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Author's note: This story is set during "Hourglass." Check out the cover.

The Apple
by LJC

White roses are for weddings, they say. Because white is for purity. A single white rose is supposed to mean something... I can't recall at the moment exactly what. Something about secrets.

Her hand is still warm in mine. But it's cooling.

The bouquet is in my left hand, its perfume subtle. Like most perfect roses, they smell green and fresh, but not as strongly as the tiny blooms that grow wild by the side of the road, or in carefully tended gardens. Hothouse roses are vaguely sterile--they look perfect, but there is nothing to them beyond their appearance. She could never abide them. That never stopped him from giving them to her. He never understood that her love of roses had more to do with kneeling in the garden and getting her hands dirty. Nurturing something just for the joy of watching it grow. Seeing it thrive.

Her eyes are open. But that doesn't really mean anything.

I translated the Iliad and the Aeneid as a child with too few friends and too much time. My father gave me a vision of Ilium in plaster and wood--a microcosm of the business world, he said. A strategy tool. But the towers fell because the Gods were petty and cruel, and played two nations against one another for sport. Men died, women were viciously used, their children's heads dashed against walls. All were pawns to divine vanity. He remembers the Horse. I remember the Apple.

I let her fingers slip through mine, watch in horror as the arm flops to her side like so much meat.

White roses are for funerals, she always said with a laugh. Because she didn't care. Even when her hospital room was full of them--vases and bowls of them on every surface, as if she were already gone and the vigil was a wake. The moment the petals would begin to fall, he would have them whisked away, replaced by tight new buds. I sat at her side, her hand dry and warm, but slight and frail in mine. I watched her fade by inches.

I look down at the roses, still clutched in my hand.

He wasn't even there, at the end. I don't remember what excuse he used. Board meeting. R&D presentation. Dinner with an important investor. She said she understood. She believed it was simply too difficult for him, seeing her like that. That he couldn't stand losing her. But I know better. He just couldn't stand losing. So he played the devoted husband in public, hiding behind grief, using it the way he uses everything and everyone. Life to him is a game to be played--and won. But he's wrong. Life is a gift to be treasured.

The flowers rustle as they hit the floor. I don't remember opening my fingers.

Klytemnestra had the Cassandra of Troy killed, but it was a kindness. It was a blessing. It ended her torture--they called her mad because of what she could see, but if she was mad, it was from grief. If she was insane, it was from sorrow. Driven out of her head by the helplessness, having to watch it all come to pass, all her prophesies unheeded. A victim of the God of Truth's lust. I stumble backwards, away from the roses. Away from death and decay. Away from the memories.

"I need some help in here!"

Not everything I touch withers and dies. That's just a touch too precious a thought to entertain for more than the span of a breath. I've never been maudlin--and I despise wallowing in self-pity. None of that stops the thought from flitting across my mind, the memory of her hand in mine on its heels as if it were ten seconds ago and not almost ten years. I banish it with effort.


A nurse comes and I flee to the hallway, wiping my hands on my jacket as if death clings to them. I'm gasping, and taste air tinged with antiseptic and something like the sickly sweet smell of old paper.

The roses remain where they fell.


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