Mr Henderson's Roses
There were five of them. Tall, super-model rose trees, topped with neat pale yellow blooms. Elegant as Nubian princesses. A scent so heady you felt like twirling just passing them by.
They stood in Mrs Watson’s front garden.
A tall hedge on three sides hid most of the patch, but the princesses enticed a look at the joys below with their scented doffing.
Mr Henderson passed by every day. He was in love with the five roses. A tall man, stooped in that mortified tall-man way. Retired, and a keen rose gardener. I remember the dry-mouthed longing in his face. He couldn’t help himself.
At Sunday school we learned - Thou shalt not covet.
I was always in the garden with Mrs Watson, being useful talking into the faces in the flowers, kissing them and tucking them in with bits of dirt, singing ‘lavender blue dilly dilly’ and asking her where the green lavender was.
I loved to spend time with her, she was always laughing, and had a fascinating half inch of beige face powder on her face, circles of powder rouge a la Comédie Française on her cheeks, and bright red lipstick on her teeth.
She had a gold charm bracelet.
Thou shalt not covet.
But you could ask to try it on.
She would let me and I would hold up my arm and jingle it. It was heavy and not as shiny as it could be if it was really mine. But there was a carriage just like Cinderella's with wheels that really went around. I showed it to the flowers.
Mrs Watson had bright red fingernails, which I’d never seen before. I thought it was because she was English. She was very glamorous, in her lacy powdered way.
She must have been in her seventies, I was in my fives to sixes.
One day she ‘had a fall’ in her flat and she was away for ages. We went to visit her in hospital on Christmas Day afternoon and I had a mince pie, my first. Which didn’t have mince in it and was sweet. I thought it was probably how English people made pies.
The day after Mrs Watson passed away, Mr Henderson came to our door.
“Do you think it would be alright if I took some of the plants from the garden downstairs?”
As if it was anything to do with us.
His eyes were flashy and bright.
To his face my mum said: “You’ll have to ask Mrs Watson’s son, he’s dealing with the property now.”
Behind the briskly closed door she said: “That old bugger has had his eye on those roses for years.”
The day after the day Mrs Watson died, the five roses disappeared. Dug up in the night.
The day after that day, they re-appeared. Standing free and tall in Mr Henderson’s garden. Open to the world, ungainly topping off his hillside rockery of dumpy roses, displayed like slaves at a market. They looked like they’d had a bad fright. I had a bad feeling. I told my mum.
“The old thief.” She said, like she was spitting.
A week after that, all five roses died.
Had he put them in his front garden, given them the shelter they’d been used to, to do their flirting with the breeze and not in the wind tunnel of his shrubby rockery, they may well have survived the move. But he had coveted the roses for too long to hide them behind his tall hedge and had paraded them for all the world to see. Crowning glories of his short rose bushes that he could never get to grow to any height in that open aspect.
I remember feeling sad at how he changed. The wind knocked out of him. He looked white like a skull and stooped more than usual. I was worried. He stopped coming out to his garden. I told my mum.
She said Mr Henderson had ‘taken a turn’.
A few weeks after the five roses died, Mr Henderson died too. I knew that was going to happen. It was sad. Everybody died and no more roses.
He had loved them truly.
I knew that for sure.
But sometimes, there are loves in our lives that we must let stay just where they are.
And move on.