City Of Roses by Candace Davis

 

‘Remember, beautiful things grow in the most unlikely places.’

He held out a cardboard box with pink, hand painted roses that seemed to soften in his weathered hands.

Rosie was old enough to know that when a man gave her something and called her beautiful, it was more of an exchange. And she hadn’t known Martin long enough to believe otherwise.

‘I need to go away for a while.’ He took a step toward her and proffered his gift once again. Rosie realised it was an exchange for his impending absence.

‘But we haven’t finished…’

He’d been squatting in the Simpson’s tired, unused farm shed for months now, but the first frosts had arrived and he wasn’t built for the bitter Warwick winter.

‘One of these days your folks will wonder where their food is going, where their daughter is going.’ He looked weary and loath to fight. ‘It’s better this way. Trust me, you’ve taught me enough to get by.’

Tears of disappointment spilt from her youthful eyes as she snatched the box from his tortured hands. He wanted to explain the delicacy of its contents, to lessen the chance of her hurtling it at the tin wall behind him, but the hand-written note inside would say more than his spoken words ever could.

She noticed the cardboard was tightly sealed, his paintings cheapened by old packing tape he must have found in the shed. The extra security told her not to open it just yet.

Rosie looked out at their garden; the roses were starting to bloom. He used to say that roses—the fairest and sweetest of the flowers—needed the same three things people did: nourishment, a good home, and a little bit of love.

‘I’ll find work in the city.’

Martin hadn’t worked since he’d returned from Iraq. Hardened by war, and barely literate, he wasn’t sure where to start so he hitched from Brisbane to the first place someone was offering him a ride.

‘Maybe when you’re at university next year you could come looking for me. You know, one year from now, like they do in the movies…’

He was hopeful, but she was too young to understand the range of emotions streaming through her conscious. Instead of thanking him for his gift, his patience, his kindness, for the growing love inside of her, she turned and ran away. He never returned to her city of roses and she never searched for him in his city of opportunities.

Almost a year later, the morning after the first frost, the coroner phoned and asked her to identify Martin’s body. Someone found him hanging from a rusted gate, above a bed of pink roses. He was homeless, starving, desperate, and unwilling to face another winter alone.

Her name and number were scribbled on a piece of scrap paper in his breast pocket. Nature spent all her time perfecting the roses at his feet, but saved very little for Martin.

She returned to her flat and found the cardboard box with the pink roses that she’d never forgotten, but never opened. There was a beautiful Faberge egg inside, adorned with a pink, jewelled rose. It was lying in a bed of straw with a faded, handwritten note.

Dearest Rosie, A pink rose is gentle, beautiful, and graceful… just like you. The giving of a pink rose indicates love and gratitude. I have grown to love you deeply and now I want to make myself worthy of your love. This is a real Faberge egg, although it’s best not to ask where I acquired it. Please take care of it for me until we meet again.  All my love Martin. P.S. Always remember, beautiful things grow in the most unlikely places.

Rosie looked out over her newly planted rose garden and finally understood.