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Under the Rose

Story by Dana Brewer Harris (Read author interview) March 18, 2024

Art by Alex Shuper

Listen to “Under the Rose”.

Her birth was so violent, she must have thought it was death.

I told McMahon, “Take her out and leave her at the bakery on Bancroft Road. They get in early. Wrap her up real tight, and watch from the car until they find her.”

But he wouldn’t do it, and ended up giving her to a lady he knew in Pennsylvania. After about a year, she sent a photo of “Baby Marion” crawling in a field of black-eyed Susans. It would all work out. I had created an opening for myself, clipped the thorn from the briar, I thought, until somebody followed right behind me and fucked it up.

I walked in the house and there they were, McMahon and a girl of about five years old with flattened black curls and dry legs, the kind of kid you see at the edge of the playground. He signaled for me to follow him into the kitchen. I asked him if that was our girl, and he grabbed a Little Debbie from the counter and ate it before saying anything.

“The lady died,” he said. “And you know I can’t take this child home. Ain’t nobody ever found out about her. She’s slower than a walk to get your own switch, but otherwise, she’s fine.”

I told him that I couldn’t take her back, that there were no toys here, but he just put another creme pie into his pocket, an oatmeal one, and walked to the back door.

“There’s a hundred.” McMahon pointed to the bills he’d jammed into the napkin holder. “That’s what I’ve been sending. Anything more’ll get noticed.”

I watched him pull his motorcycle from behind the hedge then ride off through the back field. When it met up with the main road, he went left to catch a back trail; the long way into town that no one takes anymore except for defiant old people.

Marion was in the living room lining up gum drops along the windowsill. I stood behind her for a while trying to figure out what I’d tell people. What story had the lady in Pennsylvania told? I asked her if she wanted a hotdog but she didn’t answer. She just bent over the sill and gobbled up the red gumdrop. I milled around in the kitchen for a bit and checked the pantry for buns, then walked back out and sat in the window to get a good look at her. She was healthy, just shy of plump. Marion passed me a yellow gumdrop and took the green one for herself. I helped her up and we sat in silence on the windowsill, rolling the candy between our fingertips, making them sweet.

A small cardboard box was pushed against the fireplace, its sides soft and bowed and wrapped with frayed tying twine. “Marryon’s” was written across the top, and it had one of those old-time wooden handles to keep the twine from cutting into your fingers. Someone had misspelled her name, which seemed worse than the box and the twine. I got to thinking about the word “marry,” and then about those arranged marriages foreigners have, the ones where love isn’t guaranteed. I wondered if Marion wanted to get a better look at me too; to take my face in her hands and turn it this way and that, to drag me outside and see me under better light.

Just before I tried asking her about the hotdog again, Marion slid down from the windowsill and folded her socks around her ankles, fussing with them until the lace fringes stood out stiff like pinwheels. It was such a sanguine gesture that my breath stuttered, and I pressed my lips together, but not before a hollow sob leaked into the room and Marion looked at me as if she’d heard me cry before.

She had created an opening for herself, draped lace on the briar, because we’d fucked it all up with back trails and old twine and dead women in Pennsylvania. I took her hand and we went into the kitchen to start making hotdogs. I told her we’d unpack her things after lunch. I told her my name and that we’d get to know each other over time, like the foreigners in those marriages. Then I told her to get the buns from the pantry and she asked me whether I knew that black-eyed Susans were the first flowers to grow back after a fire.

About the Author

Dana Brewer Harris is a Washington, D.C.-based writer whose work has appeared in Atticus Review, Dark Winter Lit, and CRAFT Literary. In 2023, her story “Sweep” was nominated for The Best Small Fictions.

About the Artist

Alex Shuper is a digital artist and photographer from Liepaja, Latvia.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-Three
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