Photo by Rudri Bhatt Patel

by Petrea Burchard

Struggling with the steering wheel, she forces the car to the side of the road, wishing for power steering, wishing this were easier.

She parks and aims the tires toward the curb. She yanks on the parking brake. The hill she stops on is not steep, but in snob neighborhoods like this you get a ticket if you don’t turn your wheels inward.

She drags deeply on the cigarette that dangles from her lips where it’s stuck on, cigarette paper dried against puckered skin. Her baggy Capri pants pull on the stubble of her legs as she steps out of the car. She opens the back door of the old Cutlass. On the carpeted floor are garden gloves and clippers. Sharp.

Nice neighborhood. Only a couple of miles from her sun-baked, treeless street. Here are shaded sidewalks and old houses from a hundred years ago.

Broad daylight. Nobody’s coming. She crushes her cigarette on the pavement beneath the toe of her plastic sandal. (Hot pink toenail polish with sparkles in it.)

Still no one coming. No one looking out from dark windows, she hopes.

If she’s going to do it, it has to be now. She jams her left hand into a gardening glove, grabs the clippers and strides across the sidewalk to the grass. She bends to do her hurried work. Slash. Cut. Slash. The roses come away from their bushes, loath to let go, terrified even, like children being cut by angry mothers. Thorny little bastards. Their cries are unheard. No one stops her. She grabs a handful of stems in her gloved hand and, trailing petals, rushes to her car to throw them on the floor of the passenger side.

She slides behind the wheel, turns the key in the ignition, unlocks the brake and backs up to aim the wheels away from the curb. Then she drives, urgent to get away, forcing herself to drive the speed limit. After a couple of blocks she pulls over. She’s been holding her breath.

She lets out her air, lights another cigarette with shaking fingers. She drags deep, lets the butt stick to her lower lip and dangle.

She remembers to signal, then pulls into the heavy traffic. People are going to church, going to brunch, going everywhere. She blares the horn and swears.

The air conditioning doesn’t work. The roses may not survive the drive to the cemetery this Mother’s Day, but she’ll get there even if it kills her.