He wondered what burning roses smelled like.
The rhythmic thumping of the washing machine precluded silence in his small apartment. Perversely, he felt satisfaction in that.
He was being melodramatic enough already.
Besides, he couldn’t afford to buy roses just to burn them. It would be completely maudlin, and he had better things to spend his money on than an idiotic act of symbolism.
Not to mention the consequences if his landlord found out.
The letter still sat silently on the table, unread. It was undeniably hers, from the neat, elegant script to the faint smell of roses that wafted off of it.
He wanted to tear it up, crumple the pages, make it not be so that she would come back. Instead, he found himself folding it neatly and slipping it into the box where he had kept all her other letters, from the early ones in crayon childish scrawl to the elegant ones on sophisticated stationery. They had grown up together, and they were going to spend the rest of their lives together.
Did you waste a lifetime?
They had such plans… he was going to be a doctor; they were going to Ecuador. They were going to be married. All gone.
He felt rage war with grief inside of him, and squelched them both by retrieving the vacuum and beginning to clean.
The box of letters still sat open. Without the distraction of her, he quietly and quickly finished his medical degree and graduated. He was moderately successful, working in a suburb of a large city. The apartment was bigger now, but not by much. Too much space reminded him of how alone he was.
He still wondered about burning roses, but convinced himself that he was past that.
The box still sat open, though. He never looked at it, never acknowledged it was there, but every time he moved it somehow ended up sitting on a shelf or table.
How long will you wait for someone who will never come?
It was fall when he met the woman. Quiet, reserved, nothing like her. Where she was flame, this woman was water. All unbidden, she flowed through his life, soothing the pain of his first love, quieting the aches. She never demanded he tell her about the box of letters, never looked through them, she was simply there to hold and comfort him.
But still the box sat open.
The day they brought their first child home, he knew it was time. While the houseful of fluttering women was occupied with the child, he took the box and escaped.
He only stopped once.
When he got to the park, he took out the box and extracted the last letter. With trembling hands, he read what she had written to him for the last time. It no longer hurt as much as he had thought it would. With shaky breath, he folded it back up and replaced it in the box. He set it on the grill and carefully set it on fire. At last, he place a dozen roses on top, and watched till the pyre was nothing but a heap of ashes. He returned home to his wife and child, and at last he knew the smell of burning roses.
It was the smell of a new beginning.