Visitor in the Rose Garden

I hate being left home alone. Especially at night. I see things at night. Things I can’t easily explain away. It’s best just to go to bed early, right after dinner, when Aaron leaves for his shift at the hospital. Even though sleeping on a full stomach is never recommended. Indigestion, weight gain, not to mention the phantasmal dreams. But at least they’re just dreams; I can wake up from dreams.

A man in my rose bushes—now, that’s very real.

I dial Aaron’s cell and it goes straight to voicemail. He’s either in surgery, or he’s just ignoring my calls. I think he’s picked up more night shifts on purpose. He wants to get as far away from me as possible; he thinks I’m bat shit crazy. With him working at night, and my mundane 9 to 5, we only have two hours in the day when our schedules overlap, and still it is too much for him. But I wouldn’t be like this if he’d only show some concern for why I don’t feel safe, spend the night with me like any husband would, lie with me at least until I fall asleep. That’s not asking for too much, is it?

The man never moves, only stands there and watches me wander about the house from window to window. I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s something less terrifying, like a light post or a tree. Trees tend to take a different form when the sun goes down. But there are no trees in our backyard. No street lights either. Because we live way out in the sticks, a forty-five minute drive outside Savannah. The only sign of civilization for miles is a single-story Baptist church with chipped paint, cracked siding, and a parking lot riddled with potholes. It’s congregation can’t be more than three members, including the pastor, because that’s all the cars I see parked around its doors when I drive by on my way into town.

We don’t go to that church. We don’t go to any church. I haven’t been inside a sanctuary since my daddy died when I was sixteen, and I was so anxious to get out of that hot, stuffy box of a church, with no air conditioning, packed with a bunch of self-righteous parishioners who babbled on and on about how holy and godly a man Daddy was when he drank too much, cursed like a sailor, and the only gift he ever left me was a trail of cigarette burns down the back of my thighs.

But now I feel the urge to get on my knees and pray for protection. Even though the figure still hasn’t moved, and when I look too hard, sometimes I can’t even tell if its human. But there’s a mass of darkness between my bushes, darker than the blackness of night, which even out here isn’t all that black because we still have the moon and the stars to lighten even the darkest hour. Sometimes, especially when the moon is full and the sky is cloudless, it’s almost as if the night has passed hours early and dawn is just beginning to break over the horizon.

That’s how I know something is there, something that’s not there during the day when I’m out in the yard, circling in the spaces between the bushes, bumping into nothing solid blocking my path, and pruning the branches, making sure to avoid the thorns, cutting off a few of the fuller roses that have bloomed beautifully under the sun, unfurling their petals to expose their most delicate inner regions. Those I take inside and put in a vase of water, their sweet scent filling the room, and even though they last only a day, maybe two, I pretend Aaron has given them to me, out of the love he bears in his heart for me.

It stands three feet above my tallest rose bush, making it at least seven feet in height. Sometimes I can distinguish a head from shoulders, and when it’s windy, long locks of hair. I used to hold onto the hope that it is Aaron, sneaking home just to check on me. The lost romantic in me loved that. The idea that he would risk a patient’s life just to make sure his lonely wife was taken care of, that nothing was amiss at the house.

I’ve given up hope on that now. If he does leave the hospital early, it’s to see another woman. A woman who is less worrisome, more tolerable to make love too. I even know her name: Stella. He doesn’t bother to delete the emails from our shared account. They come right to my phone too. Her pleas to have her pipes cleaned again, long overdue. The adrenaline rush she got when they did it in the patient record room, bodies pressed up against dusty file folders. Pictures of her positioned on her bed in risqué poses wearing nothing but a sheer lace-trimmed negligee.

I wish this thing would come in and kill me already. It would be a relief to Aaron. One less problem to deal with in his busy, busy day. How did we come to this; when I would be seeking death to unburden his shoulders? Was there a moment in our relationship when everything just changed? Divorcees always say that it is, that you may not have noticed when it happened, but in hindsight, you always knew it was there. But I can think of nothing—a word, a gesture, a forgotten birthday or anniversary—that would’ve caused me to lose my husband’s love.

I open the back door, and I half see it turn its head; probably shocked that I’ve finally come outside to greet it, or maybe it’s just my eyes adjusting to the night causing my vision to jump. Before my trepid heart can change my mind, or before it disappears, I dash toward the figure in a full on sprint, unsure of what to expect—if I’ll be overcome with fear or gladness to have arms wrap around me, lift me up into the air in a warm embrace. But anything is better than spending another night alone in my cold bed, the white noise of an empty house seeping in to haunt my dreams.

Let me know I'm not talking to myself.

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