The first time we fought, he gave me roses. Big open blood-red blossoms that he had picked out from his little terrace garden. There were just three of them, and they shed petals as I caressed them and cried. After we had kissed and made up, I put them in water in a glass to which I added some sugar, at his suggestion. But by early morning, almost all the petals had dropped by the side of the glass. I saw them when I went to the kitchen to get myself a glass of water. I went back to bed and curled up against him.
He only brought me flowers when we fought, never on my birthday or any other occasion. They varied with the season – and with the intensity of our fights. He brought me chrysanthemums in winter: lovely white blooms that stood ladylike in the wine bottle I had put them in. He gave me a hibiscus once, one large red flower that he plucked as I walked over to the edge of his terrace, sulking. He touched my face with it, and then tucked it into my hair.
“You look like a goddess,” he said. And I turned around and smiled.
One morning, when we had fought the previous night and I had turned him out of my house, he came home with a big bunch of tuberoses. The smell of rajnigandha invaded my senses as soon as I opened the door to him, but I refused to relent.
“You can come in,” I said, as I turned around and walked inside. “But I don’t want to talk to you. You can take your things before you leave.”
I went into the shower and shut myself in. I could hear nothing for a long time, while he waited for me. Later I heard some noise in the bedroom, a drawer opened and shut. Then I heard the front door shut. I came out of the bathroom and saw that his clothes were gone from the back of the door. I opened the drawer where he kept his things and found it empty. I went out into the kitchen to find the rajnigandha standing erect in a tall glass of water, propped against the microwave so that the heavy stems wouldn’t knock the glass over.
Three days later, when we made up again, I asked why he had bought me the flowers.
“There wasn’t anything in my garden,” he said. But there were. There were delicate pink and white wild roses blooming. But he hadn’t thought that would be enough. He had known that this fight was more serious, so he had bought that whole dozen stems laden with elegant white flowers.
The next time we had a serious fight, he brought me a plant. A plant with little bright red flowers that I did not know the name of. I did not ask. I did not want a plant. I couldn’t water one, take care of one. I didn’t want the responsibility.
“I will take care of it,” he promised. But we had been fighting all night because he hadn’t kept his last promise.
I lowered the plant out on the little ledge outside my bedroom window: I lived in a small apartment and used the tiny balcony to hang out my laundry. He watered the plant whenever he was over for the first month or so: then we went away on vacation and I forgot all about it. It was March: hot and dry, and by the time we got back and I opened the window I saw it had burnt to a crisp.
He never gave me another plant.
It had been over a year that we had been together. I had flowers placed in glasses or wine or vodka bottles more often now. Sometimes, he brought me new flowers before I had thrown away the older ones, and I would have some wilting roses in a glass at the kitchen counter and fresh smelling frangipani in a bowl on the table.
One night, after one of those fights, I sobbed loudly, wishing for the way things had been. He turned around and came to me, and held me while I cried. He kissed me and I kissed back with a passion that surprised him. We had sex for the first time in weeks, clinging to each other as if we would never let go.
I woke up in the morning when the sun touched my pillow. The bed was empty except for me. I got up, wrapped my dressing gown around myself and walked out of the room. There was no one else in the house.
On the dining table was a profusion of orchids. Bright purple ones that seemed like they would hurt my eyes. At the end of each stem was a little plastic vial meant to keep the blossoms fresh for longer.
I sprayed water on the flowers. With trembling hands, I placed half a dozen stems into each of five glasses. I had never bought a vase.
I placed the glasses around the house: on the dining table, on the kitchen counter, in the bathroom, by the bed, on the dresser.
I picked up the few blossoms that were left and placed them in the fridge. Maybe that would help them last long enough for me to forget him.