Alice gazed absentmindedly out of her kitchen window. Without even looking, she turned off the faucet and wiped off her hand on her apron. She had been looking out the window at this kitchen sink since she needed a step-stool to see out. The aging farmhouse she owned was once owned by her parents and she had inherited it as expected. What wasn’t expected was inheriting it the day after her eighteenth birthday when her parents had perished in a terrible automobile accident when their car plunged off the little bridge that was almost visible from the window and into the deep pond below. Another family witnessed the accident and narrowly avoided being hit and thrown into the black abyss as well. Miraculously, Alice had been able to escape the vehicle before it sank, but her parents never appeared. Their little town and the slightly larger town down the road didn’t have the equipment or resources to retrieve the car out of the unusually deep pond and an attempt to recover her poor parents could not be attempted either.
The funeral had been small. Just the minister, Alice, and their neighbor, Mrs. Jennings. Though brilliant and by that time independently wealthy, her parents had been a bit reclusive and not particularly fond of most people. In turn, Alice had been so shy and quiet growing up that she had never made any friends beside Mrs. Jennings’ son, Billy, and he had disappeared the year before. The rumor around town had been that he had taken off with his pregnant girlfriend. It was not a secret that her family was rather unhappy with the pairing and were pressuring her to break off the relationship. Her friends said she had been talking about running away with Billy. When they disappeared on the same night the town’s police officer asked around a bit to see if anyone knew what had happened to them, but it was pretty much assumed they had taken off to be together. Alice had been a bit sad at losing her only friend. They had been spending less time together during the previous six months as Billy spent more and more time with his paramore, but once he was gone completely even her parents noticed something was different.
In the days before Billy disappeared, Alice went with her father into town for gardening supplies. Her father loved to plant little flowers in the flower beds around the front of their house. Pansies, violets, and forget-me-nots were some of his favorites. They were small and unassuming flowers. Quiet and unobtrusive. Alice had always felt them boring and plain like the rest of her life. As her father studied the tiny plastic pots of the monotonous little flowers he loved, Alice wandered down the aisle with the bush flowers; meandering closer to what she considered to be the most exciting flowers. Alice came to a stop in front of the beautiful and dangerous roses. Lifting her fingers to the magnificent plant she slid them down the thickly perfumed petals and continued down along the strong thorns. She accidentally pricked herself when her father walked up to her and startled her. Alice asked if they could get a rose bush or two. She wanted to plant them in the backyard and be responsible for caring for them. Her father thought for a moment and said that if she prepared an area in the backyard for them he would get her the rose bushes for it. He was not excited about the idea of rose bushes. They were a lot of work and a fright with the thorns and their loud scent. Her father assumed that Alice would be uninterested in the hard and dirty work that was required to prepare the earth to receive the rose bushes and he would never have to buy them.
Alice was more excited on her way home than she had been in months. She put on her faded overalls, the ones she still wore even today as she looked out the window. Then she headed to the seldom used tool shed for a larger shovel then the little spade in the garden shed. Her father did not use large tools to turn the earth for his pathetic little flowers, but Alice knew her glorious rose bushes needed a large plot of earth to thrive. She threw herself into her work in the backyard and forgot that her only friend was slipping farther and farther away from her.
After a week, Alice proudly showed her parents the two plots of earth each six feet by two feet laying parallel starting near each of the back corners of the house and continuing straight back. Each plot ready to be filled with her beloved rose bushes. Alice’s parents were rather shocked as they had not taken a look out the back door to sneak a peek at their daughter’s progress over the past week. Alice’s father stared at the turned earth plots and told her to go get cleaned up so that they could go to the store. Alice’s mother just shook her head and headed back to her chair in the living room.
Alice, excited to finally get to choose her roses, turned to go upstairs and was stopped by seeing the top of Billy’s head though the glass in the front door. She turned and opened it before he could even knock. He asked her to come and sit on the porch swing for a minute. Alice was thrilled to swing and talk with Billy as they had so many times since early childhood. She was soon horrified to learn that Billy’s girlfriend was pregnant and that they were going to run off to Las Vegas to get married but definitely come back to raise their family.
After he left her, Alice ran to her room and slammed the door. For a while her parents could hear her sobbing, but they were scientists and really didn’t know how to help her, so they decided to wait until she came down to talk to them. Alice finally opened the door to her room at noon the next day. She was still in her overalls and her eyes had red rims. Alice’s father thought the best thing he could do to help her was to buy not one or two but six rose bushes for her long rose bush rows. Alice was still sad, but hummed to herself as she planted the rose bushes in her backyard. She had insisted on planting them alone. I need to do this, she told her parents. Caring for her rose bushes gave her a sense of purpose and took up lonely hours.
The next May, Alice graduated from high school and now her only occupation that summer was tending her roses. But she needed more to tend. This time she didn’t ask her parents but just started creating two more rows, end to end, with the same measurements as the first two. Rather than keep them parallel to the other roses, these rows were parallel to the house at the far end of the yard and would create a box of roses around the back yard when they were full. Alice’s parents were less than thrilled about the torn up dirt and grass in more areas of their backyard. She tried to persuade them with requests for the roses to be her birthday gift. Her father said they would discuss adding the rose bushes after going to church the next day.
Tragically, the family never made it to church as their car plunged off the bridge and into the pond on the way. After the funeral, Alice purchased six new rose bushes and busied herself with the job of caring for and pruning her twelve beloved flower children. She spent her days in the backyard, and even tended her father’s miserable little plants in the front yard, though they seemed to wither in her care.
Alice spent her days alone and rarely talked to anyone save for Mrs. Jennings when she took her little bouquets of roses. Mrs. Jennings was never quite right after Billy disappeared and Alice did not talk much with her, either.
One day, while Alice was with her roses, a young man peddled by on his bicycle. He stopped suddenly when he saw the beautiful roses and the beautiful young woman tending them. He hopped off his bike and walked through the grass towards Alice yelling, “hello!” Alice was painfully shy to start with and because she had almost stopped talking to people over the past couple of years was unsure of what to do so she simply answered “hi!” back.
The young man introduced himself as John Ramble and began asking all sorts of questions about her roses. Alice suddenly remembered him as the captain of their high school football team her senior year and wondered why he was so interested in her roses.
“How do your roses get so big and lush?,” John asked, amazed at their size and at the woman before him.
She stared at him. “Fertilizer,” was all she replied to him.
Alice was surprised that John started coming regularly to see her, and even more surprised that she liked him coming around. In no time, John asked her on a date, then another, and after only a short whirlwind romance and engagement, they were married and expecting twins. John wanted to move them to a large house in town but Alice remained firm that she must stay there in that house with her rose bushes. John acquiesced and life progressed from two to four.
As a new mother, Alice was able to fight off all loneliness and sadness now that she had two babies and her roses. Though he was a good man, she preferred the title of mother much more than wife. Her affection for John started to fade as did her desire to give and receive affection related to him. John was a good man and tried to fight his loneliness at first with a hobby in the garage, then by becoming a whiskey connoisseur, and finally with the girl who tended his favorite bar.
The gossip of his indiscretions spread through the little town like syrup over pancakes. At first it was just a few people who knew but eventually everyone did and the news spilled over to Alice until it just ruined everything. John was a good man, she told herself. And John came home repentant, but then the next gossip to spread was how he left his family and left town altogether. Once again, Alice was without the man she loved and needed to add something more to fill her time. She made a new row for roses right in the middle of the back yard; same size as all the others. The boys helped her choose the three bushes and chased each other around the new row as their mother planted.
Happy, quiet years followed. Uninterested in her children being broken by the pitying glances and whispers of scandal, she kept them close to her and home-schooled them. They were each other's playmates and Alice happily tended her roses.
Now, looking out her kitchen window, she could see the tree that used to lead from her old bedroom window to the ground in only a few easy steps. The last time she used it was the night Billy told her he was leaving. The last time anyone used it was last year when her sons snuck out of the house to go meet girls she didn’t even know they knew. She got the chainsaw out of the garage and cut down the large limbs that she had used countless times to innocently see her friend and at least once to let her boys go off and do who knows what.
That was the beginning of the decline in their relationship with her. They had needed so much care for so many years. They had been so happy just being a part of their little family, but not now. Now, both of her boys wanted to leave and leave her once again empty and alone. One son wanted to go to the military and was angry that she refused to allow him to go two months before his eighteenth birthday. One son wanted to go to college with Ivy walls that felt like a world away and was angry that she refused to help him pay for it. She had plenty of money to help and always thought she would help her sons with school. But it was just too much. She pleaded with him to stay at home and work a few years to save up the money but to no avail.
Alice turned and looked out the back window at her roses. A new realization came to her. What had she always done when she needed more to occupy her time and her thoughts? She planted new rows of roses.
Alice took off and hung up her apron. She was already wearing her overalls and she walked to the tool shed for the shovel. She was going to make two new rows for her roses; one on each side of the middle row. Soon, her sons would be gone from her life, but she would have six new roses bushes to tend.