Where Roses Grow
NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction Staff Favorite
Published online, December 2010
Some people swore that the house was haunted, but Wilma J. Pickering, amateur horticulturist and self-styled floraphile, didn’t care. Roses around the porch were dying and something had to be done.
The dilapidated gate could not deter her. The creaking shutters could not dishearten her. The spider web-laced windows could not dissuade her. Armed with her trusty pruning shears and leather ladies’ gardening gloves, she waddled onto the property.
Wilma was locked in constant battle. By day, she whispered encouraging words to the blooms that she pruned and primped, but by night, the bushes browned and wilted.
Today, as Wilma cooed and clipped, the front door of the house creaked open. Tendrils of smoke curled onto the shaded porch, stopping short of the sunny garden bed.
“Wilma,” a low voice said.
She glared into the shadows and pointed her shears like a rapier. “Mr. Bellamy.”
A wizened walnut of a man emerged, leaning heavily on a cane. He demanded, as he did every day, that she vacate his property, and then puffed on his cigar for punctuation.
Wilma could not let this travesty continue. She stomped her foot and stood tall in defense of the thorny bushes.
The old man coughed and smoke billowed out his nose and mouth. In his scrub brush voice, he recited the town’s trespassing law.
But Wilma would not be scared off by that sorry threat. She rallied her courage and sermonized to save the one bright spot amongst the death that surrounded him.
He let spit and vinegar fly in response, peppering his phlegm with four letter words.
That was the last straw. To neglect the royal rose was unfathomable, but to disparage it was unpardonable. Wilma charged.
Old man Bellamy dropped with an unceremonious thud, the pruning shears stabbed through his heart. The floorboards shuddered. Years of unswept dirt and dust puffed upward and sank back to earth.
His face was frozen in shock for only a second before he frowned and struggled to his feet. He pulled the shears from his chest, wiped them on his pants, and handed them back.
“Good aim,” he said and closed the door, leaving bewildered Wilma staring at her shears.
At twilight, Mr. Bellamy and his cane thumped down the porch steps. He looked at the offending plants, sniffed an open bud and, satisfied that they were indeed alive, poured gasoline on the dirt.
He would dream peacefully tonight, he thought, for as his prized roses drank and died, he too would finally be released. And this time, there would be no mid-morning resurrection, for surely Wilma was too frightened to return.
But as he remounted the steps, Mr. Bellamy spied, with his shriveled eye, Wilma frozen upon his rocking chair, staring at her shears.
He poked her with his cane, intending to prod her off his property, but she came to with a start. Raising her shears with shaking hands, she demanded justice for the roses.
He parried with his motivation: he was cursed to live until all he cared about was dead. Three hundred lonely winters had killed these final cares, but three hundred lonelier springs had brought them back.
Wilma pondered his plight and lowered her shears. She cried as she lopped off the rose blooms and yanked the thorny stems from their bed.
Mr. Bellamy waited, but instead of feeling weaker as the bushes died, he felt stronger. It was strange. He watched Wilma waddle away and a smile, of its own accord, spread across his face. Nothing was ever the same again after that.
For this Three-Minute Fiction contest, we were given the opening line (Some people swore that the house was haunted) and the ending line (Some people swore that the house was haunted), and had 3000 words to connect them.