped the oily ends of the stems In the sink. All the good vases were already in use. Daphne shoved the stems into a mason jar. Keenwa wouldn’t mind.

“Here we are!” Daphne proclaimed, interrupting the excited buzz of the ladies as she set the bouquet on the luncheon table. “And now shall we lunch?”

Who was to know that these would be be her famous last words?

A small jostle to the table and the bouquet of Keenwa’s roses tipped into the tea light candles, where it turned out that a century of sharing soil soaked with the sweet black nectar of American energy had turned Hancock’s Pride into Hancock’s Revenge.  The ensuing explosion rattled windows for blocks.

“Did I win?” Keenwa wanted to know when the bandages were finally removed from her face during an interview with the local news.

“They say you discovered a new breed,” they told her. “You can name it if you want. You got something you want to call it?”

Keenwa nodded with difficulty. “The Burning Man.”

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on April 8, 2016.

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