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September 23, 2020 Fiction

When Rose Leaves

Abbie Barker

When Rose Leaves photo

When Rose leaves, she hands me a lamp and says, “I’m afraid it will break in the move.” She tosses a bag of Twizzlers into her Corolla. The backseat is piled with thrift store dresses and Doc Martens. A crate of jazz records. A few books.

“Are you sure?” I hold up the canary yellow lamp. It has an hourglass shape and turquoise shade.

“It will look perfect in your living room.”

My apartment is full of drab colors and straight lines, but I nod like I agree. When she leans in for a hug, I slip her a square card with a quote printed across the front. One that compares friendship to stars.

“Will it make me cry?” she asks.

“Definitely.”

When Rose drives away, I balance the glass base in both arms and sleeve-dry my tears.

* * *

Rose has been gone three days and still hasn’t texted. Not after my dozen questions about the drive. Not after my seven I-miss-you GIFs. Not after I lamely asked about the weather. 

The lamp sits on a side table in my living room. I observe it from every angle. The shade has a fish-scale design that reminds me of Rose’s hair. Not the color – her hair is red – but the texture.

* * *

After dinner, my neighbor shows up at my door with a bottle of merlot. I like Sherrie, but she’s obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy and crowds my Instagram feed with cat close-ups. It’s fine that she adores her cat, but the photos are out-of-focus and bad.

She stands beside my sink wrestling with the corkscrew. “I haven’t seen you in a while. I thought something happened.”

“Like what?”

She hands me a jelly jar of wine and settles into the couch, scrolling through a dating app. She shows me a picture of the guy she’s seeing. “It’s casual,” she says, “Are you still dating that writer?”

“Journalist. No.” Rose never liked the journalist, but he and I didn’t break up, exactly. We just stopped talking.

“George has some cute friends. You should come out with us sometime.”

“Isn’t George the name of your cat?’

“I named him after Dr. O’Malley.” She smiles like she’s proud.

“You told me,” I say.

“OMG, your lamp. I love the color. And that shade!” Sherrie reaches for the pull chain.

“Don’t.” I slap her hand away. Merlot splashes onto my couch.

“I didn’t know…”

“It was a gift.”

She runs to the kitchen and soaks a rag in warm water. She apologizes a dozen different ways.

I tell her it’s fine; it’s getting late. I hand her the merlot as she walks out the door. Before bed, I move Rose’s lamp to my nightstand. I leave it on and fall asleep.

* * *

When Rose finally responds, she’s been gone a week. She writes, “Miss you” followed by a kiss-face emoji. Later, she adds a yellow heart. Her hearts were always red and sometimes purple. Never yellow.

When Rose doesn’t answer my third FaceTime call, I drive to Rite Aid and buy the biggest bag of Twizzlers I can find, cramming as many into my mouth as I can fit. I collapse onto my couch, searching for shows Rose and I used to love. I stream every episode where the two main characters who belong together, hurt each other instead.

* * *

It’s still dark when I wake. I turn on Rose’s lamp and open my phone to a middle-of-the-night text: Sorry I missed your call. At a Blues Bar with Mel. Super loud! She doesn’t say anything about missing me. I’ve never met a Mel.

I wanted so badly to tell Rose about the other night, how Sherrie spilled red wine all over my beige couch. How Sherrie drinks merlot instead of the pale, fizzy beverages we prefer. Or how Sherrie dates guys with the same name as her cat. And Rose would laugh. Because we always used to laugh at other girls, and all the ways they weren’t us.

But at the top of my Instagram feed, Rose and Mel stare back at me, vivid and filtered, clinking Corona Lights. #MyNewBFF. Mel has dainty freckles and a nose ring. I bet she even has tattoos. They’ll get matching ones someday, maybe moons, maybe stars.

Once it’s light, I unplug the yellow lamp and drag it to Sherrie’s door. I tell her I’m sorry I snapped. I hold it by the base and say, “I want you to have it.”

“Are you sure?”

I say something about how the colors complement her space.

Sherrie shrieks and shows me a spot in her living room where George will never reach it. I don’t ask if she means George the cat or George the guy. Either way, I know someday Rose’s lamp will break. And after Sherrie sweeps up the last yellow shard, and apologizes a dozen different ways, I’ll buy her a card with a quote. One that compares friendship to the sun.

 

image: Jack Delano


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