A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Roses and Noses
by D. J. Russell (Jun 2007)

             The wheels on the cab go round and round, round and round, round and round.  Her mind always filled with the craziest nonsense when she was tired.  The simplicity of the children’s songs seemed soothing to her after a long day of work.  Looking forward through the cab’s windshield, she saw the first moist messengers sliding down the grimy glass, telling her the forecasted storm had arrived.

            The day had left Michele longing for nothing more complex than “I Dropped My Dolly In the Dirt.”  It had now been nearly eighteen hours since she had slipped her feet from beneath the comforting warmth of the quilt and into her nauseatingly pink slippers.

            Now, three teleconferences and six employee evaluations later, Michele stared out at the passing city landscape.  Her head was pounding from the strain and effort of the day and the lighted panorama that she usually enjoyed so much during the ride home was just a horde of multi-colored intrusions.

            Michele had nearly fallen asleep when the taxi slowed to a stop in front of a two-story brownstone.  With great effort, she propped open her drooping eyelids enough to fish cash out of her purse and pay the cabbie.  Swinging the cab door open wide, she lumbered onto the sidewalk, her briefcase, purse and umbrella adding extra strain to her already weary frame.  Even though fatigued, she unfurled her umbrella and wasted no time scaling the steps of her front stoop, not pausing until she was bathed by the fluorescent light that hung above the door.  She turned the knob and stepped thankfully into the quiet, dim interior of her home.

            “Ms. Landerson, let me help you with that!”  Michele heard the words before she saw the body that issued them.  The petite frame of Maryse Piochet arrived at her side almost as quickly as the words she had spoken.  Within a moment, Maryse had helped her transfer all of her troubles, physical ones at least, onto the French-style table console near the door.

            Michele thanked God every day for bringing Maryse into her and Chelsea’s lives.  Maryse had been such a help taking care of her daughter on those days when she had to leave early or stay late at work.  A student from Paris studying at a nearby university, Maryse performed all the duties of a traditional au pair but was more a member of the family.

            Before she had an opportunity to appreciate her new-found freedom, Maryse was behind her, tugging at her coat.  Michele relaxed and let the coat be gently removed.  As Maryse hung the coat neatly in a hall closet, Michele walked to the foot of the stairs and peered toward the second floor landing. 

            “She had a very good evening,” said Maryse.  She stood by Michele and let her eyes also stray upward.  Maryse had seen a flash of pain enter the older woman’s eyes and felt that addressing her directly would have been too intimate an intrusion.

            “What time did you put her to bed?”  Michele turned her gaze back toward Maryse, knowing that wishing could not make it so.

            “We played board games for most of the evening, and then I put her to bed about eight o’clock.”

            “Did you make sure she went to the potty before she got into bed?”  Her daughter, although six years old, still, occasionally, wet her bed.

            “Oui.”  Maryse grinned, ‘In fact, it was she who reminded me.  I congratulated her on being such a big girl about remembering.”

            “Speaking of learning,” Michele said, with a smile of her own, “if Chelsea keeps it up, you’ll have to start tutoring me in French just so I know what she’s saying half the time.”

            “She’ll have a better accent than I have by the time she’s seven!”  Maryse’s fingers flitted to her mouth, partially hiding an awkward smile of pride.

            Michele found herself jealous on occasion when she thought about all the special moments that Maryse was able to share with her daughter and that she missed out on.  Michele bought Chelsea the pretty little dolls she liked to play with, but it was Maryse who knew each and every doll by name and which dress went with which.  On more nights than she would like to think about, it was Maryse that sat on the edge of Chelsea’s bed while the sweet little girl said her nightly prayers.

            Chelsea had had nannies of one type or another since she had been two years old.  Why was it bothering her now?  Maybe it was because none of the other nannies had lasted more than three or four months at a stretch, while Maryse had now been with the two of them almost a year and a half.

            Michele snapped out of her reverie, realizing again what time it was.  “Oh, my goodness!  You probably have class in the morning and need to leave.”

            “Ms. Landerson?” a confused look crossed Maryse’s face.  “Don’t you remember?  Tomorrow is Saturday.  I’m taking Chelsea to the park in the morning.”

            “Oh,” was all Michele could manage.  Somehow she had forgotten what day of the week it was.  Not that it had made much difference lately.  With all the projects she had been working on, the weekend had become little more than an abstract concept.

            “Well, let me give you the money I owe you.”

            “No, Ms. Landerson, you don’t have to bother with that right now.”  Maryse raised one hand in protest.  “I’ll just get it when I bring Chelsea back tomorrow or when you come home sometime this week.”

            “No, you won’t.  It’s absolutely no trouble at all.”  Michele grabbed her pocketbook from the console table where the rest of her belongings had been placed.  “I made a check out this afternoon during the extra fifteen seconds of breathing space I got between meetings.”  Finding the check, she removed the slip of paper and handed it to Maryse.

            “Ms. Landerson! This is far too generous!”

            “Nonsense.  You deserve every penny of it.  Buy yourself a new dress or outfit.  Just have some fun.”  Michele couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on the young woman’s face.  The look of shock and gratitude was, within itself, nearly worth the gesture.

            “Thank you, so much.  I have some very good ideas about this,” she said.  Maryse began to turn away and gather her things when she thought of something and turned back to Michele.  “Oh, by the way, there are a few phone messages for you on the dining room table.”

            “All right.  Well, grab your stuff and head home.  I told the cabbie to wait until you came out.  So, go get some sleep and I’ll see you on Thursday.”  As an afterthought, Michele handed the young woman her still damp umbrella.  “Here,” she said, “It’s starting to storm a bit.”

            Maryse was positively dancing as she headed out the door, with her book bag slung over her shoulder and her cell phone already out and being raised to her ear.  As it is with the impetuousness of youth, the umbrella remained unopened, the chord dangling from the young woman’s fingertips.   Michele waited until she saw Maryse and the cab fade into the inky darkness of the night before she closed the door.

            Michele spent the next half hour doing her best to unwind.  Having had to skip dinner this evening, she went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea and a sandwich.  She placed the sandwich on a saucer and the saucer over the top of the tea, leaving one hand free to carry a work file up to the bedroom.

            Chelsea’s room was next to hers.  She considered briefly opening the door to her daughter’s room and peeking in on her, but she worried the light from the hallway would wake the little girl.  She would wait until she was ready to crawl into bed before checking in on her.

            It was twelve forty-five in the morning before she finished checking over the last page in the file she had brought home.  She closed the file and placed it on the table beside her bed.  She could just finish up whatever was left when she went into the office in the morning.

            Michele padded softly out of her room and cracked open the door to her daughter’s room.  Chelsea looked so sweet lying there in her blue flannel nightie, the bed covers up nearly to her chin.  A flash of light came from the window next to Chelsea’s bed.  Already closed and locked for security, Michele decided to take a few steps across the room and pull the draperies closed against the storm.  She recrossed the room and returned to her post at the door.

            She used to be able to do this for hours when Sasha was alive.  She would sit in a comfortable chair in the corner of the room, sipping a drink or reading a few pages in a book before her gaze would invariably linger on the shadowed form of Chelsea lying in her crib.  The vision of her daughter was something that never grew wearisome or ordinary.

            When Chelsea was born, Sasha’s second play, “Belles of St. Isaac”, was the toast of the town.  Michele raised her hand and touched her cheek as she remembered with unusual clarity the times when Sasha, though thirty minutes late for rehearsal, would pause long enough in his mad-dash to give her a sweet kiss goodbye – and one to his daughter who, in those early days, was either in her crib or feeding hungrily at her mother’s breast.

            That was the greatest time of her life.  Though she enjoyed her career now, she had never felt in any way unfulfilled as a wife and mother.  She chuckled to herself as she thought about how the hours she spent with Chelsea as an infant were often more erratic and consuming than anything her current job had yet to throw at her.

            Deciding that it was time for her to shift her daydreaming into more of a night mode, Michele whispered, “Goodnight, my angel,” and pulled the door to Chelsea’s room closed.  Soon, a nauseatingly pink pair of slippers was once again parked silently by the bed, fluffy bubblegum guardians of the night.


            When Michele’s eyes opened, she knew there must be something wrong with the world.  There was not supposed to be this much sunlight!  She turned a confused gaze to the alarm clock beside her bed and shrieked with dismay when she saw the blinking numerals on its face.  Searching desperately for the correct time, she snatched her watch from the bedside table.  She had slept until almost nine o’clock!  She was going to be extremely late for work.  She was amazed they had not sent a search party out for her already.  Michele decided to wait until she was on her way to call the office. 

Not bothering with slippers or robe, Michele made a mad dash for the bathroom.  Even with doing only minimal makeup and blow-drying her hair straight back, it took her nearly forty-five minutes before she was dressed and ready.

            Finally feeling presentable, Michele grabbed her cell phone from the dresser and flipped it on.  Indeed there were two messages from the office.  Both were from her assistant, Barbara, wondering if everything was alright.  There would be time to return the calls during the cab ride to the office.

            As she opened her bedroom door and headed into the hallway, she pressed the speed-dial number for Maryse.  Michele wanted to see if she and Chelsea were having a good time at the park.  With the sound of the phone ringing distantly in her ears, Michele pictured her daughter hanging upside down from the jungle-gym;  an impish smile lit up her face while her mother stood by praying feverishly that Isaac Newton had been wrong about that whole ‘theory of gravity’ thing.

            The call going to voicemail was probably what distracted Michele from noticing that there were pieces of something littered along the length of the hallway.  Why wasn’t Maryse answering her phone?  Was there something wrong with her phone?  Had there been a problem with Chelsea?  Maybe she should stop at the park on her way to work.

            Reaching the top of the stairs, Michele started to make her way down when it finally registered the red flecks of color that she had been following like bread crumbs -   rose petals?

            Many questions flitted through her mind as she began to descend slowly down the staircase.  None of them seemed to make any sense though.

            Michele nearly screamed when she reached the bottom step and the disembodied heard of Maryse popped around the corner from the dining room.  Maryse quickly raised one finger to her lips in order to silence her employer.  Maryse took a look behind and then ducked around the corner and stood on the first step with Michele.

            “What is going on here?” Michele made an effort to keep her voice down, but little effort to keep the concern and annoyance out of her voice.

            ‘I need you to go back up to bed.”

            “I can’t do that, I have to go into work and check on some projects.”  Deciding that a few questions of her own needed to be answered as well, she said, “Why are you two not at the park?  Why didn’t you answer your cell phone when I called you just now?  Why are there rose petals along the hallway and down these stairs?”  She picked up one of the offending buds, rolling it gently between her fingers before letting it float gracefully back to rest upon the beige carpeted steps.

            Maryse spoke as she tried to gently guide the still vexed Michele Landerson back up the flight of stairs.  “We decided to not go to the park because I felt it would still be too wet for her to play.  So, we decided to stay home and find a really special activity.”

            By this time, Maryse had maneuvered her boss to the top of the stairs and pointed her in the direction of her room.

            “Well,” Maryse continued, “when 8:30am had rolled around and you hadn’t, Chelsea and I decided that Mommy was going to take the day off from work.”

            “That’s where I’m heading now, Maryse.”

            “Oh, but you can’t leave now!  That would ruin everything!”  There was a definite note of distress in the young woman’s voice.  “Just go back to bed, and we will show ourselves in a few minutes.”

            “Maryse!  What is going on here?”  Although Maryse’s face showed only a radiant smile, Michele was put on edge by the slight reversal of roles.

            “In five minutes, come back down and all will be explained.”  Maryse patted Michele lightly on the back as the older woman slowly retreated back up the steps.

            Back in her room, Michele paced and fumed.  She lived such an orderly life that the little hiccups that occasionally occurred seemed insurmountable.

            Four minutes left.  She thought about calling the office again and realized that she would not have the patience to talk to Barbara or any of the other girls in her corner of the building. 

            Three minutes left.  Surely there wasn’t something wrong with Chelsea or Maryse would not have seemed so cheerful.  Had Chelsea perhaps broken something in the kitchen and Maryse was trying to help cover-up the mess?  Surely not. Although she was a bit of a stickler on the rules, Michele had always made it clear that outside of really major catastrophes, everything else could be handled through love and patience.

            Two minutes left.  Darn!  She had to stop biting at her nails.  She had just paid $50 to have them manicured.  That reminded her that she needed to reschedule her four o’clock appoint to get her hair done.  Pulling out her trusty palm pilot, she made the adjustment in her calendar and sent off an e-mail to her stylist for verification.

            One minute left to go.  Michele’s pacing stopped, and she softly made her way to the partially closed bedroom door.  For a moment she could hear the sounds of giggling carrying up the stairs.

            The five minutes were finally over.  She was just about to swing the door wide open, when a bugle sounded throughout the apartment.  The suddenness of the sound caused her to fling the door open with more force than she had intended.  The door’s knob smacked violently against her wall, leaving a shallow impression in the crème, textured drywall. 

            Michele paid little attention to this and moved swiftly down the hallway and to the head of the stairs.  She took each step slowly.  She was anxious and did not want to compound things by falling down the steps and breaking her own darn fooled neck. 

            Like Hansel and Gretal’s breadcrumbs, petals from the roses continued to show her the way.  At the first floor landing, the pretty pink droppings angled around the corner to the left and into the dining room.  Michele followed obediently.

            When she turned the corner, she had to brush away tears that were forming in the corners of her eyes.  In the center of the small dining room sat a small round table.  Usually bare, save an occasional vase of fresh flowers, it was now covered with a white linen tablecloth.  On its center sat a vase with what must have been two dozen of the longest-stemmed roses she had ever seen.

            Maryse appeared from behind her.  Michele had not heard her approach.  Putting one hand delicately on Michele’s shoulder, her daughter’s nanny guided her to one of the two chairs at the table and seated her.

            Michele was too shocked to speak.  The entire scene was truly beautiful.  Even the place-setting had been handled with great care.  Someone had chosen a piece from the China collection that had been given to her when she and Sasha had married.  It had only been used on a few special occasions and not once since he had passed away.

            Maryse excused herself for a moment and disappeared into the kitchen.  Within moments, the door swung back open and stayed in that position.  A small figure, face obscured by a tray laden with dishes and glasses, made its way very cautiously into the room.  The room was so silent with anticipation that the clinking of the glassware rang sharply within the small area.  Finally, with a grunt and a sigh, the miniature waiter placed her tray upon the table and stepped back.  The beaming face of Chelsea was revealed.

            When Michele could not find any words, the pleasing smile on Chelsea’s face began to falter, concerned that she might have done something wrong.

            “Don’t you like it, Mommy?”  Her upturned face swung back and forth between her mother and Maryse, looking for some indication of an error.

            Michele reached down and hugged her daughter, drinking in deeply the fragrance of the Ivory soap that still clung to her daughter’s skin from her morning bath.

            “I love it, Sweetie!”  She looked at the tray’s contents:  scrambled eggs, lightly crisped bacon, a bowl of fresh strawberries with a tablespoon of cream on top, fresh orange juice, and a cup of coffee.  “Did you do it all yourself?”

            “Uh-huh.”  Her angelic smile had returned.  “Well,” she added sheepishly, “Maryse did help some.”

            Michele mouthed a silent “thank you” to Maryse and then looked back down at her daughter.  “There is way too much for me to eat here.  Aren’t you going to join me?”

            “Nope.  Maryse and I already ate.”  She leaned closer to her mother and said, in a conspiratorial tone, “We got to have bunny waffles with lots of syrup.  We wanted you to have some piece of quiet while you ate and read your – uh-oh!”

            A startled look formed on her face and she vanished from the room, going at a dead run.  Within moments she had returned, gasping for air, the morning edition of the paper seeming large when held in her tiny hands.  Michele took the paper from her and placed it beside her plate. 

            She reached down again and grasped her daughter by the head and gave her two big wet kisses on her cheeks.

            “Oh, no!” Chelsea cried, “Snot kisses!  I’ve been boogered!”  She wiped at her cheeks with vigor, but with each swipe of her hand, she giggled with more merriment.  When her laughter had subsided, she looked up at Michele with her big beautiful eyes and said, “I love you, Mommy.”

            “I love you too, Sweetie.”

            Maryse stepped in and took Chelsea by the shoulders and began to turn her around.  “Let’s go read a book and let your mother eat in peace.  Have you decided which book you want to start next?”

            The two had exited the room, so Michele did not hear her daughter’s reply.  She began transferring food from the serving dish to her plate and then unrolled the morning paper.  With every bite she took she smiled.

            It was somewhere between the scrambled eggs and bacon that she decided she wasn’t going in at all today.  If the people at the office couldn’t do without her for one day, they could all just go jump in a lake.  She had spent the last several years being a responsible adult for the sake of her daughter, and today she was in the mood to let her daughter teach her to be a bit more irresponsible…and fun.

            She had been concentrating on an article, having finished much more of the food than she thought she would, when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye.  She set down the paper and focused her attention.  There it was again.  The big bouquet of roses in the center of the table seemed to be moving.

            Michele smiled when she saw one sparkling eye and a nose poke between a group of stems.  “What happened to you reading a book with Maryse?”

            The eye and nose disappeared, and the entirety of her daughter was soon standing beside her once again.

            “I got tired of reading with Maryse and thought I’d come and read with you.  Can I, Mommy?”

            “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Michele said.  She reached down and lifted her daughter onto her lap.  How long could she make this day last, she wondered.  “I’ll read it, and you can help me with any words in French, okay?”

            Chelsea curled up her legs and settled herself against her mother’s chest.  “Oui, Mama. Oui.”

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