The Rose Garden
By Midnight Rose 1992
The subterranean landscape of the Tunnels was a world of forgotten passageways, natural caves and caverns. Here, deep beneath the ground, water flowed cold and clear from unknown sources, through black fissures, and narrow seams in the solid bedrock. Centuries of the water’s corrosive power had left behind an oasis of colossal wonders hidden from the masses that lived in the daylight.
Samantha, one of the many children that lived in this underground haven, loved to spend her free time between schooling and chores exploring her enchanting world. The lanky, thirteen-year-old skipped gaily through the dimly lit maze of endless corridors. Her way was lit by scattered candles set in niches and on ledges, trimmed lanterns hanging on pegs bored into the stone, or an occasional torch in the otherwise pitch-black passageways. Every corner of her underground home was burnished in the eternal hues of amber and brown, her waist-length auburn hair a darker shade of the same color tones. Even the moss and mushrooms that clung to the damp cool rock were topaz in this sunless world.
Apart from the moss and the mushrooms, nothing green grew. There was air, water, and soil but without sunlight no plant could grow---and Samantha loved green plants. This was why the Garden Cavern was her favorite place in the entire tunnel realm. A little imagination, some clever engineering, and years of hard, backbreaking work had turned the Garden into a magical place of logically impossible beauty.
The subterranean world had many wondrous and enchanting places: the vast canyon, The Chamber of the Falls; the towering chimney, The Chamber of the Winds; the deep crevice, The Whispering Gallery; and the bottomless Abyss. But each of these wonders paled in comparison to the magical, man-made atmosphere of the Garden Cavern from Samantha’s viewpoint.
After spending most of the day in narrow tunnels and passageways whose low ceilings and stuffy air was permeated with the smoky haze and smell of beeswax, paraffin, and kerosene---at some points near stagnate---the cavern was a delightful change waiting on the other side of a weathered, old screen door. The vast open space was airy and smelled like Central Park; the air fragrant with the scent of flowers and lush smell of green growing plants after a spring rain. A gentle breeze created by the natural curves in the bedrock walls toyed with the wispy ends of Samantha’s loosely braided locks. The rush of a waterfall and the gurgle of a stream drew the pre-teen inward.
The Garden was Isaiah’s miracle. He was an elderly black gentleman who sold flowers Topside at his curbside stand on the edge of Central Park. As one of the founding fathers of the underground community, Isaiah had cultivated a subterranean greenhouse to help supplement the diet of the tunnel dwellers that in years past had been at the mercy of meager donations from Helpers. As the years passed the garden flourished and the surplus was shared with Helpers less fortunate.
From the doorway where Samantha stood, the cavern was spread out before her like a mountain valley, about the size of a football field. The rock ceiling was a consistent height across the cavern as the mountainside fell away at a steep angle and then rose again on the far side. Hillside terraces of stone planting boxes covered every ledge and shelf of the vast cavern. Garden vegetables and many varieties of flowers grew under year-round artificial sunshine from special lightbulbs and ultraviolet light. A central waterwheel that interrupted the natural path of a cascading stream generated electricity and irrigation.
Following the winding path of stairs downward she waved hello to Isaiah, who was potting new seedlings at his workstation made of sawhorses and three old doors for the tabletop. She plucked a ripe, red strawberry from a hanging arbor that straddled the path and ducked down a side lane to eat the juicy delight hidden in the tasseled grove of sweet corn and among the leafy runners of cantaloupe and squash. She was careful to avoid the beehive at the far end of the corn. She slipped through the tall reed grass and bamboo along the upper stream bank and back onto the path.
A waist-high stone wall ran along the two-story cliff that cut the cavern in two marking the coarse of the stream and over which the waterfall fell, its water diverted for a short distance down a wood gutter and over the waterwheel. Leaning over the wall, Samantha inhaled the fragrance of lilacs, in shades of white to lavender to deep purple, growing along the walled bank of the stream below.
The rest of the cavern rising up from the streambed was devoted to flowers, most of them different varieties of roses. Like a patchwork quilt, flowers and roses of every color and hue covered the blocks of planting boxes. And---in the mist of all the color bobbed a special head of gold. Samantha smiled as she skipped down the steep staircase that hugged the curve of the cliff and across the arched wooden bridge spanning the stream below the waterwheel. She climbed the path to join her beloved friend working in one of the rows. Vincent.
The green of the plants and the smell of flowers were not the only reason she loved the Garden Cavern. If she was to be really honest with herself, it was because it was one of Vincent’s favorite places too. Samantha had a crush on Vincent. Her peers often teased her, but Samantha did not care, nor did she care that Vincent’s heart belonged to his Catherine. Her leonine friend was kind and caring and always willing to share his time and attention with just her. She could talk about anything with Vincent and know he would understand. He was a giant of a man with the fierce countenance of a lion but was as warm and gentle as any teddy bear. Vincent was every child’s big brother or favorite Uncle, dearly loved by all.
“Good afternoon, Samantha,” the beloved man greeted in his velvet granite tones.
“Hi, Vincent.” The pre-teen blushed and self-consciously smoothed her auburn hair and straightened her rumpled paisley skirts.
She watched him work with interest. Vincent was patting the blossoms of two red rose bushes with a piece of cotton, one bloom on the first bush then another blossom on the second bush, back and forth in a graceful rhythm. A bee buzzed around him, disturbed by Vincent’s motion and then flew away. “What are you doing?”
“Pollinating.” The blue eyes beneath a bristling topaz brow twinkled merrily.
Samantha’s brow knit together, puzzled. “I thought the bees did that.”
“They do,” Vincent replied, “but we have only a few bees and to help them we pollinate the roses by hand.”
The young girl studied her tawny friend with a critical eye and giggled. “Vincent, all you need to be a bee is some black stripes.”
The huge man chuckled, a deep and resonant rumble. “If the flowers saw a bee as big as I--- I think they would wilt away in fear.”
“Would you like to help?” Vincent asked the tunnel urchin.
The girl beamed. “Oh, May I!”
The two friends worked side by side down the two-foot high planting box that held eight red rose bushes in a row. They were in the middle of four such rows of red bushes, beyond them were two rows of pink, two rows of white, and one row of yellow. At the end closest to the cavern wall was a planting box perpendicular to the others, with pairs of exotic roses in rare colors such as blue, purple, and coral. At the other end of the rose nursery, three planting boxes covered in a greenhouse canopy of very fine netting (to keep the bees out) held special red roses carefully cultivated by Isaiah and Vincent. It was their own hybrid of rose; big, fragrant blossoms of a deep scarlet so dark they were almost black, pine green leaves, and nearly without thorns. The rest of the flower garden side of the cavern was filled with many varieties of two-toned roses and other popular perennials and annuals.
Encouraged by the young girl’s many questions, Vincent explained the reason for cross-pollinating among two or three bushes rather then among the blossoms of just one plant. When the red roses were properly pollinated, Vincent, with Samantha in tow, moved to the pink row and pulled out new cotton balls.
“Why new cotton?” Samantha asked as she nervously eyed a nearby honeybee buzzing happily in the nectar-filled blushing blooms.
“We want to keep the colors pure. If we introduce the pollen of one color into another the next crop will have two colors.”
“ Like the white ones with the pink centers or the red with the white edges.”
“Yes,” Vincent said. “We must keep these roses of the finest quality so Isaiah can sell them. Topsiders will only buy the best.”
The thirteen-year old nodded. Isaiah’s flower stand was known as the best place to buy special flowers in all of Central Park. A newspaper reporter even said so on his garden page.
At the end of the first row of pink, Vincent paused in his work to walk into the greenhouse that was home to his roses. He lightly caressed a velvet crimson blossom and inhale its scent. “Hello, my beauties,” he sighed.
“Vincent, what have you named these roses?” Samantha asked as she put her nose into a crimson bloom.
Vincent was silent a moment. Samantha turned to look at him in time to see a secret; shy smile sneak across his unique lion features. A look that told the young girl that her friend was thinking of his Catherine. “They have been named Midnight’s Rose.”
“Named after Catherine…somehow?” Samantha mused, eyeing the gentle giant.
If Vincent’s features could have allowed him to blush he would have been as red as his roses. The young girl had a keen sense of a certain truth. Catherine was indeed his Rose of Midnight, his Beloved rising in the still of night to spend precious time with him. “Named after Catherine? No…however, she did chose the name.” Vincent replied softly, thoughtfully.
“These roses reminded her of how red roses look in the moonlight, the red deep and dark, hidden beauty at midnight.”
“Or hidden underground,” the teen grinned. Vincent chuckled.
Samantha smelled another blossom and sighed. “Yes…Roses are my favorite flower in all the world. I think I like the pink the best.”
“Roses are the universal symbol of love, there are many meanings behind the colors,” Vincent told the young girl. “The pink ones are beauty and grace; the white, purity and innocence; the gold is honor; and the red ones are passion.”
Samantha smiled mischievously. “And---which color do you like best, Vincent?”
Vincent smiled, his eyes twinkling beneath this deep brow and golden bangs. “I love them all.” Samantha put her hands on her hips and looked him straight in the eye. This was not the answer she wanted.
Vincent’s eyes softened, the child was not going to give in until she had a direct answer. The leonine man sat down on the low stone edge of the planting box. Samantha sat beside him, watching him intently.
“My favorite colors are red and white. Dark red for beauty, white for reverence and secrecy.” He reveled softly, his gravel voice silk on sand. “Catherine has a special bush on her balcony that blooms in both red and white. Red and white roses together symbolize Unity. ”
Samantha was silent as she listened, enchanted by the hidden language of her favorite flower.
Vincent reached up between them and gently pulled down the stem of a maturing deep red rosebud. “I love rosebuds most of all…roses just beginning to open …because they are like a person discovering love for the first time, new and innocent.” He smiled at the adoring young girl, adding, “Young and beautiful…like you.”
Samantha blushed three shades.
Vincent pulled out the hunting knife that he kept tucked in his boot. He cut the unopened blossom and offered the single stem to the young maiden on the threshold of womanhood.
“Oh, Vincent, thank you.” Samantha breathed, accepting the gift and then giving her special friend a big hug.
“Remember,” Vincent added before the delighted girl slipped through the gauzy netting to skip away and fetch a vase for her treasure. “As the rose blooms…so does love…And when the petals fall and dry, love is not gone for the fragrance of it lingers long after. Love is everlasting.”