Three Roses: A Triptych
Victoria Sprow | Fall 2006
THREE LOOKS OUT OF A WINDOW1
In October my daughter Mercedes had her baby. Aileen had sent me a pattern for a baby poncho, and I was at the window seat crocheting little blue roses onto the ends. Outside the sky was red with the coming of night.
The bay window looked out onto the HollisPlaza. At in the evening the plaza was empty except for a man and a young woman on a bench. I saw the tops of their heads. She was blonde; he had dark hair. The man held out a hand and a white rose. Paper dark with fish grease tumbled over the stones and caught in his feet. He kicked it away.
I pressed my face to the window, my nose against the glass. The girl turned her head away from the man and covered her face with her hands, and I saw that she was crying a little. I thought, How sweet! and I called to Charles, Look, come over here! Charles came to the window grumbling. His favorite program was on, the antiquing show. He said, Some teacher’s brought in a Welch chess board, Mildred, so hurry up about it.
I said, Charles look he has a white rose and she is crying, she can’t even look at him! Do you remember when you proposed to me? I cried so hard!
Charles said, Yes Mildred I remember. He went back to his program.
I sighed and thought, How romantic it all is! I yelled to Charles, It’s just like one of those old black and white movies! Do you remember when La Belle et la Bête came out, and we went to see it at the Bronx movie house, and you kissed me at the end of it?
Charles didn’t answer. I heard the music from the television playing.
There was another woman watching from the window across the way, above the port cochere. I didn’t know her. She had white hair like mine, with silver in it. We smiled at each other, nodding and thinking, Oh how beautiful it all is!
Below, the girl’s eyes were like water stars, shimmering and wet.
It had started to snow; the clouds slid about in the sky. The ground was white as paper. Watching from the other side of the glass, I thought of the snow globe Charles had brought me from his trip to Paris, the year before we were married. I still had it on my dresser. Now the girl was holding her forearms in front of her face. He was gripping them, shaking her. It might have been that she was shivering; I couldn’t be sure. It had been a rather cold winter. I thought they might have been yelling, but the window kept out the sound.
There were pigeons pecking at the ground. I called out, Charles, come over here, I think something terrible is happening. Charles yelled back at me to mind my own damn business.
Charles, you really need to see this! I said.
Stay out of it, Mildred! he yelled back.
I tried to open the window to call down to them, but it was frozen shut. The woman across the way was peering down. I looked at her and she looked back.
I heard the phone. I yelled, Charles, pick it up! It kept ringing. I was worried it was Mercedes about the baby. He wouldn’t eat; when I had seen her on Saturday she was drawn and tired. I hurried into the kitchen to answer it.
The Plaza was empty. The girl was not there, and it was a blizzard outside. The street lamps had turned on. The man came walking back slowly into view. He was huddled. He crossed the window frame, the snow bearing down on him like lead. I could not be sure it was even him. Sometimes the snow plays tricks on the eyes. He looked up toward my window, noticing me then. He turned his palms upward like an offering. His hands were red from the cold, and he looked quite flushed; his cheeks were raw and exposed. But the frost was collecting on the edges of window, and after a moment all that remained was a damp spot in the center, filmy from my breath. He hurried out of my little glass circle, looking down again at his feet. I was uneasy about it. I thought I might go downstairs to the Plaza, but then I remembered my coat was in the TV room, and I didn’t want to bother Charles.
The other woman was still at the window. But I saw her turn away. She turned off her lights. I was relieved to see her go.
She had seen it too. And as there was no trouble outside for her, there was none for me.
I went back to crocheting. I still had six flowers to make.
1Title taken from a poem by William Stafford
THE SHOVEL AND THE ROSE
After finding the ring in the bar of soap I told Herb there were two things I needed to do before I married him: get the shovel out of the lake and take the red rose from Danny.
Herb looked at me in his brittle, self-effacing way and said, didn’t I love him?
The soap had begun in the shape of a pink mollusk shell. He had given it to me on Valentine’s Day five weeks before, and it had taken me all that time to wear it down to a nub at its center.
Herb said if I didn’t love him just to tell him right then and there so we could be done with it.
I told him of course I loved him, but if he could wait five weeks just for me to find the ring, he could wait a little longer for me to say yes.
Herb stood there like a split walnut, blinking his eyes underneath his glasses. After a minute or two he said yes, yes, he supposed it had to be done.
By then I was thirty-one, and there were only two things after all that time I still regretted: the shovel and the rose. Twenty-four years before, I had left the rose in a classroom and the shovel under the dock, and I wanted them back.
I told my aunt Lanette that Herb had proposed, but I was leaving to find the rose first. She was running the hose in the garden at the time. She promised to make my wedding dress while I was gone. I told her to remember the lace, and to start with the sleeves short and make them longer from there, in case it took me a while to come back.
Danny and I took art lessons together in grade school. Sometimes he would sort pieces of confetti into patterns and give them to me on oaktag. That was when I fell in love with him. He had a sacred, choir-boy’s voice, and when he said in that soft way of his, did I love him, I told him yes, I thought I did.
But when he had given me the red rose I was frightened, and I had given it back. I said I was too young. I said he would have to wait a little while. Danny said, how long? and I told him I didn’t know. He waited three months but then one day he was gone, to South America with his father. Someone said he’d moved to Ecuador, but I wasn’t sure where that was.
I got in my car and drove to the last place I could remember. The school was still there, but it had older walls and more children. Their footsteps clapped on the hallway tiles. In the art room there were eight students; they sat at high counters, instead of the folding tables we had used. They were painting with watercolors kept in little white pots. I didn’t know what had happened to the markers, the ones that smelled like chocolate and watermelon.
Danny was sitting at the far counter with the rose, its petals fanned out to one side so that it looked top-heavy. It had died a long time ago. He stood when I came in and said, HelloJolaine, it’s been a long time. He was taller, and I couldn’t tell if I was in love with him or not anymore. But then I saw he had a ring on his finger and a gilded little boy next to him. I had made him wait too long.
I told him, I shouldn’t have given you back the rose, Danny. I’ve thought about it all this time.
Well, that is the way of things, isn’t it, he said. But I could hear it in his voice; I had been forgiven.
I took the rose. We shook hands, and he said, I’ll be seeing you then, although we both knew it wasn’t true.
The lake had gotten old while I was gone, and the water had turned black. It was September, and the beach was all slanted shadows and emptiness. My heels stuck in the sand like taffy. It was slow going, but I made it to the shore. The dock was far away. I had to cup my hand above my eyes to see it, because the sun was very bright.
My sister and I had played a game near the dock in August, many years before. One of us would hide a little plastic shovel in the water, and the other dove down to find it. The idea was that eventually if it was not found the shovel would rise to the surface, and then the game would be lost.
There had been stories that once—long before we had gotten there—a man had drowned below the dock, while tying the buoys with yellow rope. When it had been my turn to find the shovel, I had thought of this story and was frightened. I couldn’t see the shovel; the water made yellow and green freckles in my eyes. I was very far down, and I could feel the seaweed putting spells on the bottoms of my feet.
I was almost out of air when I saw the glass face, deep below me in the water. I swallowed the lake in gulps. The bubbles caught inside my throat. The lifeguards blew their whistles and paddled out to get me on yellow boards with red crosses.
Afterwards I thought: it was probably a fish. But we had left the shovel underneath the water, and we never went back for it.
I had learned how to swim the crawl stroke at age eleven, and I still remembered it after all this time. My fingers split the lake into five parts in front of me. The water made a sound like pearl grease as I moved through it.
My sister had gone back once too. She had walked dripping into my house, smelling of the lake, and she said, Jolaine, you’ll have to go back, I couldn’t find it. That was the day I told Herb about the shovel.
I found the shovel caught in the seaweed. It had not come to the surface after all. Around it the water was wrinkled like an old newspaper. I thought it must not have moved in twenty-four years.
I saw the glass face too. But it smiled at me, and I waved as I kicked back to the surface, the water falling into blossoms below me.
When I got back Herb was sitting in a chair reading the stock quotes. My white dress was on the table. The sleeves were at three-quarters with lace around the cuffs. He looked up at me only a little surprised and said, So that’s it then?
I said yes, yes, that’s it.
I went to go try on my dress.
THE ANGEL PROJECT
They gave us three angels each. They were made of plaster and were painted in pink. They said, put them on trash piles, on the sides of bridges, at bus stops, they said put these around the city, anywhere you’d like. They are angels to inspire people.
We prayed around them in circles of four, and there were three hundred of us, together. I did it because I thought it would help me get you back, the angels and all that praying.
1. THE FIRST ANGEL
It was a Thursday, I think. A blue pick-up truck was at the stoplight—it was the truck you used to drive. The street lamps had not been lit yet, and there was still that indigo sky, the kind you named your dog after. It stretched very far above me. This color I had seen only once before, lying on the hood of your car with my head on your stomach.
I thought surely you would come back. You always said you would. I kept thinking of the day I would turn around and you would be there in the kitchen door in your green boots, all wet from the rain. It would be many years after you’d left and you would not tell me why you had gone, and I would not ask. We would just keep going.
The wind came. It braided the leaves into eights and lifted my hair, and I thought I saw you. But the truck drove away when the light changed.
2. THE SECOND ANGEL
In Court House Square there is a man who used to play the violin every day. It had only one string. I’m sure you don’t remember, after all this time. He could not play more than seven notes, and it was not at all beautiful. It made the sound of an old bus, when its brakes fall apart. But I fell in love with you anyway, in the Square listening to this man with his violin.
For a while after you left I made myself go past to hear how the sound had changed. It drifted, like lanterns through dark hallways.
There was the day when I knew you were not coming back. Pietra was very angry with me for loving you still, in that same way I always had. She said parts of me were passing away a little at a time. I said, yes, perhaps. My hair had grown white at the ends, although I was still very young. I remember after she left, I said to the man with the violin: You know, I fell in love with Edmond somewhere between two of your notes. The man did not know English, I think. He smiled and nodded his head, saying, yes, Edmond, Edmond. I said to him, Do you remember Edmond? and he kept nodding and said again, yes, Edmond, Edmond.
I saw that it had never been a song for you and me, really. It was just a story about a man sitting alone, on a red bench after dinnertime.
3. THE THIRD ANGEL
I kept the third angel for you, Edmond. There were rules against keeping them ourselves but I did it anyway. You were always angry with me for following the rules. I wrapped it in tissue paper and kept it under your uniform in the hall closet.
I left in the middle of the night. It was very warm out. I took off my jacket and left it on the side of the road. I was in my nightgown still, I don’t even think I had any shoes on, can you imagine that? I left just like that, even though I thought, I won’t make it home again without any shoes.
There was that sky again, with its near-hazel rim, and the dust rose into a veil behind me.
Victoria Sprow '06 is an English and American Literature and Language graduate from Pforzheimer House. As a Mitchell Scholar, she is currently studying for her Masters degree in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin.