By Elizabeth Ryder
We planted the roses together, the day we first moved in, and at first we looked after them together as well. I bought special fertiliser from the shops to help them grow tall and green and he sprayed them with pesticide as often as he could remember, to stop the greenfly getting at them.
Any attempt by me to prune them was met with violent opposition from the thorns.
But then he suddenly seemed busier— he didn't even have the energy to pick up a watering can—and anyway, hadn't he done enough just by planting them? Hadn't he sprayed them with a hose just last month? What more did I want? The roses were my responsibility.
Surprisingly, even though he no longer paid them any attention, the roses didn't stop growing. After a few days their thin green stems swelled into black barbed briars, that twisted and writhed around each other like the arms of tortured lovers. Soon their brambles were so long that I couldn't get anywhere near them without scratching myself— I ended up having to water them from the upstairs bathroom window, which hung directly over the rose bed. I had to lean out as best I could, wishing I had somebody to hold my legs, and dangle my arms out the window with the full watering can (which I filled at the bath taps). After about two weeks, they had spread all around the garden, their thick woody stems slithering up the walls and making the front door jam shut.
Any attempt by me to prune them was met with violent opposition from the thorns. By the time the flowers bloomed, red and purple and blue and black, I couldn't think what to do. My friends had stopped coming over when the door had started to stick, my family when it had finally refused to open all together and I'd been forced to conduct all conversation through the crack underneath. I
had nobody who I could ask for advice.
For the next year and a half I lived under the tyranny of the briars. By this time, they had made their way up the walls and over the windows, so I had to have the lights on even at midday in summer. At night I thought I could hear them crawling along, whispering as they went, and wished that I could wake up the next morning to find them gone. But, always, they'd still be there in the morning and, sometimes, I'd even be glad of it. Their flowers were very beautiful and at least their shade kept off the sun.
As time went on, the garden shears on their hook in the kitchen (great crocodile heads that dwarfed my tiny secateurs) began to look more and more inviting. But the roses were the biggest thing I'd ever grown and, since they had blocked the sun and devoured all the nutrients in the soil, the only plants in my garden. I couldn't bring myself to destroy them.
He maintained that it was all my fault. Other plants weren't like this. It must have been because I fed them wrong, or watered them wrong, or planted them wrong— sometimes he felt like I didn't know how lucky I was having a nice garden to grow plants in. Otherwise I wouldn't have chosen to grow these flowers, instead of the prettier, better behaved blooms that the neighbours had. I just sighed and kept my head down— easy to do now that the thorny branches had gotten bored with climbing up the walls and had started coming in through the windows. I had to stay alert to avoid hitting my head on them.
The final straw came one dark day (which wasn't saying much— the roots of the plants had done something to the wires underneath the building and now the only light came from whatever small strings of sunlight could thread through the thorns) when I found a daisy growing in a small patch of soil by the window that the thorns had left. It was a small flower, eggshell white and sunshine yellow with traces of baby pink painted on the ends of the petals. The first flower I had seen in an age that wasn't a rose.
Bending out the window, I reached in between the thorns, trying to ignore the pain as they raked my bare skin, and scooped up it up, being careful to tease out every single root. I then brought it inside and planted it in a small pot of soil, relieved to have rescued it from being engulfed by the larger plant.
Through the window the brambles, thick as giant's arms, seemed to taunt me. How could I expect such a delicate flower to thrive without sunlight, warmth or, since the roots had twisted round and choked the pipes, water? Behind me the garden shears seemed to shuffle invitingly on their hook and the brambles and briars to lose their beauty once and for all. With a roar of defiance I picked them up and, holding them spread open in my hands I threw my full weight against the door. On the third time it flung open, with the earsplitting 'crack' of the thick stems snapping and breaking in two.
For a while, all I could see was the dark tangle of thorns, their branches stretching out and splitting off like hydra's heads while I hacked and snapped and the petals rained down around me like drops of blood.
I don't know how long I worked for, except that it felt like a lifetime. I was startled when I finally saw daylight and realised that I'd managed to cut myself a path from the front door to the garden gate. That's where I left him, still sitting in his dark and now empty house. I don't think he even noticed me go.
We live in a different house now, me and my daughter, with a garden blooming with tulips and rose hips and man in the moon marigolds. And daisies. Lots and lots of daisies.