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Browning Petals

by Sarah Shea about a year ago in Short Story
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A Pear Tree After Bloom

Browning Petals
Photo by Dana Luig on Unsplash

The hole was about two feet deep when Eva showed up, but Jane barely looked at her. Just kept on digging.

They were as far behind Jane’s grandmother’s house as they could get, beneath a tree that was beginning to grow heavy with pears, its delicate pinkish petals still withering and rotting in the grass at its roots. If someone had tried to eat the unripe fruit, it would have been bland and hard, like wood chips. Despite the dimness, Eva could make out the patterns of deep bruises pressed into Jane’s throat and swelling her eye shut.

She regarded the limp form beside the growing mound of dirt. Jane counted twelve scrapes of her shovel before Eva held out her hand for the shovel.

Jane stared, sure that Eva wanted her to stop so that they could go to the police together. Everybody knew what happened between her and her husband behind closed doors. It was easier for them to pretend they didn’t.

“I know,” Jane murmured, leaning her weight on the shovel and brushing away the strands of hair that clung to her damp forehead. “We can say it was self-defense.”

“Give me the shovel,” Eva said. She thrust her hand out impatiently.

Jane straightened slowly, pulled the spade from the earth, and handed it to Eva, who took it in both hands. She kicked off her high heels and then bent to her work, widening the hole that Jane started.

The bark of the pear tree scraped lightly at her back through her shirt as Jane sat down to watch.

* * *

Eva brought Jane back to her own house, reasoning that Jane shouldn’t wake her grandmother. There had been no moon that night, so they didn’t know what time it was when they finished. The only knew it was still night. While Eva cleaned herself and then Jane, the latter sat limply on the bed, staring at the digital clock on the nightstand without knowing what time it was.

Soon, Jane smelled of soap instead of sweat and wore clothes borrowed from her friend. But try as Eva might, she couldn’t get the dirt out from underneath their fingernails.

“You can’t stay here,” Eva said.

Jane tried to listen, but she couldn’t stop trying to decipher the clock. The numbers kept changing and they didn’t make sense. She didn’t know what time it was. Eva had to repeat herself.

“I’ll go back to Gramma’s house before morning,” she finally answered. The rest of the neighborhood probably shouldn’t see her, but Jane didn’t want to wake Gramma too early.

“No,” Eva said, taking her hands. “I mean you can’t stay.”

Jane finally looked away from the clock, as if startling awake.

“Why?” She shook her head and gestured towards the front of the house, at the neighborhood in general. “They never did anything when he was hurting me.”

“I know.” Eva had to swallow hard before continuing. “But now someone is missing, and they have to take notice. It’s one thing to claim self-defense when you leave him lying on the living room rug, but it’s different when you bury him. We buried him.”

“I can’t go anywhere,” Jane said, shaking her head again. “Gramma needs me. Needs help with her medication and groceries and cleaning.”

“You can’t do that from jail,” Eva pointed out.

“Then what difference does it make if I run away or go to jail?” Jane tore her hands away and stood up from the bed. “Either way, no one will look after Gramma. I won’t be there for her.”

“The difference,” said Eva, “is that jail will be no different from the house you shared with that man.” She stood and grabbed at Jane’s hands again to stop her from pacing. “He may be gone now, and good riddance, but they can still hurt you in jail. You won’t be you in jail. You’ll be a ghost. You need to go. And find out who you are away from this place, without him.”

Jane turned away from Eva again to stand at the window.

“Where would we even go?”

“I’m not going anywhere.” She smiled gently when Jane finally looked at her. “Who else is going to look after your Gramma? Besides, I have a life.”

“And I don’t?” Jane scoffed.

“You could,” Eva said. “But you gotta go find it first.”

* * *

Jane checked to make sure everything was in her bag for the third time so far and replaced it on the seat beside her before fidgeting with the package again.

By Usamah Khan on Unsplash

She wore large dark sunglasses and a scarf despite the stuffiness of the train car. She still wore the clothes she borrowed from Eva, and had only been able to give her the house keys and a written apology for her grandmother in return.

Her home disappeared in the window beside her as she checked her bag once again for the ticket, the money, and the change of clothes that Eva had given her.

“Tickets, please!” The conductor’s call was precluded by the rush of wind and the slam of the train car’s door.

Jane passed him her ticket quietly, barely daring to breathe in case he looked too closely at her. He barely glanced at her as he punched a hole in her ticket and displayed it in a pocket above her headrest. She let her breath out in a silent whoosh and set her bag aside once more.

Her attention turned once more to the brown paper package in her lap that Eva had given her before she’d boarded.

“Don’t open it till you get there,” she’d told Jane.

Jane’s still-dirty fingernails picked at the edges of the paper wrapping, as brown as but thicker than the pear tree petals. But she didn’t open it. For now it would remain a mystery, like the person she would become once she arrived wherever it was she was going.

Short Story

About the author

Sarah Shea

I am a teacher with a passion for creative writing. My favorite genres to write are young adult, humor poetry, and memoir essays. Join me on my journey!

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