The Day It Rained Roses
by Cheryl Anderson
I am by no means a reliable narrator. In fact, I've been known to stretch the truth a bit, to embellish certain facts, and even tell a white lie or two. That's the truth. But there's simply no need to lie in this case. Who would, what with things like they are? Now, I know a skeptic when I see one, simply because I'm right there with you most of the time. Belief is sometimes the only thread connecting you to others, and believe me, I've cut that thread many times. So believe what you will, and I will do my best to tell you what I know.
Today, the sky rained roses. Millions upon millions of them fell from red clouds bloated with a scent sweet and fresh and pungent like the odor of a tomb sealed for ages. The sky rained down roses on morning traffic jams, on people locked behind glass and steel and petrol that burned in vain to rid the smell from the sky. They stayed in their cars because of all the sirens and emergency broadcasts telling them that the world was ending. This was Judgment Day. They were scared because Nobody had shown up yet and made them evaporate into thin air. Nobody raised them through those red clouds to the Heaven that surely lay beyond. No one came down and picked them up out of their cars to hold them and lick their wounds. No one took them to a place where the story is the same over and over, where the clouds stay put and do things that normal clouds do.
The sky just rained roses, without so much as a drop of actual precipitation. There wasn't even a respectable thunderclap or lightning bolt to take the attention off the climate and the overwhelming odor. Really, it was more of a shower; a steady floating of the flowers to the earth rather than a pelting. The roses piled up on the sidewalks and streets and softened the harsh reflection of the sun on concrete. That gray that gets into your eyes like sand, and, no matter how hard you try, simply won't come out of your socks---that gray was replaced with a blanket of big, thick, soft, red roses. They landed and parted like lips around each car, tree, and house; each apartment building, skyscraper, and fast food joint. They haloed the old man who never woke up to see this momentous event from his bed on the green park bench, where the park police were too busy with emergencies to shoo him off to a grave.
The roses were not a public health hazard, although they probably flavored the water a little bit. Birds seemed to recognize this occurrence as all wild animals sense the coming of a storm or an earthquake; with quiet reverence and little concern for the humans who never take their warnings seriously anyway. Dogs howled at the sirens blaring and phones ringing and people screaming and shouting. Husbands and wives and children wanted to know what was going on, and mothers feared the worst--that the roses might be for them.
The school bells rang through empty hallways all day, allowing echoes of ghost-laughter and phantom shouts to spill into the neighborhoods, dancing and playing Cops and Robbers and shirking responsibilities and pushing each other in the sand, and crying because the world is lonely, and laughing because the first kiss--the dared love of children--is what turns this world, regardless of the sad stories and guilt that inevitably follow.
And what was worse was that, like snow, the roses had a deadening quality to them that eventually softened even the strongest shouts and whistles and whines, engines, sirens, and of course, loud shoes that would have clacked an alarming staccato announcing a state of emergency through the streets. The roses deadened the sound of voices by about midmorning. By noon, car tires had given up all hope of ever whining again, horns honked as if they were noses being blown, and all around the sounds began to have the same quality as a good long wail into a pillow thick with goose down. It looked as if Sound itself would be abolished by dusk.
Around three o'clock, when the sky was as red as the carpeted earth and showing no signs of letting up, a car door opened in the deadlock down on Main. The radio was turned up, speakers blaring the latest reports of the assumed Apocalypse. The whole world was being devoured by a strange storm of roses. As the door opened and exhaled its words of warning, a woman poked her head out, slid a leg onto the petaled street, and freed her shoulders and torso from the seat belt she'd not bothered to unfasten during the day's excitement. She decidedly unfolded herself out of the vehicle and gently closed the door, muting the stream of voices from the car speakers behind steel and glass. The shock of silence outside of her own still-warm car overcame her and she burst into laughter. She laughed and laughed, much to the dismay of other motorists who were waiting for traffic to let up so that they might get a shot at outrunning the horrors to come. The woman laughed and laughed and cried and laughed at the same time like a lunatic, and bowed down, scooping up armfuls of roses and hugging them to her chest before tossing them into the air, as if defiantly giving back to the sky what she had been given. With each embrace she allowed the thick blossoms to permeate her every cell and erupt into her body with another round of laughter and sobs. She threw roses at the other cars parked in the street, at the glares of motorists struck by her behavior. Her body flew in constant motion; up with an armful of petals to the sky, down with a swoop to pick them up, sideways to kick them right and left at other cars, and always dancing to catch each petal that fell. Her head swooned upward at intervals to behold the rain of roses.
Three lanes over, pointed southbound as if there was anywhere to go, another car door opened and let out another stream of noise. A man timidly stepped out and shut the noise behind him. He looked at the woman dancing with the roses, her hair falling out of its tidiness; at the cars around him that seemed frozen in shock for hours; and at his own hands and feet as if untrusting of his senses. He squatted down where he couldn't be seen from the surrounding car windows, huddled delicately on the balls of his feet. He sighed and picked up one single rose. He lifted it slowly and carefully to his face, as if afraid one of the motorists next to him would commit a citizen's arrest for his daring to undertake such a feat. He dwelt on its smell for a long moment, and then looked up at the still and unwavering red clouds overhead, overcome by the motion of falling. He remembered smelling air like this once before, when he had worked in Quebec for a summer lodge on the Atlantic. There had been a rose hedge for five miles along the coast, and every day he would wake and walk the beachfront, smelling sea air and rose hedge and thinking about the silence of water and rock.
After a span of time long enough for him to hold the memory sacred in his mind, spinning it like a wheel, he stood up with the rose in his hand. The woman was still laughing and crying, singing almost, and gathering roses in waves. He walked to where she danced and handed her the rose. The woman stopped her shrieks and smiled the widest, brightest-eyed, dazzled girl-child of a smile he'd ever seen. Years that might have been hiding in crow's feet by her eyes were rivers of youth and happiness from a thousand hikes in imaginary lands. Shocked by her muted tongue, the man began to laugh. She joined him, laughing deeper than before, and she dropped all the roses but the one she had been given to grab his hand and lift him in a half-dance, half-run through the streets, bending down and throwing roses in the air, at each other, at the sirens, at the yelling, at the fearful newscasters on wide screens that hid behind barred windows in pubs, houses, and department stores; at the sky of red clouds, and most of all, at the fact that they both knew that somehow theirs was the worldwide epidemic.