It is easy to conjure my father from twig and dust, harder so my mother. Conversations never held whisper through my mind, a restless wind both soothing and savage. I glance right and want to see his shoes, scuffed sneakers below jeans and a t-shirt. "Looks good, kid" but the words don't come. The air hangs empty, no tender sentiments to slip into the small places in my heart so I say them myself. But they rattle and thump and I close my ears to their hollow applause.
Grief grows cold over time while memories take root. They flourish and thrive, branches in full leaf, flowers rich with scent only you can smell. Dormant climbing rose canes stand erect before me and I pause before I cut. Closing my eyes, I reach for his voice, confident and measured. "Which one are you going to cut first?" he asks. I grab the tangled branch carefully as I explain my plan. I imagine us working in tandem as I fumble with the string and pruners. His thick fingers pin the canes to the wooden fence as I work quickly to avoid the thorns.
I stand back to view my work. The canes rest horizontally to the wooden slats, the strings too long and poorly tied. Smashed plants, winter grey against the cold soil, lie stiff under fallen thread. I am tired of missing them. Death comes often to my small, fractured family and my garden reminds me of more than it should. Heavy with memory, my shoulders slump and I slide onto the damp earth, grey Virginia sky erased by the dry blue of a California summer. Roses thrive in the tiny garden as ignored zucchini grow to foolish lengths. She bustles by, short and plump and always humming. I bend to touch her and can feel my shoulders relax in her soft embrace. "How'd you get so tall?" she teases. "Such a Swede."
I count the months till my roses bloom and breathe deep the musk of grass and rain. Solace swells and blooms, comfort found in petal and leaf.
David Austin's Jude the Obscure and William Shakespeare 2000 roses from my garden.