A mild breeze pushes at my back as I walk across my yard to Stephanie’s. She crouches in front of the wilted rose bush, studying its leaves.
“How goes the gardening?” I ask, even though I can see for myself that the little rose bush she recently planted isn’t flourishing.
She stands up and places a strand of long sandy hair behind her ear. She reminds me of a little girl when she does that. As always, I’m surprised by the intensity of her large luminous eyes. I can never make up my mind what colour they are. Grey, or maybe green. In different lights, they seem to change.
They haven’t lived here long, this little wisp of a thing and her husband. But she and I have become fast friends in that time.
We look at the rose bush together.
“It’s not doing so good,” she admits.
“Well, don’t take it too bad. Roses aren’t easy and this ground is… hard. Mostly clay. You’re going to have to get some good soil. I may have some in my garden shed. I’ll ask George to put some of the soil in for you. He’s a genius with gardens.
Her face lights up. It takes so little to please her.
“You’re lucky,” she says. Then she pauses, as if she’s afraid to say more.
“George is good to you, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” I say softly. She’s a little bird, always ready to take flight. I wonder if she’ll ever stand still long enough to really let me in.
“Hannah, do you ever feel like today, with the stirring of the wind, that you could just do anything? Change your name. Run away…”
She chews her lip as if she could bite back the words.
“Stephanie, I’m madly in love with my husband and four children.” I point to my belly. “I’ve got another one on the way. Inside my house, there are two dogs, one mean cat and a goldfish.”
I cross my arms across my chest. “So in answer to your question, yes, of course I do! Every day!”
She laughs, a real good laugh, right from her toes.
I chuckle along with her and then hug her. “But I’d never really do it. I’m pretty happy.” I hesitate, but then jump right in anyway. “Are you? Happy, I mean.”
Before we can say more, her husband Troy walks across the yard. He’s a big bruiser of a guy. Stephanie told me once he’d been the most popular boy in school, captain of the football team. She’d hardly believed her luck when he started dating her. It had been like a dream.
“My God, Stephanie,” I’d said. “You have no idea, do you?”
“What?” she’d asked.
“You’re beautiful. Don’t you know that?”
Now I see him stroll across the grass. He stuffs his beefy hands in his pockets, a storm cloud brewing across his face. I wonder what he wants from her.
An assortment of bad images of him compete in my head now. Troy’s bellowing voice wafting through the open windows last summer; Troy’s tires screaming out of their driveway, with Stephanie standing on the porch wiping her eyes; Stephanie and her mysterious bruises. And just a gut feeling about him that I can’t wipe away.
“Hannah.” He raises his hand to me.
I nod. “Troy.”
He turns to his wife. “How’s it going?” He wrinkles his nose at the rose bush. “Not supposed to look like that, is it?”
I stick up for her. “This clay soil is hard to grow anything in, especially roses. And anyway, there’s still hope for it yet.”
He nods slightly in response and then turns to his wife. “I guess you’re already packed then?”
“Oh yes, that’s right!” I gush. “This week is your visit with your sister in New York. Oh, you must be so excited. She works in a big fancy office, doesn’t she?”
“If I let her go,” Troy says, smugly.
She laughs, but not before a look like she’s just gotten a shock crosses her face.
“Oh-ho,” I laugh. “You wouldn’t want her sister to be worried now, if she doesn’t show up. How would that look to the in-laws?”
He grunts something about lunch and walks away. She follows him.
“Hey,” I call after her. “Don’t worry about your roses. I’ll look after them. Have fun in New York!”
She smiles back at me. Maybe her sister can talk some sense into her. Maybe her sister will keep her in New York.
I just got off the phone with Troy. He told me to turn on the news. I keep hoping there’s some mistake, but no. The words come in fragments, hitting me one after the other. Collision. Tour bus. Oil tanker. Closed off area. Explosion. Then come the first words I hear in the form of a complete sentence: “There were no survivors.”
Two weeks later, I get a post card in the mail. On the front is a picture of a bird in flight. On the back, in small careful script is written, “I needed you to know I’m okay. I’ll be in touch… some time. Love, Rose. P.S. You know what to do with this post card, right?”
Moments later, lighter in hand, I stand at the sink and watch the edges of the post card turn brown and curl.
I catch one last glimpse of her message and at her new signature at the bottom. She now goes by Rose. Perfect.
Lisa Finch lives in Forest, Ontario with her wonderful husband, Chris, and three beautiful children, Hailey, Matthew and Ben. She’s had the great fortune to be published locally, in several anthologies and also online. Please visit her website at www.finchtales.webs.com.