Lilium Inter Spinas: A Short Story
River drove down the middle of the isolated road. William sat in the passenger seat glaring at her, the tension between them palpable.
"Are you ever going to speak to me again, River?"
"I can't believe you did that after I told you not to." She growled.
"Wasn't my idea, trust me. Sam set the whole thing up."
"You all know how much I hate surprise parties. How freaked out I get when I'm around so many people."
"I tried to tell her, but she wouldn't bloody well listen." He explained.
"You should have told me." River whispered.
"Love, if I had told you, you would have never gone, and all of your friends would be hurt that they went through all that trouble and–"
"Yes, and me flipping out and running away screaming was so much better."
"Well, I didn't think you were going to react like that."
"That's your problem, Will, you never think, you just do. You never care about who you hurt, or the pain you can cause."
"Pull over." William whispered.
"Pull over and let me out."
"Oh, don't be a baby."
"I'm not kidding, River... pull over."
"We're in the middle of nowhere, what are you gonna do, hitch a ride?"
"No, I'm going back to the bar to tell your friends that you are feeling ill and had to go home."
"You don't have to do that, let's just go home." River pleaded.
"Pet, I love you, but right now I need a minute alone. I'll see you at home later tonight." He said, kissing her hand.
"Don't go…" she whispered.
River watched as William got out of the car and silently started walking back towards the bar. She started crying as she saw him go. God, how had their day turned into this? She slowly composed herself and started to head home.
"Why did you say that? Stupid, stupid, stupid... he knows I hate surprises... but he was just trying to make me happy. He always tries to make me happy. Now, instead of pretending to be having a good time at my party, I'm driving in car alone talking to myself. I can't go back, he's mad at me and I can't face my friends. Maybe it's better if he tells them I'm sick. That way I can take the day off tomorrow and spend it trying to make it up to him."
River kept on driving, but suddenly slowed down as she saw an older man walking on the side of the road. He must be at least 60 what the hell is he thinking? She mused, wondering how the old man could be withstanding the harsh, cold weather outside.
Compassion overtook her, and she pulled her car over next to him. Please, don't be a serial killer.
"Sir…excuse me…" she said as she rolled down her window.
"Yes?" the old man asked as he turned to look at her.
River smiled uncertainly, thinking that something about this man seemed so familiar to her.
"I'm sorry, it's just that I saw you walking out here all alone. Do you need a ride, or…"
"That would be nice, thank you."
He sent a gentle smile her way and made his way into the car.
"Thank you again, it was starting to get a bit cold out there." He said.
River's curiosity finally got the best of her.
"So, what are you doing out here so late and all by yourself?"
"Oh, I'm on my way to take these flowers to my wife. It's her birthday." The man stated lovingly, pointing at the roses he held.
"That is so sweet, but why are you walking?"
"Well, my car ran out of gas a few miles back, so here I am."
"I see…well, do you want me to stop at a payphone so you can call someone?" she asked.
"Oh, no, that's quite alright. My wife is just down the road." He assured her.
"Okay, well then, let's get you to her so you can give her those lovely roses." River smiled back warmly.
"You said it's her birthday? That's funny, today is my birthday, too."
The old man pulled one of the roses out from the bouquet and handed it to River.
"Well then, Happy Birthday, young lady."
"Oh, I couldn't take it. They're for your wife." She protested.
"No, no, please, I insist. It's the least I can do for the ride. Besides, I'm sure my wife would hate me for not giving a flower to a beautiful girl on her birthday."
River took the rose and inhaled its scent.
"Well then I accept. Thank you."
"So, you say it's your birthday. Why aren't you out celebrating with your friends and loved ones?"
"Well, my husband and friends threw me a party, but I didn't stay."
"Why not?" the old man asked curiously.
"I get a bit scared when I'm around a lot of people and I kinda freaked out."
"Well, what about your husband?"
"We had a fight. He went back to tell everyone that I felt sick and had to go home."
"Now that has to be the most selfish thing I've ever heard."
"Excuse me?" River said.
"What I mean to say is, that if people go through all the effort of throwing you a party, you should at least have the decency to show up and thank them for their efforts. You may not stay long, but at least they know that you appreciate and love them." He calmly explained.
"It's not my fault…they know how much I hate surprise parties." River ground out.
"Well, what's wrong with surprises?"
"It's just… my mother… she had a weak heart. On her 50th birthday, her friends decided to throw her a surprise party. When she opened the door, they all jumped out and screamed “Surprise!" River teared up for a moment.
"She dropped dead of a heart attack before they could even say happy birthday." She whispered.
The old man covered her hand with his gently.
"I'm sorry for prying. I'll just be quiet now. It was never my intention to bring back sad memories." He said softly.
"No, you don't have to be quiet. I'm fine, it was a long time ago."
"Alright, so how long have you and your husband been married?"
"A little over a year, but we were high school sweethearts. What about you and your wife?"
"Well, sometimes it feels like forever, and sometimes… it feels like it's only been a moment." He responded with a faraway look in his eyes.
"Sounds like you really love her."
"Oh yes, I do." The old man was silent for a moment, then spoke up again.
"I think you should go back."
"Not this again." River groaned.
"Well, I am just saying that you only get so many birthdays, and spending them with your loved ones is the best way to celebrate them."
"How can I go back there and face William? He hates me right now."
"Now, now, no one can hate someone they love." He assured her.
"Trust me, William is–"
"I bet William is sitting there, waiting for you to come back and get over your fears and then spend the night holding you in his arms wanting to never let you go."
"I hope he and I can work through this. We promised to grow old together… have a family." River whispered.
"Well, the only thing I can see stopping that is you. You need to turn this car around and go back to him."
"It's not that simple."
"It's always that simple." The old man said with an emotion that overwhelmed her.
"Can we change the topic?" River asked, feeling uneasy.
"I thought you wanted to talk?"
"I do, just… not about this. Tell me about your wife."
He got that faraway look in his eyes again.
"She's the most beautiful woman I ever saw. When she smiled at me my heart would race a mile a second… but we don't really see each other much anymore."
"Why not?" River asked curiously.
"Well, that's the problem with getting old. She doesn't remember my face, or my voice. To her I'm just a stranger, and every day we are apart it feels like a piece of my soul is missing. Like a part of me is gone." He said in a hoarse voice.
River gasped when the old man laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Trust me when I say that when he gets to my age, your husband will understand, and he will miss you. Every stupid argument won't have mattered. He will wake up every day you are gone and mourn, until the day he gets to see you again."
"What do you mean he will miss me every day I'm gone?"
"Oh, nothing. I'm just speaking about my wife and I." The old man said, removing his hand from her shoulder.
"Oh… I'm sorry, I–"
"With everything we’ve gone through, it just makes me think how short life is. I think you should give William another chance."
River nodded her head, thinking about everything this man was saying.
"You can pull over now, she lives right back there beyond that road."
River pulled over, waiting for the man to get out. Suddenly, he grabbed her hand, and kissed the back of it.
"Please go back." He whispered. The old man looked up, and seeing the look of fear on River's face, let go of her. "I'm sorry, just an old habit. Thank you for the ride… give him another chance, pet." And with that, he stepped out of the car.
Watching him walk away, River started driving again, when suddenly, she saw a flash of William kissing her hand as he left her. River quickly looked in the rear-view mirror and turned back, but the old man was nowhere to be seen. She glanced at the rose he had given her and stared at it for a moment, before the sound of a horn made her whip her head around. Wit the last image burned into her mind, being her car careening towards the train ahead of her, and the crash that followed.
The old man walked towards the grave, reading his wife's name clearly inscribed on it.
River Anne Dawson
The tears rolled down his face as he took her picture out from his pocket and traced River's face. He knelt by the tombstone and set the roses on it, his words barely above a whisper.
"Every year I try to convince you to go back. Every year I try to save you… and every year I watch you die. I'm sorry… I'm so sorry, love. I miss you so much." He slowly composed himself, and smiled at the grave.
"Maybe next year we'll get it right. Maybe next time, I can finally save you. I love you, River, and I always will."
He took one last look at her photo, giving it a gentle kiss, and with that, William turned around, and walked off into the night.
Author & Editor