Wanting to feel useful, today I tackled a task I’ve been putting off: cleaning up the plant pots from the courtyard outside my door. I imagined that I shirked the task because it would be dirty and exhausting, but I had barely begun before I understood that the real reason was I didn’t want to face the memories that lay in wait for me.
Except for the laurel, none of the several dozen pots had been planted by me. It was the sole survivor of three that Trish and I had bought years ago when the strata council had chopped down the fir that shaded our balcony. The others had quickly died, and this one had been moved to the courtyard when our deck was last rebuilt, only to die in last summer’s heat wave when I was too distracted to notice. Our parrots Ning and Sophy had enjoyed having it against the outside of the living room window, since it gave them a hidden place from which to peer out at the world.
The rest were the remnants of miniature roses and one or two efforts at growing mint and other herbs. I had never had a hand in those. They were Trish’s, and among some people she was as well-known for her roses as for always carrying a craft project with her.
Before the carcinoids took hold, an hour or two in the evening or weekends was a part of her life. She was proud of them, having never had much success with gardening before, and she kept her notes about them in a leather-bound book stamped with Celtic knotwork designs. She enjoyed, too, going to the monthly meeting of the local rose society, and she delighted in the names of each rose: Pandemonium, Golden Amber, Black Jade, Pinwheel, and all the rest.
But the real point of growing the roses was distributing the blossoms, few of which were over three centimeters in diameter. Regardless of whether she was going to her job, or we were going shopping at Westminster Quay, the parrot shop, or a bookstore, her departure was always delayed by her snipping the latest blossoms. At summer’s height, she would soak paper towels and carefully wrap the blossoms to preserve them. When she got to wherever she was going, she would hand them out, to the delight and occasional puzzlement of the recipients.
I suppose you could rationalize the distribution of the blossoms by the fact that Trish had several dozen plants, and, when they were blossoming, we hardly had room in our townhouse for more than a few blossoms. But, although we never talked about why she went to such efforts, I knew that she enjoyed offering the small gifts that she had produced to those she saw regularly.
Once, a cashier snootily refused them, and we never shopped at that bakery again. For my part, I was furious that such an innocent and pleasant gesture should be met with hostility. Most people were pleased by the gesture in the middle of their workday, and some came to look forward to it so much that they were visibly disappointed if Trish had run out of blossoms or the plants weren’t producing that day. To some distant acquaintances at Westminster Quay, she was simply the Rose Lady.
But as Trish sickened, she had less energy for roses. One by one, their numbers feel due to frost or disease, and, increasingly, the losses were not replaced. When she could, she still enjoyed tending them and distributing the blossoms, but, with each year she had less energy for anything so active. Nor did she want my help; the roses were her activity, and, not being a gardener and increasingly worried myself, I did not offer help as often as I could.
Two years ago, her health was poor enough that she hardly had time to fertilize the roses, let alone prune or keep them free of disease. Last year, as she struggled with pneumonia and slowly died, she had no time for them at all.
Today, I found that only three rose bushes survived, and one of them will need some concentrated attention to thrive again. But I decided that, despite my lack of gardening skills, I will do my best to keep them alive. The effort is a way I can continue to connect to a time that, nine months later, already seems so fabulous and distant that sometimes I wonder if it existed at all.