Red Roses (a short story by Colm Lawlor)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two children with cancer cross paths in a hospital and share smiles, cards and each other's company.

Submitted: January 28, 2013

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Submitted: January 28, 2013




Red Roses

By Colm Lawlor

(For Julie Wren and Esther Earl)



Samuel York was fourteen years old when he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

He was admitted to the local hospital for further scans and therapy. His family was distraught. His mother cried a lot. His father talked too much. His brother never spoke at all.

Sam tried to look on the bright side. He didn’t cry and complain as is to be expected of a fourteen year old with cancer. Instead he reassured his family.

Sam just smiled.

After a few scans Sam’s parents were informed that he was terminal. He would not survive for more than a few more months.

His condition started to deteriorate steadily. He often found it difficult to breathe. He still smiled, but he didn’t talk as much.

Then Elle was admitted to hospital.

Ellen Hanson was fifteen years old. She had a tumour on her brain.

She was not quite as cheerful as Sam. She wasn’t depressed either. She just seemed indifferent. She sat in her bed playing solitaire. She didn’t speak to anyone, not even her mother. She was an only child and never knew her father.

Her mother was very worried. The doctor assured her that there was a good chance that the tumour was benign.

Elle didn’t smile.

Elle’s bed was in a different room to Sam’s, so they didn’t see each other straight away. One day on his way back from a scan Sam was brought past her room. He glanced inside and noticed Elle sitting on her own, playing solitaire. He noticed the indifference with she placed the cards and the deep sadness in her eyes. His eyes met hers briefly. Hesmiled and walked on.

The next day Sam called a nurse to his bed. He whispered something in her ear which made her smile. She nodded and winked at Sam, then left to go about her work.

Ten minutes later the nurse went to Elle’s bed and handed her a single red rose. She did not who it was from, she just gave it to her and smiled.

Elle looked at it, now with indifference, but with confusion. She didn’t know anyone who would send her flowers. She had few friends and certainly didn’t have a lover. She was above that sort of nonsense. After a moment of thought she shrugged, placed it on the table in front of her and continued her game of solitaire with a sigh.

The next day the nurse brought another rose. This time a note was attached. It read simply “-Sam.”

Elle frowned at the nore. She didn’t know anyone called Sam. She placed the rose alongside the other and dealt a new game of solitaire. He mother examined the rose with asmile.

When Elle woke up the next morning her deck of cards was gone. In its place was a note that read “Do you want to play a game of rummy? - Sam”.

Elle was angry. Not only was she cheated out of another scintillating game ofsolitaire, but she was also god awful at rummy. Reluctantly, she asked the nurse where Sam’s bed was. The nurse helped her out of her bed and led her into the other room.

Sam was lying in his bed shuffling Elle’s deck of cards and humming a tune. He looked up as she approached him and smiled. Without a word he dealt two hands and placed the deck between them. Elle stared at him. He nodded towards the chair beside his bed. She sighed and sat down.

They played a game of rummy. Sam quickly beat Elle with a royal flush. She snatched the deck from his hands and dealt again. They played another game. And another, and another and another. They played for hours on end. Sam won every time. Elle finally showed some emotion when, eventually, she won a game.

She slammed her cards on the table and thrust her fists in the air. “RUMMY!” she shouted with joy. Sam laughed.


“Yeah, I win, what are you gonna do about it?“

“I think I’m the real winner here.”

Her arms fell to her side.“What? I beat you fair and square.” She pointed to the cards on the table. “Look. Two fives and three queens.”

“I win because I got you to smile.”

Elle cocked her head, bewildered. She remembered the roses he had sent her.

Then she laughed.

She stood up and gathered the cards back into the box.

“We should play again sometime.”

She nodded and turned to leave.

“Oh, and Ellen.”

“Call me Elle.”

“You suck at rummy, Elle.”

Elle smiled and went back to her bed. Sam winked at the nearby nurse and went to sleep.

Every morning Sam sent her a rose. And every day her smile grew wider.


Sam’s health started to deteriorate at about the same time Elle started to get better.

Sam’s parents were told that the cancer in his body was growing and that he would not live for much longer. They cried.

Elle’s mother was told that the tumour in her brain was shrinking and that it had gone into remission. She beamed.

Due their differing health situations they realised that they didn’t have very much time left with each other. Same continued to send roses and Elle’s visits became more frequent. She spent more time in the chair than in her own bed.

She stopped playing solitaire.

One night when their parents had gone home for the night Sam got out of bed and visited Elle.

She was surprised to see him stagger into the room with a rose in his hand. His breathing was laboured and his walk was stiff. Elle slid out of bed and helped him over. He nodded in gratitude and tapped the cards on the table.

They played a game of rummy. Elle won.

After the game Sam smiled and stood up to leave. Elle shook her head.

“You won’t make it back to your bed. Sleep here tonight.”

Sam smiled weakly and crawled into the bed beside her. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

He never woke up.

His mother wept into his father’s shoulder whose arm was around his brother. The nurse stayed with them for a while, hugging and comforting them as best she could.

Elle didn’t speak for a week.

A small, lonely funeral was held for Sam in the church near his house. Aunts, uncles and cousins he’d never even heard of were there.

Elle didn’t attend.

After a month she was discharged in perfect health. She went back to playingsolitaire in her living room. She saw a card that Sam had drawn on and burst into tears.

Her tumour went away.

Some said she had a hard life. Others said she had a good life. Elle said that she just had a long life.

Samuel York lived for fourteen years. Ellen Hanson lived for eighty four. They both died virtually unknown. But every day until she died a single red rose was placed on Sam’s grave.

He was gone, but not forgotten.




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