Dancing Pink RosesDanny Bracco
Their lives changed the day Edna brought home the new sheets. They were white and had row after row of singular, small pink roses. They came in a set with two matching pillowcases and a bonus third thrown in for free, for which they had no third pillow—though Edna still used the extra pillowcase in her defense of the superfluous purchase.
“They were the last queen-sized sheets in the sale bin,” Edna said as she quickly stripped their old light blue sheets from the bed. They had alternated between similar versions of light and dark blue sheets for the twenty-plus years she and Ed had been married, and she knew that this was a fairly drastic change in her husband’s world.
“Don’t worry, Ed, we can still use your blue sheets, too.”
Ed was not worried, exactly. Edna had always purchased one new item for the house at the start of each school year, and though this was a far greater purchase than the frames, new towels and house clocks of years prior, this would be her tenth year teaching, and for that he was glad she got a little something extra for herself. He stood by silently as his wife removed the blue sheets that had stayed on the bed nearly three weeks—his due date for changing them—and began to help her put on the new sheets, salvaging some form of his household routine.
And that was when he felt them. The fitted sheet lay taut on their bed, crisp and checkered with square, creased wrinkles from being folded in one place for so long. The cotton was smooth and soft against his rough hands. He would have called his blue sheets smooth and soft, too, prior to this moment, but it had taken a year or so of sleeping in them to get them to feel like that. He had assumed sheets simply needed to be worn in, like shoes. Ed was still rubbing the corner of the fitted sheet with his thumb and the side of his finger, gently feeling the pink, undefined petals of one of the small roses, when Edna asked with a laugh if he was going to grab the other side of the top sheet and actually help or not.
“It says on the package that these are 400 thread count—I guess that’s pretty high,” Edna said, reveling in this luxurious purchase. When the bed was fully made she stood with her hands at her hips, admiring the look of the new sheets.
“They look good, honey,” Ed said. His eyes fixated on the dancing pink roses, and some place deep inside his stomach began to dance, too.
This was Ed and Edna’s last summer weekend of the year before Edna would need to eat dinner an hour earlier so she could go back to grading papers and organizing the week’s lesson plans. Edna taught at Wild Mountains School, a public elementary and junior high school with twenty-three students, two teachers—including Edna—and one principal. Edna enjoyed being the one responsible for the household income. It gave her a sense of forward momentum that was bigger than her, something she needed to feel in this old ranch home. It was true that she had picked the house and the town—Sand Coulee, dead-center Montana. A town away from the disappointing big city life she grew up in. But still, early in their marriage she felt as though she were somehow failing the women in her family before her who had fought so hard to carve a place in the workforce. When she proposed the idea of teaching, Ed was only too happy to quit his job at his brothers’ mechanic shop and take responsibility for maintaining the house and land.
Coulee boasted one restaurant, one post office, three schools, and four bars,
the latter accounting for the dozens of small, white crosses on nearly every street.
The bar closest to their home typically had milk and bread available to buy,
but Ed and Edna got into the habit of driving to Great Falls together every
Sunday for their errands. They would leave early in the morning and get
breakfast at their favorite diner on the outskirts of the city before parking
in the middle of town and walking hand-in-hand to wherever they needed to go
that week—barbershop, hardware store, mall—before finishing up at the grocery
store. But this week Edna had wanted more time to plan out her first class so
she and Ed separated—she went to the mall for her annual house gift, and Ed
went to the grocery store.
While Edna fed the dogs and reviewed her class roster for the year, Ed went out to the side of their back patio to his vegetable garden. They had been enjoying Ed’s harvested vegetables all August, but Ed paid more attention to his latest plantings than the ripening vegetables. Planting was his favorite part—inserting something organic into the earth and cultivating it into life. He loved each moment of this weekend with his wife, especially knowing school had returned to steal some of her attention, but he cherished these moments of solitude between him and his earth.
Ed shifted his glance up to the side of the garden, to the raised area where his onions were growing. Onions were supposed to be an easy vegetable to grow, but one Ed had never grown before as Edna wasn’t a particularly big fan of them. But he had been eager to try something new, and he planted the first seeds earlier in the year. Onions took longer to harvest, and were supposed to become full, edible bulbs by the end of this month.
As it turned out, he had been too eager. According to their neighbor, Old George, Ed had over-fertilized the seeds. Ed and Edna had always been friendly with their nearest neighbor, who lived a mere mile down East Hunter Road, but they didn’t exactly mind that Old George liked to keep to himself. He had been a widower since Ed and Edna had moved to Sand Coulee and he helped them clean out their house and landscape their half-acre of land. Edna had seen him watering his front yard while she was taking the dogs for a walk one afternoon and had invited him for dinner. While struggling to make conversation, Ed took him to see his garden.
“You’ve got an awfully thick stem on those onion plants,” he had said.
“Thank you.” Ed had misunderstood.
“They’re gonna bolt.”
“They’re gonna bolt. Bolting. They’re gonna grow flowers.”
“Yep. The onions. They’re gonna grow flowers and make the onion bulbs small. You’ll still be able to eat them, but they’ll be smaller. Not as good. Too much Ammonium nitrate, I suspect.”
He proved to be right. The onions, fueled by excess fertilizer, had grown too vigorously too early on, and flowers were beginning to tower over the small bulbs. Next to his successful crops of summer squash, carrots and cucumbers, the diminutive and flowery onion bulbs looked somehow less natural than the rest of his garden.
“Old George was right, the onions bolted,” he said as he walked into the kitchen, wiping his soiled hands together authoritatively.
“They what? And wash those hands of yours before you get dirt all over my kitchen.” Even though Edna faced away from him over the sink, he knew she was smiling.
“They’re bolting—growing flowers over the bulbs. We have to eat the onions now. They’re about as good as they’re gonna get.”
“You can’t just cut the flowers off?”
“I guess we could, but it won’t do any good. What’s done is done,” Ed said, adding a twang to the last part in a friendly impersonation of George’s dialect.
Edna turned to face him as she laughed at his accent. “Get yourself clean for dinner. And wash your face, too, you must have wiped your face with those hands—that scar of yours is caked in dirt.”
Ed walked up the stairs, through their bedroom and into the bathroom. His face did have a patch of dirt right over the one-inch scar above his upper lip. He washed it roughly. Edna would occasionally bring up the scar without thinking much of it, and for this he could not blame her. It was the only thing he had ever lied to her about—though he lied to everyone about it. A bike accident when he was eight; that was what everyone had been told. It was the best his father could come up with, panting and wiping the fiery sweat from his forehead, still clasping the bloody wrench in his hand, the wrench that had been meant for Ed’s lips, and had only missed by mere millimeters.
Edna prepared the carrots and squash Ed had pulled for dinner along with a roasted ham and store-bought rolls. No time for her homemade bread this week—probably not for many weeks. They ate slowly at the table while Edna went through her class roster with Ed, and they discussed how she would handle the Allen twins.
“I get Billy this year, Donna has Brian. I lucked out.”
“You had your turn last year,” Ed said, raising his wine glass in memory of the evenings Edna would come home flush with anger that she couldn’t strangle the little turd.
Edna took that as an opportunity to give Ed a little more wine. He didn’t object.
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