"But what about your birthday?" she asked, suddenly remembering.
"It's okay." I waved my hand, dismissing her question. If I was going to let her go, it would be without guilt.
"But being here this weekend was supposed to be my present to you." Her hand began creeping up the railing. She wanted to go, but she knew she should stay.
I shrugged. "It's only dinner, Lilly. I keep telling you, after thirty, birthdays don't matter anymore. It's fine."
That slight assurance was all she needed. She raced up the rest of the stairs and disappeared into her room, and I was left, staring into the fire again.
If Lilly had been receptive, I would have warned her to go slowly and hold some part of herself back. Not to be so completely open to the emotions and excitement she was feeling. Or to the man who was stirring them.
But my child, like both her parents, was not one for half measures.
Instead of worrying, I should have been grateful that Lilly had survived three years of high school without having a serious relationship. Still, I wished it had taken even longer; that she'd had a few more years of innocence, pain-free and lighthearted, before she'd found her first love.
Freud postulated that when you fall in love, you rediscover the love you felt as an infant. If Robert and I had done decent jobs as parents, Lilly would have the stamina and resources to deal with what lay ahead of her. But what lessons had we taught her without knowing it? Had we inadvertently shown her too much of our strife?
It is the actions we don't want our child to see, the nightmares we do not dare speak aloud, the whispered words we do not think they overhear, that impact them the most.
While Lilly was still upstairs packing, the doorbell rang. Passing the window on my way to answer it, I saw the local florist's van parked in the driveway.
Carrying the oblong white box to the kitchen, I put it down on the counter and set aside the card. I didn't need to read it, I knew who the flowers were from.
Each year on my birthday, even after we had separated, Robert had sent me calla lilies. But after I untied the ribbon and laid back the tissue, I was startled to see -- not the white lilies -- but a dozen long-stem roses. Instantly sickened by the sight and smell of them, I pushed the flowers away from me. The box tipped backwards and the dark red flowers spilled into the white porcelain sink. I was catapulted back in time to the day my father had been shot.
Bullets flew. A bowl of red roses on the countertop had fallen -- the glass had shattered, the roses had scattered -- one lay at his feet, the color of the petals no different than the color of his blood.
"Mom?" Lilly stood in the doorway. "Are those from Dad?"
"Yes...I guess...but...I'm not sure." I was confused. Robert never would have sent me red roses.
"Isn't there a card?"
Reaching for the small envelope, I opened it and read it. "Yes...they're from your father..."
Lilly stared into the sink. "They're not lilies this time; isn't that great?" My daughter clutched at every change her father or I exhibited, collecting them as proof that metamorphosis was possible, certain that when we each had changed enough, we might get back together.
Lilly was as good at reading my face as her father was. One look at me was enough for her to know something was very wrong.
"Mom? What is it?"
"It's nothing." I began to pick up the roses, carefully avoiding the thorns.
"I think you're being very ungrateful."
"Oh, Lilly, I'm not being ungrateful." I hadn't wanted to tell her what was wrong and burden her with my memories, but the alternative was worse. "There were red roses in the shop the day your grandfather was killed. Somehow they were knocked over and wound up -- " I didn't want to explain any more. "I just don't understand how your father could have sent me roses."
Copyright © 2000 by M.J. Rose. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at http://www.mjrose.com
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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