A Hard Frost
A reminder that my Mannequin Monday blog is now reborn as shortfiction24. I explain it all here.
What I’m Writing
This week’s story is inspired by a photo my brother Jim posted to his Facebook page last week. He titled it “Hard Frost on the Hydrangea.” It sparked the following story. I share it for your enjoyment. A short bite to read on the bus or subway, before bedtime, even on the toilet.
A Hard Frost
Christine sucked in the chill morning air as she ran her daily five miles. First day with the temps slipping below the freeze mark. The rising sun smeared the eastern sky with color, pushing away the stars, promising a warmer day.
Christine ran hard this morning. Fueled by anger. An anger that made her sweat pants and hoodie almost too warm. She pounded along the asphalt road, dodging a few raccoons still picking over the trash cans at the curb.
Her thoughts would not let last night go. She and her husband had watched their favorite football team lose a critical game. The defense collapsed. The quarterback had been sacked. Twice. They carried him off the field with a probable sprained ankle. Christine had said, “They can put ice on the ankle.”
Gavin, her husband, had snorted. “He needs to keep playing. The team needs him.”
Christine had retorted, “You’re an ER doc. You know he needs treatment.”
And Gavin had said through clenched teeth, “Real players play hurt.”
“You can’t believe that.”
“Do you know how many people I treat who just need to suck it up and keep going? A few stitches or a taped up wrist and they go out on medical leave.”
Both had gone to bed pissed. Gavin left early for his shift. Christine ran.
As her mind rehashed last night’s fight, she failed to see the handful of broken stones in the street. Her left foot slammed down on a chunk of stone, dropping her to her knees. She stood, brushed at the road dirt on her knees, attempted to run. Pain shot through her left foot. She limped across the sidewalk to a park bench.
She slipped off her sneaker, rubbed at the bruise on the bottom of her foot. Nothing broken, nothing bleeding. But it sure hurt like hell. She put the sneaker back on immediately and laced it tight.
Let me rest it for a minute, she thought. No need to push it. She heard her husband’s voice in her head. Real players play hurt. Fuck that, she thought.
Christine shivered on the cold bench. She stretched her limbs to keep from freezing up. As she rotated her neck, she spied a bouquet of flowers lying next to the bench. Hydrangeas. A pale purple, tinged with darker edges. And frost laced across the flowers. She picked up a card laying in the grass next to the bouquet. I love you forever, it read in green ink. She dropped the card back in its place.
“You can keep the flowers if you want.” The voice startled her. Where was the situational awareness her dad the cop had drilled into her since she was a tiny kid. She looked up to see a young man approaching, trailing footprints on the frost-covered grass. He wore wrinkled tan chinos, grass stains on the knees. A dress shirt with an open cardigan sweater, shoes coated with dirt. The man had stubble, disheveled dark hair, a haunted look in his eyes.
Christine stood, ready to run despite her injured foot.
“Relax, I’m cool.” The man drew nearer. She saw his eyes were red and swollen.
“I gave that bouquet to my girlfriend last night.” He pointed. “Right here on this bench. Hydrangeas. Her favorite flower. She always talked about having them for her wedding bouquet.”
“Oh.” Christine sat down again as the man sagged down near her on the bench.
“I proposed last night.” The man pulled a ring box out of his pocket, opened it to show Christine a one carat oval stone in a simple setting.
“That’s a lovely ring,” she told him.
“She laughed last night when I opened the box. She wouldn’t even try it on. Is that the best you can do? she told me.”
“Yeah. I’ve been pacing around the park all night. She actually walked home by herself.” He shrugged. “I guess I should have seen it coming. She was champagne to my beer budget.”
Christine leaned over and picked up the bouquet. She twirled it in her fingers. Frost covered the petals, sparkled in the rising sun.
The man laughed. “Fitting, isn’t it? Frost on her bouquet?”
“I can’t say anything to console you,” Christine said, “but look at it this way. You saved a lot of money on a pricey wedding.”
The man laughed, nodded. “She would have run me into the ground with her tastes.”
He gestured to the flowers. “I’m serious. Take them home. The sun will melt the frost off them. They’ll be good as new.”
Christine stood, tilting to favor the bruise on her foot.
“You okay?” the man asked.
“Bruised my foot on a stone in the road.”
“I didn’t realize you were hurt. Thought you were just resting.”
The man noted the rings on Christine’s left hand. “I see you said yes to your guy.”
Christine snorted. “After last night I’m not so sure.”
The man nodded. “But you cared enough to say yes.”
She shrugged. “Yeah. We both said yes.”
He stood. “My car is there at the curb. Let me drive you home.”
“No, no. I’ll be fine.”
“I insist. You cheered me up a bit. I’m grateful.”
“It’s okay. I’m no perv.”
Christine limped to a green Toyota Prius.
As they settled into the car, the man said, “I’m a copywriter. But I write novels on the side.”
“I think I found my next title. A Hard Frost on the Hydrangea.”
Christine laughed. “I’ll watch for it. I love a good romance.”
The man said, “No happy ever after in my story.”
Christine paused. “You know what? Can you drive me to the ER?”
“Sure. It’s actually on my way.”
“My husband works there. I need to see him.”
“You want to give that foot some attention?”
“Just the opposite. Give him and me some attention… Real players play hurt.”
What I’m Reading
I am about a hundred words into Kathleen Glasgow’s new book, You’d Be Home Now. I am a huge fan of her first two, especially Girl in Pieces. All her books are classed as Young Adult but read well for adults too. Her characters come alive on the pages. More comments next week when I finish the book.
What I’m NOT Listening To