My short story - "Rose".
Previously published on my blog - http://frog101.wordpress.com
Rose sat on the straight-backed wooden dining chair; her long, pale fingers trembling as she held the letter in her hands.
"Dear Rose, " it began "I'm really sorry to do this by letter, but I .... "
Rose knew how the rest of the letter read; she'd read so many in a similar vein. Tears fell from her eyes, dripping onto the thick paper, soaking in and distorting the ink and words making the sentences more complex and difficult to read. Once again, someone who she had shared her life with had decided to move on, discarding her life like an empty chip bag. She sat for some time, gently sobbing to herself, rocking slightly. Eventually she could not cry any more and she looked up and out of the window at her cottage garden. Even though her heart was ripped apart, the flowers in her garden were a mass of colour and no matter what happened to her, she knew that her energies would be calmed by taking a walk through her garden, stopping to smell each of the many roses that bloomed and stood proud from the frames, bushes and hedges that surrounded the garden.
She sniffed gently, dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief and brushing her dress she stood up and walked through the stable back door and into the garden. The letter was left lying on the dining table, the letters congealing together as the tears dried.
Rose loved her garden. It wasn't actually hers, but was started many, many years ago by her mother when she was much younger - before she married, before she had borne Rose. Her mother had discovered the beauty that lay within the English Rose, its many petals holding so much inside and yet bursting with opportunity. Her mother had met someone with a shared interest and between them they had gathered so many varieties, and ensured that each was given the correct amount of space, light to ensure that each would show itself in its best form. Over time as her garden grew, so did the closeness between her mother and her friend, and soon they shared more than just a love of the garden. After time, they had a child, a beautiful girl... and only one name seemed suitable.
Rose had grown up in this garden, the secrets and the beauty of roses where revealed to her as she grew up. The garden had become a sanctuary of learning - there was nothing that Rose did not know about gardening and horticulture as she grew up. Unfortunately, her pursuit of learning had been at the cost of not really building up any hobbies and interests of anything that lain outside her garden. As she had grown up, she grew into a beautiful young woman - certainly a flower of beauty that attracted many young men. Over the years she was invited to many school proms, balls and parties and had dated many, many times - but these had not lasted very long as her lovers had quickly tired of the limited conversation. Every time though, Rose had not seen the signs or signals - so every time it had come as a shock to her.
Rose pruned the hedges carefully and methodically, the letter now confined to a memory point. No matter what, her flowers needed to be looked after.
"Those flowers are looking absolutely beautiful"
The words gently floated across the garden to Rose's ears. She turned to see where they had come from. "Thank you" she replied.
"I do love your roses... is that an Angel Face? That's one of my favourites... oh, are you alright?"
Rose realised that her face was still red and blotchy from crying. "Yes, I'm fine, I've just had some unexpected news from... from.. "
She so wanted to tell this stranger, but it didn't feel right, but she didn't know what to say.
"Don't worry, I don't need to know. But I'd be careful with that rose, I'd prune the other stem and I think you'd be impressed with the result."
"Oh, okay - do you have an interest in roses?" Rose was curious - she had debated in her mind which stem to trim.
"I have an interest in many beautiful things, but mostly flowers. You must come and see my garden at some point"
"That's very kind... and very forward. Your garden is...?"
"Oh sorry, yes, I suppose it is. My garden is the "Rose Sanctuary" - up on the hill in Melbury; have you heard of it?"
"That's your garden? I've been there so many times - it really is absolutely beautiful. I would love to have a tour of it."
"Well that's settled then - when you're ready, please come. Here's my card" And with that, the stranger handed over a green card, said goodbye and walked on.
Rose looked at the card. Herne Albion. Must be a spelling mistake though Rose, remembering the time she had got cards printed and had been named "Rose English" instead of "Rose Street", her actual name - she had tried to help the printer get her name right and it had all gone horribly wrong. She smiled and carried on working on the garden.
About a week later, Rose called Herne and arranged a time to visit the garden. He'd seemed polite enough, and she was quite looking forward to the tour. When she got to the garden Herne was there and they walked round the many paths, discussing the many roses and species that were in the garden. it seemed that within the blink of an eye many hours had passed. Herne and Rose had not stopped talking about the garden, about the flowers... and suddenly it was dark. Herne politely offered to give Rose a lift home, but Rose had driven there, so politely declined... but did agree to meet Herne again.
As she drove home, she thought about the enigmatic Herne and how he was so enthusiastic about all the flowers in his garden. He obviously loved and cared for every flower in that garden; none were hidden behind another or allowed to withdraw into the bush. She was also surprised at how many unusual names the Roses had. She knew that there was a common practice for roses to be given many names - but it was really surprising how many there were - and how many Herne had acquired.
Over the years, Rose made many visits to Herne's Sanctuary; Herne had also made many visits to Rose's house and helped look after the garden. They always talked about the flowers to the exclusivity of everything else; they shared tea, they had dinner - but always the topic of conversation was about the flowers. One day though, Herne surprised Rose by asking
"Do you have a partner?"
Rose's heart leaped. This was something she had not thought about, considered could be a reality. Herne was someone that she now trusted completely, but she knew that this was intuition as they had never talked about anything else.
"Nnn... no" she stuttered. Herne's laugh was genuine and honest.
"Sorry Rose, I didn't mean to pry. We've spent so much time together, I started to worry that I could be causing a problem.."
"No, you don't need to worry. I love your company, it's so refreshing to be able to be so calm, so relaxed..."
"I'm pleased" said Herne "but I do need to tell you something. Our friendship will not become anything more at this time. There will be a time when you will need to speak to me again. Know this - the Sanctuary is always open for you to be exactly that. When you need Sanctuary, please call for me."
"What do you mean?" said Rose, confused... then fell into complete dumbfoundedness as Herne vanished before her. Not walked away, not ducked - but vanished.
Rose was thoroughly confused by this - what had just happened? Herne was real, she knew it, yet, he had just disappeared. It took a little while before she really came to terms with what just happened - although for a little while she did worry that she'd just suffered a nervous breakdown.
The next day she visited the Rose Sanctuary... but no-one there knew of Herne. They all had seen many young men and women come to the Sanctuary asking for Herne, but all they had been told was to point the person to the Rose Trellis frame and request sanctuary there. All the gardeners pointed to a single metal rose trellis frame, its gothic architecture and curly points supporting many hundreds of roses.
Rose carried on with her life - and her garden. Life resumed as normal as with all people - she worked, she dated, she worked on her garden. But life works in cycles and once more she found herself sitting at the dining table with another lover's rejection letter. This time, she felt older, much older - and that life had finally beaten her. But this time too, she felt calmer, more resolved and went to the Rose Sanctuary. She walked into the Trellis and called "Herne where are you? I need Sanctuary"
Herne stepped from frame. It was as if he had been part of the roses growing there.
Herne's face was straight - almost serious. "Rose - why do you need sanctuary? You have such a beautiful garden and whilst it is true you are no longer young as when we first met, sanctuary will be such a permanent thing."
"Oh Herne" replied Rose "please don't think me defeatist. I know that the garden is beautiful - I've worked so hard to keep it as my mother had created it - but that's it you see, it's not mine. Everything I think I have, my garden, partners, friends... you... aren't mine and I'm fed up of living my life on my own. That is why I am asking for Sanctuary"
"Rose, it will be my honour to allow you to join us all in Sanctuary. What will you do with your beautiful rose garden?"
"Herne, many years ago you invited me here and I loved the flowers and the way they were looked after. So I decided back then that I would leave my house and all its contents to your Sanctuary, that you may use it however you see fit in this world."
"In that case, " said Herne "Hold my hand"
Rose's trembling hand reached up and touched Herne's; she relaxed as Herne's jacket seem to grow vines and creepers and bind her to him. She looked to his face and saw the vines, branches and flowers come from his mouth - and she realised this was Herne, this was the Green Man - this was going to be Sanctuary. Her eyes looked beyond the trellis frame and she realised that all the rose bushes and trees were coming alive - forming into men and women, all smiling and walking to meet her. They all entered the Rose trellis frame, reached and smiling took her hand from Herne and led her out into the garden, into the Rose Garden.
Rose smiled as she was made to feel welcome with new friends. Herne spoke
"Rose, welcome to our Sanctuary. I hope that you, like all our friends here, will be happy forever in each others company"
The next morning, the Rose Sanctuary was as before - a beautiful collection of Roses... except there was another rose in the garden. A man in a green jacket knelt before the rose bush and planted a small black sign. "Rose Street" it read.