I held the petals to my lips with a gentle kiss and looked out over the frothy waves.
At first I thought it was just a piece of cloth, maybe the salty breeze blowing in off the rolling water had blown my shirt onto the beach chair. But as I walked closer I could see that it wasn't a piece of cloth at all. It was a red rose.
The image of my Mary flooded into my mind.
We had spent the last of our savings to buy the little farm. There was only three acres, the small, dilapidated barn leaned to one side and needed paint. But Mary fell in love with the front porch.
"Just imagine it, sweetie. Her eyes sparkled as they scanned the worn, dusty boards below the sagging porch roof. "Two rockers next to the door; or a swing for two." Mary's excitement had a way of bubbling up and spreading to whoever was near. So we bought the place.
Even though there were no cows, no pigs, not a single horse; nothing that would make it an actual farm, our life together there was good. So good that I began to wonder.
Being married to my Mary was heaven, and I was happier than I had ever been. So what's going to go wrong? I wondered. When will this wonderful time end? On those days when I couldn't push the dark thoughts away, the dread seeping into me, I would tell Mary, and she would ease my thoughts with her gentle kiss, her soft caress, her searching eyes.
"Life doesn't always have to be tough, sweetie," she would say, with her sweet magnolia accent dripping love and concern. "We're together now and that's not going to change."
Our weekends were spent searching antique shops, snapping up inexpensive little curios to turn our house into our home. After dinner we would sit in the porch swing, my head on her lap, her lips moving with the words of the poetry she loved. Sometimes I fell asleep listening to her soft voice, and other times we'd cry together at some sad poem that struck out hearts. And every night ended with the sounds of our sighs in the dark.
As was her way, one day my Mary asked. "I want to put in a garden," her slender finger pointed to the front yard. "Over there. What do you think, sweetie?"
"That would be great," I said, feeling her excitement. "I'll help you get the ground ready." And so I did, and the small garden began to take shape.
I came home one afternoon and saw my Mary sitting in the warm dirt in the garden. Her eyes focused on the cluster of small plants in front of her. I watched the gentle breeze lift her golden hair, then gently set it back down on her shoulders. She never looked more beautiful. She looked up at me, a smudge of dirt on her cheek, excitement filling her warm, blue eyes and smiled.
"The man thought he was fooling me," she said as she held up a plant, its roots covered in white plastic. "He said he would give me a reduced price if I took only red ones," she giggled. "He didn't know that red is my favorite color."
I watched my Mary use her small, slender hands to push a small hole into the warm dirt, unwrap the roots, gently placing it into the soft earth. She covered the hole, smoothing out the ground beneath the stem, patted it gently, then turned and smiled. "It's going to be a beautiful garden, sweetie."
And that's how the garden came to be.
Six years of marriage had gone by in a flash; happy years, intimacy finding its way into our lives. The garden still had the same six plants, but they had grown under her nurturing. A vase of red roses, their petals unfurled like little flags, always sat on a table next to our swing during the summer months. Their fragrance became a part of our evening ritual.
I never understood why she waited so long to tell me. Maybe she didn't want to spend money we didn't have, thought it would worry me, I can't say, but it brings me profound sadness. I always wondered how it was I didn't see.
Her last night with me was the saddest of my life. She looked so small in the hospital bed, her face bathed in the stark white light that hung above her. I sat next to her, watched her warm eyes dimming, her small pale hand in mine, my heart clenching. I felt her squeeze my hand.
"Sweetie, I'm sorry."
"No, Mary," my voice wavered. "You have nothing to be sorry for."
"Will you do something for me?"
"Anything, Mary. Anything."
"Look after my garden. My beautiful red roses."
"Of course I will." I felt her grip weaken.
"I love you."
"I love you," I whispered.
I watched her eyes close for the last time.
My Mary loved the beach. She would spread a towel over the warm sand and read her favorite poetry. It was the place she wanted me to spread her ashes. And so I had come here to fulfill her last wish, spreading her ashes along the edge of the water. I had just returned to my chair when I found the rose.
I stood in the sand, felt the coarse grains pushing up between my toes. I felt the tightness in my chest, the cold in my knees, as I picked up the flower and held the delicate petals to my nose. There was no mistaking the fragrance, a mixture of softness and perfume—the perfume of my Mary. I held the petals to my lips with a gentle kiss and turned, looked out over the frothy waves, felt the breeze caress my face, the salty sting of my tears. I wondered.
Was it possible?
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