Mary you’re covered in roses
you’re covered in ruin
you’re covered in secrets
you’re covered in treetops
you’re covered in birds
who can sing a million songs
without any words.
‘Mary’, Patti Griffin
For as long as anyone could remember she was there every spring in the same spot, her own safe corner of the garden center answering questions about the roses she tended wearing her familiar garb a uniform, the well worn wide brimmed straw hat circled with a thin black silk ribbon, an oversized faded to almost white denim shirt sleeves twice rolled neatly, the tail of the billowing shirt reaching mid thigh her torso hidden, loose fitting, faded and frayed Levis folded to just above her ankles showing white cotton socks, black canvas Keds the white rubber banding forever soil stained. When she wasn’t wearing her trademark flower imprinted canvas gloves her right hand held a cigarette and it was only then you might notice her hand trembling slightly as she slowly brought it down to rest on her knee as she sat low on her small stool as the smoke slowly exhaled and curled up around her head.
From a distance her narrow face barely visible hidden behind the once flaming red loosely curled hair now muted with grey rested shoulder length, the wind occasionally blowing stray ringlets sideways across her dark perfectly round faux wood framed sunglasses never seemed a bother, never elicited a wipe away response as if it was all planned that way. She moved slowly as if scripted, gestures planned in advance leaving no room for error with her graceful posture she didn’t walk as much as she glided, a pale shadow sliding across the pavement and between crowded containers of the tender young rose plants she adored.
She was a carefully crafted enigma carving out a living doing what she loved, talking of roses to any who would listen even as she did her best to become invisible. No one knew where she lived or where she came from, a human without a history even to the many longtime employees she was simply known as The Rose Lady and that’s exactly how she wanted it be.
No one knew she wrote either but him, writing page after page of tightly composed hand penned black inked script, the penmanship so disciplined almost machine like and impossible to decipher except by her, exactly how she wanted it to be. Her stories each accompanied an intricate impossibly detailed companion pen and ink drawing, the technical skill beyond reproach.
They would meet once a week during that spring and early summer sitting on the roughed granite steps to her favorite place, her refuge, a tribute garden full of only roses perfectly designed in the classic formal English style she went there often to wipe away the world and disappear, become invisible again. This almost secret place was in plain view on a busy street but there were rarely any visitors except for the old man who tended the roses and meticulously manicured the gravel path before he left leaving it perfect placing every small grey rounded stone where it should be.
It was there amidst the safety of everything that was familiar, under the protective cloak of the expected and the perfect order that never disappointed that Mary took a chance and did the unexpected which for her was nothing less than a blindfold leap into the abyss. It was there, sitting side by side with her pages and drawings between them their eyes adjusting to the dimming light, that uncertain bright to near dark transition that Mary began revealing her story to him slowly, inaudible at first as he gently cradled the drawing she could barely hand him. Even as her voice slowly gathered it’s strength it was never more than a low single note monotone effortlessly reciting her stream of conciousness testimony as if rehearsed daily and committed to memory, the only punctuation her breathing, a brief pause as her narrow frame rose to meet the next paragraph.
Staring straight ahead sitting on the steps that late spring afternoon as the noise of the busy street behind them faded he heard nothing but the soft floating sound of her voice, like the smoke from the cigarette that she held in her unsteady hand it enveloped them both. It was only when he began focusing on the drawing, the twisted bodies and anguished expressions represented in painful detail did he emerge from his own trance and begin to hear her words.
Mary did her very best to disguise the pain and trauma contained in her passages, her controlled emotion a rage compressed, the matter of fact delivery another possible detour offered but nothing could hide the horrible truth when he finally listened through it all to hear her words, listened as she told story after heartbreaking story of the violence and torment she experienced first by her father and then an abusive husband, finally leaving him her destination a secret.
In awe of her courage, her truth rubbed raw his own childhood wounds never revealed, he felt helpless so close to her pain when he could never confront his own. Wanting to help in some small way reassure, struggling to find words he found none so he sat there on the steps beside her and simply listened thinking he had let her down, that he’d failed her somehow. He couldn’t know it then but there was nothing more healing for them both than his silence.
one of her favorite songs…..
written March 2012