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Some Roses Only Need Pepsi

Angela Readman

Dad scrabbles on his knees wrestling thorns. His arms look freckled, but close-up, anyone could see the freckles are blood. I don’t get that close. I hug the swear jar while he battles the roses that keep coming back.

The petals are smoky. Since they widened the road, they stink of petrol and the buds shrivel like lips shrinking what they’re dying to say a bit more every day.

​Bleach hasn’t worked, pruning, not even cat shit. We don’t water the flowers, they don’t care. Lorries fly by, drivers fling bottles of piss out the window and they suck up the dregs of painkillers and Pepsi.

​The last time I picked a rose, I’d been out with Mom to a Damaged Tock Sale. The poster said Purses, Designer, Bargains, but underneath it said Damaged Tock. Mom took me to the warehouse that couldn’t spell like someone fixing a broken clock.

​The purses were leather. Sequin, velvet, you name it. I even saw one made of juice pouches. The oranges looked smoggy. Everything was furry with dust or had wonky stitches, but the purses were still beautiful. Mom said. She sniffed the leather, hugging two, struggling to decide between crocodile or snakeskin. The guy said she could have both. Pretty lady, like you, he said, what the hell.

​She walked out swinging the purses so high a campervan beeped its horn. When we came home, she kept putting different stuff inside the purses. Cigarettes and coupons. No, lipstick and cigarettes. Lipstick, a tampon, a notebook and pen. All night, she got up during The Masked Singer just changing bits. Like the satin lining didn’t suit everything and the purses had to try on what fit.

​Lady, she said, lady.

The sun makes Dad’s neck jerky, a lorry zooms by and he hurls the flying bottle over the fence. I bundle branches in my arms and carry them to the firepit. Even snipped the rosebuds lilt towards the light, desperate as a woman craning for someone to really look her in the eye.

Angela Readman's short stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Competition, and The Anton Chekhov Award for Short Fiction. Her story collection Don't Try this at Home was short listed in The Edge Hill, and was the winner of The Rubery Book Award. In 2019, her first novel Something like Breathing was published by And Other Stories. She also writes poetry, her collection The Book of Tides is published by Nine Arches.

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