Rose Petal Bath Water
by Nicole Clevenger

She'd taken the straight razor without much thought - from his medicine cabinet to her coat pocket with his goodbye still buzzing in her ear. But by the time she'd bought the bouquet of roses on the way home, the picture had become much clearer.

After all, there was no sense in leaving behind an ugly death scene to be remembered by.

Benny Goodman and His Orchestra were playing on the second-hand radio by the curtained window, swinging their way through the limited spaces of her tiny apartment. The third glass of wine had started to dull the aching loneliness, but it wasn't nearly enough; a bit more blurred at the edges now, but that thick, breathing darkness was still there. All she had to do was concentrate - stretch her thoughts toward it like fingertips pushing through the cotton padding of her alcohol haze - and there it was again, familiar and waiting. It could outlast her, she knew. She was already exhausted, and it was still as thick as ever.

The candles were lit and the bath water running when the knock came. Daisy froze on the edge of the high porcelain tub - her fingers dangling in the warm current and her glass half way to her lips - looking over her shoulder toward the closed door. She couldn't recall anyone ever knocking at her door before, other than her impatient landlady Mrs Emmers. And there were at least two full weeks before she would come around again.

She'd never brought her men home - not to her home, at any rate. Oh, she'd played the virtuous, the seductress, the ingenue, the tease for them. Subtle alterations where required; paint and powder like so many different faces on the surface of her own. Once or twice she'd thought to let the silken mask slip, imagined that this one or that one would be worthy and willing to see all the way to the skin. But the mistake had always become clear soon enough.

It was always the act they were after. Never the actress.

The Studio had her address, certainly, but they also had the number of the telephone downstairs. Still, her mind began to spin out the outlines of a scenario even as she scolded herself for being foolish, casting the unseen stranger on the other side of the door in the role of harried messenger come to tell her that her big break had finally arrived. They'd tried calling, of course, but they couldn't seem to get through, and so they just had to send someone over. They simply couldn't make one more motion picture without the phenomenal talents of the incomparable Miss Daisy Adair.

The knock came again, tapping insistently through the pretty colors of the dizzying fantasy; they broke apart, dissolving as they always did back into the dim light of her cold rooms. She was tempted to ignore it, but the distant (yet not altogether unrealistic) possibility that it might be someone from The Studio was, in the end, enough to get her to her feet. Maybe she could lose herself in the work, hide from the darkness a while longer in someone else's skin. Her name in giant scripted letters before the big title, and her image just as large on the silver screen. With all their half-lit upturned faces smiling just for her.

They would adore her. She knew they would, if they got the chance.

Her steps were only a little unsteady, one hand still holding the glass and the other pulling her dressing gown more tightly around her curves. She fluffed at her hair with her fingertips, before giving the sash at her waist another tug; she ran her tongue once over her lips and shaped them into their brightest smile. Another mask for another stellar performance. Daisy opened the door.

The small man who stood on the thinning hallway carpet held a bible in his hands. She felt the darkness swirling back around her even as he removed his hat to nod politely. Silly dreams only ever ended one way.

The man replaced his hat on his head, glancing inside the front cover of the black book before looking up to meet her eyes. "Forgive me, uh... Mrs Adair?" he said through his smile.

"Miss," she corrected automatically. Her tongue felt clumsy, inadequate. "Miss Daisy Adair."

"Of course, of course," he said, and for a moment her stomach fluttered with the thought that he might've recognized her name. But no. "My apologies. I should've guessed that you were far too young to be a married woman. Surely beautiful enough, though - if I may say so."

She'd heard the sentiment from the lips of so many men, words piling on top of words. Now it just made her feel even more alone. "Interesting statement to be coming from a man carrying a bible door to door."

He ducked his head, looking up at her from under the brown felt brim. "Well, my tendency to be easily distracted is one of my greatest failings, I'm told. More than once my boss has railed against what he calls my 'profound lack of focus.'"

"Mmmm," she said noncommittally, taking another sip of wine. Then his words registered, and she blinked. "Your boss... Are you telling me that you actually believe you speak to the Lord?"

The stranger coughed, shifted. His eyes fell to the book in his hands. "I, uh..." She watched him check his wrist watch, look both directions down the short hallway. She looked too, seeing nothing but the same faded wallpaper and stained carpeting that greeted her every day upon coming home. She turned back to find him watching her once more. "Miss Adair, have you been saved?"

In her mind, light glinted suddenly off a razor's smooth sides. "I don't think that's very likely." She took a step back, reaching to close the door. "But I'm sure there's someone else in the building you can take along to your boss."

Her hand missed the doorframe on the first try, and he caught her wrist out of the air. His fingers were cold against her flushed skin. "It has to be you, I'm afraid."

She thought he might pull her out into the hallway; she thought he might push her back into her apartment and close the door behind them both. Through the tipsy detachment she considered that perhaps she should scream. Struggle. But he only looked her in the eyes, and then he let her go.

The stranger tipped his hat to her before turning away. "Miss Adair."

Daisy stood there, and watched him walk down the hall. The water was close to flowing over by the time she returned to fumble with the faucet; when she slipped her body into the warmth, her displacement was enough to send rivulets trickling down the sides and onto the floor. She didn't suppose it mattered now. She felt disconnected. Calm.

Nothing particularly mattered now.

Candlelight reflected off the flickering water, and the satiny red of the rose petals floated around her to tangle themselves in the blond of her hair. It was a final scene worthy of any movie, she thought. And, maybe one day, that bible thumper would tell his children that he was the last soul to ever see the beautiful actress Daisy Adair alive.

Because she couldn't be saved. And that was the Lord's honest truth.


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