I called her Mrs. Rose. That was not her name. She lived next door to me in the sprawling American suburb that I will not name, either, for fear that you may recognize her. She was a very private person, and I would not want you to recognize her if she did not want you to. And I do not, will not, know, ever, if she wanted you to. For she is dead.
Mrs. Rose died a week ago. As I sit down to write about her, the memories of many years come flooding back to me. She was a gentle, petite lady, pale white skin turned almost translucent from lack of sun. I always saw her when I went to work in the morning. She would be there, sitting on the front porch, with a steaming cup of coffee in hand, looking out towards nothing in particular. At other times, I would find her tending the amazing roses in her garden. The roses came in all variety and colors. It was a beautiful garden.
“Good morning, Mrs. Rose,” I would say. “How are you doing today?”
“Wonderful,” she would say, without any change of expression on her pretty, if wrinkled, face. “And how are you, Mr. Sharma?”
“Wonderful,” I would say. “I am doing wonderful. It is going to be a nice day.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Rose would say. “It will be a nice day.”
I would turn the key to my gleaming new Lexus and drive off to the city for work, just like everyone else from my suburb did.
When I would come back home in the evening, Mrs. Rose would not be there. The porch would be empty. There would be one light on somewhere in her living room. You could see the light of a television screen flicker. I would walk into my empty giant cookie-cutter house, pour myself a large scotch on the rocks, turn on the television, and drown in my own loneliness. They did that in the suburbs all the time. We lived the life wonderful. We all did.
It has been seven years since Mrs. Rose’s husband died. He took his own life, for what we don’t know. He took an overdose of sleeping pills, and did not wake up on a cold, dreary, rainy winter morning. I remember I woke up to the urgent, impatient sound of fire trucks, paramedics and the police. As I stepped out, there were all the neighbors, few of them out on the street, most behind their white picket fences, standing on the wet, manicured lawns. I caught up with my neighbor two houses down, whom I have never met before.
“What happened here?” I asked. “Is there some kind of emergency?”
“It seems so,” my neighbor-from-two-houses-down said. “I believe the gentleman in this house has been taken ill.” He pointed to Mrs. Rose’s house.
“You don’t say!” I said. “Mr. Rose! He was in such great health.”
“Mr. Rose, is that his name?” my neighbor said. “I never met him, but I understand that this is all too sudden. The paramedics suspect an overdose of sleeping pills.”
“Really?” I was amazed. “Why would he do that? They were such a fine couple.”
“Dunno,” my neighbor shrugged his shoulder. “You never know.”
“True, you never know,” I said. “By the way, I am Kapil Sharma. I live in this house here.” I pointed to my house. The house possibly needs a new coat of paint, I thought, as I looked at it on that dreary, rainy morning.
“Jenkins. Todd Jenkins,” he said, “I live in that white house over there.” He pointed in the general direction of his house. All houses on my street were shades of white.
“Glad to meet you, Todd!” I said.
“Glad to meet you, too,” he said. “I gotta be going. I am getting late for work.”
Meanwhile the paramedics came out with Mr. Rose’s body on a stretcher. Mrs. Rose, looking distraught, accompanied the paramedics. They left in a barrage of flashing lights and siren.
As the last car left, silence descended on my street again, a silence which won’t be broken for the next seven years.
I looked around me. All the doors were closed once again. There was no one on the street. The lawns were immaculate. The houses were large. There were frilly curtains on the windows. My white picket fence had some chipped paints.
I went back to my house. The rain was coming down again. It’s gonna be a nice day.
I met Mrs. Rose a week after Mr. Rose died. She was sitting on her front porch on a chair, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. The newspaper lay on the table by the side.
“Good morning, Mrs. Rose,” I said. “I am so sorry about Mr. Rose passing away.”
“Don’t we all?” she spoke, as if from very far away. “We all pass away, sooner or later. That’s how it is.”
“I know, we all pass away,” I said. “It was all too sudden. Mr. Rose was in such fine health.”
“He was,” she sighed, “but …” Her voice trailed off.
“Let me know if I can be of any help, Mrs. Rose,” I said, “any help at all.”
“I will,” she said.
She never did.
I last saw her sitting on her front porch a week back, the day before her death. She had her steaming cup of coffee, and her newspaper. That never changed over the years.
“Good morning, Mrs. Rose,” I said, like I do every morning.
“Good morning, Mr. Sharma,” she said. “Aren’t the roses looking beautiful?” She was unusually chatty that morning.
“They indeed are,” I said. “You have a spectacular garden, Mrs. Rose. You do spend a lot of time tending to the roses, don’t you?”
“They are like my children,” she said. “You see that plant with many different colored roses? That’s a rarity. I got it from a flower show in the Valley for quite a steep price, I tell you. And that purple one there, that’s my favorite. That one has amazing aroma. You should come over and smell the roses sometime, Mr. Sharma. It is quite therapeutic, you know.”
“I surely will,” I said. I looked at my watch. It was getting late. I may miss my meeting if I continue to talk. “I should be going, Mrs. Rose. Work, you know.”
“Bye. Mr. Sharma,” she said. “Take care. Do come in over the weekend and smell the roses.” She smiled. I noticed she had more wrinkles now, but her smile was still very pretty.
“I will,” I said.
That was last week. She died the next day.
I didn’t see her the next morning. And the next. The third morning on - I remember it was a Friday - when I did not see her on the porch, I walked up to her house and knocked on the door. Concerned that no one answered my repeated knocks, I called 911. They came, and found her in front of the television, dead for three days. The television was showing a re-run of “I love Lucy”.
I didn’t know that Mrs. Rose had a daughter. I had never seen her. Clara, the daughter, turned up on Saturday to take over the house and the funeral proceedings.
On Sunday, as I came out of the house, I saw Clara in front of Mrs. Rose’s house. She was throwing out a lot of stuff onto the sidewalk. There was a big “Free” sign over the pile.
“Hi,” I walked up to her, “I am Kapil Sharma. I stay in your neighboring house. Sorry about your mother’s passing away. Do let me know if you need any help.”
“Thank you, and nice to meet you,” Clara said. “I am Clara. I do not think we will need any help, though. My boyfriend, Bill, is here. We will be moving into the house soon, so we are cleaning up. You know how it is, getting rid of a lifetime of trash. It is amazing what my parents collected over the years. Look at the Sixties TV set over there. The Russian dolls! And that old typewriter! My clothes from when I was a little kid! I don’t even know why people would hang on to such useless pieces of junk. At any rate, I do not see any use for these myself. If you like anything from here, please feel free to take. I will be throwing out a lot more as I clean the house. It is going to be a long day.”
“The roses …” I said, “they look like they may need some water. If it is ok with you, I could tend to them, water them till you and Bill settle down. They were favorite of Mrs. Rose, you know.”
“Oh! The roses!” said Clara. “You know, Bill is a landscape artist, and he just hates the roses. He thinks that they look plain ugly in front of the house. He already has plans to get rid of them, and lay down a nice green lawn here instead. So, there is really no need to water the roses. Their days are numbered.” Clara laughed. A strange, high-pitched laugh.
“In that case,” I said, “may I take that multicolored rose plant? And the purple one? Mrs. Rose loved those two.”
“Surely,” Clara said. “You can take them all, if you like. We have no need for them. And it will save us from having to dig them out.”
I do not have a lawn anymore. I have re-planted my lawn with the roses that I got from Mrs. Rose’s garden. Every morning, I sit on my front porch with my steaming cup of coffee, and I look at the roses. And later, after everyone has left in the morning for their respective jobs in the city, I walk around the flowers, smelling them, savoring their fragrance. I must admit, I have often found myself talking to them.
And sometimes, while I am having my morning cup of coffee, I think of Mrs. Rose.