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A Flower Bursting From
My Head © Dee Rimbaud

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Marjorie Rommel [since 2008] has published her work in Riverbabble, Signal International, Mr. Cogito, Dark Orchid (Inkpot Press), Voices in the Trees (Evergreen Press), Ghost in the Garden (GodZillah Gospel Press), A Loving Voice (The Charles Press), Labyrinth (PWJ Publishing), and others. She was a 2000 Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation resident, and received an Adam Family Foundation White Bridge Traveling Fellowship in 2001.

"I'm not exactly sure what magical realism is—feet showing under the curtain of things as they 'really' are, I guess—but this poem might be on one edge ... ."


Lenora Rain-Lee Good, a native of the Pacific Northwest, is a poet and playwright based in Washington State.


"Priss, I want to hire a decorator to redo our master suite."

Those were the last words I ever expected to hear from my husband. Jerry had always left the decorating of the house to me. He gladly paid the bills, but seldom voiced an opinion. Now he wanted to hire a decorator to redo the master suite?

"You want me to change something? Just tell me what you want or don’t want," I told him, "and it shall be done."

I worked as an interior decorator before we married, so I didn't understand his sudden interest now and, frankly, was a bit hurt by his sudden desire to have my work done over by someone else.

“Priss, I love the way you did the suite. Truly, I do. But now I’m living in it. And dying in it. And I want—I need—something different. Mary gave me a name and number to call. She said to ask specifically for Loren. He specializes in doing rooms for hospice, which is how she met him.”

How could I argue with the man I loved more than anything, especially now?

“Love, if you want the moon brought down, I’ll do everything in my power to get it for you. Give me this guy’s number, and I’ll call.”

We thought the world of Mary, his hospice nurse; still, resentment turned to stone in my belly. How dare she?

I knew Jerry would die. I was angry at him for getting cancer, angry at him for dying, and angrier at myself for being angry at him. Mary said this was a normal reaction, but normal or not, I didn't like it. And now I was angry at her, too, for recommending another decorator without even consulting me first.

I’d spent a lot of time decorating our master bedroom suite, creating a peaceful environment—an idyll, really—a perfect retreat from the world for my Jerry and me. Just who wanted it changed, I wondered—Jerry, or Mary? I turned my face to the wall to hide the shimmer of unbidden tears, gritted my teeth, composed myself, and put on a smile. But when I turned back toward the bed, there Jerry lay, dear, vulnerable, somehow smaller than I'd realized, and I melted. If Jerry wanted something different, if Jerry wanted someone else to do it, that's what he would have.

I disliked Loren from the moment I heard his voice on the phone. Oh, he was polite enough, and sympathetic I suppose, but there was something about him that set my teeth on edge. I liked him even less when he walked through our front door and stood looking at me like a rancher inspecting a new horse.

“Priscilla, darling!” he fluted. “Get out of the jeans! Slacks are okay—nice slacks—but those are not nice. A dress would be better." He crossed his arms, cupped an elbow in one hand, tapped a finger to his chin, and wriggled. His whole body wriggled! Clearly, thinking was an ordeal that required constant movement.

In a jewel tone," he announced. "You are not a summer. Ditch the pastels. You want happy, confident, bright, cheerful colors for Jerry, vibrant and alive."

Loren's hands were both going now, describing happy, confident, bright, cheerful circles in the suddenly sour air of my living room. My dislike of him deepened, settled into the region of my solar plexus like an undigested bit of bad beef.

"Trust me, darling.” He smiled. I swear, even his teeth glittered. "Now, point me to your master suite, and go have another cuppa. I’ll find you when I’m done.”

I pointed. He waggled his fingers at me and minced away to find Jerry. I stood fuming, shooting eye daggers at his ample disappearing backside.

The fussy little prick had dismissed me in my own home! I didn’t like him on the phone, I detested the little snot in my house, and, I thought, if he calls me ‘darling’ one more time, I’ll kill him!

In the kitchen, I poured myself another cup of coffee, reached for the fake sugar—and realized why "Dear Loren" seemed so familiar. He resembled David Suchet—and the twit was every bit as fussy as Hercule Poirot! I put my cup down and laughed for the first time in weeks, a good, hearty, gasping-for-breath belly laugh that ended in great racking sobs: my first good cry since Jerry's death knell sounded.

A few minutes later, I was standing at the kitchen counter with my head among the dirty dishes, gobs of used tissues in my hand, when I heard laughter from the master bedroom. Jerry! He hadn’t had a good hard laugh in ages either.

I’m not sure how long I'd been sitting at the table when The Twit came in. He didn’t even look in the cupboards; he just opened the right one. By instinct, I suppose. He found a cup and poured coffee for himself. Holding the cup in both hands, he leaned against the stove, and looked at me through the steam, all his fruity ways evaporating.

"Whether you like me or not is beside the point," he said. "Jerry's comfort is what matters now. I see you've had a laugh and a cry, and that's good. Both are necessary. Jerry's situation is going to require big changes for you both, and you won't have much time to adjust. It won’t be comfortable, but it's a fact. He tells me you've done all the decorating in the house, and I must say you've done it very, very well. Your master suite could be on the cover of House Beautiful or even Architectural Digest."

Without leaving me time to enjoy the shock of his unexpected praise, he cocked a sly look at me. "I could make a couple of suggestions, should you ever ask them—but for right now you must agree to let me do the master suite as Jerry and I decide. Once he’s gone, I’ll put things back the way they were, if that is what you want.” He sat down at the table, watched me, and drank his coffee in silence.

“Is it so obvious?”

“What—that you dislike me?” Loren laughed, a merry peal. “Darling, no one likes me at first; I come at a very bad time in people's lives. I trade bad jokes with their dying loved ones. I want to redo their bedrooms, and their bathrooms—the most personal and intimate rooms in their homes, turn them into what they think will be ugly, utilitarian nursing facilities. I’m a joke myself, you know—I look like David Suchet playing Poirot—oh yes, I do know it—and I'm just as fussy, if not more. But I'll tell you something."

He paused. I waited.

“The liking will come,” he said. “It will. In the meantime, I ask only two things. One, that you dress up just a bit for Jerry. Two, that you not complain to him about me or what I’m doing in the room.” He looked at me, and waited. I looked back at him.

"All right," I sighed, temporarily defeated. "As long as you put everything back once he's"—my voice broke—"gone."

“Good. I’m off. I’ll be back tomorrow with a plan you're going to hate.” His fruity, irritating ways returned with a leer and a wriggle. He rinsed his cup and swished out the front door, leaving me staring into cold grounds in the bottom of mine.

Over the next week, Loren and Jerry met daily in our bedroom, chattered together like magpies, and shut me out. I should use this time to get my hair done, Loren told me. Go out with my friends. See a movie. Buy a new dress. Jerry and I needed a break from each other, he advised—time to adjust to our new situation. He, Loren, a trained hospice volunteer, would be there to care for Jerry. Oddly enough, I found I trusted the fussy little man. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say I liked him, I used the time he gave me for a few guilt-free indulgences.

As it happened, Loren actually liked the colors I had used in our master suite, and saw no reason to repaint the whole room. He would paint a mural on the wall at the foot of the bed, where Jerry could see. From the gales of laughter that filtered out of the room, I should have suspected what they were up to. Jerry loved gardening, science, and science fiction. He was an amateur astronomer—dreamed of going to the stars—though he wouldn’t live to see men land on Mars.

I wasn’t allowed to see the work in progress, and I don’t know if Jerry was either. Loren kept a black plastic curtain over the mural even while he was working behind it, a droll, stubby lump moving spasmodically behind the plastic. Jerry and I laughed often, those days.

When at last Loren pulled the curtain down, I caught my breath. A lush garden of alien plants grew on our bedroom wall. A stone patio with a bench invited the viewer to sit near a fountain that cascaded water down to a little creek wandereding through the garden. Fantastic fish swam in the creek as the air seemed to hum with brightly plumed birds. Small furry animals nested among the bushes. Beyond the fountain, a path lead through a filigreed gate, out across red desert sands to mountains beyond.

The mural was so unexpected, so different from anything I’d ever seen or imagined, I didn’t know if I liked it or not. But Jerry liked it. Jerry loved it. The stars in the mural’s sky were real to him, and night after night, as we lay together, he told me about them—about constellations unfamiliar to me but completely accurate, he said, from the point of view of the patio. He wouldn’t tell me where the patio was, though he must have known. Because the patio and desert were reddish brown, I called the place Mars. Jerry smiled.

Jerry must have told Loren about my aversion to green because the plants on our bedroom wall grew in shades of purple, and yellow, and red, and blue. The sky over the mountains was vast, filled with shining planets and twinkling stars. During the day, the painted sky lightened, though even in daylight the stars were still faintly visible. But at night, in the darkness of our room—even while I slept—those stars gleamed and glittered, lighting my husband's darkest hours.

Loren installed a small fountain—a perfect downsized twin to the one in the mural—where Jerry could see and hear it. The sound of the water seemed to bring the mural to life. Sometimes, at night, I’d wake in a swirl of vertigo, floating into the mural's deep recesses of star-filled space.

Days passed, and weeks, and months. Jerry grew weaker, smaller, and at the same time more beautifully carved—like a stone angel—more fiery, more intense: a red star at the point of imploding. And all through those long, sad, bitter, frightening, exhausting days and nights, fey, fussy Loren was there to care for him. To care for us both. And yes, he was right. The liking did come.

Jerry, my Jerry, my husband, my true love—night after night I woke to find his poor body tight as a bow, his attention aimed like an arrow right into the mural, as if willing himself there, beyond fear, beyond pain. His last words to me were not of love or regret, but “Meet me at the gate. Promise.” I promised, though I had no idea what he meant, and Jerry died holding my hand, his eyes wide open, staring into his stars.

The memorial service over, I escaped to my kitchen and my ever present cup of coffee. I didn’t drink it, but itss warmth brought comfort as I held it in two hands. When the door bell rang, I ignored it. But someone insisted, kept ringing, so I finally answered.

“May I come in?” Loren stood at my front door. “Here.” He handed me a covered plate. “You eat. I need to check the mural.” I opened the door wider. He slipped by me and went directly to the master suite. It would have seemed somehow intrusive to follow him, so I retreated to the kitchen, sat at the table with my cup of untouched coffee, nibbled at his cookies, and waited.

Minutes later, he came into the kitchen. “Priscilla, I promised I’d remove the mural, and I will. But I would like you to leave it for the next six weeks. Will you do it?” Loren sat next to me, took my cold hands in his. “I know it’s not your style, but please, humor me in this. Then I'll paint over it, if you still want me to.”

We talked a bit longer, though I have no idea what about, and he left. Later, when I went up to our room, the nightgown and negligee from our wedding night were laid across the foot of the bed. Fresh flowers were on the dresser—Stargazer lilies—next to an open bottle of wine and two glasses.

I should have been terrified. I should have left the house, yelled for help, called the police, called my neighbor. Instead, I took a long bath, dressed in my nightgown and negligee, and sat in the rocking chair near our bed.

The high summer sun set, the light dimmed, but I did not turn on a lamp. I poured the wine, and sat, and rocked, and waited, and watched, as the stars in the mural began to twinkle and shine. I have no idea how long I sat, how long before I heard the fountain, saw a dear figure move across the painted desert toward the patio gate. With a glad cry, I flew from the chair, across the patio, through the gate and into the arms of my beloved.

The chair rocked gently long after we were gone.

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