By Mahala Spillers
Gareth didn’t have a mirror in his room at the boarding house. He had to imagine that his hair was combed to Magda’s liking.
He had been at the boarding house for a long time. The landlords seemed to be queerly opposed to vanity of any sort. There was not a mirror, or a scissor allowed inside. You were to keep yourself clean, but regular grooming wasn’t a component of life there. Not even a razor for his unseemly beard.
He wiped away a bead of sweat and took out the single rose petal that Magda had left for him from his pocket. He kissed the softness, returned it for safe-keeping, and turned for the door.
“She isn’t coming,” Cassius said from the doorway. He gave a queasy chuckle, “Why would she want to marry such an insufferable fool?”
“I’ll have you know that it was her idea,” Gareth said, producing the petal from his pocket.
“Do you really believe that the remnant of a dead flower was a sign that she wanted to see you? The wind blew it in, you loon,” Cassius growls.
“I’ll be on my way then, father.”
Gareth brushed past Cassius who followed him to the stairwell. The old man’s foot dragged across the floor, bent from the ankle and clunking along like a dull dinner bell. He could feel the old man’s hot breath on the back of his neck, producing a sour-smelling layer of steam.
Gareth thought about how easy it would be for the old man to push him down the steps. He imagined his head hitting the bottom and splitting open like a pumpkin.
He could still feel the old man’s eyes beating into his back outside. He quickened his pace again. The unease was like an alligator tickling his spine with feathers in its mouth. Gareth turned to the melting candlestick of his father’s face. “Certainly, you aren’t going to follow me all of the way?” Gareth said.
“You will have to face that your future doesn’t hold pretty girls and rose petals. It’s you and me. Forever,” Cassius chuckled.
Gareth darted through the leg high grass that lead out into the forest. The darkness would lose the old man. Branches swung and swatted him in the face, stinging like bees. He didn’t slow his pace.
“You’ll never escape, boy!”
Gareth’s stored breath was running out. He slowed into a stagger as the garden gates shined with milky moonlight in the distance.
He heaved himself inside and began his search.
“Magda!” he called.
The stone benches held no women and the rose bushes were un-sniffed. The dusty pathways were untrodden, whipped up only by the breeze.
“Magda! Oh, Magda!” Cassius imitated his son as he stumbled into the garden. “You’re the reason that we’re destitute. You and your foolish whims.”
Gareth squeezed his tears back. “That’s your own fault. Leave me be!”
“The garden is empty and Venus dims.” Cassius chuckled, but his face was dark. “I hate you more than anything. This will never end. She isn’t coming. She never will.”
Cassius stepped in front of his son. He reeked of tarnished copper and rotten meat.
Gareth choked at intensity of the smell. It brought him to his knees. “You are death, old man.”
Cassius smacked Gareth’s head.
He rose back up from the hit, sniveling with snot. His face shook with anger at his father. He grimaced and his eyes shone black. “You can’t follow anymore,” Gareth said.
“You chose this for yourself,” Cassius said.
Gareth kicked out the old man’s bum leg and pushed his face into the dirt.
“You will not bring me back with such pain,” Gareth said.
The old man clawed and grabbed onto Gareth’s ears. He dragged him down to his rotten mouth and bit his cheek.
Gareth screamed and ripped himself away.
The old man crawled after him. He grabbed Gareth’s ankle and pulled him across the garden on his belly.
Gareth snatched at a bit of stone and smashed it against his father’s head. The old man fell face flat into the dirt. Gareth climbed on top of him and turned him on his back so that he could see whose hand held the stone. His temples collapsed on the bones of his cheeks and the brain matter slopped against Gareth’s shirt.
“Forever is over, father,” Gareth said.
Streams of white light moved through the trees. Footsteps approached.
Gareth stood up. The ground was empty. Cassius had dissolved into the ether. The blood smell vanished. His cheek still stung.
The men in the white with the chains poured into the garden, taking the flowers with them.