Jill Parks and her husband Ray were moving into their first home together. It was one of those sweet little houses with a white picket fence that every stereotyped girl dreams of. They parked on the street so that the moving van could back into the drive to unload. As they got out of their car, they noticed an elderly woman watching from her screened porch across the street.
“She probably cut her husband up in little pieces years ago and buried him in her garden,” Ray teased.
“I think she looks sweet.” Jill snapped at him. She loved old people and Ray knew it. All her life she had always sought out the old people in the neighborhood to befriend. “I can’t wait to go meet her.”
“You’ll have to wait.” Ray said as he guided her up the walk to their home, where boxes were being unloaded. “You’re not leaving me stuck with the unpacking.”
Oh geez, Ray.” Jill rolled her eyes at him. She had no intentions of allowing Ray to decide where things were to go. “Men don’t know a thing about organizing a home. I wouldn’t dream of leaving it to you.”
“Thanks. I wouldn’t dream of doing it.”
“You’re welcome.” She groaned as she waited at the front door to be carried across the threshold of their first real home together.
“What’s up?” Ray asked and nudged her forward. “Why don’t you go in?”
“This is our first home together.” Jill tried to explain as she emphasized the word “is”.
“So?” Ray curtly remarked and he walked around her to go into the house.
“How gallant,” Jill fumed as she followed him in.
A few days later Jill decided she needed to take a break from organizing and decorating her new home. Ray was off to his new job in the city, so Jill set out across the street to meet her neighbor.
The house was a large two and a half story with a full basement. It had probably been built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. There were two large yards, front and back, as well as ample space on the sides. It took up a half block. The back yard was surrounded by a tall masonry wall that was carved with floral designs in a two foot strip along the top. There were flowers everywhere and Jill couldn’t help but admire their beauty and fragrance. The roses were especially breathtaking.
Jill opened the screen door to the porch and went up to the large entrance. She rang the old fashioned bell and waited for a reply, watching through the windows on the door.
Soon her neighbor came into the entry from a curved door to the right of a beautiful staircase. As the older woman glided towards the front entrance, Jill noticed how tall and stately she stood. She was slender with perfect posture. Her skin was smooth and unblemished and her hair was a beautiful silvery white, with natural waves pulled up into a gentle bun in the back. Her smile presented the face of an angel and Jill was instantly entranced by this beautiful lady.
“Hello dear,” the lady greeted her. “I thought you might drop by today. Please, come in.” She stepped back to allow Jill to enter.
“Oh your house is beautiful,” Jill said as she admired the carved detail of the beautiful staircase and a large crystal chandelier that was centered above the entry. “I’m Jill Parks. My husband, Ray, and I just moved in across the street.”
“Yes, I know dear. I’ve been watching you since that first day, just waiting for this visit. I have tea and cakes ready.” She led Jill into her sitting room. “My name is Agatha Wallace. I’ve lived in this house all my life and I’m ninety years old.” She smiled widely. “Isn’t that an awfully long time to live in the same house?” Without giving Jill a chance to respond she continued. “It used to be me and my sister, Clara, but she’s been gone for more than fifty years now. Do you use lemon or honey? I have both you know. And fresh cream if you like.”
“Ah, excuse me?” Jill said, confused.
“For your tea, dear. Do you use lemon or honey or fresh cream?”
“Oh, gee, I don’t know. I’ve never drank hot tea before.”
“Well, this should be a real treat then. Please sit.” She motioned for Jill to be seated at an antique settee that faced a delicately carved mantle surrounding the large fireplace.
“How beautiful,” Jill exclaimed.
“Thank you dear.” Agatha sat down next to Jill. “You can call me Aggie. That’s what my sister called me. You remind me so much of her. Would you like Tea Cakes? I’ve just taken them from the oven.”
“Tea Cakes?” Jill had never heard of them and was rather confused by Aggies’s ability to switch subjects so quickly. She took a Tea Cake from the plate held in front of her and giggled. “It looks like a fat cookie.”
“Basically, yes,” Aggie agreed with a twinkle in her eye.
Jill surveyed the beautiful, old fashioned sitting room as she sipped her tea and sampled the cakes. On the mantle there were a number of antique ‘nick-knacks’ that caught her eye. Most of all, she admired a collection of life-sized porcelain hands. Her favorite was cupped to hold a delicate ruby rose. “Oh, do you mind?” Jill pointed to the hand as she stood and walked to the fireplace.
“Go ahead dear.” Aggie beamed with pride over her treasures.
“It looks so real.” Jill turned the hand over and over to view its fine detail.
“Well, of course it does,” Aggie said as she came to stand beside Jill. “It is real. That was Clara’s hand.”
“Yes, you remember, dear. Clara was my sister.”
Jill carefully replaced it onto the mantle. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. And that rose is so – oh, I don’t know; it’s just that you would never see a real rose that perfect.”
“Of course you would.” Aggie just smiled. “Would you like to see my perfect Clara roses?”
“Oh yes.” Jill said, as she followed Aggie to the greenhouse just past the back porch. The greenhouse was reserved for only the most perfect, the most exquisite roses Jill had ever seen. “They’re beautiful,” she whispered, as if speaking in a normal tone might disturb the roses in some way.
“Oh, these aren’t the Clara’s.”
They continued through the greenhouse until they were almost at the very back. There, protected in its own small glass room, as if to shield it from all the other roses, grew the most perfect ruby roses imaginable. These were the Clara roses.
Aggie opened the door for Jill to enter. She stood behind Jill as she allowed her to bask in the beauty of the roses. Jill stooped down to get really close and to enjoy their fragrance. “Aggie,” she asked, “why did you name these roses Clara?”
“I told you dear.” Aggie leaned over with a pair of garden shears to clip a rose for Jill. “Clara was my sister. She was so pretty and delicate, just like these roses. In fact, this was her rose. She developed this one, not me. I’ve only tended it all these years.”
Aggie stared down at Jill, who still knelt beside the beautiful bush. “You know dear, you look very much like Clara. You have those same delicate features. She was always the pretty one. Then she thought she would leave me. Can you imagine?”
“What?” With eyes wide open, Jill caught her breath.
“Well, I simply couldn’t allow her to leave me. I did it right here. She was kneeling down by the bush, just as you are now. Then I simply cut her up and burned the pieces. Her ashes made such a wonderful fertilizer for her roses. All except for her hand, of course. I just had to keep that. I am so proud of the porcelain job I did with that, although I must say that I’ve done well with all the hands in my collection over the years. It’s actually one of these roses Clara is holding.”
Jill felt chills as she listened.
“It’s been such a long time since I’ve had any of that wonderful fertilizer. Clara will be so happy.”