The door opens again. “Grandma says ‘Yes’”. The child hands me a pair of scissors. I want her to stay for a moment so I ask “Which one should I pick?”
She steps outside and stands considering. “There aren’t many left. Grandma picked them the other day. They’re her favourite.”
“Why is that?”
“She says it’s called Warm Welcome and she likes the name. She says someone very special must have planted it because they knew the name and they wanted people to be welcome here.”
“I knew the name of it.”
Suspicion fills her eyes. “Before I told you?”
“Yes. I’ve known it for a long time.” Without thinking I reach out and caress the thick ropy trunk growing against the warm brick of the house.
Her suspicion turns to surprise. “Oh! Did you plant this?” She turns and calls out, “Grandma. This man planted your rose.”
How did she make that jump in logic? I feel suddenly hemmed in, imprisoned by her sudden knowledge of me. I need to leave. Now.
Too late. Grandma appears in the doorway. She looks about sixty, with the no-nonsense posture of a career teacher or nurse, fit enough to have done some gardening.
I should speak to her, perhaps explain myself, but I want to get out of there. Quickly I snip off a rose. Not a good choice – it was overblown - but it was the nearest to hand.
“Thank you. I must go.” Clumsily I pass the scissors back to the child and we drop them between us. This shakes me even more. I’m a surgeon, for heaven’s sake, I never drop instruments when I pass them. I leave them where they fell and run for the gate. When I get back in the car I’m gasping for breath. I look down at the rose. It has lost all but three of its petals. I twist the stem between my fingers and another petal falls off.
Slowly my breathing returns to normal and I point out the obvious to myself. I had years of emotional abuse in that house. Of course I’m going to feel threatened my first time back.
I hear a tap on the car window. The child is there, holding up a perfect copper-coloured rose bud. I open the window and take it from her.
“Grandma said to ask if that really used to be your garden.”
I can’t even say ‘yes’ to the child. I just nod. Then I nod again.
“She says you could have more of the flowers, you could even look after the rose plant if you want to because she says she doesn’t know how to do it properly. She says that you’d be welcome. The owner won’t mind, she says he went away ages ago and never came back. Grandma thinks he might be dead.”
I want to tell her that he’s not dead, he’s right here. But I don’t. I thank her, dredge up a smile and start the car. I watch her safely back across the road. I’m thinking that I’ll never come back, not even for the rose. I might move to another city. Or perhaps I could travel; it might not be as bad as I thought. Not cruising, but I might find a place that isn’t at war. I could start again somewhere else. Could I feel at home somewhere else? I could even start a new garden in a new place. A new beginning. For the first time I began to see some possibilities.