When I get outside, I see that it’s stopped raining (the restaurant was a dark windowless cave) so I decide to continue on my original path to the Thornden Park rose garden. And what to do with the breakfast box? I can’t hold it and I can’t put it sideways in my bag because the plastic-wrapped cup of syrup will spill, so I decide to put it in the gazebo while I work but when I get there, the gazebo is occupied.
There is a fellow sleeping on the cold slate floor. He’s wearing a stadium jacket, jeans and sneakers, and has his head resting on a backpack, so I figure he’s a university student. He is laying on his side with his hands clasped between his thighs and his jacket drawn up over his face to the edge of his short brown hair. Why would a student be sleeping here? Got bounced out of his room because his roommate had company? Or too drunk to make it home?
There is a tall drink can by his head but the lettering isn’t anything I recognize. There is a large plastic trash bag lying nearby filled with empty cans and bottles. He’s collecting them for the deposit. As I move around him, I see a bottle two-thirds full of amber liquid but it’s not liquor—it’s a power drink. This guy is homeless. He hasn’t got enough money for food so he’s trying to live on energizing liquids.
I think about calling the police and getting this guy rousted out, but I don’t much like the thought. Self-protection is instinctive but this guy is sleeping, not endangering me. The urge to call the cops is about power and moral rectitude: I’m a good person, you’re a bad person, and I can make you go away. But why? He’s not doing anything threatening. He’s sleeping, and on a hard slate floor. I imagine the cold cramping his muscles and seeping into his bones.
I put my food box down in a corner of the garden and set about the business of tidying up. When I began in the spring, I pulled weeds, dead-headed and pruned. I can’t do the weeding anymore, nor can I carry the refuse to the trash heap, but I keep working. Going down one aisle, I clip with my left hand; coming back the next aisle, I clip with my right hand. Dead roses go flying, leaving the garden looking pretty and fresh, and encouraging the growth of new buds.
After coming home bleeding too many times from thorn attacks, I got some kind of 22nd century gloves. The backs are white mesh; the palms and fingers are a thin, stiff, silvery substance that provides some protection from the thorns. You can either mourn because the rose bushes have thorns, or celebrate because the thorn bushes have roses. I cannot smell the roses—most of the women in my family lose their sense of smell in their fifty’s—but my eyes delight in the sight and my heart delights in the sound: silence. It is quiet in the rose garden with me and the sleeping man.
I come to the garden and take care of it. There is a Rose Society that claims jurisdiction but they don’t do a very good job. There were Japanese beetles eating the buds and blossoms for weeks before they got sprayed. There are weeds everywhere, and lots of dead-heading needed to be done, but it’s not so bad now. I’ve been going to the garden about three times a week for months, dead-heading thousands of roses.
On a Saturday afternoon in the spring I was working in the garden when a woman came through leading and lecturing a group. She had “Rose Society” written all over her—officious, patronizing, ego-centered. I was holding a bunch of roses I’d cut. She accosted me and said that I wasn’t allowed to cut the flowers.
I replied that I had been working in the garden—.
She interrupted to say that she’d seen that.
Then you also would have seen that these roses that I’ve cut were blocking my wheelchair, I said.
She walked away without saying anything more.
How can a woman, who is healthy enough to drive and most assuredly owns a house with a rose garden, begrudge flowers to a woman who lives in an apartment, travels in a wheelchair, and is pruning the garden? Thereafter, I began going to the rose garden on Sunday mornings, when the self-righteous are safely in church.
I met another woman who came to the garden on her lunch hour every day. One day she started dead-heading. A member of the Rose Society came up and told her that there was a $500 fine for cutting flowers in the garden. Thereafter, the woman on her lunch hour stopped trying to help. And today I imagine what the Rose Society woman would do about the man sleeping in the gazebo.
Thinking of the man, I decide to leave the breakfast box in the gazebo for him when he wakes up. I wheel quietly toward the gazebo and see that he is sitting up and smoking. He is middle-aged, not a student. I greet him and ask why he’s sleeping there.
He replies that he’s smoking, not sleeping.
I mildly say that he was sleeping.
He says, “You were here earlier?”
“Yes.” Then I ask if he is without a home.
He says yes, then asks if I tend the garden.
I think about my unpaid, unauthorized presence and say yes, I guess I do.
I offer him the breakfast. He says, “Thank you, ma’am,” then refuses it. I offer it again. Again he refuses it, though saying the bacon does sound good.
I ask if there is anything I can do for him.
He says, “No ma’am.”
I say, “Peace be with you” and turn my back, working away from him so that he has privacy. I work for another while, snipping, snipping, snipping, and wishing I knew the man’s story. Does he call me ma’am out of respect or servility? Has he adopted a one-down status to keep people from troubling him, or does he come from some background of courtesy and grace? I wonder. I will never know.