Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Rose Garden



Hatherley Roseanne

Dorothy Copper's neighbours were captured by envy as they stood in her garden. A peek around the high stone walls drew a person inside the towering iron gates to wander the floral paradise. In the early mornings, the petals glistened under silver dew and by midday, each flower stood proudly, face lifted to the sun. Gentle mauve sweet-peas, tumbling flocks of forget-me-nots, and sunny cosmos stood lining thick copses of trees that hid the high stone wall. They stood motionless protected from the breeze as though on guard for Dorothy's proudest possession : the rose garden.

White roses lined the shady driveway and a flurry of red petals ran alongside the narrow stream that meandered through the garden. Pink and honey coloured roses paraded in straight rows the length of the garden. The house, an expansive brick Tudor draped in ivy, nestled into the garden as though itself had risen from the earth.

Elizabeth Chandler strolled Dorothy's driveway, bending to inhale a sunlit yellow rose and as she did, she turned her head towards the house resting at the far end of the driveway. The sprinkler ticked from the back garden and bees hummed from each direction. She and Dorothy had been friends for fifteen years and each Monday morning, such as this, they met at Dorothy's house for coffee and chitchat to discuss the week's gossip. The custom had been interrupted for the past two weeks and last night on the phone, Dorothy cancelled their get-together again. Elizabeth noticed the strain in Dorothy's voice and she made a note to drop by Dorothy's house the next morning for a chat over warm apple pie.

"Yoo-hoo, Dorothy," she called out as she walked onto the back patio, "Dorothy, it's me; Elizabeth." The back garden mirrored the front; stately eucalyptus trees sat beyond the rose garden hiding the high stone wall. A heady floral fragrance mixed with the thick aroma of mint and rosemary lingered in the air.

Elizabeth walked through the back door, half open, and placed the apple pie on the counter. "Dorothy," she called out. Light played across the kitchen floor as she walked into the living room. A steady silence coiled around her and she walked through the living room and into the airy front foyer peering up the steep wooden stairs. Shadows danced at its top. She started up the stairs hesitating and clutching the railing. "Hello Dorothy. It's me, Elizabeth. I'm coming upstairs."

She halted at the top; the dark hallway drew ahead into a sunlit study. She stopped and started along the hall as though she were a condemned prisoner taking her last steps. She reached the hallway's end and scuttled into the sunlit room. Dorothy lay sprawled on an oversized pink armchair; half her body tumbled onto the plush green carpet caught in a timeless fall. One hand hung onto the faded seat-cover as though poised to crawl back into the chair. Her eyes, wide open, sparkled a deep blue in the sun; her skin was a lily white under the crimson blood trickling down her face onto the carpet. "Oh my god," Elizabeth whispered.

Elizabeth hurried to the teak desk and picked up the phone. She gazed at Dorothy and quietly placed the phone back in its cradle. This must have just happened. She took her hand off the phone. Oh my god, the killer is still around. She swung around glaring towards the walk-in closet doors. Is he here? I can't let him know I'm onto him. Poor Dorothy, why would anyone want to hurt her? This has something to do with her upset tone last night.

Elizabeth edged to the door and turned her back on Dorothy. She darted along the darkened corridor and down the stairs to the living room. She paused gazing through the window. A blue jay sat on the rock garden twitching his head back and forth at her.

She wiped her nose with the back of her hand and paced towards the fire place and back to the window. Crazy people everywhere, raping and killing women like me and Dorothy. She pulled a silk handkerchief from her purse and wiped her eyes and nose again. The killer is somewhere on the property. I have to act like I didn't see her and run home and call the police.

Elizabeth hurried into the kitchen; dappled light reflected a kaleidoscope across the counter. She stepped onto the patio. A lawnmower buzzed in the distance and the eucalyptus leaves danced on the breeze. The flower garden stretched into the deep shadowy grove. She walked down the stone steps and onto the narrow path between the roses towards the grove. "Dorothy, where are you?" she called out.

She stopped abruptly and bent to pick up a thick banded silver watch protruding from a cluster of yellow roses. As she did, a flock of sparrows rushed through the eucalyptus grove into the sky. She stared at the birds clouding the tree tops and her heart fluttered erratically. An ice-cold sliver ran down her spine and she threw up; her vomit sprayed the roses at her feet and the smell of eggs and stomach fluid mushroomed from their sunny upturned faces.

Oh my God. He's back there and watching me. He knows I know. She staggered towards the house and pinched her arm's fleshy underside. Pull yourself together or else it's over. From the patio, the garden swayed in the wind like an ocean swell before a storm; she held onto the railing to steady herself.

"Ok, Dorothy, if you're upstairs, I left a note for you on the counter," she called out.

She slid around the corner towards the front. She ran across the patio and took the stone stairs two by two down to the driveway; the large iron gates stood open against the stone walls at the driveway's far end. Behind her, the thicket of trees rustled and the buzz of the garden rose in a nauseating cacophony. She darted to her right into the rose garden and fell to her knees with a soft thud landing between two rows of pink and honey rose bushes that spanned the width of the garden. She crouched down; the roses towered over her. She looked at the stone wall that surrounded Dorothy's garden; wiry brown vines snaked over the walls holding the property hostage.

I'll hide here. I can't make it all the way down the driveway if he's right behind me. The only way I will make it out is keeping close to the ground. An ant ran over Elizabeth's hand and she watched it scurry into the rose bushes. She looked through to the next path dividing this row from the next. A dozen rows stood before Elizabeth and the gate. She crawled alongside the roses seeking an opening to push through the bushes but they were planted with care and allowed no gap. Elizabeth huddled into the wet ground, closed her eyes, and pushed through the thick bushes. She grappled with them; thorns fought back breaking the skin on her palm. She pushed ahead, pleading under her breathe and as she did, a low thorn grabbed her cheek, pulling her skin back to expose raw candy-striped flesh.

She writhed through the bushes, breaking through and falling onto the next path. She lay low to the ground; the flowers leaned over sheltering her. Her cheek pressed into the moist earth, her heart fluttered, and her breath caught in chokes. Keep going Elizabeth before he finds me and kills me.

She pushed herself onto her elbows and scuttled down the row as though on an obstacle course. Halfway down, she saw a narrow gap in the flowers and crawled into them towards the next row. Thorns attacked her from both sides, pulling her hair, catching her skin. She heard her pants rip and the bushes gripped her bare knee. Elizabeth lay motionless. The rose's overwhelming fragrance surrounded her and the sun pressed onto her back. She took a deep breathe and pushed her weight forward. She bit her tongue to silence a scream and tasted warm salty blood in her mouth. I can't move, I can't move. Ok - just do this before he finds you. She forced herself forward; the roses tall and proud fell over her burying needled thorns into her body and tearing back against her struggle. An angry spike tore at her face and her left eye blurred, crimson blood blinding her.

Elizabeth shuffled forward again and fell into the next row. She took a deep breath and wriggled forward like a solider snaking along a trench diving into the next wall of roses; her eyes closed against the agonizing stabs. A thorn broke into her upper thigh pulling back her skirt and exposing her skin to release a thick stream of blood; it mixed with the pungent sweetness of the roses in an acidic odour. The moist black earth filled her senses, comforting her. Elizabeth heaved her body onto the narrow pathway in a final push and she peered upwards one last time towards the gates, passing out from blood loss.

The next morning, Dorothy's sister Ellen arrived. Walking up the driveway, she watched a murder of crows flutter upwards in a disturbed dissonance towards the grey sky landing on the stone wall to watch over their feast - a bloody body stretched out from the rose garden. Minutes later, Ellen found her lifeless sister in the study. Detective Cutler arrived on the scene within the hour. The following morning, he read the autopsy reports with bewilderment; Dorothy's death followed a massive stroke leading to head injuries; Elizabeth Chandler death was proclaimed suicide.

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