New Fiction: “The Rose Salesman” by Daniel Beauregard

 

A man makes a living any way he can, sometimes even by selling roses by the side of the road; who are we to judge what merit such work has or make statements for or against it? Is it not work, and work, no matter what one does, is a thing to be cherished by the one working and respected by whomever is observing the other at work? Perhaps too, this worker we’re discussing—this rose salesman—even ventures out into the street when traffic is stopped to display his wares to drivers and passengers in hopes they’ll be swayed by his generous smile to make a purchase or prodded by a loved one in the seat beside them to select one, or a dozen, of his beautifully manicured roses as a gift for themselves or one they cherish. Straight away we can see that it isn’t easy work, especially during the height of summer when even the most amiable motorist is reluctant to roll his or her window down and sacrifice even a moment of cool air to the sweltering furnace outside. One would think that these people, safe and cool in their automobiles, would feel a slight sympathy for this man, laboring under the hot sun day in, day out, but they’re too busy checking the radio or chatting with passengers or feigning ignorance to acknowledge the rose salesman, who is sweating but always smiling. Of course we can’t fault him when eventually, as the light turns from red to green, he retreats back to the comfort of his kiosk on the corner, defeated but brightened by the shade his little area provides, by the fan in the back that makes the heat weigh a little less heavily upon his bronzed and shirtless shoulders. Who are we to pass judgment as he sits on an upturned, empty bucket, protecting himself from exhaustion during the hottest part of the day; when the sun is directly overhead, glinting fiercely off the hoods of cars as the motorists pass by, indifferent to his hard work. We watch quietly as he wipes the sweat from his brow with a cool wet rag and gazes across the sea of traffic to the cemetery, stretching out before his eyes like an uneven rug: in places one can see elaborate mausoleums, their spires reaching skywards; others, barely recognizable gravestones, age having done its best to destroy their memory. The rose salesman thinks, gazing at the aged ossuary, Throughout the years, the only thing that’s saved me and my family from going to the poorhouse is death; the only thing that’s saved me from death is death. He says this to himself, quietly, over and over again, a sort of incantation, the words melting together into a rhythmic intonation as the emphasis of the syllables takes precedent over the meaning of the words themselves. In this manner he becomes momentarily hypnotized, staring at the graveyard and muttering under his breath until a customer—one who’s very much alive—arrives and snaps him out of his reverie. A smartly-dressed man in a three-piece suit towers before the rose salesman. Although it’s unbearably hot out, the customer hasn’t even broken a sweat. He bears a slightly septic pallor and demeanor, but the rose salesman isn’t perturbed; you see, this is his best customer: the widower, as the rose salesman calls him, although he doesn’t truly know whether he’s a widower or not. The man referred to as the widower purchases a two dozen red roses from his kiosk once a week, so the rose salesman thought it safe to assume the man must be a widower, for what else could one do with such a quantity of roses. One could hypothetically do whatever they liked with the roses purchased from a kiosk near the city’s largest cemetery, but the rose salesman has little imagination for such things and for the purpose of our narrative, we do as well. However, we’re in no position to judge a man that buys two dozen roses each week or the man who sells them to him. It is not within our purview to make grand accusations, say, like accusing the widower of having some strange affectation for roses or the rose salesman for taking advantage of another person’s grief. We have not enough information at our disposal to pass this sort of judgment, nor would we consider it civil even if we did, for one can never truly know what another person is thinking, is feeling, without becoming that other person and living as them for a time. So we’d bear a respectful silence if say, one hot August morning our rose salesman, perhaps looking to understand the widower more fully or out of mere boredom or curiosity, decides to abandon his kiosk momentarily and follow the widower, who waits on the corner until the light turns red, then travels across the temporarily halted thoroughfare to the other side of the street, where the imperceptibly tall gates to the cemetery spread apart like bat wings in a macabre welcome as he enters. Without looking back, he makes his way through the rolling hills of tombstones stuck into the earth like a giant’s baby teeth. Our rose salesman soon realizes he’s been too reserved in his pursuance and has lost the widower, who disappeared among the crumbling stone and rolling hills of the dead behind some decaying mausoleum or other. Defeated but not entirely dejected, the rose salesman continues exploring, marveling at the sheer immensity of the cemetery. It’s extremely large, he thinks, bigger than an airbase. And it’s true, one could spend weeks meandering through its pathways and still not see even a small fraction of it. The rose salesman gasps, pondering the sheer number of bodies interred in little stone houses, buried or burned, charred and placed into urns. He’s delighted to find that each type of death has its own little section: there is one for those who’ve been murdered, another for women who died during childbirth, one for people who realize the moment before they die they’ve made a horrible mistake. His eyes are drawn to the most extravagant sector of the cemetery, where the mausoleums and crypts reach skywards, for isn’t that where heaven is? The rose salesman continues down this extravagant pathway until stumbling upon a black and marbled mausoleum, the veins in the stone making its exterior appear as if it was once a cancerous mass excised from some great leviathan. Captivated by this strange, smooth stone, he runs his hand along it, walking in nearly a complete circle before realizing that its entrance, a small, recessed door at the bottom of several steps, has been pried open. Is it curiosity or concern that causes the rose salesman to cautiously step forward, heart pounding as he pushes open the door to the crypt? It yawns noiselessly, revealing a darkened stairway he descends with quick little breaths, peering around the corner just in time to see the widower pluck the last remaining rose petal, then stretch out to sleep for what seems like another thousand years.

 

 

Daniel Beauregard lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His work has appeared in a number of places including Alwayscrashing, sleepingfish, The Fanzine, smoking glue gun, Poor Claudia, ILK, Jellyfish, and elsewhere. He has previously published two chapbooks of poetry, HELLO MY MEAT and Before You Were Born. He’s also a co-founder of OOMPH! Press, a small press devoted to the publication of poetry and prose in translation. He’s currently working on a novel titled Lord of Chaos and can be reached on Instagram @666ICECREAM.

Image: smashwords.com

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