DEATH BY ROSES
By Vivian R. Probst
If Mae Rose McElroy had known that by evening she would be dead à la commode after a fit of rage at her husband, she might have made different choices. Of course, if she’d done things differently, she might not have died while sitting on the toilet.
But on that frosty March morning, as she stood by the kitchen window washing breakfast dishes, Mae Rose was preoccupied with the effects of the last night’s storm. Everything glistened in sparkling crystal coats of ice that most would have found beautiful. As she anxiously surveyed the backyard trees, the barn, and the gardens and fields of their farm home, Mae Rose was far from feeling awestruck.
This was because today—of all days—her husband would be driving her meticulously restored 1974 VW Beetle to the mechanic shop where she worked. “Please be very careful, Art,” she said without looking up from the sink, “the roads could be very slippery.”
After thirty years of marriage, Art understood the meaning of Mae Rose’s words. They meant she didn't trust him and was worrying about her precious car. Her fretting did not dissuade Art from feeling an uncharacteristic joy.
Mae Rose could tell from the noises in the background that he was indeed ecstatic. The hangers clanged merrily as he removed his coat from the closet. Even the zipper sang with an abnormal enthusiasm as he closed his jacket against the cold.
“You know I’ll be careful,” Art replied, planting a dutiful kiss on his wife’s stern cheek. Earlier, while shaving, he had practiced saying “I love you” to Mae Rose. Although her obvious unhappiness made him decide not to attempt it now, nothing—not even his irritation with her remarks—could suppress his buoyant feelings of hope.
It was rare for Art to drive Mae Rose’s car. But once his new client at the shop saw the car’s spectacular restoration, he was certain the man would confirm his intention to pay the large expense of having his own antique Beetle refurbished. And Art hoped for much more—surely his impressive sale would help to renew Mae Rose’s faith in him and their marriage.
Three decades of marriage to Mae Rose had left deep creases across his forehead. Each crease could have been labeled: the upper line for shock at Mae Rose’s intensity, the middle for his resistance to her relentless drive, and the lower for the wavering boundary where Art tried to keep his identity from being discarded as irrelevant.
As he squeezed his tall frame into her car, he put the keys into the ignition and waited patiently for the engine to turn over. It was understandably reluctant, but as if it knew how important the day was, the engine gave in to Art’s persistence. He headed down the long gravel drive, turning left on the two-lane country road with caution.
As the sun melted the icy coating on the asphalt, Art was able to relax and enjoy his drive. Everything glistened in the soft, feathery frost—so breathtaking that Art considered it the best possible omen for a successful day. He couldn't help that his right hand caressed the leather upholstery he had so lovingly used to recover the seats of Mae Rose’s car; he felt pride, perhaps even a mild flirtation, as he touched the dashboard and turned the radio dial to his favorite oldies rock ‘n’ roll station.
He’d have to remember to turn it back to Mae Rose’s country music station later, but just now he needed to mark his territory. Art loved nothing more than working on old VWs, the only car, he claimed, that possessed a personality all its own, and the possibility of working on another old VW Beetle gave him an unfamiliar sense of exhilaration.
“I’d hammer ‘bout justice!” Peter, Paul, and Mary sang, and Art joined in: “I’d hammer ‘bout freedom! I’d hammer ‘bout the love between,” and Art, who loved to change the words of a song to suit himself, sang, “A man and a Beetle, all over this land!”
As Art brought Mae Rose’s car to an obedient stop at the four-way before proceeding into town, he downshifted through each gear, listening for the purr of pleasure as one cog slid into the next. But today the car growled low and mean as if to remind Art to drive straight through town instead of turning right, as he often had years ago for a cup of coffee and some fornication with Maggie Whitman. Back then, he felt justified in doing this because of Mae Rose’s increasingly insufferable nagging and her proportionately deflated interest in sex.
A trip through Fairview included passing Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, a cornerstone of the McElroy’s lives. It housed times of great joy: when Art and Mae Rose had married and when they had baptized their son Art Jr., and eight years later, their son John. It radiated with the beauty of Mae Rose at the piano and organ, and more often than not, a flower arrangement she had created adorning the altar. But the church also held their deepest pain in its stone structure as the wounds of Art’s affair had been exposed in quiet confidence to Pastor Frank. The hope of a happy marriage had faded into an ever-sensitive, tender scar.
Excerpted from the book DEATH BY ROSES by Vivian R. Probst. Copyright © 2015 by Vivian R. Probst. Reprinted with permission of SelectBooks. All rights reserved.
Q &A with Vivian R. Probst
DEATH BY ROSES
- What would you say is the defining characteristic of Death By Roses? What would you say makes Death By Roses different from other love stories?
Death by Roses touches so many life issues with its characters that it creates a broad appeal. It also ends with brilliant hope for this lifetime and perhaps, if the muse is correct, hope for the next. It is possible that life and relationships don’t end when we die. Many non-fiction works now exists based on what are considered real life experiences with the afterlife.
As many people have said after reading Death by Roses, “I hope that there is a next life and that it is EXACTLY like what you wrote in the story.” I do, too.
Finally, the creative resolution of so many life issues that occur because the characters learn they have choices about outcomes is perhaps the most mesmerizing theme. Other than that, it’s simply an outrageously fun read—or so I’m told.
- Mary Lee finally writes a screenplay that wins an Oscar. How do you think she felt when she learned that the screenplay was based on a true story told by her muse, Mae Rose?
My sense is that Mary Lee understood that she was writing something that was real to Mae Rose from the very beginning. Mae Rose and Mary Lee became very close and I’m sure they shared intimate details of their lives. Mary Lee saw a great story and a chance for an Oscar—but she had to let Mae Rose write the script. I believe it was a mutual effort and that Mary Lee did not feel at all badly that the story was about Mae Rose’s family. She cared only about winning an Oscar.
- In five words, how would you describe Death By Roses?
Hilarious, transcendent, sassy, mesmerizing, and uplifting.
- What do you think readers will enjoy most about Death By Roses?
How much they laugh while they read, the tears they might shed as they recognize tragic consequences, and yet how good they feel when they finish reading!
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