“Thanks.” Mrs. Johnson slammed the bouquet on the table. The red roses lay under the bright kitchen halogen lamp, almost like dead bodies waiting for an autopsy. The vase was on the topmost shelf and Jan caught a glimpse of Mrs. Johnson’s bare stomach as she reached up. The soft, white flesh rolled out and lolled on top of her skirt, reminding him of jellyfish washed ashore.
Jan was tall and could have easily reached the top shelf, but he didn’t offer to help. Enough was enough. Mrs. Johnson should be grateful. It wasn’t every day that Jan bought flowers for women, and certainly not for women like her. He was only doing it now because he had to, because Meg had asked him to. Jan detested women pushing him around but he was going to let this one slide.
“I suppose you forgot that I hate red roses.” She was fluffing the flowers in the vase, careless of the thorns. “They’re such a cliché.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t remember.” But now that she mentioned it, he had the dimmest recollection of her banging on about red roses when he and Meg and Mrs Johnson were having drinks in the backyard the very first time they met. When she was still friendly towards him.
“Well, I don’t expect you to be perfect.” Mrs. Johnson said.
“I’m sorry,” Jan repeated. What else could he say?
He extended his hand for her as a sign of forgiveness, although he would have much preferred placing his hands around her neck and squeezing like she was toothpaste. She ignored the offer, instead walking right up to him. Her fat face hovered beneath him, small eyes glinting.
“This doesn’t change anything. It might make up for calling me a witch behind my back, but you’re not off the hook yet. You don’t deserve my little girl.”
“But Mrs. Johnson, how can you say that? You barely even know me.”
“I don’t need to know you. It’s written all across your face in big, dripping, fat letters. You’re a bad one.”
“Come on! I bought you flowers. Why would I bother doing that if…”
“I know your type. You look handsome and talk all sweet, but I wouldn’t trust you as far as I can throw you. Meg’s father was like you. Maybe that’s how come she’s so hell bent on marrying you.”
“Meg is a grown woman. She can make up her own mind.”
“She’s nineteen. Five bruises.” She waved her pudgy hand in front of his face. “She’s known you for two months, and I’ve already seen her with five bruises. She didn’t use to run into doors. Either she should get her eyes examined, or throw you out.”
Jan started counting slowly in his head. One, two, three… The sight of this woman was giving him a headache.
“Roses won’t make me happy. The only thing that’s gonna make me happy is seeing my girl safe and sound. Prove me you can do that. Prove me there’s a kind heart within that sweater.” She prodded his chest as she spoke. Prod, prod, prod.
Jan smiled. He’d keep things together, for Meg’s sake. He’d win Mrs. Johnson round yet.
But in his head he was intoning over and over again:
Roses are red, violets are blue,
You’re a bitch. I’m gonna kill you.