The Seven Roses by Jasmine Lowe
Mrs. O’Connell wore her large twisted snaggle tooth that hung prominently in the front of her rather large gaping mouth proudly. She didn’t mind the fact that everyone stared at the tooth which looked as though it was attempting to rip its own self out of the mouth that was constantly flapping open during the constant conversation. To say Mrs. O’Connell talked a lot was an understatement. She would gush about her long-grayed hairs reminding us that she only ever ate fried chicken and drank the sugar-laden carbonated beverage, Dr. Pepper, every day and managed to stay fit, healthy, and strong.
She barely had a wrinkle on her slightly plump ghost-white-colored face, even though she had just celebrated her sixty-third birthday this year. You could find her slightly jogging up the stairs of the— colorful—motel community that we lived in near the humid-filled streets of central Florida. She would dress for the weather in flowy dresses decorated in fluorescent floral patterns and, if you walked by her motel room window in the dead of night, you would see her flick her dress off for another strange man that wandered into her romantic trap.
Mrs. O’Connell was long divorced, and she would tell you so if anyone asked where Mr. O’Connell was. However, she didn’t find the motivation or the time to properly change her name back to the original name she had been given at birth.
“Don’t ever change your name in the first place for nobody,” she would tell me as I carried all of my grocery bags from the market into my own motel room. “You’re young, and you need to live the rest of your life using your own damn name.”
She was often straightforward in the way she phrased her comments and opinions. She knew what she wanted and worked hard to get it. If she weren’t living alone next to a seventeen-year-old runaway, she would be my idol. So, when I went several days without seeing the spritely older woman who lived next door to me, I eventually put my own situation as a juvenile on the run aside and called the police.
“And, when did you last see Mrs. O’Connell?” The tall policeman wore the stereotypical slightly bushy mustache and a short military-style haircut that the majority of police officers wear. He had naturally tanned skin and rolled his “R’s” perfectly when he said my name.
I nervously glanced over to Mrs. O’Connell’s motel room that was adorned with bright yellow crime scene tape. “I spoke to her nearly a week ago,” I said. “She seemed fine.”
The officer continued jotting down notes on a small notepad with a pen that he occasionally wiggled back and forth in the air. He would click it every so often as if the act would make the ink from the nearly dried up fountain pen multiply in volume and drip onto the crumpled pages of his writing pad quicker. “Did Mrs. O’Connell come into contact with anyone that she didn’t get along with or who would cause her harm?”
“She wasn’t exactly a well-liked woman, but she had no enemies,” I responded hesitantly as if not to have Mrs. O’Connell herself overhear our conversation and get offended. “She had a few people that would come over to hang out.”
The officer looked up from his notepad and gazed inquisitively into my eyes. “What type of people?”
“Oh, you know, some guys that she would date and what not.” I didn’t want to make her sound any worse than the neighbors probably described her as. She was a good strong woman, but she did ruffle a lot of feathers.
“Did you meet any of them and would you be willing to work with a sketch artist to help us identify any of these men?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” my heart started to flutter at the fact that I would have to be walked into a police precinct in order to do those things, and so I lied. “I’ve never met any of them, and I wouldn’t be able to do any sort of sketch stuff or pick them out of a lineup.”
I felt bad for Mrs. O’Connell though. There she was all alone in the end lying on the bed that warmed the bodies of countless lovers. What the police didn’t know, was that she was seeing one man in particular more than the others, and when he came to visit her, he was always carrying a bouquet of roses. He seemed sweet. I chatted with him on occasion when he would be waiting outside Mrs. O’Connell’s room until she returned home from her wild outings. He told me that he had known her for such a long time, but that they would never work out as a couple. When I asked him why he would change the subject or give vague answers. “Well, you’ve met her,” he would say. “She’s a Goddamn handful.”
A light chuckle would erupt, and we would carry on with conversations about the weather, the Miami Dolphins, and sipping café Cubano on the cooler nights after dinner. I didn’t want to point fingers, and I knew if I did that no one else would be considered as a suspect. I briefly saw the coroner carry the lifeless body of my favorite neighbor in a black body bag on a gurney who had been previously lying on her bed past the crime scene tape. I was shocked, uncertain, and confused at first and felt as though I couldn’t accept what my eyes had seen as the absolute truth. However bleak and shocking the situation had unfolded to be, when I saw the bouquet of seven roses, I knew exactly who murdered Mrs. O’Connell.
“One last question, mam,” the officer said while interrupting my crowded thoughts. He shuffled his notepad around flipping pages before stopping onto a page with something clipped onto it with a silver paper clip. “Have you seen this man around here?”
I the officer had grabbed the piece of paper and flipped it so that the front was facing me. It was an old photograph. The officer squinted his eyes as he watched mine grow increasingly wide. It was the man who frequented the motel with the bouquet of roses for my now dead neighbor.
The officer paused waiting for my reply. “Mam, can you answer the question?”
I nodded my head slowly.
“Is that a yes to answering the question, or yes to seeing the man around here?”
I could feel the tingly sickening sensation of becoming increasingly uncomfortable growing deep within my abdomen. I didn’t know what to think. So, I didn’t and decided to answer the question. “Both,” I said begrudgingly.
“Okay, so can you tell me who this is?” The officer turned the photo to glance at it before showing me the image again.
“I truly didn’t ever catch his full name, but he came over a lot to hang out with Mrs. O’Connell,” I explained. “He said his name was Frank.”
“Okay, thank you so much for your time,” the officer said while handing me his card. Will you be here in case we need any more information from you in the next few weeks?
“Okay, great, we’ll keep in touch,” the officer said as he began to flip his pages in his notebook back over to how they originated before the conversation.
“Wait.” My voice rose a bit as I attempted to stop the uniformed officer from leaving. “Who was he to her?”
The officer looked at my face. It was genuine in its confusion. “Oh, that’s Mr. O’Connell,” he explained. “That was Mrs. O’Connell’s husband.”
The officer turned to leave the inward facing balcony that overlooked the motel’s filthy pool and began heading down the steep stairs. I was left in even more shock and confusion. For the last year, I thought my neighbor had gotten a divorce and only romanced random strangers in her rented motel room, but what I found out today was that she had been sleeping with her husband as well the whole time.
My mind raced. DNA would confirm my theories, but something tells me that Mr. O’Connell may have found out about the other men on one of the nights that I wasn’t home to chat with him outside of Mrs. O’Connell’s motel room. Something tells me, although he said he couldn’t handle his wife’s personality, that he cared, and that he was actively trying to win the wild woman back.
Mrs. O’Connell was found in her nightgown strangled by the looks of the marks around her slightly pudgy neck, but she was left looking peaceful as if she was sleeping right next to a beautiful bouquet of large red roses, and I would never be able to see her open her eyes again.