MaryBeth smiled at her reflection in the review mirror as she examined the red-yellow rose that hung awkwardly and at an angle from the top of her strapless prom dress. That flower’s gonna get me in trouble, she thought, as Tommy’s old pick-up made its way down the road towards the Day’s Inn where her friends at that moment were gathering for their senior prom. It was mid-May, and they’d had to postpone the prom twice already. The first time, back in April, there had still been snow on the ground, and since they were sharing the prom with Cedarville this year, and because Cedarville was a good two hours past the river, both towns had decided that it made more sense to wait until all that snow melted. The second time they’d postponed because a little boy at the elementary school had died of lymphoma on the morning of the dance, and it just didn’t feel right to go celebrating after something as awful as that, even though most folks knew that he was going to die anyway.
But now it was mid-May, and the flower on MaryBeth’s dress seemed brighter than the pink evening sky.
“It smells like a bag of cherry Twizzlers,” she said, taking care as she spoke to keep both of her hands folded neatly in her lap. Tommy kept his eyes on the road and told Marybeth that he’d asked for the best damn rose in the whole damn store and that then he’d taken it home himself and fashioned the clip and the pin with the same tools that he used to string up barbwire.
Then he turned and looked at MaryBeth, taking in her green eyes and the shine of her lip gloss, and he shook his head and he whistled.
“How’d a guy like me end up with a girl like you,” he asked, and MaryBeth didn’t answer because it didn’t seem like a question, and instead she just kept on staring out the window as the trees and eventually the river passed her on by.
That rose, what she learned later to call a hybrid, was hanging above the mirror in her dorm when her daddy called to tell her that Tommy was coming home from Iraq in a flag-draped box.
Now, black with age and decay, pressed flat through the weight of both the Old and New Testaments, the once yellow-red rose hung fastened by a nail just over her finest china. It wasn’t yellow anymore and it wasn’t red anymore, but then it had never really been either of those colors to start with. When MaryBeth was alone, when her husband was at work and when her kids were at school, she could just barely picture the day she’d first seen that flower. And if she tried, really tried, she could still conjure the smell of the sweet cherry Twizzler that hung awkwardly, at an angle, as she walked, with Tommy, into the springtime lobby of the sparkling Days Inn.