if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be(deep like a rose tall like a rose)
standing near my
(swaying over her silent) with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which is a flower and not a face with hands which whisper This is my beloved my
(suddenly in sunlight
he will bow,
& the whole garden will bow)
-- e e cummings
CHAPTER 1 SELLWOOD OREGON – NOVEMBER 1943
The little boy sat in his chair. The banter. It went on and on. Rose couldn’t help herself. She thought there’s something wrong with him. Too much sleep. A disturbance. The first sign of a disturbance. Like her aunt Mae. Chatter. Chatter Chatter. But, really it was her. She knew it was in her. Her mind couldn’t concentrate and his words were stab, stab stabbing at her. “This plane, can’t land because its wheels are stuck. They are stuck—what do you call it mom? Mom?” “What Charlie?” “What’s underneath?” She looked at him, told herself, just listen to the boy. He’s only five years old. Someday, he will be a teenager. The silence she craved now would be bottomless someday. She knew this. “Just finish your breakfast. I’m thinking right now. I’m trying to work.” She leaned over the table and returned to her sketch. He flew the plane upward above the cereal bowl. His little knuckles were dirty. Rose noticed this. She could see herself getting up, getting the dishrag and wiping them clean. But, she didn’t. Instead she looked down at the paper. She thought about the flowers for Mrs. Eaton’s funeral. Lillies, baby’s breath. A spray of white. Why white at funerals? Heaven? Rose thought, but she didn’t know. She thought that deep red, lush almost black would be more fitting. The blackness that envelops you. It has always frightened her, but what is more accurate than the blood red and the eternal blackness just near the stem of a deep burgandy rose? “Where?” Charlie asked. “What darling? What son?” Rose answered. She softened to him. He was so alive. “Where is what?” “The place the wheels go.” “Inside somewhere. Inside of the plane. Let me see.” Charlie handed her the plane. Rose turned it upside down and looked at the bottom. “Do you mean when the plane is in the air? Where does the landing gear go?” “Yes. When its flying.” “Well, this toy doesn’t have it, but there is a little compartment.” “That’s not right. Daddy told me how it works.” “I know, son. But, Daddy isn’t here anymore. I don’t know.” Charlie’s face turned red and his lip started to quiver. “Come here, my little boy.” Instantly he was in her arms. This growing little thing. This five year old boy who should be too old for cradling. Here he was in her arms. His sweet skins smelled fresh. Even with his dirty fingernails and unwashed hair, he was clean and fresh.
The funeral parlor was dimly lit. It was silent. Rose walked in, aware of her heels and the sound they made on the marble tiled entry way hall. In front of her, she could see the long carpeted hallway with doors on either side. Each room meant for a different casket, a different life that had passed, a different family and room full or mourners. Standing there now, waiting for Mrs. Eaton’s son, she remembered walking down the hall, black pumps. Dark stockings. She remembered her black dress and gloves. The framed picture of Ken held like a school book against her chest. She kept thinking, I am holding on, I am holding on. You are with me Kenny. I won’t let you go. It was the second room on the right. A big one. “He grew up here. We all knew him. We’ll all miss him,” Andy the funeral director had said, “get a big room. No charge. Rosie. There’s no charge.” Her red lips must have smiled, or turned upward. But she didn’t remember that. She just remembered the current moving, his voice another uneventful piece of debris caught in the rapids. It was moving, moving towards the end. It wasn’t until later that night, when she was lying in her bed, Charlie with Lilly, that she had realized it. She wasn’t holding on to anything. She had released the picture and let it fall. There was nothing to hold on to. He was dead. He was gone. Even then, she knew that the silence, the void would recede. It would never close completely. It would stay an infected wound. Because she loved him so much. And even though it was selfish to think on that night in the orange summer light as the wind blew through the lace curtains. It was unfair to believe it in the stillness and the silence of mourning. But, she loved him. And she loved him, she felt, more than most people can understand or ever love. And, even though her mother had told her that she would never, ever be loved. There he was: Ken Lord. His sculpted face, square jaw. And, he had loved her too. And then suddenly he was gone. She was selfish to think that her love was so different that anybody elses, but it was true. It was. “Rose?” She looked up. Mr. Eaton was approaching her. “Mr. Eaton?” she asked, trying to compose herself. She was still thinking in a dream like way. It was the heavy air in the room. The scent of candle wax and sage that saturated the air. It was an in-between place. In and out of time. Because Rose hadn’t known that coming back to the funeral home would pull her so violently back to the night before Ken was buried. Buried. The word, the thought of the word sent her stomach sinking. She wanted to sit down. She felt faint. The man smiled at her. It was a warm, famliar smile, but Rose didn’t know him. Somehow his smile, the odd friendliness pulled her back to the presnt. She took a deep breath and smiled back at him. “Its Jeffery. Or, Jeff. They call me Jeff,” he said. He held out his hand and when Rose reached to shake it, he gently held the tip of her fingers on his palm. It was a gesture that suggested that he was going to kiss her hand. Instead he squeezed it lightly and let it go. Mr. Eaton was medium build. His brown hair looked almost gray, but it wasn’t. Rose could see that it was just light, a sandy brown. He wore a white shirt, a loose, wide tie and gray pants. His shirt was pressed, but the seams on his sleeve were pressed off center, in some places there were two lines ironed into the fabric. Rose felt dizzy again. It’s the funeral home, she thought. It was pressing into her brain. She was feeling dreamy, transported into its silence. “I’m very sorry about your mother, Mr. Eaton,” she said. He looked down. Rose looked down too and rubbed the toe of her shoe against the pattern in the tile work. She sighed. Then looked up at him again. For a moment she felt as if she were looking through the black veil again. She was in two places. Right here, now with Mr. Eaton, deciding on flower arrangements for his mother’s wake and funeral. And, at the same time, back then, less than a year ago. Both sorrows running together in a current between them. She had the urge to wipe the veil away from her face. But of course it wasn’t there. It was just a memory. “Maybe we should take a walk?” he said to her. It was out of place, Rose thought. Mr. Eaton was smiling. His eyes were staring intently into her and it seemed more intimate than she expected. It made her uncomfortable. Then he corrected himself. His smile faded and his face turned solemn. In that moment, Rose questioned what she thought he had said. Did he say maybe we should walk? Had she hear him correctly? He smiled at her gently and she felt confused. For now she was still an empty tablet. Nothing had been written. She was unable to read his glances and gestures. So she allowed him to erase whatever intention he had spoken so casually to her. But still… a walk? But why? Where to? “I have some sketches,” she said. “Should I show them to you here? I was thinking Lillies of the valley and baby’s breath. You said, peaceful. Natural? They’re delicate, typical funeral arrangements. They should be lovely.” “It’s the Burgancy room,” he said “we should go there and look around.” Then, he walked briskly, business-like down the hall. He almost seemed angry at her. Rose thought his manner had turned cold towards her. Then, she realized that her mind was playing tricks on her. She was so broken up about being back at the funeral parlor. Rose walked next to him, trying to keep his pace. She glanced into the blue room as they passed it. A searing pain pierced her stomach. She wanted to crawl back into the past. She wanted to be standing in the receiving line, holding ken’s picture. Because, she remembered now that back then, from the moment she had first heard the news until after the wake -- she still hadn’t really known he was gone. Words had been suspended like pictures on a newsreel in front of her one by one. Flash. Flash. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Lord.” “His friend had these letters. For you. Never sent.” “It was an infection. He was brave.” “He never gave up.” She remembered the soldier walking in, invading her garden while she was out working the soil. How dare he come into her yard and tell her that her husband was dead? But, she didn’t really believe him and at the wake, it was just an aching then. Just like when he had left for Europe. A pain under her ribs, stabbing. A thirsty longing, a pain that would have subsided, resolved itself when he finally returned home. The burgundy room was much smaller than the blue one. The Eaton’s weren’t from Oregon, so there wouldn’t be a lot of people at the wake. Mrs. Eaton was from England. And, her husband William –Jeff’s father—had been from Boston. Then Califronia.. And, later much later Mrs. Eaton settled here. Jeff and his wife followed, to help her. Rose knew all of this third hand, in maybe one or two conversations over the years. It was information that he hadn’t even known she had retained until this moment when she finally met him face to face. Chairs were arranged in a semi-circle. There were maybe thirty chairs. All dark wood, folding chairs. A stand for the casket was placed in front of the back wall. Rich tapestry covered the walls. Unless you looked closely you might have missed the Grecian pattern. But, Rose did look closely. In fact, she felt a paing of regret. An urgent desire to correct things. This should have been Ken’s room. Not the satiny blue with cream carpeting. This room was more fitting. More intimate. Passionate she almost thought but that was too much. “I am very sorry that we didn’t--” Rose thought aloud. She bit her lip turned red because she was thinking how sorry she was that this was not the room chosen for her husband’s wake. She felt her face growing hot and Jeff Eaton turned from the table where the flowers were to go. There was that familiar expression again. He walked over to her and despite herself, Rose thought he was going to touch her. Going to comfort her. Put his hand on her shoulder or lead her to a chair. Instead he said “didn’t what? Is something not right?” “No,” she said, “the table is fine.” Rose felt an urge to leave. To rush out. “Here are the sketches.” She carried them in a small envelope. She laid it on the table and removed several sketches. They depicted the arrangements for his mother. The lilies, baby’s breath, ferns. Jeff Eaton leaned in and looked at them. He took one in his hands and held it closer to his face. “Are you the artist?” he asked. She knew that he was an artist. He was a painter. He also did illustrations for magazines. He was an artist. She knew this without ever knowing him. “No,” its just so you can see the flower arrangements. I can’t get some of them, especially this time of year. I quickly sketch them, they’re nothing—I don’t have the flowers in my garden this time of year. I have to order them. During the spring and summer I do most of the less formal orders from my garden. Not now though. I have to order the flowers this time of year.” He watched her while she spoke. And, she realized that she was talking too much. Giving him too much information. “I see,” he said and squinted a little, considering what she had just told him. He put the picture down. She noticed how long and smooth his fingers were. His eyes looked at her intently. “ You have a reputation. I’ve heard about your garden. Seen pictures in the Bee. I have seen you at the garden club meetings. At the community house.” “Are you a gardener?” she asked. “No. Mrs. Eaton is.” “Oh,” Rose said. “I don’t know her. I haven’t seen her at the garden club.” “She’s sat in, once or twice--She doesn’t…” But then he turned back to the drawiangs, “Well, they’re beautiful. I think these will be fine. My mother would like them. I think she would have liked these.She loved white.” He looked down at the floor. “So, I’ll bring them on Friday. It all happens so quickly, doesn’t it, Mr. Eaton. How time plays tricks after someone dies?” “All right,” he said, cutting her off. “That’s fine. If I’m not here then Andy will let you in. Just put them where you think they should go.”
“Crying,” Rose repeated. “Why is Charlie crying.” “We don’t know,” the principal said. Mr. Downey. He was a math teacher when Rose was at Sellwood Elementary. Now, he was the principal. All these years and still here. “It is happening often.” “Is there a problem with the other children? Or is he not feeling well?” “I don’t know,” Mr. Downey said. “I think it is because—“ he looked down. Rose noticed that he didn’t look up for a long time. She remembered him teaching math when she was a girl, a student at Sellwood Elementary. Waiting for the right answer. The kids stirring in their seats. Not looking up until the right answer was produced. Was he waiting for Rose to say why Charlie was crying all of the time? “Because of his father? Because of Ken’s--” Mr. Downey started, then stopped. He looked down at his paper. Slowly he looked back at her. “Or. I mean. Are you.—its hard for you both, I’m sure?” Rose felt a paing of guilt. It wasn’t Charlie. He wasn’t difficult. It was her. She just wanted time. Time to sit and think. The hours when he was in school weren’t enough. She wanted a long time alone. She wanted to go away for a month. To have a little room. And, she could picture the room. She had imagined it often: it had wood floors and a large painted window. There were panes, many panes of glass in the windows and she could examine the light as it changed in the rippled glass; the way it muted and blurred the colors outside. A single bed and a dresser. In the corner was a chair. And, if she were too look out of the window there would be a valley with trees. Autmn leaves changing colors. And , maybe a stream. And if she opened the window a crack, a cool breeze would waft into the room. Some days she might sleep the whole day away. Wake woozy. She looked back up at Mr. Downey. The mole of his cheek had several hairs growing out of it. His hairline had almost completely receded. He looked bloated, chubby. His shirt and tie seemed to be too tight around his neck. “Are you all right?” he asked her. “I’m getting along,” She said. That is what she always said. Because she couldn’t say she was fine. She wasn’t. But, life was moving forward. She glanced back up at him. She could feel a lump growing in her throat. Again she had the feeling that she was wearing her black veil. Her eyes started to water. “What do you think I should do, Mr. Downey?” When she said it, she heard the little girl’s voice just as she used to answer a math problem. “Sometimes,” he said. He leaned closer over his desk. She could see now that he had deep wrinkles around his eyes. They were magnified in his glasses. “Sometimes, our children just hurt.” He looked down. “You’re a good mother, Rose. He’s just a sad little boy. It just takes time. How can we understand what he feels?” Rose was not comforted. She put her hand over her mouth and let some air out. ‘He’s not always sad,” she said. “Since—“ “No,” Rose said, “of course. Of course he was sad when Ken left—died.” She clenched her teeth slightly, she could feel the muscle in her jaw tighten. “He’ll be all right,” Mr. Downey said, “I just wanted you to know. So he wouldn’t have to be so sad all alone.”
Rose walked back through West Moreland, back to Sellwood. The air was cool and the trees almost bare. It was chilly, but the sun was the bright and baby blue was full of volumous clouds. The clouds were high, high up in the sky. The wind blew in strong gusts and leaves danced in the streets. They fell off the trees in flurries. Rose walked past the pharmacy and caught her reflection in the window. Her wavy brown hair was pulled back in combs. Her long hair was held back in a twist with a long tourtise shell comb. Her wool coat hung to her calves. She looked neat, trim. It almost shocked her. How could she look so normal? How could she look like an ordinary housewife, when really she was thin as a paper doll? And just as lifeless? She felt see through. Her heart ached so much that she felt like her body was hardly a part of her. Just a thin sail as the wind pushed against her back, keeping her going. She walked further and once she got to Nehalem st. she walked more slowly. The trees on Nehalem were so beautiful. Just a week ago, they were bright orange and yellow. The streets looked now like they were painted in vibrant oranges and yellows. It was breathtaking. Now, only a few leaves remined on the largest trees. They looked bare, brittle. She stared up at the large Elm on the corner of 15th. She felt small compared to the ancient tree. The sidewalk buckled where the roots broke through. She noticed that Carmen was out in her garden. Large roses always climbed over trellises along the side of her house. Now, the roses were all but gone, orange-pink rose hips taking their place. Rose thought about the deep, red roses Carmen had brought over to the house when Ken died. “Three of them,” Carmen had said, “one for each of you.” Rose rememberd the red flesh of the flower and how towards the stem the petals turned black-red. Rose had thought they were the color of blood, and the stem was its vein. All three of them together in the vase. Their blood-colored petals, open, searching for light, air, but dying all the same. Trying to be vibrant, but slowly losing the battle. Carmen’s calloused hands had held the roses and there was no note. Not even a smile, just a sad “I’m sorry.” Rose thought of how she had sat on the couch and stared at the flowers every day. Frozen in her place. Finally, they were dried and dead. Every time she looked at them and their sharp thorns, she had wished to pick up the three of them and squeeze them in her fist and to keep squeezing until the thorns broke through her flesh. Now, Rose could see Carmen up on a step ladder pruning back the roses. Even from the distance, Rose could make out Carmen gently untangling each cane and pruing back gingerly. Then, tossing the pruned wood to the ground. Rose didn’t want to stop and talk to Carmen. She wanted to get home. To get back to her own neglected garden. She knew Carmen hadn’t seen her and so she casually turned on to 15th and walked home to Miller st.. As she approached her house, Rose saw a figure on the porch. She picked up her pace and hurried to her door. She was scared that there was more bad news. Something else. She felt sick and an electric fear pulsed through her. When she got closer to the house, she sighed. It was Mr. Eaton. She must have forgotten some detail about the flowers. Or, she reached into her pocket to see if he gloves were still in them. They were. She put her hand over her eyes to shield the sun which was now bright from that direction. “Mr. Eaton,” she said. “Hello.” The wind blew a strong gust which caused him to stand up and walk towards her, a protective gesture as if she might be blown away. As if he could see her fragility. “I hope I’m not bothering you,” he said. He rubbed his hand on the wooden rail and lingered a moment on the bottom step. “Your address was on the back of the sketches.” “Don’t be silly, not at all,” she said. “I’m sorry. Did we forget something?” “No.” He took another step down and was now standing on the walkway. Rose stood and looked at him. “No. We didn’t--” He started to say something else but looked up at the sky then he looked back at her. “It wanted to change the arrangement, if its not too late.” Rose looked at him more intently. “Change--?” “You had asked me about my mother. I realized after you left that I…To answer your question, no she wouldn’t want white lilies…” “My question?” “If my mother would like white, peaceful, natural?” “Oh. I didn’t mean…” Another gust of wind blew and Rose reached for her hair. “Why don’t you come inside. Its getting cold. You can tell me. ” She started up the stairs. He let out a heavy sigh of relief. “Yes, thank you. Rose.” He followed her up. “Please, come on in.” she said. He walked into the house and stood in the entryway. There was a long wooden bench and a stone fireplace. “Can I take your coat?” she asked. Her manner was formal. She felt how stiff she was. It settled in her neck. When she moved it was tight and awkward. It was because she wanted to be alone. To go into the garden. To walk through the debris, assess the casualties of her neglect. She didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. She couldn’t take another moment of casual conversation. It stole the little energy she had left. He took off his jacket and handed it to her. She opened the coat closet and hung it inside. She removed her coat and hung it in the closet next to his. “Please come in, Mr. Eaton.” “Really, you can call me Jeffrey,” he paused “or Jeff.” The light from the stained glass above the door cast a warm hue on his face. He smiled and nodded his head. She looked at him for a long moment. She didn’t know which name to pick. “Ok, Jeff.” She finally said. He widened his eyes and smiled. Rose couldn’t decide if he was handsome. She couldn’t determine how old he was. He had light brown, soft hair and his eyes were light blue, almost gray. They walked through the front room. It was quiet and the sun shone in through the large window behind a writing desk. A yellow light filled the room and made the wood floors look warm where the light formed the shape of the windows. Three of the large windows had amber and red leaded glass which cast beautiful colored streams of light over the wooden and leather furniture. There were two couches arranged facing each other. An oak table sat in the middle. On it was a large pottery vase filled with fresh mums. The vase had coral pink flower petals on it and tourquose leaves. The background was a dark brown. A pomagrait pattern rug was on the floor between the two couches. “Pretty house,” “It was my parents’ home. I grew up here.” Rose said. “Really? This seems like a nice house to grow up in,” Jeff said. Rose just smiled at him. He raised his eyebrows and looked around. “It’s a really lovely, tasteful place. Is this your doing—the furniture, the touches?” “I’m sorry Jeff, did you say tea? Or coffee?” “What are you having?” he asked finally looking away from the sitting room. “I don’t want to be any trouble. Whatever you are making.” Rose hadn’t planned on having either. She had planned to come home and put on her work clothes. She planned to tend to the neglected garden, even in this chilly autumn wind. “How’s coffee?” She said. “Please sit down, Jeff. I’ll fix you a cup of coffee.” He sat down at the wooden kitchen table and watched her fill the basket in the purcolator with coffee grounds. She opened a canister that was sitting on the counter by the stove. She pulled a little scoop out and dumped it in. She walked over to the sink and filled the pot with water. She could feel him watching her. Her mind returned to his smile. From the funeral home. From a moment before: outside when the wind had rushed violently towards her. Now the wind blew a strong gust, and dried leaves fell before the windows. They resembled snow falling. She lit a match and ignited the burner. She put the coffee pot on the stove and sat down across from Jeff. “How are you getting along?” he asked. “With the flowers? They’ll be ready by Friday. I am not sure we can change. I had to order--this time of year, my garden doesn’t—“ She sat down across from him and smiled. She had the sensation that her hair was unclipped, falling down around her shoulders. It made her feel undressed, vulnerable. It was the way his eyes examined her as she spoke. She reached up and tucked in a loose tendril. His hands were gently clasped in front of him. His gray eyes looked wet, and he had tiny hairline wrinkles around the sides of his eyes as if from squinting. “After you left, I was thinking about my mother and what you said. I realized she wouldn’t want white lilies. I think she would like deep black-red roses.” “Oh.’ Rose raised her eye brows and started, “I, I can try—“ “There’s a poem by E.E. Cummings. Do you know his poetry?” Rose shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I don’t know much about art and poetry –“ “It is about his mother. I went back to the book after you left. I don’t know, whatever you said about the lilies. No. I know that she would want black red roses. She was a gardener too.” It gave Rose a chill when he said this about the red roses. It was as if he had read her secret thoughts. Thoughts she hadn’t been aware of until he spoken of them. “Well, I think I can find a way. I know these things are important. Of course, we can do it. My only problem--I have already ordered the other flowers. I don’t know what they would do at the florist…” “No. I’ll pay for those too. You can keep them or-- But, for her…” he paused and looked out of the window. His eyes filled. “It would mean something to her, I think.” She looked down and fiddled with her engagement ring. She held it between her fingers. She held on to it. “I’m sorry,” she finally said. She wanted to reach for his hand. Put hers on top of his. Let her warmth move through him. She knew his hands must be freezing cold. “He says ‘if there are any heaveans, my mother will..all by herself have one…’ He says ‘a heaven of black red roses.’” Mr. Eaton paused and traced the floral design on the white tablecloth. In an instant, she remembered the first days after Ken’s death. How all of the rituals seemed like pageantry when what you really wanted was someone to understand. To sit with you and understand you….without words. She leaned across the table, towards him. She lowered her voice a little and said softly, “I know this must be hard for you. I know there is never anything to say…the right thing. I just wanted to be alone after—“ She stopped for a moment. He was listening closely. “this is rather personal,” she said, “but after my husband died. I had the worst feeling that if I called his name it would be absorbed into an empty blackness.” The coffee pot started to gurgle. He looked at her for a long moment. His face looked deeply sad. His lips were turned down and his eyes seemed as if they were far away. “She was sick for a long time. That’s why we moved here. We don’t really know anyone.” He looked out of the window into the yard, “She had an enormous garden. I mean, it was something. Acres.” “In Boston?” Rose asked. She had heard that he had grown up in Boston. It came out almost rude. Obvious that the information was gained through rumour. “Boston? No I grew up in Napa California, out in the country.” The coffee pot gurgled louder and started to steam; Rose stood up and turned off the burner. She picked up two cups ivory colored coffee cups. They had a deep red apple pattern on them. “Do you take sugar or crean?” she asked. She filled the cups with coffee and walked back over to Jeff. “Sugar, please? Why did you think Boston? She placed the sugar bowl on the table and placed the cups of coffee down. “That is what I heard…I don’t know where.” She handed him the spoon. She could feel herself turning flush and she didn’t know why. He took a sip of the coffee and adjusted his collar. Somehow it seemed too big for his neck. He struck her as odd, not at all like any man she knew. Rose sat down on the other side of the table. “This is very good. Thank you.” He said. “Well, the reason. Another reason I came by. I’ve heard so much about your gardens. I was wondering if I could have a tour?” “Oh” Rose said. She was caught off guard. “Well things are a mess right now.” She said. “The spring would be better.” “I don’t mean to press you,” he said, “I like wild beauty. I’d like to just observe.” Rose knew he wanted to see her garden to be closer to his mother. “I’d like to sketch some drawings as well,” he said then swallowing down another sip. “Its just a small city garden—nothing like your mother’s I’m sure.” “But your garden is, I imagine a work of art—you arrange flowers. You are a gardener.” She put down her coffee cup and waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. “Of course. Sometime would be fine.” She said. “I’d like to work on it a little before hand though. Maybe you could bring your wife along…?” He smiled. “Margaret would love to come too. She is not an artist like us or me rather, but I think she would like to see it.” “Fine then,” Rose held on to her cup and then lifted it, slowly taking another sip. *** Rose lay across her bed as the evening light grew dim in her room. She did not move an inch. She lay perfectly still. She hadn’t turned down the bed and she was on top of the quilt that her mother had made for her when she got married. Charlie was in his bed. He was fine this evening, she thought to herself. He is perfectly fine. His blue eyes sparkling. He had gone on and on about Lewis, his little friend who lives on Lexintong St. “Lewis said that in Europe there is no sun. It is black out all of the time..” “I don’t think that’s right, darling,” Rose had corrected him. He must have been confused about planned blackouts. “No, mommy they do. The whole city is black. It disappears.” Rose didn’t know how to explain it to him. There was no way to keep him from the war. But, the details. A light on in your house might give away where the city was. Then an inferno of bombing would ensue. Everything gone. Rose imagined Ken saying to her “Ok. Rose you don’t need to share all of the details with Charlie. Just explain it in a way that a kid would understand,” But these details plagued her mind. Besides, what do you say to a child about the insecurity of the world? Now, she closed her eyes and there was the comfort. There it was: comfort in just the silence. The quiet place to feel the enormity of it. And yet it was nothing really enormous; just the exhaustion from trudging through a day. Waking up, getting Charlie ready. Planning the arrangements. Meeting with Mr. Eaton. Her mind lingered for a moment. He was a curiosity. An oddity. He was an oddball, she decided. It was probably California. Rose had never left Oregon, but she had heard about people form California. To her they were all be inventors, speculators and artists. Rose thought for a moment. How naive she must seem to someone like Mr. Eaton. Then, for some reason, she remembered one time when she had traveled to the coast when she was just a little older than Charlie. She rememberd the beach, but didn’t recall where it was. It was warm she remembered.. This was such a long time ago, long before her mother had become ill. She can hardly reember it now, but she can see her mother’s long dress and the surf lapping their ankles. She looked around the room, up at the ceiling. She wanted to remember more, but she couldn’t. Then her mind flashed on the little cabin they had rented. She had slept in between her parents in a small bed. She rememberd the softness of her mother’s rose petal skin. She thought of how vulnerable her mother was lying there taking shallow breraths, her eyes moving back and forth underneath the lids. And her father’s snore. She remembered laying in the bed between them in a hot wooden cabin, waiting for sleep to come to her. Rose sat up. She stood and walked to her armoir. She looked in the mirror before she opened it. She was in a long, white night shirt. Her long, wavy hair hung around her shoulders. Her cheeks were flush, as they so often were. That had embarrassed her as a girl. She always felt like she were blushing. She felt shy. But, Ken had said she was like an impressionist painting. The colors of her skin reflecting the light. Looking like brush strokes. She wondered where he had seen impressionistic paintings. It must have been a class when he was studying to be a teacher at Portland Sate. She stood and breathed in and out for a moment. She was scared. She ran her fingers over the walnut wood of the armoir door. It was a wedding gift from Ken’s parents, Lilly and Daniel. She examined herself in the mirror again. Her face first, then her arms, the gown. She looked at her hand. The engangement and wedding band still there. She opened her hand and closed it. She covered one with the other. Finally, she pulled open the door and removed the small bundle of letters. They were in the back behind her leather gloves and hankercheifs. Sitting back there. The paper battered from the journey from Europe to Portland, from Ken to her. She yeared when she touched the envelopes. She could feel the life between them because at one time, his hand touched the pourus fibers of these paper’s flesh. His muscles moved and contracted as his fingers and wrists curled and looped the cursive. “Mrs. Kenneth Lord.” She sat down on the chair by the window and stared at the first letter. She picked it up and held it up to the light. She could see all those curves and lines through the paper. All those words. She didn’t read them. She had never read them. She had never even opened them because once she did, he’d be all gone and she couldn’t bear it. Here in these letters some of Ken was preserved, waiting for her. *** In the dream, Ken is at the end of the hallway. He is smiling and she can smell his smell. It belongs to her. It sends waves of longing into all of her limbs. It makes her fingers reach to touch his hair. She wants his lips on her cheek, on her stomach, whispering. Words. The words he says when he makes love to her. She can feel it and finally he is walking towards her. Her hair is down long and he lifts a hand and takes a small bit of it. He is curling it between his fingers. Ken’s deep blue eyes are just right there close to her. She leans in to kiss him. When she opens her eyes there is the empty blue satin room in the funeral parlor. Then she sees Mr. Eaton leaning over a dark wood table with a pencil erasing her sketches. He blows the rubber shavings off the table and they settle into the white pile of the carpet. He looks up at her and smiles, “all done.” He says. And it echoes. Rose opened her eyes. She was covered in sweat and breathing heavily. She lay her head back down and started to cry.
*** SELLWOOD OREGON, 1948
Charlie was under the dark sky. He had a shovel and was furiously digging. Slamming the blade into the earth. He had hit the root of Carmen’s rose bush. It was hard and stiff and it didn’t move as he stabbed into it. He jumped on the blade of the shovel but it wouldn’t break. He pulled on the bush. He put his hands around the thickest branch. A thorn tore through his skin. He kicked the climbing tall bush and it shook the trellis. He lifted the shovel and slammed it down hard on the bush. So much of the wood was broken, but it was still alive.. He wanted it dead. He wanted it never to bloom again. He wanted to pull out of the ground this living thing. He was mad at the earth for first swallowing his father, then for taking his mother.