When I gathered that first yellow rose from the stoop outside my door, I wasn’t looking for love or romance — and it sure wasn‘t looking for me. As far as I was concerned, sole-mates were a good pair of running shoes, and I had an abundance of those.
No eternal flame burned in my heart, except perhaps when I indulged in Tito Escobar’s spicy tamales and salsa. The only arrow Cupid ever shot in my direction whizzed right past me, straight through my accountant’s algebraic heart and into that weasel of an auditor, Leonard Bean, of the lofty firm Tibbles, Bean, Bean and Rainbird.
My accountant turned Leonard’s marriage proposal down flat, and my books had been bleeding ever since.
Love? I didn’t want it, and I certainly didn’t need romancing.
I found the second rose on my pillow, its pink petals like the blush of a schoolgirl upon receipt of her first orchid. I figured the initial rose a mistake. I hadn’t been on anyone’s short list of prospective dates since my twenties. The second rose piqued my curiosity. The third, white as bleached cotton, appeared on my dressing table early one August morning.
The puzzle of the roses was damned annoying. I loathed puzzles and lacked the patience to solve them. I just plain didn’t have the time.
I was a busy executive: powerhouse, power up, power haircut. I relegated, delegated, orchestrated mergers and corporate buyouts. The name of the game was money — and the name of the money game was Margaret Meara Muldoon, of the Port Logan Muldoons, the sixth generation shipping and finance Muldoons.
With the fourth rose, red as wine, soft as down, the dreams came. And with those disturbingly erotic dreams came Duncan McTammany. A little past midnight, in a maelstrom of mist, he appeared at my bedside. The handsome Scot in his rugged glory, tall and broad-shouldered, with hair the color of fertile soil and tied with a strip of black velvet ribbon.
I stifled a burst of nervous laughter. I had to be dreaming. Only a mystical man’s man, a spirit, would wear that touch of finery in his hair.
He grinned like the roguish devil he’d been when I first created him. I was thirteen going on thirty, well into my Alexander Dumas phase and thought it my destiny to write of swashbuckling adventure and unbridled passion.
That was before my brother, Daniel, died a soldier and I became heir apparent to the Muldoon throne — much to Father’s dismay. He hadn’t counted on losing his only son to a foreign jungle, in someone else’s war; he’d never imagined relinquishing the corporate reins to his youngest daughter.
“As I’ve lived and breathed,” McTammany said with a flourish. “If it isn’t little Maggie Muldoon come a callin’.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, remembered I wore this frilly little nothing and scooted further under the covers. “You’re not here, Duncan. You can’t be. You don’t exist.” I felt the mattress give, a shift in the air and linens.
Oh, God. I smelled roses.
“But you summoned me, darlin’ Maggie. No’ with words maybe, but you summoned nonetheless.”
I felt the warmth of his wide, callused palm on my cheek. My heart tripped once, again. Apparitions weren’t supposed to be warm. What about cold spots, ectoplasm, the electromagnetic whatever?
“Warm, cold? I’ll be whatever you need me to be, Maggie. I’m whatever it is you make of me.”
I was too young for senility, too sophisticated for fantasy. It had to be burnout. “I’ve got all I need, Duncan.”
“You’ve no’ got a man.”
My eyes shot open. Incensed, I slid to the other side of the bed and tugged at my robe which suddenly appeared in his hands. Laughing, McTammany let go of the negligee, mystified and re-materialized in front of the fireplace.
“Don’t do that,” I said.
“You’re lonely, Maggie. You hate what you do in that monster of an uptown office.”
“How would you know if I’m lonely?”
“What good is it being an executive, if you don’t execute?”
“What does that mean?”
“Your sister’s son. . .Sean, is it?”
I nodded, watching as he raised his hand above the milk-white porcelain figurine on the mantle, the slender ballerina forever frozen in her elegant pirouette. There was the stir of energy in the room. McTammany’s outstretched fingers trembled. The ballerina shuddered and then rose above the flicker of tea candles and a few framed photographs.
I gasped, blinked. “W-What about Sean, Duncan?”
“He’s smart as a whip, an independent thinker, trained by the best.” McTammany’s downward finger whirled; the ballerina twirled. “Folks like him, and trust him. You canno’ do better than puttin’ Sean Muldoon O’Hanlan in charge of the family fortune.”
I rose and clutching the silk robe in front of me, walked to the fireplace, snatched the figurine from thin air and returned her to the mantle. “And why would I do that?”
He tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear, and looked ever so pleased at my shiver. “Because you want to, darlin’ girl. You need to because a part of you is dying. You’re a writer, Maggie Mae. Go, write.”
I stepped back. “I can’t just dump everything--”
“Of course you can. I know the perfect place for it, too. That little cottage in Nantucket your da always hated and your ma couldn’t get enough of. It’s quiet, secluded and you should see the roses, love. Your gardener’s done some job of it, he has.”
“I don’t have a gardener in Nantucket.”
McTammany grinned. “Don’t you now?”
~ ~ ~
“So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen.” The lights came on. I allowed my eyes a moment to adjust, then leaned into the podium and stared out at the sea of enthusiastic faces filling the auditorium, The Dobbin Literary Society. “I wrote McTammany’s Bed of Roses when I was fifty-three. My first novel and it was a runaway best seller. I wrote like a fiend afterwards, two more novels, then twenty. I’d discovered my muse.” Or perhaps he’d rediscovered me. “So I thank you for this award. It means more to me than you can possibly know.”
I gathered my note cards, collected the engraved plaque and silver-handled cane, a constant companion now. I made my exit under thunderous applause and a standing ovation, my first.
In the back seat of the limousine, the driver oblivious, mist swirled beside me and settled in handsome form. McTammany took my hand and raised it to his lips. That incredible warmth I’d come to rely on and adore filled me.
“Let’s go home, Maggie love,” he said. “I’m bored as the devil himself, and we’ve another grand adventure to write.”
If you enjoyed McTammany's Bed of Roses, I rotate other short stories on my website, as well as periodically adding thoughts and photos to my blog. You're welcome to stop by and read any time. http://www.sharonpenningtonwrties.webs.com And, by all means, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks! I'd love to hear your thoughts.