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In the Rose Garden
The quiet, steady pitter-patter of raindrops on the greenhouse roof was soothing to Margaret’s ears as she worked, slowly moving along the row of flowers in various stages of bloom, trimming and gently removing dead leaves and petals. The greenhouse was mostly full of roses, her favorite. She loved their rich, velvety colors, and their ever-changing scent that made every hour with them a new experience. The roses she felt, unlike many of the other flowers, were classic. They never went out of style, and even when dried retained some of that mystery and personality that made them so captivating when first cut from the bush.
She paused in front of a particularly large bush of deep red roses whose buds were nearly all full and open. Her heart gave an involuntary pang as their musky scent washed over her. These were the flowers of love, whose scent and color captured the essence of romance, passion and desire. She had been given roses like these, once. She had been swept away by dreams of love and a fairy tale ending with her handsome lover. She had danced and rested in his strong arms and gone to sleep with this musky rose smell clinging to her hair and skin.
Without realizing it, her hand had gone up to touch her hair, her mind caught up in a distant memory. She had forgotten it was covered with veil, similar to what the nuns wore, the gentle sisters who had taken her in despite her tarnished reputation. “Enough daydreaming,” she muttered to herself. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the simple prayer the nuns had taught her for times of distraction. She opened one eye at the roses before her, their heady smell still sidetracking her. “You are entirely too demanding,” she told the bush. “Perhaps you could tone it down for a bit.” The rose bush didn’t answer, and Margaret had the impression it was smirking at her.
“You’re right, I know,” she finally conceded. “I’m the hopeless one.”
Suddenly she felt a sharp twitch in her stomach, like an uncontrollable muscle spasm. Her hand went to the swell showing through her gown. “Do you disagree, little one?” She felt the twitch again.
“Talking to the roses again, Miss Margaret?”
Margaret spun around, one hand remaining on her stomach, the other flying to cover mouth. She blushed and lowered her hand. “Yes and no, Sister Mary Elizabeth. The roses distracted me, so I started to say a prayer, but the smell was so overpowering I had to stop and reprimand them, and then the babe wanted to join the conversation too.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth gave her an indulgent smile. Inwardly, Margaret was relieved. Not all the sisters approved of Margaret, and many had opposed her staying with them. But Sister Mary Elizabeth had been kind to her from the first, and coming from a family of thirteen children, she understood a few things about childbirth. “Often a woman’s sense of smell is more sensitive while she carries a babe in her womb. If the roses are so potent to you, perhaps you should refrain from working in the greenhouse for a while.”
Margaret was horrified. “Oh no, please Sister, don’t take me away from the roses! I only got caught up in some foolish daydreams, is all. I shouldn’t have blamed the roses.” She looked pleadingly at the nun and when she didn’t reply, continued, “I’ll make extra penance today but please, please don’t keep me from the roses.”
Her plea was so earnest, Sister Mary Elizabeth laughed. “Well alright then, you may continue your work. The gardens have never looked so beautiful before you came to us.”
“Thank you, Sister.” Joy filled Margaret’s face for a few moments, then dimmed as she remembered her daydream. “I was thinking about him again.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth came forward and put a hand on Margaret’s shoulder. Margaret leaned in for comfort. “I know I shouldn’t, but I do miss him sometimes.”
“It’s only natural, my dear,” the nun replied. But now you must focus that love on God and the responsibility he has given you.” Her eyes dropped to Margaret’s stomach. “It will be a difficult road, but filled with rich rewards, I promise you.”
Margaret nodded, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.
Sister Mary Elizabeth smiled again and started for the door. “Finish your work my dear, and do make sure you are on time to vespers.”
“Yes, Sister.” Margaret watched her leave and step out into the rain, which had thankfully slowed. She stood there for a moment more, cradling her stomach and wondering at the grace she had received. The nuns hadn’t been required to shelter her, a runaway mistress, a fallen woman, but they had. They had given her a place to sleep and food to eat, and work to do in their beautiful gardens. And here, surrounded by growth, life and beauty, Margaret appreciated even more the tiny life growing inside her. As she finished her work she prayed God would continue to guide and care for her and the babe just like she guided and cared for these roses. “Amen,” she finished, and stood for a while longer admiring the lovely flowers.
Just then the clock struck four and the bells began to ring. “Vespers!” Margaret cried, and hurried to the door, once again feeling the babe inside her move, as though he (or she) was running too. “We won’t be terribly late,” she said, silently offering up a prayer for forgiveness. “I was only admiring the roses.”
“For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.”