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Some Variation of No

My lover allowed another man, a stranger, to buy her flowers: daffodils, tiger lilies, and the pink ones with the spiky petals – the flowers I can’t name. Each bloom smells similar, slightly sweet, as a flower should smell, I suppose. Except for the daffodils. Just under their everyday sweetness, daffodils smell faintly of urine. What am I to make of this bouquet? I am a man who knows little of flowers, although as a child I gave my mother handfuls of frothy dandelions and branches of lilac buds.

Lilacs. The scent of lilacs, an old lady scent, a young child scent. The scent of innocence decayed.

What am I to do? The flowers sit in my lover’s favourite vase on the kitchen table, infidelity in full bloom.

“Why do I have to rely on a stranger to buy me flowers?” she says. I cannot tell if she is angry or merely puzzled. I bought roses for a woman once. I suspect I’ve done it more than once, but I don’t remember. Does this mean I know nothing about romance, or only I’m always in love with a woman other than the one I bed?

* * *

Sometimes I eat like a dullard. I use my fork as if it were a spoon, scooping up my meal instead of spearing it elegantly. Grasping the fork like a hammer, I hack at the main course, bending the tines, as if the knife at my place setting were a futuristic implement. I chew vigorously and quickly and hang my elbows out too far. I ignore carefully chosen dinner companions. I fill my wine glass first and sometimes I forget to put my napkin on my lap. Hostesses frown on such behaviour. They lose their meagre appetites. They are women who understand flowers.

So what am I to make of my lover’s centrepiece?

* * *

It’s said you can eat dandelions, that they make a fine garnish for a summer salad. Use only the greens, before they bloom. Wash them gently in cool water, making sure not to bruise them. Sprinkle them lightly with vinegar. And everyone’s heard of dandelion wine. When you’re healthy your urine should be the colour of dandelion wine. At least that’s what nurses say.

Nurses know about flowers. They dispose of them often.

* * *

Stamen. Pistil. Which is which?

* * *

I tell my sister about the stranger’s bouquet. She is unimpressed. “You know,” she says. “What flowers are isn’t important. It’s what they mean that matters. Always know what flowers mean.”

* * *

In the morning, the stranger’s bouquet is plopped in with the egg shells and soup tins in the kitchen trash. My lover sips her coffee and says, “I’ve forgotten to take my pill.” Her pills are packaged how seeds should be: three neat rows, first this one, then this one… They lay between her deodorant stick and her Lady Bic in the medicine cabinet. She never forgets to balm her underarms, and she shaves them regularly, too, along with any other body hair she considers surplus growth. What is surplus depends on the season. But the daily observance of her pill escapes her more frequently each week.

* * *

We met at a party, my hair freshly cut. She was bending into the ‘fridge when I first saw her. I stood there, dumbly, staring, sloshing my beer on the floor. I found her ass arousing. Not an ass, I thought, but a rump. A bottom. A kiester. It has heft, mass. Not shapeless and rippled like a pan of congealed gravy, but smooth and firm like a classical sculpture. Callipygian. That’s what my sister called it. I had to look that up. Callipygian.

Of course, she was married.

* * *

Most Saturday mornings pass like this: I dash out for the newspapers and she brews the coffee. We sit in the sun at the kitchen table. She begins with the crossword puzzle; I, the sports. Occasionally we speak aloud.

“Jeez, Crosby has another concussion,” I’ll say.

“Some variation of no,” she’ll reply. “A phrase. Twenty-eight letters.”

* * *

She wonders about circumcision, rolling my cock in her fingers while we lay in bed on a sluggish afternoon. “What, exactly, was removed?” she asks. I point out the scar tissue, saying that, excepting the Jews, it’s mostly a North American fetish. I tell her some men grieve for what they believe they’ve lost and seek to restore their foreskins with much tugging and skin grafting. She considers this information, scrutinizes my cock, and then asks what my grandfather’s first name was.

* * *

Pistil /’pIstIl/ n. the seed-bearing part of a flower, containing the stigma, style, and ovary, [related to PESTLE]

Stigma, style, ovary.

* * *

I buy a cactus. It will do well on our sunny window ledges. I considered a fern, but I can never tell if ferns – everything drooping – are thriving or dying. She accepts the cactus suspiciously, but still cooks me a fancy meatloaf – with a hardboiled egg in the centre and mushroom soup on top – for supper. I eat politely, except for a greedy-guts third helping.

* * *

On a Thursday before a long weekend we go to a martini bar with her work friends. After four beers I am bored with gossip about people I don’t know. Everyone in the bar is smoking cigars and wearing suits that aren’t so impressive when more than glanced at. I excuse myself to the washroom. All the urinals are being used. Rather than wait, I take a stall. Written on the wall, in thick black marker, is Notes For Two Timers: A Businessman’s Guide. After seven beers, I go back and copy the notes onto a napkin.

* * *

From Notes for Two Timers: If you have a secretary, don’t even bother to try hiding your affair from her. She’ll know no matter what you do.

* * *

The first time we slept together it was a shambles. We tried too hard, expecting smooth travelling in unfamiliar terrain. After wrenching some token satisfaction from the act, we played the How Many People Have You Slept With game. Everybody lies when playing this game. A useful rule of thumb is to add ten to her total. Woman should subtract five from his count. Including each other, we both said twenty-five. Telling me she and her husband no longer had sex was the second lie she told me that evening.

Last night was like our first time. A desperate see-sawing, a harbinger of lovers thirty-six and twenty-one.

* * *

I have an unexpected afternoon off and go to my favourite coffee shop. I idly scroll through websites on my iPhone. I read profiles on “Plenty of Fish” and reflect on other people’s desperation. Until I get to: WORTH A TRY Professional SWF, 31, 5’5″ auburn hair, green eyes, medium build, non-smoker, social drinker, friendly, likes reading, crosswords, movies, dancing, seeks compassionate, understanding SM for possible relationship.

I know it’s not her ad, but it gives me pause. I remember what my sister said just before I moved in with my lover. “You’re going to expect fidelity from someone you’ve had an affair with?”

I drive to her office tower and follow her when she leaves. It doesn’t take long. Wearing a pair of new shoes, she spins through the revolving door of a downtown hotel. Of course, she could be going for a drink.

* * *

From Notes for Two Timers: Always make sure you pick up the mail. You need the VISA and MasterCard bills. Never call her at home and make sure she doesn’t call you. As with the mail, listen to the phone messages first. NO email. Take out the garbage every day. It helps create the illusion of domestic bliss.

If you find you never do any of this, look in the mirror, buddy. Hire a detective.

* * *

“You won’t believe what happened to me today,” she says. She starts most of her daily reports this way. “I was in the bookstore and this stranger gave me a book, a copy of the script of Shallow Grave. He claims to have seen me at this movie last summer.”

“He gave you the book? Just like that?”

“Yes, so I took it. But I turned down his lunch offer.”

“Took the book, spurned the lunch?”

“Is that wrong?”

“How do you know he paid for it?”

She reads the book most of the evening. Later I offer her a massage. I check her body for fresh love marks.

* * *

Stigma /’stIgm / n. 1 shame, disgrace. 2 part of the pistil that acquires pollen 3 (in pl.) (in Christian belief) marks resembling the wounds of Christ’s 4 a mark of dishonour 5 a sign of something abnormal.

* * *

We are restless in the night and sleep too late. She lifts the blankets for a peek. My morning erection isn’t for her, but she climbs on anyway. It occurs to me that her morning wetness may not be for me. We finish swiftly, so it’s less of a concern.

When she’s finished showering she tells me she has a hair appointment in the afternoon.

* * *

From Notes for Two Timers: Always do your fucking at her house. If both of you are married, screw in hotels, offices, and parkades. Don’t bring home any new sexual tricks. Pray she doesn’t have the clap. Don’t start drinking wine if you’re a rye & Coke man. Don’t take her word about birth control. Don’t use condoms bought from a bathroom dispenser, buy a box of the good ones. For god’s sake, don’t use your regular pharmacy.

* * *

Peaches, milk, tomato sauce, scouring pads… Standing in line at the Safeway I inventory the shopping cart, wondering what’s been missed. She begins talking about the cover stories on the tabloids. I find it irritating and embarrassing.

* * *

She fidgets at the bouquet-less kitchen table as I stir a pot of soup. She says, “All I want is a gesture. I just want a gesture, not your soul.” I want to say cooking is a gesture. Does she think I’ve ever cooked for a woman before her? What I say is “Soup’s ready.”

* * *

Style /staIl/ -n. 6 a particular manner or fashion of behaviour. 7 pointed tool used for engraving. 8 Bot. the stalk which supports the stigma. [Latin stilus]

* * *

She calls from the bathroom, asking me to get her lipstick from her purse. I find it flopped open in by the front door, its myriad of compartments exposed. A chain of five gold foil packets – RAMSES 1 PREMIUM CONDOM LATEX EXP DEC 15, lies in one pocket. There’s a loner wedged in the bottom beside a package of gum and I take it. I don’t know whether to be relieved or upset. Despite the bubble of anger in my gut, I’m oddly moved that she would have an affair and still take precautions. I find the lipstick and note it’s a shade darker than what she usually wears.

She’s standing naked in front of the mirror colouring-in her face. Her newly cropped and dyed hair bustles in several directions. I place the lipstick on the vanity and move behind her, cup her breasts and lightly kiss her shorn nape.

“What’s wrong?” she asks. I say nothing and begin to trace the ridge of her backbone with the tip of my tongue. Perhaps I squeeze her nipples a little too hard. Now her kisses have a different flavour. Like a mouthful of pennies. She cannot easily undo what she has done.

Deep in the night, her head on my chest, she whispers in her sleep, “Daisies, I want daisies in my bouquet.”

* * *

I imagine what she would say if I asked her to marry me. I don’t think she’d say yes. Yes. Of course, yes. Joyful jumping and squealing. I expect it would be some variation of no. No. Of course not. Are you serious? Not if you were the last man on earth. No, I definitely won’t marry you.

I am tired of being a transient man; a visitor to women’s kitchens and bedrooms. A new recipe tried. A fresh stain on the sheets.

I decide to give her lover a name. Roger. I’ll call him Roger.

* * *

I masturbate into the condom I took from her purse and place it under our bed, wedging it casually between the wall and the frame. We don’t often clean there, so I have to be careful not to disturb the dust. I wonder if cops planting evidence to convict the guilty feel the same thrill of success that shudders through me, or if they simply feel sad and disgusted that the pursuit of justice comes to this.

* * *

Pistil. Related to Pestle.

Pestle /’pestl/ n. a cudgel-like utensil for pounding substances in a mortar. [Latin pistillum from pinso pound].

* * *

I wait for her after work to surprise her with a lift home. I have a bunch of daisies. I’ll say we should go out for dinner tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll say, we should really give the apartment a good cleaning. Look, here she comes now, in her new shoes.

After we began our affair she left her husband. I hadn’t anticipated that and had discouraged it at first. “I’m not leaving him for you,” she said. “I’m leaving him for myself.”

I can’t say she didn’t tell me the truth.


A version of this story won the 10th Annual subTerrain Short Story Contest.
It first appeared in subTerrain issue 29.
Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.


Reprint and reproduction rights for this story are available for purchase. Contact me for more information on Anthologies, Course Packs, Reading Comprehension Exams, Translations, and Dramatic Adaptations


credit: www.ilkkajukarainen.fi on Visualhunt / CC BY-ND



Best paired with Trapiche Reserve Malbec until you’re maudlin.


Published inTodd's Published Fiction
This blog is written and produced on Turtle Island in Winnipeg, MB, on Treaty 1 Land that is the territories of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, Lakota, and Dene peoples, and is the Traditional Homeland of the Métis Nation. All material, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.
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