“Do you remember the first time we came here?” Martha asked as she picked another rose, this one freshly petaled, and inhaled its soft scent. Then she offered it to him, and he buried his nose in the flower before kissing her hand.
“It was seventh grade, after you played Juliet, opposite, what was his name?”
“Bennie Garza,” she smiled. “Bennie, Bennie, where for art thou, Bennie? He was always trying to tongue me when we kissed. But I had braces, and he’d jam his tongue against them. I almost laughed in the death scene.”
She threw an arm across her breasts. “I pointed at you in the front row when I said, ‘Where for art thou, Romeo.’”
“I remember. I felt there wasn’t anyone else in that auditorium but you and me.”
He leaned over to kiss her, but stopped and pulled down her lower lip. “Nope. No braces.”
She smiled and bit his finger. “And then you were mad at me the entire time we were here because you had just wanted to make out in the bushes and all I had wanted to do was recite Shakespeare, I loved the language so much,” she laughed, then rolled sideways to kiss him. “I was still high from the performance. Even with Bennie Garza as Romeo, it was such fun.”
She held up the rose.
“Oh, here we go.”
Martha just smiled, and then comically cleared her throat.
“Does it not blush, as do I, at the mention of your name, at the touch of your hand?” She brushed the flower across his cheek and he smiled deeply at her performance. “Does it not pulse with life when brushed with pollen, drink in the dew?” She pulled off a petal. “And is it not so frail?” She pulled off another petal and let it drop gently from her fingers to Nagler’s chest. Her voice softened and trembled. “Its time is so brief, its beauty so rare.” She jerked off the remaining petals, leaving a bald stalk. Her voice harsh and firm. “It is time that I want, time with you, sweet rose, before the petals fade; time I do not have. Time no one can give me.”
She threw the rose stalk away and rolled into Nagler’s arms, closed her eyes and signed deeply.
“How was that?” she whispered. “I liked acting a lot. I wish I hadn’t gotten sick when I did. I would have loved the chance to act in college.”
Nagler laid down on his back beside her. That had been the shock and the great test, he knew. Leukemia at nineteen. And two years of treatment, then two more of recovering her strength and watching her parents’ worried faces sag, the voices crack; the distant stares.
“I would have been a better Juliet in college, you know, in case you were wondering,” Martha said to the sky after she had rolled onto her back. “By then it was more than words. I knew about the loss, the pain, facing death and had already experienced the great love” – she touched his face – “and felt the poetry flow through me, the words of a soul’s awakening coursing in my blood, bursting through the brain’s barrier, throwing open the world.” A soft, teasing laugh.
She rolled to her side and faced Nagler, gently touching his face with a single finger and kissing his eyes, cheeks, and mouth.
“That’s what that … that damned disease nearly took from me, Frank,” her voice now hard. “That chance. You were my Romeo, dear Frank. And for a moment I thought I would lose you.”