A bouquet sat centered on the kitchen table, my eyes studying the lead crystal vase that had belonged to my mother. The etched wide square vase was so heavy, I dared not carry it with one hand. My mother’s voice [long gone] echoed in my head – two hands!
The vase had been a familiar sight, often filled and refilled with garden- cut flowers, roses from my father, even weeds lovingly picked by me and presented to my mother. Pussy willows, golden rod and wild daisies were equally displayed in her favorite vase, no preferential treatment for roses over weeds. We all knew she loved flowers, especially yellow and purple which are also my favorites. Ground violets, too small for the vase often floated in a low dish. She always loved fresh flowers of any variety.
Ironically, the only flowers I received as an adult were presented as a silent apology. Yes, he went too far at times. An acid remark caustically emitted, a hastily hurled comment in my direction as I cringed, closed my eyes or looked down. The words entered my ears, cutting through tissue and bone as though on a direct course to my heart, already scarred and scabbed over from frequent attacks.
Somewhere in the past, perhaps when I was a teen, I felt so utterly diminished and rejected that a trap door slammed shut. My heart was broken, carelessly cast aside and lay covered, protected as beneath a plywood floor, constructed from necessity. You cannot hurt me, my heart seemed to murmur so that only I heard, like a whispered voice in the wind-rustled grasses beneath my feet. It’s too late, the voice spoke – how can harsh words enter now, after that time when I was younger and after previous years of hearing the condescending tones of my father? The current spoken words of my husband were familiar; they spoke of my lack of value, my uselessness.
Instead of a beautiful lead crystal vase that my mother cherished, all I saw before me was a torturous vessel filled with silence. Six red carnations did not speak, but I heard the feeble excuses and promises they represented. They arrived wrapped in green tissue with a packet of nourishment, as if by dropping granules of white powder into water, all could be made right.
Wordlessly, a bunch of flat green ferns with red carnations were left on the table as he passed through the kitchen. I watched him recede into the living room. Unwrapping the flowers felt akin to removing a bandage from a not-yet-healed wound, the red carnations like blood-droplets. I smiled ironically that for over twenty years, he did not remember my favorite flowers – daffodils, yellow tulips and roses. (Carnations were his mother’s favorite flower.) Instead, stood before me, blood-red flowers that seemed to call out in horror from the battlefield of my life. The wounded and bleeding hopes were set before me as a reminder.
Impulsively, I tore the carnations from the vase, dripping water across the kitchen floor. I threw them unceremoniously into the sink, stuffing them into the drain and turning on the disposal unit, grinding them into red mush. I stood leaning against the kitchen counter, feeling relief. With the blood washed away, the torturous vessel was restored to the lead crystal vase that my mother loved.
From the living room called a disembodied voice, “What’s for supper?”