The final part of my short story.
‘No police. No hospital,’ Sapphire said . ‘That scumbag of a step-father didn’t like it when I turned the tables on him. He caught me unawares or I’d have handled him myself.’
‘You must report it. There was a restraining order against him. He shouldn’t have come anywhere near you. This time they’ll put him away for good.’
‘The gang have already done that. I didn’t want to tell them, but when they found out what happened they went and had a quiet word. He won’t bother me any more, but there’s one patch in the garden that needs sorting. They’re working on it now. Don’t worry, it’ll all be ready by Saturday for our opening, even if we have to work all night. I’d better go and help them.’
‘I’ll come with you, and check what needs to be done.’
‘No, you stay here. It’s all under control. Anyway, it’s a surprise. Put the kettle on. We won’t be long.’
I was up bright and early on Saturday, but when I arrived the team were already there. They kept me busy indoors, putting the final touches to the refreshments until nearly eleven, when the Mayor was due. It was a beautiful day, and I could feel the warmth of the sun as they tied a ribbon over my eyes, and led me towards the gates.
‘OK, you can look now.’
They removed the blindfold, a camera flashed and I stared in amazement at the sight in front of me. Flower bedecked banners streamed across the entrance, and a beautifully carved wooden plaque announced “Rose’s Memorial Gardens.” Before I had time to react, the ministerial car drew up, and more photos were taken as I welcomed our guests. Inside the newly decorated and restored hut, a section had been set up as a before and after photo gallery, showing the progress in a series of pictures and texts.
I had prepared a few words, but when I finished speaking Jason stood up and called for silence. The boy had turned into a man, and my emotions overwhelmed me as he explained about Rose, and how I had encouraged the group and given them back a purpose in life.
‘We’ve one last surprise Pops knows nothing about,’ he said. ‘I hope he likes it. He might look old and decrepit, but don’t let that fool you. I took him on once, and learnt my lesson. Come on, Pops. This is for you, with love from all of us.’
Laughter and applause greeted his speech as he took my arm and escorted me to a quiet corner at the back of the grounds. Inside a wooden gazebo, brightly coloured cushions covered a bench from where it was possible to see most of the park. Above the entrance, another plaque read “Rose’s Rest,” and a lantern held a flickering candle in front of a framed portrait of my beautiful wife.
‘Where on earth did you get that?’ I asked.
‘From your bedroom,’ Sapphire answered. ‘Don’t worry, we only borrowed the photo so I could paint a copy. I didn’t think the matron would let us take it, but your trust in us must have rubbed off on her. We thought it would be nice for you to have Rose’s company if you were sitting here on your own.’
‘It’s wonderful. I’m so proud of you all. And I love the crazy paving leading up to it. It means I won’t have to trudge through mud when I come here in the winter.’
‘Be careful. The cement’s not quite dry yet,’ Jason said, sounding a little panicked.
‘Yes, it was a last-minute job,’ Paula added. ‘We only finished in the early hours. We had to dig it up again to erm….’
‘Add some fertiliser,’ Sapphire said quickly. ‘He’s finally doing something useful.’
She held my gaze steadily, and I was the one to look away first. My eye caught the picture of Rose, and although it could only have been a reflexion from the sunlight, I could have sworn she winked at me.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘if my wife doesn’t mind, who am I to argue? Thank you all. Anyone hungry? I can’t wait to try that cake. Rest in peace, Rose.’
© Val Portelli. January 2020
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