She hated the peonies.
They were the one thing he’d insisted upon planting when they moved in together. “They were my mother’s favorite flower when she was alive, and the only thing I can remember her by,” he’d said, practically begging. How could she refuse him when he gave her that look? She’d always been horrible at saying ‘no’ to things — and meaning it — and after all, peonies weren’t too terribly ugly. Who was she to deny a man a few peonies of his choice, even if she hadn’t liked his mother?
It wasn’t just a few peonies.
She came home from work one afternoon to find he’d practically dug up the entire yard to plant them. They lined the driveway, the walk, the porch, the elm tree, the sides of the house… Lush green foliage crowded the grass and the not-quite-scarlet blooms dipped their giant heads toward the ground.
She confronted him when he rounded the corner of the house with dirt on his hands and the garden spade in his pocket. “How many did you get?” she asked, gesturing to the flowers. She kept her voice as neutral as possible.
“Fifty-seven,” he said without flinching. “The garden center will be delivering eighty tomorrow. I was thinking I could plant them over there, and there…”
She didn’t stay to hear the rest of his thoughts. A headache had blossomed behind her right eye, throbbing and sharp. Shaking her head to clear her vision, she staggered into the house.
He remained outside, lost in the thrall of his planting plans.
* * *
The headache didn’t go away. And the days piled up, she swore, in the dark reaches of the night, she could smell his mother’s distinctive perfume.
Single-minded, he continued planting. He ignored her advances and pleas for intimacy. Day after day, he wandered the house muttering about the plants, and how he loved them. The local garden center made three more deliveries, until she could no longer look out the kitchen window without seeing a mass of peonies.
The nice, green lawn she’d loved so much was reduced to a little five-foot by five-foot patch by the back door.
That night as they lay in bed, she asked him if he thought he’d planted enough. “We should save some lawn for the dog to run around in; remember, we wanted to get a dog?” she said.
“Dogs are filthy, needy creatures — the peonies are much better companions.”
She shivered. It was his mother’s voice coming from his mouth. “Yes, dear,” she said, and turned over to sleep. He turned with her, and the smell of his mother’s wretched perfume made her gag. Her headache drilled a hole above her eye.
When his breath slowed to a steady cadence, she resolved to do it. If the witch thought she’d endure this torment, accept her husband’s possession meekly, the witch had another thing coming. She wasn’t through yet, and she waited until 3am, when she felt certain to slip unnoticed from bed.
At three, she pried herself from his embrace. She threw on her robe, lashed it tight about her middle. Carrying her slip-ons lest they make a noise on the stairs, she padded into the living room, and out the front door. The peonies swayed in the moonlight, their crimson-ish petals almost like blood in the glow. She donned her shoes and stalked to the garage.
In the corner, unused for the last several weeks, rested the lawn mower.
She bent, pulled the oil stick to check the level. She checked the fuel. She rolled the glossy machine to the door into the former yard, and switched on the floodlights.
The ugly peonies bobbed their red heads at her.
“You think you can tear us apart, old woman? Think again,” she growled at the plants.
She pulled the mower cord.
Like a beast half-starved, the machine started with an eager roar. Grim, she pushed it forward.
The peonies didn’t stand a chance. The lawn mower tore through their sturdy foliage and blood-red flowers with ease. Plant matter spewed from the side flap in a heavy rooster-tail. Chewed up petals littered the ground. The mower’s throaty sound eased the headache, and she surged forward, almost running in her haste.
He burst from the house, panicked. “What are you doing to my wonderful plants?!” the witch inside him shrieked.
“Killing them, you hag!” She couldn’t help but laugh a little hysterically as she ran behind the mower.
He ran to block her path, but she dived around him; the infernal peonies were everywhere, and any swath she cut with the mower was a good one. As he tried to stop her, the mower spat a cloud of half-digested plant parts at him. The shriek that bubbled up had a note of his true voice in it, and so she ran harder, panting with the effort of mowing through the tall plants. She pushed and shoved, sometimes dragging the machine through the mat of tangled leaves and stems. Sweat dripped from her brow, her neck. It trickled between her shoulder blades, soaked her robe. Plant pieces clung to her hair, petals stuck to her face. But she mowed every inch of their lot until the mower ran out of gas, and then she tore at the rest of the plants with her hands.
It felt good.
When she finished, she found him collapsed, fetal position, in the middle of the wreckage. She knelt and touched his shoulder. He opened his eyes. “No more peonies,” he croaked in his own voice, and she laughed.
It was the best idea she thought she’d ever heard.
Heather S. Ingemar has loved to play with words since she was little, and it wasn’t long until she started writing her own stories. Termed “a little odd” by her peers, she took great delight in exploring tales with a gothic flair, and to this day, Edgar Allan Poe continues to be her literary hero. To learn more, please visit: http://ingemarwrites.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/heatheringemar