Eleanor tended to her roses every chance that she had. She admired them proudly, delighted in their luscious, full blooms and intoxicating, sweet scent. Elinor bred Hybrid Tea roses, they grew in a broad spectrum of both colour and fragrances. She was good at it too, her flowers had won first prize at the local fair, the Double Delight and Folklore blooms stole the show two years in a row. The roses were her babies, having never born children of her own, but, since her husband of forty years, Mark Bernard had passed, the rose garden was all that she had and Eleanor lost any desire to show them.
It was late July, the sun beat down, hot against her back despite the fact that it was already late afternoon. Dust and pollen swirled and spun through the motes of sunlight which streamed between the delicate branches of her rose bushes. Swarms of tiny gnats danced about like tiny, drunken clouds while hungry mosquitoes had to occasionally be swatted from her ears or slapped from her bare arms as they looked for their next blood meal.
Eleanor cupped a lavender rose in her hand, it’s leathery petals soft against her palm. She brought her nose in close, shut her eyes tight and took a deep draught of it’s strong, pleasant perfume. Eleanor lost herself in memory, conjuring up an image of her husband, Mark. She could see him, standing beside her, bright sun outlining his silhouette. Eleanor smiled as he pulled his old handkerchief from his back pocket, the red one with white paisley which always seemed to be at the ready. Mark dabbed at his brow and although she couldn’t see his face, Eleanor knew that he was smiling at her. Mark had a breathtaking smile, the sort that spread across his entire face and made everyone around him smile.
Eleanor smelled freshly cut grass. Mark always loved to keep the yard tidy and manicured, he took great pride in that as she had in her roses. A tear rolled down Eleanor’s cheek, she’d lost Mark so suddenly and the wound was still fresh. She hadn’t a single unpleasant memory of their lives together, however, even the most delightful thoughts about Mark gripped her heart like a stone fist. Her lungs felt tight, Eleanor struggled to take in a breath.
A sudden thumping snapped Eleanor from her daydreaming as a woodpecker hammered away against the old oak tree at the back of the property in search of tasty insects. It was so hot outside, uncomfortably so, but Eleanor had just spread mulch around the bases of her rose bushes and needed to soak them before heading back inside. She was always sure to keep her babies watered and fed with her trusty, powder blue watering can.
Wiping tears from her cheek, Eleanor slowly stood up from her stool. She took the powder blue watering can in her right hand and lifted her wide-brimmed, straw hat with her right. While still holding on to the hat, Eleanor wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her right hand, smearing dirt from her gardening glove onto her face, just above her left eyebrow.
She was a striking woman, in her late sixties, slim of build with lightly sunkissed skin from the hours spent outside, tending to her sweet roses. Eleanor replaced her gardening hat atop her head. Her long, straight, silver-grey hair fell, glistening in the sunlight, to either side of her face.
A small, wooden table sat beside her, it was always with her in the garden. The table was foldable, making it quite light and portable. Eleanor picked up a glass of iced water which sadly, lacked ice now it was melted. She took a sip and smiled, she felt better now. Even the heat of the day didn’t feel as heavy as it had only moments ago, perhaps she just needed the water, which was still cool and refreshing, even sans-ice.
Eleanor set the glass down on the table and took her powder blue watering can over to the back of the house. She placed the watering can down on the patio, beneath the water faucet and turned it on. The sound of water rushing into the metal can brought a sudden flood of memories.The powder blue watering can was a gift from Mark and she vividly remembered every detail from the day he’d given it to her. Mark secretly set up her little table just beside her favourite Folklore Rose bush. He carefully placed the powder blue watering can on top of the table with a pink bow tied around it. Hanging from the ribbon was a little card with a red rose on it which read:
‘To my dearest Elly,
Roses are red
And some pink and blue
Your blooms are magnificent
But none so much as you.’
Tears tumbled from the corners of Eleanor’s eyes and spilled down her cheeks; water splashed on her shoes, which shook her from her reminiscing. The watering can was overflowing and she quickly shut off the tap, shaking her head at her own absentmindedness. She emptied a bit of water onto the grass and shaken, headed back to finish watering her roses. Thinking about Mark took her breath away again, this time was even worse than the last. Eleanor felt a bit faint but she simply blamed it on the weather and all of the time that she’d been outside working in the garden without having enough to drink. Eleanor tried to take in a deep breath. It was a struggle, but she managed it. She made her way back to her stool and slumped down into it, setting the powder blue watering can beside her. Eleanor took another sip of water which helped to calm her down.
Eleanor felt cold. She turned her head toward the voice. There was no one there. She scanned the yard in every direction, but could find no one. ‘It must be the sun’, she thought, taking another sip of water.
The roses needed watering, Eleanor reminded herself. She put the glass back down on her little table and settled herself into her gardening stool, reached over to grab the powder blue watering can and set to watering her roses.
“Elly,” the voice said again. She knew that voice. It floated past her ears on the summer breeze, so quiet and breathy, yet she could perceive it as clearly as if someone were standing beside her.
It was impossible, of course, there was no one there and Eleanore was certain that she was losing her mind. Only Mark called her Elly, but Mark was dead. She’d stood by his casket to say her farewells, cried at his graveside as they lowered him to his final resting place and shovelled dirt into the hole with a sickening thud. He was gone.
Yet, despite that, she replied, her voice cracking at the mere mention of his name, “Mark?” More tears streaked her rosy cheeks, she could hardly keep them back now. Her chest tightened so severely that it nearly knocked the wind from her.
“Elly,” the voice which sounded like Mark replied, “it is you after all.”
This time, the voice was coming from behind her. Eleanor spun around in her stool and through the deluge of tears and the bright sun, she saw… something.
Eleanor stood up from her stool very slowly, unsteadily, knocking over her powder blue watering, the water spilled into the rose garden. Her legs felt weak and her chest was ever tightening, as if a lead blanket had been laid across it. “Is that you Mark?” Eleanor gasped, “Is it really you?”
The figure stepped closer towards her until he was only a few feet away. She still couldn’t make out the features of his face, but she could smell his aftershave as well as she could smell the Damask roses and lavender.
“It can’t be,” she whispered, “you’re….I was there, I saw you.”
He reached out his hand and stepped closer. Eleanor could see his face, it was exactly as she pictured him day after lonely day, but it couldn’t be. How could he be here?
He reached out and gently, with his index finger, pressed up on her chin, closing her mouth. He smiled, beamed at her. “Oh Elly, how I’ve missed you,” Mark said to her as if he’d just come home after a business trip, “you haven’t changed one bit, still as beautiful as the day I married you.”
Eleanor couldn’t bear it anymore, she couldn’t muster the strength to form words, she was overwhelmed with emotions she couldn’t have possibly described. She tried again to speak, but there was no air left in her lungs. She couldn’t even manage to cry, as much as she felt like breaking down and weeping. She could barely stand. Mark held her firmly, but gently by the shoulders as Eleanor nearly fell backwards into her rose bushes. He pulled her in and held her against his chest and Eleanor could smell him and feel him.
“If this is a dream, I don’t ever want to wake up” Eleanor managed through a tight throat. She sniffed hard, trying to clear herself up, she was able to breathe a bit. This couldn’t be real. The sun had been hot and Eleanor hadn’t had enough to drink. ‘I’ve been in the sun far too long today,’ she thought.
‘I’ve passed out, this is a dream.”
So intensely real though, this was unlike any dream she’d ever had, the sensation, the smell, the feeling in her gut that told her this was genuine. Her chest, tight with sadness and delight all at once, she could feel that.
Eleanor pressed her face into Mark’s chest again, it was so solid, so tangible. She took a deep breath to calm herself and her nose filled with the smell of his skin, his Old Spice and the detergent that she used to clean his clothes. She pushed herself back from him so that she could collect herself, but she still couldn’t catch her breath. The world spun beneath her feet and Eleanor felt herself falling, though she never hit the ground.
Her head cleared and she noticed that she’d fallen to her knees. Mark stood over her, still smiling. “Feel better now darling?” he asked.
She did. Eleanor took Mark’s outstretched hand and pulled herself up. She steadied her legs and did her best to regain her composure. Closing her eyes, Eleanor took a deep breath of the warm, summer air. She smelled the grass, her sweet roses and lavender. These were real, she knew that. Her chest didn’t hurt any more. Slowly, she opened her eyes and he was still there, clear as day. Mark.
“Elly,” he said, “I’m not going anywhere. We’re home again sweetheart, for good this time.”
“But Mark,” she said, “I’ve never left, I’ve always been home.”
Mark smiled at her. Eleanor beamed back at him, he was so handsome. She couldn’t remember a day when he hadn't been there with her. “Oh, Elly, come on,” he chided, “of course you’ve never left and no one will ever leave again. Say, any chance you’d make me some of your famous lemonade? It is hot as a frying pan out here.”
Eleanor gave him a hug and a kiss. “Of course,” she replied, feeling better than she could remember feeling in a long time, “anything for you, my love.”
She didn’t care what was real anymore because at that moment, nothing was more real to her than Mark. She kissed him again and again, not truly understanding why she felt the need to hold on to him so tightly, he wasn’t going anywhere, afterall.
She pulled back and held his strong arms in her hands, looked up into Marks chiseled face, his bright, green eyes. He looked younger than she’d remembered, somehow. Eleanor shook her head and smiled, memories were such a fleeting thing.
“I love you,” she said.
“And I you,” Mark replied, “My sweet, beautiful wife.”
She blushed and squeezed his arms tightly, Eleanor felt twenty years younger as she practically danced toward the house, not remembering the last time that she felt so happy. She slid the glass door open and went into the kitchen to make lemonade for her love.
Eleanor Bernard was laid to rest on a calm, sunny day beside her beloved Mark following a small, quiet service in her rose garden. It was just how she would have wanted it, a few friends and remaining family.
Linda, the neighbor, discovered Eleanor in her rose garden, sitting in her usual spot on the little stool. Her powder blue watering can was overturned beside her, which was unusual, as Eleanor was very meticulous and organized in her garden. Linda wandered closer and noticed that Eleanor was very still and that she hadn’t turned around yet, she always knew when someone was coming, always spun around in her gardening stool to greet them.
Linda knew that something was wrong. She walked slowly around to find Eleanor smiling, looking so content, as if she’d just spent the most wonderful day of her life. Though saddened by the loss, Linda was comforted knowing that Eleanor had died happily, in her garden, surrounded by her children and doing what she’d loved most.
A neatly tied up bouquet made from every variety of Eleanor’s roses leaned inside of the powder blue watering can which sat upon her casket. As it was slowly lowered beneath the earth, to rest beside Mark for ever more, the wind whispered, “Welcome home.”