Julia Owens was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
He wasn’t sure when he entirely fell in love with her – whether it was when she first moved in or when she started tending the roses.
The roses. They were the favorite part of his, besides Julia. The red, white, peach, pink, and yellow to his otherwise black and white existence. He loved the fragrance that followed him and the way the pollen dust covered his clothes all the time.
She moved in on the twentieth of April, exactly five months after his wife’s death. They had never talked, never maintained eye contact, but he watched her every day. She moved with an ethereal grace and had a smile that could put a thousand suns to shame.
He was in love, there was no doubt. But he couldn’t tell her. He couldn’t even be in her presence.
He didn’t think she knew that he existed until he found a yellow rose on the top stair of his porch. His wife’s favorite color was yellow. He didn’t leave anything in place of it, everything seemed too frivolous and she deserved only the best.
The days flew past and every once in a while, there’d be a yellow rose waiting for him on the porch. He always remembered to look out for it, in case he stepped on it. The stutter of his heart when he saw the rose was worth the disappointment on the rose-less days. He had to leave something. He remembered his wife reading word-of-the-day in the newspaper, so he began writing it down on a piece of paper and replacing it with the rose.
He loved her and he didn’t tell her.
It was on the third of December that he found a note beside the yellow rose. ‘Happy Birthday,’ it said. Sweet and simple; just like her. He had forgotten his birthday. The missed call from his mother was a daily occurrence and he scrapped up the two missed calls from his dad as a mistake on his dad’s part.
He wasn’t the only one who had forgotten, it seemed. His entire office had forgotten. There were no cakes, no candles and certainly no streamers. He wasn’t sure if it would feel better if they had remembered.
A year after her moving in and he still didn’t tell her. He had entertained the idea that she was the rebound after her wife, but certainly feelings for your rebound didn’t last a year. He should tell her, he knew, but he couldn’t.
Nonetheless, he observed her move around the garden. Petunias had taken the place of the roses and they were just as beautiful. He had been allergic to pollen dust for years and his wife had never kept flowers but it seemed that he wasn’t allergic anymore (“I’d have a huge garden if you weren’t allergic,” she’d say fondly). He didn’t know what he would do if he was still allergic. He would probably never tell Julia. He couldn’t even tell her he loved her. Though, objectively, love certainly ranked higher than the knowledge of allergies.
He tried catching her eye, one brave day. She didn’t look up from the shrub, instead she hummed along. He had heard the haunting tune before but he couldn’t place it. It was only as he settled to sleep that he remembered which song it was. ‘You’re My Sunshine’. It had played at his wedding.
Thirteen days later, he realized that he had never seen her talking to anyone on the block. Granted, he never talked either but it was odd that her sunny personality hadn’t caught anyone else’s eye. It had been his wife’s gregarious nature that still garnered the sympathetic looks from the neighbors. He sighed every time he found an errant note tucked within his newspaper. They didn’t feel the same as the yellow flowers. He was in love with her, though, and love warped things.
Another fifteen days and he wondered why loving her didn’t feel like a betrayal to his wife. He knew why. Somewhere inside, he knew why but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Most days he was so close to the answer but it flew past him just as he reached for it. A year and a half after his wife’s death and he prayed to her for help. She always came through.
He soon forgot his predicament, settling down to coveting Julia from a distance. Julia. Each syllable was precious; like her smile, like the crinkle of her eyes. She didn’t look like she had aged a day. He sighed, fogging up the window. She was like an angel. If he looked hard enough, he would see her wings. Maybe that was his answer. Maybe she was sent for him; to take care of him. It didn’t feel like the correct answer. It felt as though he was staring right at the correct answer but couldn’t make it out.
The world seemed better with a lone yellow flower – always different nowadays – in the vase in his hallway. He should tell her. It had been long enough.
It was three years after his wife’s death, and he finally found the courage in the crevices of his aged body. He stood right in front of her, as she tended to the flowers. It was as though, they spoke to her; following her as she moved, blooming fuller as she smiled. He found a smile creeping on his face. It was almost painful how beautiful and pure she was.
“Hi… I-uh. Hi!” he started, clearing his throat.
She didn’t even move, just continued to care for her plants.
“Hello?” he tried again. “Julia?” She never looked up.
She grinned brightly at a purple azalea. It seemed as if the flower responded by gazing back.
He frowned. Was she ignoring him or was she deaf?
The second he stood in front of her, right in her line of view that he understood something. The grand answer.
Strange women didn’t plant flowers in your garden; they didn’t leave flowers for you. They didn’t know your birthday and undoubtedly, pollen allergies didn’t cure themselves. Strange women didn’t just appear one day. The entire apparition unraveled. All the flowers, the smiles, the days, the seconds, the minutes, the years. All lost.
It was like a dream. He was here but he didn’t know how he had gotten here. He couldn’t remember where she lived; couldn’t remember why she started planting roses in his garden. He couldn’t remember which house was even empty on his block. He didn’t know who had told him her name. When he started looking, he couldn’t stop seeing the blue eyes of his wife, the blonde hair, and the crinkles around her eyes. How hadn’t he noticed that she was the spitting image of his wife…
She finally looked up, her smile soft and loving.
He couldn’t tell her he loved her because she didn’t exist.
~~~ Gargi Verma