As part of Creative Tourist’s “Love Collecting” campaign on Twitter (#lovecollecting) I was inspired by a friend’s photograph of her nail polish collection, suggesting there was a story in it! Well, @creativetourist encouraged me to share anything resulting from that immediate spark: and so, here’s a short piece I’ve written in response to it.
There were also some red roses floating in the stream near my house, so I combined the images to come up with this…
Red Roses and Painted Nails
On their anniversary he always bought her a dozen red roses. But each year they ended up in the stream behind their cottage, bobbing in the water like thorny life rafts. It wasn’t that he forgot. It was simply a tradition he could not break. Red roses were meant for anniversaries.
‘But not these ones,’ she would whisper. She had always preferred tulips anyway.
Her nail polish collection was stashed beneath their bed, ordered neatly in their plastic boxes by colour and make. He used to joke about it at dinner parties: how she had enough polish to paint their house with, and then some. Other people would laugh. But not her. She would smile and nod, her head bowed in humour but her eyes rolled back in derison.
It was her ‘thing’. Every day she would have different coloured nails, sometimes even an effect or two that would make the girls in the office marvel over her skill. It was this that had drawn him to her in the first place. Her confident quirks that made her stand out. He had admired the delicate attention of her painted nails. It was what defined her, marked her out, made her desirable.
He hadn’t really known how much that desirability cost, both in terms of finance and space, until they had moved in together. She had wanted the entire box room to display the tiny bottles of colour, as if in a museum, but he had stood firm. Now he wondered what might have happened if he’d acquiesed.
Still, each year, on their anniversary he would bring home the roses and place them on the table for her to find. Then, as was his custom, he would clamber up the poky stairs to their bedroom and choose a bottle from the collection. Slowly unscrewing the cap he would savour the moment when the liquid broke the seal formed over the intervening months and he would breathe it in.
The smell brought back so many memories. It was the aroma of who she was, who she had been.Sometimes a tear would work its way from his eye and stain his face at the overwhelming nostalgia of that smell. It built up inside of him until he could take it no longer and he would close up the polish until next year, when he would choose another colour to mark this day.
By the time he got downstairs the roses had already gone. He would follow the trail of torn petals and the occasional thorn-spiked blood droplet down the garden path and to the edge of the stream where she would be waiting. Every year she tossed the roses into the rapid water and every year as she did this she would be crying.
“Who brought the roses?” she would ask, “I don’t like roses. They remind me too much of my husband.” She would break down then, crumple into his arms. “Oh, where is my husband. I thought he was home when I saw the roses, but he wasn’t. He isn’t here. Where is he?”
He would remind himself of his tear already shed in his moment with the polish and he would pull her close and breathe in her smell – the one that wasn’t really hers because she no longer remembered that she ever painted her nails.
“I’m here,” he would whisper but she wouldn’t remember him. Not even for their anniversary.
But still, he couldn’t help but buy those roses.