This stand-alone story was written for Three Word Wednesday (this week’s words: abuse, cramp, and hatred).
Della threw the plastic grocery bag onto the floor. Outside the foggy perimeter of her rage, she heard the crunch of glass breaking. Great. There went the jar of spaghetti sauce. Now, she’d have to clean the mess off the other stuff in the bag. It was Herman’s fault, every bit of it.
“Easy does it.” Herman placed his bags carefully on the counter. “I wasn’t ogling that girl–”
“Don’t lie to me. How could you miss her, with all that curly red hair?” Della shoved her lank blond hair behind her ears, and her stomach twisted in a cramp.
“Well, she was right in front of us in the check-out line – ”
“So you admit it.”
“Shit.” Herman stalked out of the kitchen.
Della knew she should let it go, but she couldn’t stop herself. Fury welled up, transmuting into magma which would erupt as abuse. Later, she’d be hugging Herman and telling him she was sorry. But was she ever truly sorry? Perhaps she lay perpetually in wait, like a spider in the center of an meticulously-spun web, for the next time hapless Herman cast his glance upon a red-haired girl.
She followed him to the living room. He was a full head taller. Didn’t matter. She could shout him down any day of the week. “Why do all the girls I catch you staring at have red hair? I don’t get why you’re with me. I’m not your type.”
He sighed. “How many times do I have to say this? You’re my type in all ways, honey. I love you. The only thing I don’t love is when you act like this.”
Della stood on her tiptoes. “Yeah, and a red-haired girl would act better, wouldn’t she?”
“Please quit shouting at me.”
“I’ll talk any way I want.”
“I’m going to hang out in the woods for a while. I’ll be back later.” Herman started toward the back door, but Della scrambled in front of him.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” she snapped. “Dream about your precious redheads while I’m gone.”
She went into the back yard. Herman’s house bordered National Forest property. Trees of all kinds soared to the boundless sky. Della spent a lot of time here, but when they got married, she’d move in.
Get married? What was she thinking. Herman wanted a redhead, not her.
Tears sprung to her eyes. Where were they coming from? She was pissed, not sad.
Was she being silly about the redhead thing? Sure, Herman loved her, but how could she be sure that he wasn’t settling for her as his “Miss Good Enough?”
The girl at the store had been gorgeous. And Herman had been ogling!
Biting her tongue so hard she tasted blood, Della moved out of Herman’s yard and into the woods. Near a large elm tree grew a ladyslipper, a kind of orchid. Rare to find them growing wild. She sat on a nearby rock, gazed at the flower and thought about Cinderella. Don’t think about Herman. Don’t think about redheads. She’d stare at the ladyslipper until she was fit company again.
Breathe in. Breathe out. The tips of her nostrils tingled as she drew in air which became a part of her, then she exhaled, sending part of herself outside. As she focused on it, the ladyslipper seemed to grow. And grow some more, until it dominated her sight. Somehow, like her own breath, Della felt herself being pulled toward the flower. What a weird sensation, to become a flower’s breath and dwell in a tiny world with silken fuchsia walls. If only life could always be like this. All she could feel of her body was her nostrils and the flow of her breathing through them. Endless waves, like life. Nothing stayed the same, did it? Picking a fight with Herman. Making love with him. Her moods, vacillating with the rhythm of how she felt about herself at any given second.
Cycling leads to shackling.
The flower exhaled her, and she opened her eyes – yes, she had eyes again – and felt, again, the rhythm of her breathing. Though she could willingly have stayed in the flower much longer, she didn’t feel rejected. The orchid was normal-sized again, yet it appeared brighter. The green of the forest foliage had intensified. And in her chest, Della felt her heart pumping red blood throughout her body in continuously flowing cycles that didn’t shackle, that kept her alive and kept her loved. Maybe not by herself, not yet, but by Herman.
More tears sprung to her eyes. God, what had she done? This had to stop. No more self-hatred projected onto her sweetheart. If she kept up the madness, they’d lose each other. Was that what she wanted?
No. With all her might, no.
She ran back into the house. Herman stood by the sink, washing his hands. He’d cleaned up the mess she’d made when she broke the jar of spaghetti sauce. The items from the bag she’d thrown – cans of mushroom soup, green beans, and mandarin oranges – sat, sauce-free, on the counter.
Della went to Herman and hugged him. “I’m sorry.”
He kissed the top of her head.
“I mean it this time. I don’t want to act like a bitch anymore about redheads.”
Herman raised a skeptical brow, but his eyes remained kind.
He had every right to skepticism. Look at how she’d been treating him. But in time, he’d see. She would earn his trust, just as he had earned hers all along with his steadfast kindness, no matter what the wounded part of her which always felt second-best had tried to say.
How could she feel second-best, most of all to her own folly? She’d just been an orchid’s breath.
Tags: flash fiction, magical realism, short stories, Three Word Wednesday
Filed under: Appalachian fiction, flash fiction, short stories, Southern fiction, Three Word Wednesday