(After I posted yesterday’s story, I felt that I didn’t do the story justice. I felt I left too much unsaid. I decided i was going to go back and rewrite it. But then, everyone else seem to love it. Well, I did rewrite it. I hope you like this new version as well!)
Why do I always were a rose pin on my lapel? Ah, that is a long story. Sit, grab another ale, I will let you know.
I was a relative newcomer to my little village out in the middle of nowhere, but had quickly made it my home. It didn’t take me long to warm up to some of the local people and local legends. And yet I still felt mostly alone and cold. I had hoped that I would be able to join what I believed would be a tightknit rural community, but I found that most of the people, like me, had only recently arrived. Like me, they had left the cold city life to return to the country as their ancestors had migrated the other way, from the country to the city. Because of this they ended up having little connection to the village, or to each other. Perhaps that is why the sad tale of murder and loss was so little known when I had arrived.
My part in the story started as I was walking into the village center on winter morning. I noticed an old man sitting on the curb staring up at the building across the street. I might not have thought anything of it, but I had noticed this man before, sitting in that same place. On those other days that I had seen him a stray warming sunbeam was on him, but that fateful morning was cold and miserable.
My mind filled with questions. Who was he? Did he live in one of the nearby houses? Why was he sitting on the curb? Did he have dementia? Generally, my big thought was, what was going on?
“Mind your own business unless you want somebody to mind it for you,” was my motto, but I could not just leave this man out in the cold. I shivered for him, and walked over. He took no notice as I approached.
“Hello sir,” I said. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” he said without looking at me.
I stood for a minute feeling silly. People walked past, giving me strange looks, but ignoring the man. I decided to persist.
“Are you cold? Do you need anything? A cup of coffee to keep you warm? A blanket? Anything?”
“No. I’m good. Thank you.” He still never glanced in my direction.
I was about to try again when a woman put her arm on my shoulder in a neighborly gesture of comfort.
“He is fine, dear,” she said. “Or at the very least, there is nothing you can do for him. We used to try, but it was of no use. He would not eat, drink or accept any comfort.”
“I’ve been coming by here for months and have just noticed him a few days ago. Are you saying he is here all of the time?”
“Just in the winter, deary,” she said. “He gazes into that window, yonder.” She pointed at a leaded glass window in the building across the street. To my surprise, there were roses blooming outside of the window but no place else on the building or neighborhood.
“What is on the other side of that window?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I think it’s an office now, but it once was a room in a house. Some people say it was a bedroom.”
“And his story?”
She shrugged again. “Nobody knows. He has been here as long as anyone can remember. He never says more than he said to you.”
“And he’ll be OK?” I asked.
“Well, he has been doing this for years and years, so I assume so,” she answered. “Now be a good chap and run along. We’ll all be watching out for him.”
I walked away a few paces and turned. She was still standing beside the man, but watching me. I waved. She smiled and waved back. I turned and left.
On my way home I noticed that he was still there. I stopped and looked at the window. The weather had improved and the afternoon sun was hitting the wall, illuminating the roses, making them glow bright red. Beyond that, I couldn’t see anything special. And yet, I was transfixed. I had to watch.
After a while, my imagination started to fill the window with action. I saw a midwife hold up a newborn baby, a girl. Then I saw the girl as a toddler look out of the window. She grew before my eyes and played with her toys in the little room. As she grew older, the toys were replaced by books and then lovers. Finally, the window went dark. She had moved away. But the rose that first bloomed when she was born still bloomed.
I heard the man mumbling something and leaned in close to hear.
“She was born 90 years ago and the rose has bloomed since. I know not where she has gone, but as long as the rose is in bloom, I know she is safe.”
I stared into his face, but he didn’t acknowledge my presence, just continued to watch the window and the flowers.
Every day I would pass and he would be there, morning and night. I began to take him for granted, but stopped once during a very cold rain. The woman came up to me again and let me know that he was fine. She finally persuded me to leave. I looked back and she was watching the man with fondness. I took a few steps, looked back again, but she wasn’t there.
A few days after the rain episode, I was in the local pub and brought the old man and the woman up. People laughed at me, saying there was no old man or woman. I pointed out that the roses were there, blooming on a cold winter day, but they still laughed.
I withdrew to a corner and ended up drinking more than was good for me.
Later in the evening, a neighbor I recognized as living next to the building with the rose invited me to sit in a corner with her.
“I’m sorry I didn’t speak up earlier, but I’d lose all respect from some around here.” She looked around the room, as if to make sure nobody was listening in. “I know a little about the man and woman, but not much. I have seen them too.”
I was, of course, very curious and asked her to share.
“I have heard that a man and a woman used to live there, in that building. It was a house, you see.”
“Yes, I know that,” I said
“The house had been handed down to them by the man’s father, but they were poor and had a hard time keeping it up. But the struggled to do it, for they wanted a family, and kenw a family needed a house. You see, they had been childless for many years. Long past the time when you would think they would be able to have children, a daughter was born.”
“She was born in the room behind where the rose blooms,” I said.
“Yes. They named the girl Rose, though the plant wasn’t there yet. They doted on Rose and gave her everything she needed to be happy. They worked hard to keep the house for her to grow up in. And grow she did. As she matured from little girl to young lady, she turned out to be wise, beautiful, gentle and loving. Traits that she gained from her parents. When she was just 19 she was to be wed to the man she loved, the young Mr. Giltfar, the son of the richest man in town. Isn’t that great?”
“Ah, you know the twist? A cold winter night, just before the weeding was to take place, the parents heard a crash. They ran upstairs and the window was broken and the girl was gone. There were drops of red blood going from the middle of the room and out of the window. The next morning, a rose grew from each of those drops. The parents planted them all under their daughter’s window and they bloomed all winter.”
“So that flower I see…?”
“Yes, is one grown from her blood, though it was many, many years ago. At first nobody knew what had happened. But it was later discovered that her lover’s father had hired someone to kidnap her, murder her and hide the body. He didn’t want his son to marry a relatively poor woman.”
“Right. The boy, the young Mr. Giltfar, heartbroken, disappeared. The older Mr. Giltfar used his money and power to avoid jail, but nobody liked or trusted him. He grew old far before his time and died miserably. Nobody attended his funeral. He was buried in an unmarked grave outside of the cemetery.”
“Serves him right,” I said.
“Rose’s mother died, within a year of her disappearance. They say of a broken heart.”
“That’s really sad,” I said. “Poor Mrs. Rose, or whatever her name was.”
“It is sad. But her husband always insisted that his daughter was still alive. He knew it, he said, because the roses still bloomed every winter. Everyone told the man that she was dead. But he continued to believe she was alive and sat out front, waiting for her to return, until he lost the house. After that, he sat across the street, keeping vigil. He froze to death one winter night, but the people all said he really died of a broken heart, like his wife. A few years later some people, those with the heart to perceive such things, started seeing the old man out front again, still keeping watch.”
“And the woman? Who I talked to?”
She gave me an odd look. “I’m not sure, but my guess is that it was the wife or mother, the one you called Mrs. Rose.”
“Why did everyone laugh at me when I brought this up?” I asked.
“This all took place long ago. The daughter disappeared over 70 years ago and the man died 20 years later. Nobody here was even alive when this all took place. They don’t remember the story and they don’t believe in ghosts.”
I looked at her. “You weren’t alive then either. Why do you still remember when they don’t?”
“Because I’m one of the lucky ones who can see the man. I researched it. I looked it up. It’s all there in writing. Well, except for the ghost part.”
I didn’t know what to think or believe. I thanked the woman and left.
I continued to see the old man, but I just passed by, not paying attention.
Until one fine winter’s day and I realized that he wasn’t there.
I stopped and watched the window for a moment before continuing on. As I passed by in the afternoon, I stopped again, and watched the empty window. It seemed darker than usual.
As I stood watching, a man came up to me and asked about an address, which happened to be the building I was watching. I pointed it out. For some reason he hesitated before crossing to it, as if feeling there was something that needed to be said. At last he spoke.
“My name is Sam Giltfar. My grandmother was born there,” he said, pointing to the building. “Just before she died last night, I promised her that I’d return to this spot and collect flowers for her grave. What could that mean?”
“Your grandmother was named Rose?” I asked.
I pointed out the flowers around the window. “Those are her flowers, born of her blood.”
The man crossed the street and looked back at me. I nodded. He knocked on the door and talked to the people inside. A few minutes later they gathered the roses from in front of the window. As the man left, he thanked me and handed me one of the roses.
The woman I had seen on the street before, the one who had told me that the man was fine, came up and took my hand. Wordlessly I followed her. It wasn’t long before we passed by the old church. I realized at that point that I was alone, that there was no woman, that she hadn’t been there all night and that I had walked there on my own. I shrugged and without thinking, I walked into the graveyard beside the church. I walked amongst the cold stones almost at random. One of the stones seemed to be glowing, as if there was a light inside of it. I stopped and read the inscription on it. The man buried at that spot had died more than 50 years before at the age of 70. The people in the town felt pity for him and provided the rich grave next to the grave of his wife, despite the fact that he was penniless.
I dropped the rose on the grave and left. I hoped that somehow he knew that his Rose had returned.
I continue to pass the house every day and have found that the roses no longer bloom in front of the special window. But there is now a new rosebush in the graveyard which blooms every winter, drawing people from miles around to marvel.
With the rose, the town changed. People became more friendly. They took pride in the place, the place with the special winter growing roses. And I found that I fit in, even marrying the woman who told me the story that one night in the pub all of the years ago.
And so I wear this rose to remember those who went before me that made it all possible.
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