My love it is a red, red rose by Tim Love

My love it is a red, red rose

“Take a bunch of roses; I use it to signify my passion. Do we have here,
then, only a signifier and a signified, the roses and my passion? … But
on the plane of analysis, we do have three terms; for these roses
weighted with passion perfectly allow themselves to be decomposed into
roses and passion: the former and the latter existed before uniting and
forming this third object, which is the sign”
– Barthes


His fire bucket was red because red signifies danger. On it, in big
black letters, was written “FEU”. Not “SABLE” or “EAU”. He used it as a
bin and an ashtray. The safety inspectors listed it as a hazard. He
didn’t care. Buckets were replaced by fire extinguishers which were
regularly checked. They were colour-coded in those care-free days: red
for water (traditional), blue for powder (the powder’s pale blue) and
black for CO2 (which suffocates; black is the colour of death). When I
kicked the bucket (as I often did, it being in the middle of his small
office) I didn’t feel the pain immediately. In the few seconds between
the thud and the recognition I caught him studying me.

He believed passionately in roses. When he visited new lovers he’d
always bring a bunch. He’d steal them from graveyards, even from his
lover’s front garden. He used the bucket to grow a rose bush. It didn’t
do his hayfever any good. For a book-end he had a copy of Duchamp’s ‘Why
not sneeze Rose Sélavy?’; 151 white marble blocks in a cage. He’d sought
the parts at Porte d’Orleans flea market. He said it was a pure sign. “A
rose is a rose is a rose,” he said, but I, true to my heritage, replied
that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

By then he was into matadors not metaphors. The red rag became a red
flag, the bull a car, speed the passion. Marriage was of course out of
the question but he kept looking for signs. Being a lapsed Catholic he
knew all about the Principle of Totality that asserts the inseparable
connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own
initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive
meaning and the procreative meaning. Nevertheless, we remained friends
after I became a colleague. He was interested in our quaint English
customs rather than our theories. I showed him a Times crossword once,
over a morning coffee at his favourite bar. I pointed out that flowers
are rivers, I showed him that in “Be quiet – car accident (5)”, “be
quiet” meant “sh” and “accident” signified not only an anagram but the
literal answer. He didn’t understand straightaway. He didn’t believe in
breaking words up, or breaking his word. Instead, he lit a cigarette,
blowing rings. He’d always smoked heavily, trying out different forms
later in his career: cigars that were just cigars and pipes that were
not pipes. Never snuff.

I saw him for the last time in hospital. “Red lips are not so red As the
stones kissed by the English dead,” I said. But that was war. Victims of
road accidents are not so honoured. In Italy, families maintain flowers
where there have been fatal accidents, but he died too late, in the
wrong place, and besides, in his heart of hearts he was a giver rather
than taker of flowers. At his funeral all the anonymously-sent flowers
were red roses. I just left a card – “Love’s sore return (4)”.

Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts
(HappenStance, 2010) and a story collection By all means (Nine Arches
Press, 2012). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have
appeared in Stand, Rialto, Oxford Poetry, Journal of Microliterature,
Short Fiction, New Walk, etc. He blogs at


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(Picture of Marcel Duchamp and friends by Charles Demuth [Public domain])