The previous summer…
“It still looks dead,” Dan stated matter-of-factly as he and Millie looked down at the withered canes of her rosebush.
“It’s not,” Millie insisted.
Checking the rosebush had become part of their daily routine. Every morning, as soon as the coffee finished brewing, Millie took her mug outside, convinced the new sun would illuminate a sign of life in the rose, a hint of green rising from the blackened canes. And every morning, Dan followed her out, a shovel at the ready for when she finally came to terms with her loss.
A simple hope that had become an obsession, Millie had tried everything she could think of to get the rose to grow. She’d watered it, fertilized it, and mulched it. She’d trimmed the canes to encourage growth. She’d experimented with root stimulators, bug sprays, fungicides, and specially formulated soil additives. She’d scoured the Internet, checked out every book she could find at the library and relentlessly hounded her mother at the garden center, picking her brain for advice even though Gina herself had been the one to toss the bush into the compost pile in the first place. Once, Dan had even caught Millie kneeling in front of the rose, singing to it, but not even the little ditty worked. It still looked dead.
“I don’t understand,” she said, shaking her head forlornly. “I was certain it just needed a little TLC and it would be fine.”
“You can’t bring the dead back to life, no matter how hard you try.”
“I’m a failure.” She sighed.
“No, you’re not.” He slung an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “You just have absolutely no green in your pretty little thumbs.”
She leaned against him and asked, “What if it’s not just this rose bush that I can’t grow? What if I’m a horrible mother?”
“That’s not possible.”
“But what if this rose was a test? What if Mother Nature is waiting to see if I can nurture this rose before we can finally get pregnant?”
“You can’t think that way, Mills.”
Throughout the course of their marriage, they’d had many emotional, late-night conversations about her inability to conceive. They’d started trying on their honeymoon. With every month, every year that passed without success, Millie became more concerned. She had survived cancer as a child, and although the doctors believed she would still be able to conceive, she became convinced the treatments had left behind damage the doctors could not see. She had a series of tests and a full medical workup scheduled over the course of the following month. If she passed all of her tests, it would be Dan’s turn. His test consisted of nothing more than a little cup and a magazine or two, but he still dreaded the very thought of it. If he were a bigger man, he would go first.
“If Mother Nature wanted to test you, she wouldn’t do it with a stupid rose. Even she can’t stand the sight of them. That’s why there are so many bugs and diseases designed to kill them,” Dan assured her. “Besides, she’s already tested you. She brought you Dolly.”
At the sound of her name, Dolly woke from her nap in the sunshine. She yawned big, tongue curling in her mouth, stretched, and then lay back down closed her eyes.
Millie bit back a smile. “She seems to be doing okay, right?”
“She’s a little fat maybe, a little over-nurtured, if that’s even possible, but there is no girl in the world who’s loved more than her,” he said. Millie tipped her head back and Dan kissed the tip of her nose. “I’m heading in, are you coming?”
“Yeah.” She dumped the rest of her coffee on the rosebush. “There’s no hope for this stupid piece of shit anyway.”
The next morning, a healthy new bud emerged from the base of its blackened stem.