I have three beautiful jars (or glasses, as I don't have any nice flower vases) on my windowsill and my stereo cabinet, full of roses. I'm not a rose girl, nor am I a flower girl really - I've always been a bit tough for flowers. Whilst many gush over them, I liked to do the oppositie. Why swoon over something that doesn't last for long, has little medicinal or edible purpose (yes, I learnt to realise otherwise) and is just a 'girly' decoration? Now the tomboy in me has subsided and I'm in the prime of my womanhood, or perhaps the tail end of it, I'm a little gentler with flowers, and they are with me. We seem to have come to some kind of understanding.
And so, on Wednesday's walk, I stopped to quite literally smell the roses. We've been taking all different routes around town to mix things up a bit, walking down streets we've never been down or taking little lanes and alleyways we didn't think joined anywhere, snooping in people's gardens and doing mental DIY on people's houses or dreaming of selling up and buying something smaller and more manageable. The route back though only has two choices - a long dusty track in the full sun, or a quicker one along the train line, which runs down the back of ours. There's a lovely blue weatherboard house full of roses quite close to the rabbit track where we cross over to join the path back up to the back of our property, where a big black lab rushes to greet us with a bark.
I rarely see anyone out the back - in ten years, I've spoken to the woman who lives there three times - just cursory greetings. About five years ago we spoke for longer as I admired her rose garden. Again, rose gardens are not my thing - but I was being polite. She sadly said it was a little hard to maintain, especially with her husband sick. So on this walk, when I saw her pruning her roses in the chill wind, I stopped to admire them again. Jamie had walked ahead, but there was something that made me stop and say hello. 'A bit windy for roses!' I smile. 'How are you?'. At this point I'm still slowly walking, but the tremble in her voice as she said 'not bad' made me stop. I gush a little more about a huge apricot rose that takes pride of place on the back fence. She offers me some, and of course I accept. I don't tend to display roses in vases but there was something in her offer that made me realise she was trying to give me a little piece of her beautiful garden.
She had sold the house, you see. I hadn't realised - the for sale sign was on the front, which isn't on our walking route. She was moving more inland, near where her children and grandchildren are. 'It's too hard to manage on my own' she said. She didn't mention her husband. She didn't remember me from our years ago chat. It was clear he had died, and the house and garden were now a place of loneliness and grief. No longer did he sit on the back porch and watch her prune roses. She filled my arms full of roses as my heart broke for her. Ten years, she said, she'd been making this garden. Ten years. And now - to start again! I reassure her she'd enjoy creating a new garden wherever she was, and enjoy her family. The words don't seem enough. I don't know how to tell her I'm sorry without prying, but I see the grief in her eyes. She brushes tears away in the wind and walks down the side of her house. She is done talking. It is too much, but she is glad to give me roses.
All day the roses sit on the sideboard and on the windowsill, and all day my heart is breaking. I think of my Mum who will lose Dad in the next few years, of my mother in law who lost her husband earlier in the year, the inevitability of one day losing my own man, or he I. Life is hard to bear sometimes. I take long, lingering sniffs of the roses, letting their scent calm and sooth me. My heart hurts. It feels like I cannot breath, or that I am breathing too much. I don't try not to cry. Better out than in. But I do try to distract myself. There is no point focussing on things that haven't happened yet. The roses are still in full bloom, after all.
By the end of the day, I have whipped the roses out of the jars to make a rose hydrosol, made by simmering the rose petals in a pot and catching the condensation in a bowl. I pour the rose scented water into a blue spray bottle, tap a drop of rose essential oil into the water, and a hand drawn label with instructions for use. I wrap it in brown paper and write a quick card to wish her luck, explaining how the rose water can be used as a cooling spray or toner, or simply a mist to spray and remember her garden by. I walk past late that night but there is no answer at the door, and the dog is not there. I wonder if she's already left. I leave it on the doorstep in hope she'll get it.
They say roses are good for grief.