Mr Davis hummed to himself as he trimmed the hedges. The lovely rose bushes that his neighbours grew along their white picket fence weren’t looking as well kept as usual.
His neighbours must have agreed, because a few minutes later an elderly woman came outside armed with gardening gloves, pruning shears, and fertiliser. Mrs Williamson. That was her name. She and her husband had introduced themselves when he moved in. Must’ve been five years ago now. It was normally her husband who did the gardening. She reminded Mr Davis of his own mother, always pottering around in the garden. His mother had loved flowers. Mrs Williamson, however, didn’t have his mother’s knack. She clipped the rose canes in the wrong places and put too much fertiliser on some plants and not enough on others.
Mr Davis realised he was staring, so he quickly finished trimming the hedge and went inside.
His elderly neighbour was now busy in the garden nearly every day. Despite this attention, the rose bushes were continuing to droop. Mr Davis thought about offering his help, a little less water and adding some mulch would do the trick, but he was a quiet man.
Week after week he watched Mrs Williamson fail to restore the plants. Not enough fertiliser, too much pesticide, over-enthusiastic watering and pruning. With every week that the bushes failed to flower, he saw her grow sadder, her spirits withering with the leaves.
One Tuesday evening, while taking Archie for his daily walk, Mr Davis heard sobbing. He opened his gate and peeked into Mrs Williamson’s yard. She was kneeling in front of one of the rose bushes. It was completely withered, its leaves dried and brown. Mr Davis considered going to talk to her, he was sure the other plants could still be saved, but he was too shy.
Instead, on the way home from work that afternoon he dropped by the local bookstore. A brief perusal of the gardening section found what he was looking for. Year Round Guide to Growing Roses. He bought a large envelope and stamp for it and scrawled Mrs William’s address on the front. Mr Davis knew it was silly, but he didn’t want her to know it was from him. He left it at the foot of her mailbox.
That weekend Mr Davis left for his annual month-long family holiday at his brother’s beach house. He didn’t particularly like the beach or his brother’s loud family, but he was so used to going that it never occurred to him to say no.
When he returned he had nearly forgotten about Mrs Williamson’s rose garden, and went to bed without giving it a second glance. The following morning, he noticed that the rose bushes were looking much healthier. The leaves were green and lustrous and he could even see a few buds forming. He smiled to himself. However, a package at the base of Mrs Williamson’s mailbox caught his eye. It was the book he had bought. The paper had been torn back to reveal the title. It was filthy and waterlogged.
He felt ashamed. He shouldn’t have interfered or presumed she needed his help. He didn’t even know Mrs Williamson, and now he had offended her. Hopefully she didn’t know it was from him.
The next few days Mrs Williamson had a spring in her step and she sung to herself as she watered the garden. Finally, one sunny morning, the first rose bloomed. But the flower was wrong, its petals deformed. Later, he saw Mrs Williamson crying and savagely hacking it from the bush.
A few mornings later, a second rose flowered. Its dark red petals drank in the sunlight, velvety and blemish free. The sight brought a smile to Mr Davis’s face. He waited expectantly for Mrs Williamson to discover it, but days passed and there was no sign of his neighbour. A pile of catalogues and bills was overflowing from her mailbox.
Eventually, worried that something bad had happened, Mr Davis summoned up the courage to walk over and knock on her front door.
A red-eyed, dishevelled Mrs Williamson greeted him.
“What do you want?”
“I, ah,” not knowing what to say he gestured to the garden.
Scowling, Mrs Williamson stomped past him. When she saw the red rose her entire demeanour changed.
She turned to him, beaming, “Thank you.”
“I, ah, thought you should know.”
“They were my husband’s favourite. After he died, I just couldn’t stand watching them die too.”
“I – I’m sorry.”
“Thank you for that book, by the way.” Mr Davis blanched and Mrs Williamson chuckled. “Don’t worry. I know you meant well. It was just something I had to do for him.”
He nodded. “Would you, ah, like some help with those marigolds?”
Mrs Williamson smiled, “Yes actually, I’d love the company.”