Before she was even born, her parents decided they’d call her Rose. Some saw this as quite fortuitous, as no one could have predicted that the baby girl would have inherited her father’s auburn hair. Neither could they have known that even the slightest giggle would bring a bright red tinge to her cheeks.
Friends and family flocked to see her. Somehow each person who entered the hospital room became an oracle, blessed with the gift of foresight. They proclaimed little Rose would be an athlete, a scholar, an artist; one overzealous soul insisted she’d be elected President. Though they squabbled about just how she might shape the world, the visitors were unanimous in one regard; Rose would grow up to be quite pretty. Of this they were sure. When Rose laughed, her wide, still-toothless smile caused her green eyes to squint, which only seemed to magnify the warmth that radiated from them. It was more than enough to melt the hearts of each of her stoic, Irish-Catholic grandparents
When the young mother returned home, she found the nursery had been festooned with flowers, sent by well-wishers who couldn’t make it to the hospital. Inevitably, the majority were roses. Smiling fondly, Rose’s mother laid her sleeping child in her crib and started arranging the assorted flora. Shifting aside a particularly grandiose bouquet of white roses, she found a small potted plant, sent by her closest friend. Her smile widened. She took the small plant and placed it right next to Rose’s crib. The dozing newborn seemed to catch the scent of this new plant, and let out a contented sigh. Her mother stroked the baby’s head, then sat back in the overstuffed chair nearby, letting out a sigh of her own. She was asleep by the time Rose’s father had finished carrying in the luggage. He smiled at the sight of them, sleeping tranquilly amidst the veritable forest of roses, then went back to the bedroom to finish unpacking.
Neither of her parents were sure who started calling her “Rosebud” first, but it was certainly fitting. She’d grown up a little, but still had quite a bit of blooming to go. Her long, red hair was frizzy and nigh untamable. Her green eyes still sparkled, but the effect was somewhat obscured by her thick-framed glasses. Her toothless grin was now a toothy one, but a crooked one as well. Neither her parents nor any of the oracles were concerned, however; she was only seven, after all.
Rose loved to play in the family’s small garden after school, running amidst the different flowers and herbs and vegetables. She hadn’t imagined that such wonders were possible when she’d first helped her parents plant them in the spring, and she never grew tired of inspecting the plants for new flowers or the first signs of produce. Some days, she would simply lie down in the dirt and gaze up through the plants at the clouds, dreaming of the future. She decided that she wanted to work in a flower shop.
It was on one of those days that she was discovered by Tommy, the new boy who’d moved in next door. He’d been directed to the garden by Rose’s mother, but there was no sign of the girl who supposedly liked playing in the dirt and wouldn’t make him play dress-up like his older sisters.
“Hello?...” he called out timidly, surveying the plants. He jumped back in fright when Rose’s shock of red hair suddenly popped up from amidst the tomato plants.
“Hi!” she said enthusiastically. “I’m Rosie!”
“Rosie?” Tommy repeated, still recovering from his shock.
Rose nodded her head vigorously.
“Yeah, Rosie!” She bobbed her head as she started reciting the rhyme her father told her every night as he tucked her into bed:
“Rosie Posie, puddin’ and pie, she kissed all the boys and made ‘em cry…”
She giggled. She’d never kissed a boy before, but she thought it was funny to think of it making boys cry.
Tommy fidgeted, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking.
“So…what are all these plants?” he asked, seeking to change the subject.
Rose stood up, brushing the dirt from her overalls.
“Well, these are the tomatoes,” she said, pointing to the bushy plants nearly as tall as she was.
“Over there’s the basil, there’s some peppers, and those flowers are the chrys…chrissy…chrisanthemommys?”
She was excited to find someone she could talk to about all of the plants; Tommy was relieved that, at least for now, kissing seemed out of the picture. They spent the afternoon discussing the different plants together. Rose kept the very best plants, the ones that her mother would cut and put by her bedside, for last.
The years passed, and eventually Rose did come into full bloom, surpassing what even the keenest oracles had predicted. She was smart, graceful and vivacious, and her squinting smile that had once charmed grandparents now made nearly every boy in the school weak in the knees. Her parents seemed unaware of her transformation at first, perhaps still blinded by the image of the frizzy-haired youth falling face-first into the muddy river while chasing tadpoles. By the beginning of her senior year, though, the fog had lifted, and Rose’s parent’s came to realize that their daughter might just be too pretty for her own good.
Their worries were soon abated. Like any other, this Rose had its thorns.
As the Senior Prom approached, Rose received an increasing number of invitations to the dance. All of them were systematically declined. Each suitor tried to outdo the others in the grandeur and complexity of their invitations, but each one in turn was given a more curt response. Finally, the quarterback tried for a Hail-Mary by delivering a large heart-shaped bouquet of roses to her front door. He found it the next morning on his own front porch with a card attached that simply read “NO.”
Disheartened and spiteful, the male population of the school reached a general consensus that no one else was to ask Rose to the dance. If she was so dead-set against spending the night with them, they reasoned, she could just stay at home. There was an audible gasp throughout the hallways, then, when Tommy Thatcher arrived at school the next day with a small cutting in a simple vase and a plain card addressed “To ROSE” in messy handwriting. He approached her at her locker, handed her the vase and the card, and waited patiently as she read it. She took a sniff of the cutting, smiled, then kissed Tommy on the cheek, saying she’d love to accompany him to the Prom.
Many of the boys considered boycotting the dance, but in the end they couldn’t keep themselves away. They danced rigidly with their partners, shooting daggers at Tommy and Rose with their eyes. Their dates eventually grew tired of this and demanded to be taken home, emptying the ballroom considerably. Rose and Tommy danced on, blissfully unaware of their peers, until they were the only couple left at the end of the night.
It was concerning to all when Rose started wilting before her season. None of the oracles could have foretold it. The birth of her second child left her weak, and as the weeks dragged on her condition showed no signs of improvement. She tried for a while to maintain the busy lifestyle she’d managed before, but her energy was failing her. She developed a violent cough, and begrudgingly confined herself to her bed to rest.
Eventually, against the improbability of her recovering any time soon, she tendered her resignation to the flower shop. In condolence, the shop sent over a bouquet of their finest roses, which she accepted graciously and kept on an end table in her room. She appreciated the gesture, but when all of her colleagues from the shop were gone she asked that Tommy move the flowers into the living room. Seeing them only seemed to add a weight to her shoulders that few understood.
Tommy was at her side almost constantly, bringing her food, fluffing up her pillows, helping her to the bathroom. His heart was full of frustration and anguish as he watched his wife’s health fade, completely beyond his or anyone else’s control. There were often tears in his eyes as he stayed up long into the night when she couldn’t sleep, rubbing her hands with her favorite lotion, hoping the scent would somehow ease the pain of it all.
In the end, Rose’s last petal fell on a Summer evening. Tommy brought the kids into the room to say goodbye. Mary climbed up onto the bed, careful not to bump into her mother’s pain-wracked body. She snuggled up against Rose, and Rose weakly put her arm around her. Tommy knelt down at the head of the bed, holding baby Chris. Rose stroked the baby’s head, then put her hand on Tommy’s cheek. She gave him one last squinting smile, then sighed. She closed her eyes, and then slipped into the next life. No one moved or said a word; silent tears coursed down Mary’s cheeks. The silence seemed to lull Chris to sleep. Tommy put him to bed in his crib, then scooped up his daughter and took her to the back porch. Mary started sobbing audibly now, and Tommy slowly ran his hand through her hair, staring at the stars, not sure what to say. Eventually, Mary fell asleep, exhausted by the emotional strain. Tommy picked her up and tucked her into bed, making sure not to make a sound as he closed the door. Re-entering his bedroom, he sat down at Rose’s bedside and buried his face in his hands. Only then did he let himself cry.
The funeral was well-attended. Rose had touched many lives, and seemingly everyone with even the slightest connection to her wanted to come and pay their last respects. Tommy stood at the door holding Chris, with Mary at his side. He shook all of the mourners’ hands as they entered, occasionally giving a weak smile to show his gratitude.
As the mourners started to slide into the church pews and open their programs, there was a general murmur of surprise. They had gathered together that day to honor the life of the woman they knew, the woman they called Rose.
They hadn’t been aware that her full name was Rosemary.