What is Love?

It was a noisome club, with stuffed-shirts loitering around holding beers and peering at women, but the soundtrack was Chopin’s “Nocturne in b-flat.” Nobody could hear it, nobody but Melanie. Memory plays louder than any stereo.
Cara approached Melanie, with fresh drinks. Cara told Melanie that Stan and Mike wanted to go somewhere else. Melanie asked why Cara was getting new drinks, Cara said that Stan was buying some candy-cane outside. Melanie sipped her drink, Cara swigged.
‘Roses don’t even grow on that kind of soil,’ Melanie said, and Cara told her to stop thinking about it. They went outside. Stan was grinning and Mike wiped his nose, said it was good stuff. Cara did some off the back of his hand.
Stan offered his jacket to Melanie, her teeth were chattering. She said she didn’t need it but he said two lines kept him plenty warm, somebody might as well take his jacket. She pulled it around herself. A breeze from Lake Michigan made the arms blow up and flap around. Her shadow looked like a monster from a bad movie.
Stan commented that Melanie seemed a little distracted. ‘There’s this rose bush,’ Melanie said, ‘it keeps cropping up on the grave of someone who used to be in my life. I’ve gotten them to tear it out twice now, but…I don’t know who could keep planting it.’
‘Who used to be in your life?’ Stan said. Melanie told him it was her husband, and Stan said she looked too young to be a widow.
‘He wasn’t sick or anything,’ Melanie said, ‘it was a suicide. It’s okay, it’s not hard for me to talk about. I mean, it’s not easy, either. But we just got married too young. We didn’t have much in common. If he ever wanted to go out, ever wanted to put his books down, it was to the opera, not to a club. That kind of thing.’
‘So he was gay?’ Stan said.
Melanie sighed. ‘Did I say that?’ Stan tried to apologize but Melanie cut him off, told him to forget about it. She looked at him and smiled, said she was having a good time, but she wiped away the bleeding mascara from underneath her eyes. Her hair flew up with the wind. Up ahead, Mike was giving Cara a piggyback. Behind Melanie, something stepped out of the shadowed lower-level doorway of a brick terraced house.
A desiccated skeleton, wearing a grey suit with a red tie, was walking towards them. Stan grabbed Melanie. She wasn’t screaming. Stan wished she would scream, he couldn’t find the strength in his own voice. There was a small jagged hole in its right temple. It held out its hand, and nestled in the bones was one long stemmed rose. Melanie moved toward it. Stan tried to hold on to her but she slipped out of his jacket.
Melanie took the rose. The skeleton brushed her face with those sharp, thin fingers. It turned and walked down the stairs, into the darkened doorway, and Melanie ran to follow. Stan rushed after her.
When Mike and Cara found Stan, he was shouting Melanie’s name, beating his fists against the bricked-up doorway of the terraced house.

By Neil Ballard

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