In the City of Chuckling Roses

Tara Campbell

Nov 24th 2022

Your girlfriend will find them charming, if a bit weird, but that’s why she’s been wanting to go. Each variety is different: the magenta ones will remind her of how her brother chuckles when he doesn’t want to admit her jokes are actually funny. She’ll say the yellow ones laugh like her mom when she’s with her dad—she loves that her parents are still so into each other. Like, they’re married, but they’re also best friends, she’ll say, and you’ll nod as though that were something you’d ever seen before.

Then you’ll come to the deep-red roses with scalloped petals, and your girlfriend will say they giggle like her mom when her dad’s being all gushy; but when she says it she’ll be smiling and scrunching up her nose because deep down she thinks it’s cute. She’ll call it cute but what she doesn’t say, doesn’t need to say, is that she likes it because it makes her feel safe, because they’ll stay together, because this is what love can be.

The purple-pink variegated roses will chuckle like her teacher watching TikToks her class made as part of their history finals. We still had to write papers, your girlfriend will say, but Mrs. J is coming around. And you want to be happy for her, to admire her confidence, but you’re afraid you won’t really hear anything she says, or even let this day happen, because you’ve looked the place up and watched the videos and heard all the chuckling; and the magenta roses sound like your dad every time he cursed and told you to learn how to punch; and the yellow ones sound like your mother’s sad laugh all those nights your sister would ask if he’d left for good this time; and the deep-red ones cackle like him when he’d come back home stewed, fouling the air with sweat and menace; and the variegated ones laugh like you did every time your mother said That’s it, we’re leaving, because you never, ever did. So you’re afraid you won’t hear anything your girlfriend says in the City of Chuckling Roses; you’ll be concentrating on calming your breathing, on keeping your hands still, on not ripping every last flower off its stalk and trampling them in their beds.

You have until tomorrow morning to decide: do you disappoint her now by begging off the trip, or disappoint her later by failing to contain your rage?

Or even later, like failure-to-propose later, or marriage-and-kids later, or drinking-your-feelings later, or cheating-and-lying later, or you-made-me-do-it later, or only-staying-for-the-children later? And which of those laters would count as giving-things-a-chance later, and which would be keeping-her-tethered-to-a-broken-man later? You’ve seen all these laters before; what’s to stop them from happening all over again?

The next morning you get up, shower, and follow her into the train. She’s always loved flowers. Seems fitting to let the roses decide.

Author Bio: Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse, and graduate of American University’s MFA in Creative Writing. In addition to Wyld Flash, her publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Wigleaf, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising. She’s the author of a novel and four multi-genre collections including her newest, Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. Connect with her on Twitter: @TaraCampbellCom

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