There's a moss rose in a little flowerpot on my windowsill. I see it every morning when I wake up, and I think of my mother, and the magic garden.
Of course, it wasn't really magic (though I suppose it depends on your definition of the word), but it always seemed that way to me, especially when I was little. My mother gave a whole new meaning to the phrase green thumb, and our yard was proof. It was a veritable maze of forsythia bushes and sunflowers and morning glories and catnip grass. There were little gravel paths winding between the bigger plants, so you didn't step on the smaller ones. I used to spend hours wandering those paths, pretending to look for fairies. My brother and I would play hide-and-seek around the lilac trees, at least until we stepped on a pansy or a patch of trillium and our mother made us stop.
Almost every memory I have of my mother involves her in that garden. She spent half her time crouched in the dirt, digging holes with her trowel, spreading compost, pulling weeds, and the other half on her feet, trimming bushes, deadheading, harvesting herbs and vegetables. She always had sweat on her brow and dirt under her nails.
I'd help her, sometimes. Go fill the watering cans, hold the compost bucket, scatter the seeds. She was very patient with me. Sometimes she'd forget a tool on purpose so she could send me back for it. She'd tell me all the names of the plants while we worked, their history and what they could be used for or symbolized in ancient cultures. Her favorite was the moss rose. So delicate, she said, mysterious, almost. Little round flowers, a bit bigger than a half dollar, smiling up at me from the soil. You can eat it, but only a couple of species. We tried it once, and decided it looked better than it tasted.
She let us camp out in the magic garden once, next to the lilac tree. We used Sterno to toast marshmallows and made s'mores. Then we rolled out our sleeping bags and slept under the stars. None of us knew the constellations, so we just made up our own. My favorite was 'chip bag with rip in it'. My brother thought that one up. We woke up with our sleeping bags and pajamas smelling like lilac. It's probably the happiest memory I have.
Then we grew older. I shot up to a decent five and a half feet, my brother up to six. We could see over the tops of the bushes and grasses, and the paths seemed so small now. I didn't believe in fairies anymore, and camping only meant dirt and bugs. The garden lost its magic. My brother had time only for football, and I for my science classes. Our mom grew older, and couldn't crouch down as much anymore. She stopped growing as many small plants because cultivating them required her to be on her knees too much.
But she kept growing moss rose. I'd help her with that, on the rare occasions when I wasn't holed up in my room balancing chemical equations. And the little plants smiled up at us, grateful for the attention.
When I was nineteen, I lost her. It was sudden, a stroke, they said. She never felt anything. Didn't even know what was going on. Renata Seri, 1951-2014, beloved wife and mother. The inscription was mundane, drawn from the same template as every other tombstone in the cemetery. But I planted moss rose on her grave to make it special. The groundskeeper there waters it for me; it's very nice of him.
So now I'm almost forty. I work for a pharmaceutical company doing research. I live alone in an apartment in the city, where there's barely a speck of green anywhere, just a few stunted trees, twisted and withered from neglect and air pollution.
But I have my moss rose, in its flowerpot on the windowsill. It's nowhere near as beautiful as my mother's were, but still it smiles at me as I get ready in the mornings, reminding me of better days.
I hope someone plants it on my grave when I die.