By John Pirillo
The Rose Garden is a special place. I still remember it from before. Elevated along the tiered slope of a massive hill, it was layer after layer of roses that grew endlessly for miles...or what seemed like miles. Red. Blue. Yellow. Green. Orange. Purple. Violet. White. Black. You name it. They were all there and a thousand variations, hybrids of roses that had been specially cultivated to exhibit a certain look.
Some were grown to have black tips, some red, and some orange. Some had feather tips that stretched their petals outwards like a tongue thick at the base and tapering at the tip. Some had hats upon their crown, filled with fluffy colors. Some were brassy looking. Bright copper colors that shone in the morning sun, and glowed at night.
It was a special place. The Rose Garden. It was there I found peace of mind. There I found....romance.
Plume was a silly girl. No one knew why exactly in retrospect, but at the time it seemed to be the right way to look at her. She was all colors and soft things, dolls and sweets. A teen of sixteen she was reaching the blossoming of adulthood in all its glory...and some might say, misery. But not Plume. Eva May Desiree was her real name. But Plume was her given name. In the Rose Garden. It named her, as it named all who entered its rich, scented atmosphere.
The Rose Garden is like a piece of heaven detached and planted on earth to give those who have aching hearts or lonely hearts a chance to thrive, to be nourished and uplifted. To find real love, or true love.
Plume got up that morning in her small apartment, slipped from her cotton sheets onto the hardwood floor of the three bedrooms flat that overlooked the San Francisco Bay. It was an ordinary day after an ordinary night. Not because it was dull and dreary, but because it was just another beautiful day in a great city. A city of lights, hope and dreams.
She slippered her feet with moccasins of tender pink and orange, then looked out her bay window. She opened the windows with the side levers on both sides, until she could fill her lungs with the fresh taste of the tangy salt air blowing in from the bay. She could see the long lines of cars and trucks, all colors of the rainbow, marching back and forth on the distant Golden Gate. She imagined herself in one of those cards, or perhaps seated on the front seat alongside one of the husky drivers who rammed their trucks through city after city to deliver exotic goods and products that everyone needed, such as bread, gas, bathroom products, and Wal-Mart goodies. It seemed so exotic to her.
You see what made Plume really special was that she had only a few more weeks to enjoy the view. Each day that she got up, she knew she only had one less than the last day. She had terminal cancer. It was eating her brain stem up. The doctors told her that she'd started having gaps in memory, and malfunctions with her body, but not completely, just bits and pieces until the stem lost all its ability to keep communications open between her mind and body, then her brain would die because the heart would stop pumping blood to it. Her muscles would refuse to move her body and she would become paralyzed.
Her mother was at work, even though she hated missing one moment with her daughter. But with her father gone for several years now, her mother had to work to pay the expenses of their apartment, as well as her medical expenses. Thousands and thousands of dollars. That made Plume sad, but not for long. Her mother was strong. She would survive. And besides, even the approaching blackout for her life couldn't put a dent in her positive nature. She believed the world was a place of miracles. Each second was a moment of great excitement to her.
That was especially true since she'd found the Rose Garden.
Every day she woke up she made herself a promise to see just one more part of the world about her, and the day before she'd found the Rose Garden. Quite by accident. She had been seeking a way to get to the tallest hill where she could take pictures with her camera phone of the bay to share with her mother and cheer her up, but for some reason, her mother would break into tears instead and hold her tight, as if she were going to burst apart if she didn't.
So she was determined to go back again this day. She hurriedly threw on socks, jeans, a thick sweater...it was cool outside...and a hat to protect her head from the sun. She looked kind of like a Raggedy Ann, because all her clothes mismatched. She was put together from all kinds of colors and textures. It was her contribution to her life. Her artistic side.
She snatched up her drawing tablet, some pencils and erasers, jammed them into her purse, left a quick note for her mom so she wouldn't be worried, then ran out of the apartment, locking it behind her. She just made it downstairs in time to catch the trolley. She heard its ding ding, clanking sound as she was dashing down the stairwell of the four story building.
She reached the street and the trolley driver, Mister Corday, waved at her. He made a gesture at the trolley and she nodded. He slowed for her to a stop. She dashed on board. "Thanks, Mister Corday!"
"My pleasure, Plume. Where to?"
"The Top of the World!" She told him, her eyes bright with the fever of desire. He nodded, put the trolley back into gear and it levered back out into traffic, picking up speed.
It was a little game they played. He pretended to be her chauffeur, and she pretended he was. She put her fare in the cup before her, watched it get gobbled down its throat and roll into the space where all the coins went, then excitedly, ran up to the top deck, where she immediately went to the front.
It was full, except for one spot. Next to a young man, maybe a year or two older than herself. He didn't bother looking up when she sat down, so she ignored him at first, instead twisting about to watch the buildings roll past as the trolley climbed the steep hill.
She looked back at the young man. He was handsome in a dark kind of way. His hair was Beatles length and he wore a diamond stud in his right ear. A tiny tattoo marked his left ear. The shape of a heart. His hands were strong with long fingers. He wore jeans and a cord shirt with a button down collar.
"It's so exciting." She finally said.
The adults about her smiled, but said nothing.
The young man looked up. "You're odd looking." He said, and then looked down again.
"Thanks." She told him.
That got to him. He looked up again. "You're stupid too."
She laughed. "Stupid is as stupid does."
He gave her a suspicious look. "Are you calling me stupid?"
She ignored his question. Looked uphill where they were traveling. He said no more. She turned around and looked at him again. "It's so exciting."
He looked up and gave her an annoyed look. "You've already said that."
She smiled. "I would have remembered if I had?"
"Are you calling me a liar?"
She shrugged. "Lies are like tiny balloons. The more you pop, the more annoying they become."
He started to get up, and then decided against when the trolley made a jarring stop, dropping him back in place. She looked away, which contented him. Maybe she was through bothering him.
She looked back at him again. "It's so exciting." She told him, putting even more energy into her voice.
He looked up again, this time ready to explode, but the look on her face froze him in his tracks. "You're different, you know that?"
"Mom tells me I'm special."
He nodded. "That I can believe."
He looked down again. He felt her still staring at him, so he looked up again. "What?"
"So exciting!" He finished for her, surprising her. "Look, how many times are you going to repeat that stupid thing?"
She burst into tears. The adults gave the young man stern looks, which he completely ignored, but somehow Plume had struck a chord in his being. He raised a hand and it held a heart in it. "Would you like one?"
She rubbed at the tears in her eyes, and then saw the heart. It was a candy heart. It said "I love you."
"Mom tells me never to talk to strangers."
He laughed. She did too.
She looked at the heart in her hand. "What's this?"
He gave her a surprised look. "I just gave it to you."
"I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."
She gave him the heart back.
The trolley stopped. She looked over the side. "We're here!"
She forgot all about the young man as she raced to be first off the car. She flung herself down the stairwell, gave a smile to Mister Corday. He nodded. She stopped and looked back. "Do I know you?"
He laughed. "I'm Mister Corday."
She smiled broadly. "Thanks, Mister Corday."
She got off the trolley.
The trolley started up again as Mister Corday steered her once more. It began to turn on its tracks to face back down the hill.
Plume danced up the long hill of steps that rose into the Rose Garden, skipping one, dancing another, then skipping again. She reached the top, breathless and excited, and then spun around, taking in the view. Rows and rows and rows of beautiful roses.
"I love you!" She told the roses.
For a brief moment it felt like the entire hillside gave off a glow. The roses lit up like tiny light bulbs and turned faces towards her. But it must have been an illusion, because when she blinked her eyes everything was the same again.
She went to the bench that let her look out over the city, and the roses at the same time. She reached into her purse, took out a brush and began smoothing her hair back into place, enjoying the feeling of the bristles of the brush as it massaged her scalp at the same time it put order into her hair.
She felt rather than saw him arrive. She turned around and a strange boy stood there. He looked at her with such lonely eyes that she wanted to take him in her arms and cuddle him, to make him feel better.
"Hi!" He said.
"Hello. Do I know you?"
He smiled and sat down next to her.
"My name is Plume." She said, offering a hand to him.
He took it and didn't let go for a long time, then trembling he looked up into her eyes and smiled. A smile so full of light and friendship that her heart tumbled for a couple of beats, missing its rhythm.
"I love you." He told her.
He held out a heart in his hand. "You forgot this."
She took it and flipped it over. "I love you."
She looked into his eyes and her heart tumbled again.
"Do I know you?"
"Forever." He said, taking her hand in his.
She laughed. "Silly. I don't talk to strangers."
"Then let's not be strangers."
"Here." He told her. He handed her a second heart. She took it and looked at it. "I love you."
She sat on the bench until the sun went down.
He sat beside her, his left hand holding her right.
She didn't ask him again who he was. Some part of her remembered.
The next morning they met again at the top of the hill. And again they introduced themselves to each other. Each time she sat down on the bench, the Rose Garden seemed to light up for a moment.
But there came a day when she could no longer leave her apartment.
She lay on her bed, trying to remember what she had forgotten. They she looked over on her nightstand where thirteen hearts lay. Each one said "I love you."
Her mom took off the rest of the week to be with her. Her employer finally took mercy on her and offered to pay her for the day off.
She stayed with Plume when the doctor saw her, and when the doctor left shaking his head. She fell asleep holding her daughter's hand, hearing her breath go in and out, sometimes easily, sometimes with great effort.
The doorbell rang.
She ignored it.
The doorbell rang again.
She sighed, let go of Plume's hand, and then raced to the door.
Plume's eyes opened and from where she lay, she could see rows and rows of roses, all colors of the rainbow. And a handsome young man stood there at its gate, holding out a heart for her, just like the ones she had on her nightstand. She smiled at him and he smiled back. She rose from her bed and went to him. He took her hand.
"I shouldn't talk to strangers."
"I'm not stranger, Plume." He told her. Then he gave her a new heart.
She read it. "Forever."
She looked at him, smiling the same time as her mother stepped back into the bedroom. Her mom froze. A beautiful tunnel of white light stretched from the bedroom out the window. She saw Rose standing there with a young man. They were laughing. As they began walking further into the light her Mom could see a vast garden with row after row of beautiful roses, their faces lit up like light bulbs. It was like looking at millions of living rainbows. She felt her heart skip a beat. It was so beautiful!
Plume stopped for a moment and looked back. Her mom tensed. Plume raised a hand, waved, then blew a kiss and took the young man's hand. He put an arm around her shoulder and they vanished into the light.
Her Mom looked away and Rose lay on her bed, her eyes wide open. A smile on her lovely face.
Between her fingers was a new heart. "Forever."