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Wild Roses

Wild Roses

Irene Ferraro-Sives

1137D W. Lafayette St.

Easton, PA 18042

Wild Roses

By Irene Ferraro-Sives

Slowly, slowly, the flowers had bloomed, one by one. This blossoming had perplexed her. It had seemed too early for any blooms, though nature did not always keep to her schedule. It was early spring, and still cold. Mounds of dark, gray snow still covered the grassier areas. There were the crocus blooms and hyacinths, their colors deep and rich against the troubled sky. The tulips and daffodils were poking out, their greenery unfolding in the icy air. But the bewildering flowers were the roses. A chilly April second was too soon for the excitement of love’s favorite gift. Yet, here they were, in all their pink and red and yellow and white glory. Her puzzlement slightly detracted from her enjoyment.

The garden of untimely development was hers. She felt responsible for the early blooms, as though she had upset the natural course of things. The house was newly hers. She had only just moved in last summer. It had been late July when she had taken full possession of the property. The roses had been blooming then, but they were sparse, scruffy, meager bushes with a few worm-eaten blooms. Her intention had been to rid herself of them when she landscaped the garden in the spring. But the bushes had come to full flower in health and splendor before their expected time. The roses were thriving and lovely. She could not have explained what she had done to foster these defiant blooms, but since it was her property, she felt the action must have been hers.

The garden was magnificent. It was one of the reasons why Pally bought the house. Shady lanes, moist and fragrant, spiraled outward from a marble fountain. The fountain had been dry and sooty colored. It had cleaned up nicely. Now, it was flowing, murmuring, to her. The water spouted from a stone vase held by a stone woman. The stone fish swam near the stone banks of the fluid stream. Pally was again captured by the fountain’s quiet charm. She loved this garden for what it symbolized: wealth and the right to be envied. She had been so eager to have the fountain going, even though it was still cold. She had made the marble move with water. It had not once stilled to ice. Pally wondered if the garden concealed a private sun.

“My name means friend,” said Pally, “I am your friend.”

Pally was talking to the girl she found sitting on her doorstep. She found the girl there when she went outside to collect her mail.

“Where’s your mom?” Pally asked.

“Home,” the girl had said, “What’s your name?”

Pally judged the girl to be about twelve.

“Don’t you think you ought to go home” said Pally, gently.

“You can’t tell me what to do,” said the girl.

So Pally left her there. After the sun went down, she heard someone crying outside. She opened the door and found the girl still sitting there.

“What are you doing here?” Pally asked.

“I want my mom. I want to go home,” the girl whimpered.

“Well, where is your mom? Where do you live? Are you lost?” Pally asked her.

The girl stood. She embraced Pally, looking up into her face.

“Were you here all day? Where is your family? Where do you belong?” asked Pally.

“Please take care of me,” said the girl.

“Don’t be upset. You can stay here for now. Did you have a fight with your mom?” said Pally.

“I have no father and my mother is mean to me,” sniffled the girl.

“Name?” Pally asked, kindly.

“Betty,” said the girl, “ But you can call me Betty.”

“Alright, Betty, with your permission,” Pally laughed.

“Your name is sort of funny. Where did it come from?” asked Betty.

“It’s a nickname,” said Pally.

“What’s your other name?” Betty continued her questions.

“I don’t have another name,” said Pally, “And, anyway, we need to decide what we’re going to do with you.”

“I can’t go home. My mother hurts me. Please let me stay here,” pleaded Betty.

“Well, alright. I’ll let you crash. You can stay here until you feel good about going home,” said Pally, “Come with me and I’ll show you your bed for the night.”

Pally brought Betty to an interior bedroom. The chamber had no windows. The tiny bed was clothed only by a cover in spiraling grays and blacks. The maelstrom print on the bed gave the room an exotic look.

“Let me get you some sheets, and so on,” said Pally.

She left Betty standing by the headboard as though she could not wait to lie down.

“She must be very tired,” thought Pally to herself.

But when Pally came back to the little room with the matching sheets and pillow cases, Betty was gone. She left no sign of her departure. The door had closed behind her.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” exclaimed Pally.

She left the bedding on top of the small bed in case Betty decided to come back, but she did not come back. Outside, in the dark, there was no trace of her.

“She must have gone home,” said Pally, aloud.

Pally assigned herself the task of turning out the lights. She decided it was her own bedtime. Before she made herself ready for sleep, she went to a window that looked onto the garden. Outdoor security lights strategically lit up the grounds and house. Pally wanted to take one last look at the fountain standing serenely in the budding night. She was startled to find a strange figure moving amid the stone statues. There, under the watchful eye of surveillance, was Betty. She had put her arm around the stone woman’s shoulder. She was talking to her, her mouth close to the marble ear. The bottoms of her denim jeans were soaked up to the knees. Her heavy jacket was spotted with wet patches.

“No,” said Pally, through the window.

She turned the handle of the elegant doors that in daytime would have been filled with light. She stepped outside into the cold, spring night.

“No, Betty, come out of there. You’ll catch cold,” called Pally.

“No,” said Pally, “ I’m not coming out of here.”

Pally thought for a minute about this unusual child. She considered the unwanted attention she would bring. She did not any involvement with Betty , anymore.

“Suit yourself,” called Pally, “Stay there. You can freeze or drown, for all I care.”

Pally went inside and closed the door behind her. She locked the lock and turned off the interior lights. Satisfied with her decision about Betty, she went to bed. The next morning, the girl was again on Pally’s doorstep. She appeared to have the sniffles. This time, Pally closed the door on her. She went inside to call a friend.

“Fred! This has gotten out of hand!” she shouted into the phone.

“The connection’s good, baby, you don’t need to shout<’ said Fred, “What’s the problem?”

“There’s a girl on my doorstep!” exclaimed Pally.

Pally explained Betty in brief detail.

“I can’t get rid of her. She won’t leave me alone,” said Pally.

“Take it easy. I’ll be right there,” said Fred.

“You left me in the water. You left me in the water,” wailed Batty.

Fred strode past the little friend and into Pally’s arms.

“Any excuse just to see you,” said Fred.

He gave her a lingering kiss.

“Of all the sweet men I know, you’re my favorite,” said Pally.

The mayhem outside continued.

“You better go out there and make sure she doesn’t start breaking windows. There’s a lot of loose stones out there,” said Pally.

Fred went outside. He took the child by the wrists. He dragged her into the house.

“Listen to me. Be still,” he told her.

“She left me in the water,” Betty said. She was weeping, profusely.

“She let me stay there. She didn’t tell me I was a bad girl for getting wet,” Betty continued.

“She shouldn’t have to tell you,” said Fred, “You shouldn’t be here at all. Now go home.”

“You’re not moms and dads. You’re liars,” Betty screamed.

She broke free from Fred and ran through the open door, slamming it behind her.

“The girl makes no sense,” said Fred, “She needs a father.”

Outside, the resplendent roses were losing the early morning frost. Betty clenched her teeth and growled with rage. She ran past the fragrant shades of sunshine. She ran right to them. She tore at the multitude of blossoms, ripping them apart with her hands. She stopped at no more than a dozen blooms as the thorns cut open her skin. She studied her bloodied palms, the rosebushes standing by in bejeweled elegance. The roses had shivered a little at her touch. Now, they were still, again, impervious to her presence.

Betty turned away from the serene flowers. She ran all the way home, which was not very far away. She found her mother on the floor in her bedroom, lying atop a collection of pine liquor bottles, sleeping off the effects of the empty vessels. Betty bandaged her hands herself. Then she lay down on her own bed and fell asleep.

Outside, bees and butterflies alighted on the bruised rosebushes. The little wings brushed the tender blooms with an awakening breeze. The roses restored themselves. The petals unfolded, unseen, to their former glory. The sky was a blended shade of pale gray. An April snow was coming.

“Looks like snow.”

Down the road two neighbors held conference over the weather.

“When will it get warm? I’m tired of winter,” came the response.

“Our newcomer started her garden too soon. Her fountain is already going,” said the other one.

“How do you know? Were you invited?”

“No, I walked around her grounds and took a look.”

The woman snorted. The other woman snickered.

“Trespassing on kept property?” she said.

“I don’t know how she keeps that house. She doesn’t work and she doesn’t have a man,” answered her neighbor.

“You mean she doesn’t have one man. I see men coming and going from that place all the time. That’s how she keeps that house,” said the woman.

“I know,” answered the woman, “We ought to be in her profession.”

Betty woke up in the afternoon with a bad case of something. Her mother woke up at the same time and came to her room.

“Kiddo, you look nearly as bad as I feel. Mama’s going to fix you up with something deeply healing,” said Mom.

Mom left and came back with a pint bottle of the whiskey she loved so well. She put the glass vessel to Betty’s lips and tipped it. Betty took a hard swallow, the amber liquid dissolving into a slow burning that lifted her beyond anything she had ever known or felt.

“Doesn’t that make you feel better, Sweetie,” said Mom.

“More,” said Betty.

Mom handed her the bottle.

“It’s yours,” she said, “It’s my gift because you’re having such a bad day.”

Betty took a few more swigs . She swigged until she could not feel her fingers. Then she undressed and let the hot water of the shower wash over her. In the kitchen, Mom was banging a pan against the burner. The aroma of frying sausages soon filled the air. Betty felt elated and important. Suddenly, she and her mother were mutual conspirators, though Betty did not understand the plot. This moment of the magic liquid was the closest she and Mom had ever been. A bond had formed between them, blessed by whiskey. The love she felt at that moment was unspeakable. She was almost not normal. That’s how much she loved. Betty and Mom were a nation unto themselves. Power was inside her, inside that dark gold fluid.

Betty ate more sausages than she thought she could. Mom nibbled at one link. She was at planet orbiting distance, as usual. Yet, there she was, sitting at the table with Betty, eating like people did sometimes. Betty could not remember the last time they had been so together. At the table, over sausages, Mom turned to Betty, her face glowing.

“This is a perfect moment, you and me together. If I had a camera, I’d take a picture of our two souls joined. Your body was in my body, once, little girl. You’re not so much the little girl, anymore. Before I can blink, you’ll be a high-flying, young woman. Don’t forget to remember this little dinner we had together,” said Mom.

The next morning, Mom was dead. Betty found her that way, stretched out on her nearly bare mattress. She had turned in early the night before, saying she was tired. Betty shook Mom’s foot several times to wake her before she realized she was not getting up that day. The recognition of Mom’s passing crawled over Betty’s skin until it covered her, head to foot. She tingled with the awareness . She ran from the house leaving Mom in her bed as though she were sleeping. Betty ran through their gates, under the thousands of budding boughs, through the scramble of wild lilies, the rush of weeds, until she couldn’t run anymore. She stopped because she did not know where she was going, or why she was running. There was no longer any reason to run away. The woman she had left at home could no longer be prodded to anger or tears by her indignant absences. Sadness overwhelmed her and took her by the feet and led her home, back to the place of her loss. She smiled timidly at the door of Mom’s room and closed it. She busied herself with breakfast. She set two places at the table. Then she realized that this was a Sunday in April. The next day she would need to be in school. She considered not going to school, but then she figured that another day at home would bring questioners to her doorstep. Betty wanted to be alone. After breakfast, she went to her own room and did her homework. Her attendance at school was irregular. She was not a very good student. Her assignments kept her busy for awhile. She completed the work her teacher had given her. With the completion of her studies, she tucked her books inside her bag. She stared at her empty bed, the cover carefully smoothed by her own hand. Her mind was blank. She felt calm, so she thought it odd that her head was pounding. It was the hammering in her ears hat pressured her to go outside. Once outside, she turned away from her own door and followed her destiny down the path. She walked until she was by Pally’s place. Fred was outside admiring the garden. He looked with wonder at the roses. Their robust blossoms were undisturbed by the dusting of snow. It was chill. Betty shivered as she shuffled up to Fred.

“My mother’s dead,” she stated , in a whimper, “ She died in her bed in her sleep last night. She used to drink a lot of booze.”

“I’m sorry to hear that sad news, girl,” said Fred, “Shouldn’t you be dressing for a funeral?”

“I’m all alone , now,” said Betty.

Fred looked at her face, shrewdly. His eyes traveled down to her feet, taking her in. Fred decided she was early and cute.

“Where will your mother be waked? I’d like to pay my respects,” said Fred, seriously.

“I’ll show you,” said Betty, strangely.

She took Fred by the hand and led him down the road. Birds circled high overhead, looking for spring. The light snow was starting to melt, but not so much that Betty and Fred did not leave footprints. She brought Fred to Mom’s bedroom and waited outside. When Fred came out, his eyes stared widely at Betty.

“Girl, your dear mama needs to be handled with propriety,” he said.

“Don’t take her away,” said Betty.

But take her away they did. Mom was dressed with ceremony and laid to rest. Betty had no other family. She found herself with Pally and Fred, who became students of responsibility under the circumstances. Fred took what he called a fatherly interest in Betty. He adopted a stern manner regarding her failing schoolwork. Pally watched his meandering lectures on the subject of failure with jealous eyes. Betty smirked at her own victory.

The weather finally warmed up. The air outside became balmy. The roses continued to grow and grow. They were the largest item in the garden. They needed pruning every day. So abundant were the blooms, that they also found their way to the thorny pile of trimmed branches. It was impossible for the cutters to avoid them. Anyway, they were not missed. Their scent filled the air, a sultry, seductive mist. The blooms were more than glorious. Pally parked her bench under the lush bowers so she could look up into their shameless fertility. So thick were they, they blocked out the sky from her perch below. In spite of their unusual qualities, the rosebushes seemed to blend with the rest of the grounds and the house itself. Pally’s place was an exercise in material excitement.

Down the road from Pally lived a young man. He was some years older than Betty. He lived there in that house with his parents. Like Betty, he had no brothers and sisters. Unlike Betty, he had two parents who were very present in his life, a male and female set. They were financially secure and socially approved. It was Fred’s idea and it all happened so fast.

Betty pulled back her mock bow and let an imaginary arrow fly. She pretended she had scored a star. The wish instrument twinkled down on her. She had charms on her wrist joined to endless gold links. She was a little older now, and the truth be told, she had a wild side. She enjoyed the fishnet

stockings and six inch heels Fred made her wear. She was no longer the moody, disrespectful child. She laughed at the girl Pally had found on her doorstep. She grinned at the sky, her teeth gleaming like a queen’s pearls. She let the supposed bow and arrow drop beneath the sequined hemline of her short, perky dress. It fell soundlessly, its descent ended by Betty’s lack of involvement. Fred had told her she was a huntress for the male, her quarry. She believed him.

The young man from down the road sat stiffly in Pally’s living room. He sat on the edge of the seat, erect and distanced from the comfy chair he occupied. He did not use the armrests. He wore, of all things, a necktie. His name was Tucker.

“You look nervous, honey,” Pally said to Tucker, “Would you like some iced tea?”

“No, I’m good,” said Tucker, somberly.

“Why didn’t your mother and father come?” asked Pally.

“They didn’t feel it was necessary,” said Tucker.

Pally smiled enthusiastically. “I am so glad you could come. This will get our Betty girl started.”

“I want you to know I appreciate your good will toward me,” said Tucker,” I am not a deadbeat.”

“Your mother thought someone young and inexperienced would be best,” said Pally.

Tucker nodded in serious agreement as Betty walked into the room. She was dirty chic in black leather. Her polite smile was dutifully gracious.

“Wow,” said Tucker.

“Aren’t you a little young for those clothes?” snapped Pally.

Betty didn’t answer. Fred had given her these clothes. The game Pally was playing was a familiar one.

“I’m ready , Tucker. I’m all yours,” said Betty.

Tucker took Betty outside into the caressing darkness. He obligingly opened the car door for her. He slammed it shut with the same sober motion. He drove some distance in the pitch blackness, and stopped in the middle of a night thick with trees and bushes. It was a clear night, but Betty could not see the stars for all the shrubbery. She felt uneasy, but obediently said nothing.

“I thought you wanted me to go out with you , you know, to a club or something, to be sociable. I thought you wanted me to mingle with your friends,” said Betty.

Tucker turned toward her. He gripped her shoulders in a demanding way. The river of stars murmured, the moonlight shimmered in secrecy. The black night glistened, moist and moody. Time turned the evening forward another so many minutes. As Tucker leaned toward Betty to take what he

had paid for, the night suddenly disappeared, shoved aside by a light so bright and sharp that Tucker and Betty shielded their eyes, protectively. All around them blinding beams undulated, throbbing like living hearts. Betty lowered her eyes in terror to look her last. Out of the dormant tinder a figure emerged. It was a man dressed in s preposterous shade of bright, neon orange. He, himself, seemed to be pulsating. He stretched his arm into Tucker’s automobile and pulled Betty into the blinding gala of false bonfires. Behind the man, an orgiastic burst of energy stunned her, and she became unconscious.

Betty woke to an inviting fragrance and a sense of comfort. She lay upon a large, soft cushion, something like a mattress, only less cornered. The aroma was delicately frying chicken. It was unmistakable . The light tincture of paprika floated over her. Wondering where she was, she saw the man in the neon suit, standing closest to her. He had removed most of the outrageous outfit, except for the trousers. These were held up by a pair of hemp susependers. A vase of roses stood on a table, by the wall. Betty recognized the matchless fertility of these flowers. They were one and the same as the roses in Pally’s garden. The room itself held a feeling of containment, as though there were no outdoors, no world beyond these interiors.

The man sat down by her bed and leaned forward.

“I hope you were not pained by fear,” he whispered.

“It all happened so fast,” said Betty.

“I know,” the man spoke softly, “The longer it takes, the more the panic. Do you like this room? I threw it together for you.”

“For me?” asked Betty, in bewilderment.

“You are welcome,” sighed the man, “I couldn’t fit in the windows. It’s very hard to put windows in a space vehicle.”

“Am I dreaming?” asked Betty.

“No, my girl,” the man chuckled, “You are altogether aware. I am here because I have chosen you to be my bride.”

He took Betty’s hand in his.

He said, “I came from a distant planet with a faraway staar to guide me. I am alone in my quess to find a wife. I crossed the galaxy, strewn with strife, searching for a child-woman, like you. My name is Quantille.”

Quantille was of average height. He had a stocky build. His eyes were a deep, purplish gray.

“Am I in a space ship?” asked Betty.

Quantille snickered .

“Yes you are,” he said.

“Were you in Pally’s garden?” asked Betty.

Quantille turned to the roses.

“Those are my roses,” he said, “You may have them, too.”

“Is the stone woman of the stone fountain yours?” asked Betty.

“You ask too many questions. You are on your way to my home planet to meet my mother. She will be thrilled at my choice,” said Quantille.

Thereby Betty found her way to the planet Huestra. She stood before the mother, Quantille Fontana. She had the same purple- saturated, gray eyes as her son, Quantille. Fontana sat in a garden of thriving roses.

“You are the child-woman bride of the planet Earth. I have seen you in my son’s dreams. What do you think of our roses? “ said Fontana.

She gestured to the garden of Huestra. The roses quivered the natural breeze.

“Here is a place of refuge,” continued Fontana, “More than I can tell you in these few words. A man like Quantille needs a woman with a future.”

“Why did he pick me? Other women have better futures,” said Betty.

“You are unloved. You are undecided about so many things. Quantille will fill in the blanks. This is his desire,” said Fontana.

Quantille was sleeping, resting after his long journey. His search had borne him this Betty, who he had plucked from the gardens of Earth. His eyes wandered in his sleep, and he began to dream.

He dreamed that he was on the planet Earth. Pine woods surrounded him, covering him in secrecy. His mind was a wolf, hunting for truth. He found the truth of this woman-girl. She was arousing him with her sorrow. His Betty was standing in the soothing light of the Earth’s sun. Her mousy hair was gilded in gold. Down the road that wound through the trees came a man. His eyes searched the ground beneath his feet. His head was shielded by a tall, black hat. His clothing was black, too. The black hat and garb had a ceremonial look. Quantille was awed by worship as the man lifted his eyes and smiled at him. As he walked, the shadows beneath him grew. He dragged morbidity behind him. Quantille put him from his thoughts and he woke up. He did not like him. He reminded him of the man Fred.

Betty stood under the purple skies of Huestra dressed in the dull, orange hues of the planetary sunset. The colors of Huestra’s heavens reminded her of grape juice. The long plane was sprinkled with twinkling stars, just like Earth. Strangely, she was not the least bewildered by her unexpected fate. But then, she had always, ultimately, taken everything in stride. Betty kept step with whatever befell her. And Quantille was so good to her. He was as perfect a husband as any woman could hope for. Anyway,

she did not really belong to anyone else. Quantille was always glad to see her. She pleased him, easily. This marriage arrangement was fine with her.

Fires burned around Betty. There were fires in open, black kettle-like things, campfire-type fires made of sticks, fires in stone pits. This was the wedding celebration of Betty and Quantille. The ceremony had been performed by five members of the temple, three man and two women. Their chanting had lulled her to drowsiness. After the ceremony, she was roused by Quantille’s attentions. There was a strong, heady drink that she had shared with Quantille. Now, there were the fires. A multitude of Huestrans were in attendance. Quantille was a man of influence and power on Huestra. He was well-known to friends and enemies alike. Betty had constant guards in attendance. They stood by her now as she awaited her ceremonial dance with Quantille. Betty saw Quantille approaching from the far end of the field, surrounded by his own guard. Even from a distance, she could detect his smile of encouragement. Quantille stirred something in Betty. She had felt nothing for anyone, except her mother, who she had loved in spite of her faults and the loneliness that had been her legacy. Any relationship with Mom had been difficult, at best. For the first time in her life, Betty felt loved. Quantille was father and mother to her. He was all the family she had ever known. She gazed at him across the fires with much visible fondness. Quantille beamed. Suddenly, an arc of flame proceeded from a low point in the sky to the left of Betty. The arc continued its progress toward the group approaching Betty. Some onlookers oohed, some screamed. Quantille looked at the incoming fireball, stretching out his arms in an attitude of helplessness and resignation. The shot fell upon Quantille and his guards. In a matter of seconds, they were burning. In minutes, they were dead. Betty was singed but mostly unharmed. She ran, trembling, to Quantille. “Light weapons,” someone shouted. Some clapped. Some cried with anguish and anger. Quantlle’s remains were still smoking. He was gone, and with him Betty’s dream of love. Betty screamed and threw herself on the ground beside Quantille.

“You must come away with me, now, earth girl,” a voice said to Betty.

Fontana stood at the lead of several , heavily armed individuals. Betty recognized them as Quantille’s soldiers. Beside Fontana was the Executor General of the High Command. The principles of Huestra had gathered among the fires to decide the fate of Quantille’s widow.

Fontana spoke to the crowd, “ What to do with her, this earth girl wife of our assassinated ruler. There are those who would say, ‘Send her back to her planet. She does not belong to Huestra.’ There are those who would say, ‘Put her to death, for she has breathed the air of Huestran power and she knows its secrets. ‘ But I say, she is the wife of my beloved son, and thereby my daughter. I will not keep her within the halls of our government as though the reins of authority are hers. I will put her within the confines of an exclusive safety. She will live far from our planet’s population. She will have all that gives her comfort under a fortified guard, but she will not mingle with us, any longer.”

The wedding fires of Huestra had dwindled to ashes. Betty was chilled by their cold embers. The grape-colored sky of Huestra faded into a dream. Betty felt as though her soul was in the pyres and her body was someplace else. She started to wonder if Quantille and the planet Huestra were not all the

stuff of her imagining, then Fontana touched her arm. Her hand was familiar, strong, and demanding. Her eyes were stern and kind.

“I will go to the place of good exile and live far from the people of Huestra,” said Betty.

Fontana smiled.

“You are a good daughter and a woman far wiser than your years,” she said.

If the truth be told, the next great event for the followers of Quantille was the sacred banishment of his young widow. She remained in Fontana’s keeping, but was outside all popular domain. Betty was whisked away in secrecy as Quantille had many enemies. Her new home was a lavish, subterranean apartment. It was part of a military complex, sheltered by Quantille’s factions. She was well-protected. She did not like that she was underground, but she had no complaints. Even sunlight found its way to The Hole. It was brought down through a simple series of reflections. The stars and planets were visible at night. Fresh air was sucked in through vacuums. Temperature was regulated by a coal-like substance that was fed back into the soil. Betty was able to walk outside her dwelling. There were roads and buildings, just like an above-ground city. The major industry of Betty’s new town was the production of roses. They were similar in variety to the roses Betty had seen in Pally’s garden. She found employment in one of the underground nurseries. Every workday Betty walked down a quaint street below the ground. One whole section of town was devoted to these very hardy roses. This was Betty’s section. At the nursery she would greet the Coaxer, the supervisor of growing things. His professional attire was a bright, white jacket that fell to his knees. He had a regular name, but everyone called him Coaxer. There was no vegetation Coaxer couldn’t handle. Betty marveled at his way with flowers.

It was a sunny day in the underworld mirrors of Huestra. Betty was lovingly watching Caoxer as he tended the roses. He was feeding them through a gleaming dropper that reminded Betty of Earth plastic, but this tube had also the quality of glass. She admired the way Coaxer held the feeder. He exuded professional efficiency. But even his profession had its moments, and as Coaxer passed his hand through the thriving branches of blossoms, he ripped open his skin on the robust thorns.

“Oh, no,” said Coaxer in dismay.

A drop of Coaxer’s blood fell to the soil within the pot, near the plant’s roots. Instantly, a small, green shoot appeared from the spot. Betty laughed in spite of herself. Here was an awful truth.

“What’s that?” she asked Coaxer, pointing to the spot where the tender, young, green thing continued to grow, then, stop. It was about half the length of Betty’s hand.

Coaxer laughed, too. “It is what it is,” he said, “What do you think is in the feeder?”

Betty regarded the scarlet undertone of the plant food.

Coaxer went on, “It makes them grow better. In fact, they say, that ultimately, nothing will grow without it.”

“Is that true?” said Betty, incredulously.

“Some consider it proven fact, though others would disagree,” said Coaxer.

“Where does it come from?” asked Betty, “I mean, who are the donors?”

“Enemies of the state,” said Coaxer.

“You mean…those enemies that killed Quantille?” said Betty.

“And now, yourself, as well,” said Coaxer, tersely, “You are the compromise.”

“Why me? How am I an enemy?” asked Betty.

“You are an alien. You are from Earth. Even though you were Quantille’s wife, he is dead. There is no reason for you to be here anymore. You are no man’s preference. What connection do you now have to us? And, you are a widow, but more than that, you are the widow of his Great Power. As an alien, such a status is inadvisable. It makes you a planetary invader. Fontana knew she could not simply send you back to Earth. You have knowledge. We have experience. Your lack of sophistication would give us away. We have others on your planet. Would you be able to keep secrets? We do not take chances. Fontana could never keep you beside her, though, through marriage, you are family. As Quantille’s favored woman, you would have been killed, merely as a gesture. All this is how you come to be a citizen of Huestra’s Underground. The streets below Huestra’s grand cities are for those who cannot find a place above. Everyone here below is happy to be where they are. In time, you will be glad, too,” said Coaxer.

Betty was angry at Coaxer’s explanation. Her presence in the Underground was a political compromise. She wanted her rightful place, not an appeasement of oppositions. She found herself pouting at Coaxer. She stopped when she felt immature. Betty did not like that her glory was diminished because no one could ever agree on anything.

“Fontana is a loving soul. She is a protective mother, but her sheltering ways are overdone and ill-advised. I could do more for Huestra as Quantille’s widow in the world above than I could as a rose feeder here below,” said Betty.

Coaxer was now angry himself. His blatant expression of disapproval took Betty by surprise.

“You ungrateful upstart,” he said, “You would do best to keep your place.”

Betty started to cry.

“I saw Quantille perish. Before my eyes, our enemies reduced him to ashes. How can you say that to me?” she wept, “Does that not make me a loyal and obedient citizen of Huestra? Am I not a worthy member of Quantille’s faction? If her were here, he would be proud of me.”

“You mean, he is proud of you,: said Coaxer, “You are not Huestran, and there is too much you do not understand.”

Betty would not accept refusal. She nursed her resentment, feeding bitterness to her soul one drop at a time. The day would come when opportunity presented itself, a groom dressed for a perfect marriage.

Fontana visited Betty regularly, though infrequently. When she did visit, she came with a caravan of attendants. The vehicles they all arrived in were roomy, with plenty of places to hide. Betty grieved in the appropriate manner before Fontana, who nodded with approval. When Fontana took her leave, Betty hid in the last carriage. Only the driver sat in this one as it had held the gifts Fontana had brought to Betty. She hid under a laminate cover. The driver looked uneasy as they made their way behind the other carriages. Fontana was in the first. Her mission accomplished, she did not look back. She saw nothing that went on behind her. After they had driven to above ground, the last vehicle with only Betty and the driver, stopped. She felt the driver leave the vehicle. He walked in a circle around the carriage, which actually looked like a very large cart without a horse. Then he stopped walking. He reached beneath the laminate cover and pulled Betty out.

“I am Quantille’s widow and this is disrespectful, “ Betty screamed.

The other carriages were well beyond them. Her driver did not seem to hear her loud demands. She shouted admonishments to him till she was hoarse, but in vain. He ignored everything she said. Her mind drifted away from the moment she was in, back to the morning she found her mother lying still on her bed. She was all alone, just like now. The driver ripped off her Huestran tunic. He took her as many ways as he could. Then he rode away, leaving her on the deserted highway. She found herself looking up at Huestra’s amazing daytime sky, which at that moment was the yellow of a canary’s wings. She was half-naked, and she had just remembered where she was. How long had she been laying like that, her clothes strewn about her, on her back, looking at the heavens flying by. Betty had been imagining that she was back on the planet Earth. It was dinnertime. She was eating sausages with mom. They had drunk a numbing amount of booze. This time, the room was filled with ordinary roses. Betty gathered her garments around her.

“A rose’s perfume never leaves you,” she said to no one.

She walked for hours before she found the test shack. She had been on Huestra long enough to learn the language of Quantille and to know what a test shack was. The test shack was a matter of political controversy on Huestra. The test shack was a fireball target for military testing. There were several of them. They were built like a typical dwelling, filled with supplies, and so forth, and people did live in them. Men and women were assigned to these houses. Sometimes, they volunteered. Betty had once heard of a convicted criminal, sentenced to death, who had volunteered. He had much praise for his sacrifice. The persons living in these test shacks lived everyday lives. They went about their business and then fireballs would come. They were permitted to take precaution and shelter themselves in these homes as best they could. Ninety percent of the time, in spite of any attempt at survival, the test shack dwellers perished in these attacks. The tests were multi-purposed. The strikes tested not only the

availability of the victims, but also the effect of the fireball on living persons. Some called this defense exercise the greatest act of patriotism. Quantille and his followers called it murder. They had named these military tests the greatest act of treason. Quantille’s faction wanted the tests stopped. This particular test shack had been scrapped. The sign on the building indicated that it had been abandoned for testing. The door was unlocked . Betty stepped inside. The test site had never had any inhabitants. It was fully stocked and supplied. The temperature was sublimely perfect. It was clean, except for a thin coating of field dust. Everything worked. It was in excellent condition. Betty did the light cleaning that was necessary. She bathed and then she lay herself down on the pristine bed. Very soon, sleep overtook her. She had found shelter.

Outside, the test house was overgrown with vegetation. There was a profusion of wild roses all around. They were so plentiful , their branches were pressed against the bricks of the outer walls. Their primitive thorns scraped against the windows. The lush perfume penetrated the exteriors and permeated Betty’s dreams. In her dream, water rushed down from the skies. It was raining on Huestra.The torrents shone like pewter rivers. The sky was that peculiar shade of pale slate. It was raining on the roses outside the test house. The water had the same effect on the roses as Coaxer’s blood. The flowers thrived, incredibly, growing and opening before her eyes. She watched the blossoming in her sleep. Then she saw Quantille. He stood amid the roses. His smile was bright and sunny. He waved his hand across the bushes.

“These are the children on Huestra,” he said.

Betty slept through the teeming night, the obvious purple sky brimming with stars. She awoke to the morning’s quivering shadows playing on the walls. There was no sound save the easy wind and the thorny branches twitching in the breeze. She laughed at her silly dream. These wild roses would not grow as easily as Coaxer’s for they were fed with water. Yet, Quantille’s children had sprouted to mature blossom as she slept. Perhaps, there was magic in the waters of Huestra, for Quantille’s children could never be ordinary. She had never been allowed to roam freely on Huestra. Now, she would explore her tight little acre of open property.

Betty raised herself from her comfortable bed. She ate the salty crackers prized so highly and stored in metal containers. Each container was opened with a key attached to each lid. Water was stored in glass jars. The inside of the cracker can felt oddly humid. Betty was puzzled, but she knew the crackers were good. The house was not nearly old enough for perished food. She walked outside into the rusty daylight. It smelled like a perfume shop, with rose as the featured fragrance. The immediate area was thick with vegetation. But beyond a certain point, interminable to Betty’s measurements, the greenery stopped. Past the limits of her own lush property, the orange sunlight slid slickly over a coral desert. Her little corner of Huestra was a man-made oasis. The water must have been channeled in through underground pipes. The irrigation here was intricate and sophisticated. Now Betty knew why this test shack had been abandoned. The maintenance had been too costly. Which meant that the water could be shut off and the building razed at any time. At best, she would find herself face to face with accusers, for she had left the Underground without approval. Rejecting secure conditions and stowing away on any form of transportation were crimes on Huestra. She was suddenly stabbed by shame at the

thought of how embarrassed Fontana would be. And having been taken without consent would only add to her guilt, even though the driver’s actions had not been her fault. She knew that her attacker had publicly boasted by now. That was Huestra’s way. The other possibility was that the building would be destroyed by a fireball, which could be sent from a distance. It would be the quicker method, and was in the budget. Betty preferred neither. She had to plot her course of action.

So she filled up the dry wagon with all the supplies she could. The dry wagon came with the house. This mode of transportation was rustic and quaint. After Betty had packed and dug up some of the smallest wild rose bushes, she cloaked their roots in sacks . Then she cut some of the rose blooms. She decorated the dry wagon with these flowers. Then she unlocked the interior hitch and the car started to roll. Even the seat beside her held her “belongings.” She drove the momentous cart to the outer edges of the rusty desert. By then, the sun was starting to recede beyond the horizon. The sky was gaining that familiar grape juice color. Betty stopped her wagon by an open stream. The area had some light vegetation. There were some wild roses here, too. Working all through the night with the supplies she had taken, Betty built a basic, sturdy hut. The cart was as big as a small Earth bus. There was the canned water, and the stream beside the hut, which tested drinkable. But there was no hygienic plumbing. Betty soon learned to adapt to this inconvenience. Feeling cleaner than she had in many years, she lay down on her cot in the morning and slept until late afternoon. By the time she had turned in that next night, all her supplies had been put away. The tiny rose bushes she had brought had been planted. As she closed her eyes on the purple night at her window, she saw the fireball arcing across the sky.

“There goes the test shack,” she thought, sleepily.

The very next morning, Betty put a cold light sign by the side of the road. In the Huestran language she knew, and in Earth English, the heatless, metal board proclaimed the availability of “Huestra’s only symbol of freedom: the wild rose.” Betty was in the business of selling politics.

The road by which Betty lived was not a common highway. It was an exclusive path reserved for government transport or luxury vehicles. The only regulations laid upon it were the rule of privilege. It was not widely traveled, but the few who rolled upon it did stop at Betty’s sign. There was much interest in certain circles for Betty’s Natural Rose. Betty not only prospered, she also became very popular among those who could afford to purchase Huestra’a perfect gift. Soon her hut was filled with planetary treasures. She could have well managed a palace in the city main. But, in spite of her fame and the good feeling toward her, Betty was never invited to the public party she hosted. She remained in the makeshift dwelling, sensing that she would not be allowed anywhere else. The fact that she was Quantille’s widow did not seem to matter. This made her bitter. Her mind groped at Fontana’s decision to set her aside in the first place. In her own opinion, the political ploy had backfired. Though Betty was an outsider who lived in a shack, she did business with privilege. Soon Fontana, and all of Huestra, would understand that she was somebody. This is what Betty whispered to the roses.

What Betty did not realize was that Fontana had already heard of the rose grower by the desert. She also knew that the vagabond business person was her daughter by marriage. She cared less about

Betty’s runaway status and more about her sudden steam in the political wind. Growing and selling the natural rose as a symbol of Huestran liberty had made Betty a rebel in the eyes of Quantille’s enemies. They also knew the insurrectionist near the orange sands was Quantille’s widow. The little bud of the master politician had blossomed into a thorn flower in her own right. She knew they would do Betty harm if they could. She could easily look away from her silly daughter-in-law while enemy factions did as they pleased to her. How grand the Earth woman would be in the role of martyr. Quantille’s name would be resurrected. Banners would fly and bells would ring again. But Fontana could not thoroughly accept that future. She remembered Quantille’s tenderness toward his alien child bride. Somehow, Betty was still Quantille’s life. She resolved to give her son’s widow at least a chance of survival. Fontana decided to appoint Betty to the office of Executive Governor. She would have the shield of political power to wield for her own safety. And Quantille’s name would again echo through the great halls of Huestra. Betty could easily ride the Faction’s bandwagon. The Natural Rose as symbol of freedom fir very nicely with Quantille’s political ideals. Much of the Faction already considered Betty an heroic female figure. Fontana decided to bring her offer to Betty in her shack . The noteworthy escort would go with her. Her entourage would bear witness to the ponderous event. Fontana traveled in an enormous caravan of orange carriages to the ramshackle house of her prospering daughter-in-law. The carriages were gilded in moon shimmer, a cascade of glimmering ropes in white crystal. But the shining achievement of the day was an invitation to a palace, the invitation Fontana would give to Betty. She anticipated that Betty would turn to clay at the moment she understood the purpose of Fontana’s visit. Of course, Fontana would mold her into an Huestran figurine, an eminently predictable glass doll, a model alien woman.

“Perfect,” though Fontana as she arrived at Betty’s tumbledown shack. The creature from Earth was feeding her powerful plants water from the nearby stream. She was using a primitive suction tube. Her garments were laborer’s coveralls. The entourage was thrilled by the undiscovered scene and impressed by the bare necessity. Fontana emerged from the crowd, a patriot’s dream in symbolic rose.

“How now, my daughter,” she called,” At last, I have found you, again. Come to the saving embrace of a mother’s arms.”

Betty had been observing the wagons with cautious curiosity. She continued to watch them from the corner of her eye as she dropped the raw hose and ran to Fontana. With due propriety, she threw her arms around her mother-in-law and cried. The throng murmured with appreciation.

“No more of this!” shouted Fontana, “From now on, you are Executive Governor of this Roseland, so named by the ages. It is a title and office you have long deserved. Your worthiness has not been unnoticed. In this place, we will build you a palace.”

Betty felt as fully blossomed as the roses that surrounded her. She was complete.

In no time, the palace was built. With it came a staff of rose growers, rose gatherers, rose transporters, household keepers, and guards. Dwellings were built to accommodate them. A little village grew around Betty’s palace by the stream. There were even entertainers, inns, a place of education, merchants, and enforcement facilities. It was not a grand Huestran city, but its name was

Huestran grand. It was called Water Rose. It was Quantille’s crowning achievement. The people there were passionate and earnest. Among them was a member of Betty’s guard. His eyes followed her wherever she went. He found excuses to enter her private quarters. This persisted until the day she found herself in deep embrace with him. His name was Josan. In the manner of the planet, Betty allowed him to blend her name with his. He called her Josan Betty, but that was only when he was alone with her. In secrecy, he considered her his wife. On Huestra, a woman in Betty’s high position would bring a heavy penalty upon herself for even thinking of marrying a Mere Guard. Betty, therefore, did her best to gracefully upgrade his status. This caused friction between them.

“It is enough injustice that I am not good enough for you. It is an injury to me that I must keep you in secrecy. Do you need to insult me by bettering me?” Josan would ask Betty, bitterly.

Betty would assure him that this was not the case. But Josan’s resentment continued.

As Executive Governor, Betty carried all the privileges of this high appointment. But the area was so sparsely populated , there was not much opportunity to exercise her authority. The only total power she had was Josan. As high office, she was allowed to employ him as she chose. On Huestra, men like himself were well within her right. A Guard was expendable to any purpose she chose. Maybe this was why adequate defense was unheard of on Huestra. Military strategy was not effective. Weapons never protected. Victories were never final. Wars were fought endlessly, without objective and to no avail. As soldier, Josan was there to exploit, making his presence as natural as a Natural Rose. Though Betty could have offered up their relationship up to the general public, she chose to keep it clandestine. Secrecy was also a part of her privilege. It afforded her some privacy and some dignity. Alongside her power to disclose her affair, there was the protocol of discretion. This hypocrisy was not unusual. It was considered practical. Betty was all around, very pleased with herself.

Betty understood the downside of a rose garden. She had known the thorn. Yet, she did not foresee the dangers of love. Josan’s passion for Betty was a consuming fire. The thorn of every rose on Huestra could not equal the pain of his longing for her, if the longing were unanswered.

The hum of activity in Water Rose was like the buzzing of honey bees. Betty received many visitors, but none so grand as the Grand Executive Lord Tarov. Tarov was handsome and unspeakably powerful. His wealth was beyond reason. He took Betty’s breath away. Betty was again the hunter. She pursued her quarry, the Grand Tarov, until she caught him. Soon, there was talk of marriage. Fontana was thrilled. Her little protégé had brought quite a prize into the camp. The only friend of the Faction that did not count himself among the blessed was Josan. He watched bitterly as the Grand Lord became Betty’s only preoccupation. His bitterness grew everytime she ran eagerly into his arms. The weapon he held as Mere Guard twitched in his hand. How he longed to use it. Betty kept Josan as her secret lover. But their secret rendezvous only served to fan the flames of his jealous fury. He was so possessive so often that Betty became frightened. She feared that he would hurt the Grand Lord. She dismissed him from his duties as her guard. Then she exiled him from Water Rose. She forbade him to enter the palace. She told him she would never see him again. This is why all the chains on the animal in Josan snapped. He vowed revenge on Betty and her Grand Lord.

There were the roses. They bloomed innocently under the pained, Huestran sun, by flowing water as bright as children’s laughter, on the edge of a reticent, rusty desert. There was Water Rose,a defiant cry for freedom in the middle of an endless rose garden. The little town was a huge thorn in the palm of the Faction’s enemies. How pleased these enemies would be if they could pull Water Rose from its roots and leave it to perish. Josan toyed with the idea of disclosing critical secrets to the enemy. He fondled the notion of handing Betty over to Quantilles assassins. His mind did not rest. Hurt and vengeful, he sought action.

The enemy campfires were still burning though it was well-past dawn. The enemy never tired of attempting to fool the Faction, though Josan was not fooled. He sought the Easy Leader, approaching with his arms outstretched. His palms were open, to gain trust. Clearly, he was not armed and ready.

The Leader smirked, listlessly. He was not expecting too much excitement from Josan. He found the Faction to be a generally lame and moralizing group. It wasn’t until Josan spoke that the Leader’s interest was much aroused.

“I have the barely witted Earth woman, widow of Quantille, in hand. I will give her to you, wrapped in the trappings of impropriety. She has been a guest in my bed for some time,” said Josan.

The Easy Leader roared with appreciative laughter. The hordes ringed around the campfires cheered.

“Where is the wayward flower?” said the Leader.

“If you will allow me to proceed with my righteous machinations, I have her at my behest whenever you have need of her, though the Grand Tarov has kept her under guard. I am, after all, the guard. I am your key in this vexing lock,” said Josan.

“What does the Faction ask of me?” demanded the Leader.

“Nothing but your manhood,” asserted Josan.

“I will have her as I choose. A woman is a man’s right. Bring her to this camp by the next sunset. I will not want her after that,” said the Leader.

“Consider it done,” said Josan.

“I am the Easy Leader, Vortex,” shouted the Enemy Leader.

The hordes chanted praise as he raised an ancient sword to Huestra’s skies.

Josan found Betty among the roses. Her long hair was tucked beneath a backward bonnet lest it get snared among the thorns. Josan regarded her prettiness vengefully.

“You are my wild rose,” he said.

Betty turned to face Josan. Her cheeks were flushed with the excitement he had painted there.

“I am still within your heart,” he said to her, “You have relented, a little, on my behalf. I would have you, tomorrow, when the skies turn to wine. Meet me in the field beyond the desert, where no one breathes or sees. You are my right.”

“I will go and be there as you have chosen for me,” said Betty.

Betty went where she was instructed when the heavens were coaxed to grape. There was no one in the scrubby field except for whomever carried the light that came marching toward her. She took this lantern to be Josan’s , signaling his arrival. All around, in the distance, was the fragrance of the roses. They did not beckon to her, as they had in the past. All the secrets of the universe seemed to be contained in the approaching light. As it came close to her, she could see that the lamp was held by a walking figure, who was not alone. A crowd of shrouded figures walked behind the leader who also wore a wind bandana, which hid his face. Betty felt her heart turn furiously. She found herself smiling. The leader peered into her face. She could not see him. Only his eyes were visible, but she could feel his hot breath through his veiling cloth. This pleased her, and she felt her body relax.

“Josan,” she said, tenderly.

It was the man’s eyes that stopped her speech and turned her heart to ice. These were not the iron-gray eyes of Josan that burned like lightening from a thundercloud. These were the electric-blue eyes of a familiar stranger. The man pulled off his makeshift mask. Betty recognized the Enemy Leader, Vortex. His exploits and his conspiracy against Quantille were well-known. He was purported to have participated in the fireball attack against Quantille. It was said that Vortex had shot the worldly, flaming missile that had mad Betty an early widow.

“No,” said Betty, mustering her authority, “You may not have me.”

But Vortex had his own mind. He grabbed Betty and pulled her toward him. With the sharp side of his sword, he cut her clothes from her body. Pulling her by her hair, he made her walk back to the enemy camp, naked. When she got there, she was so tired, she simply lay down on the mat they gave her for a bed. She barely noticed when Vortex lay down beside her.

“I disposed of Quantille easily and now I have his widow. You are twice as easy as he. All power to Vortex, who is magnificent. You are my wild rose,” said Vortex. He continued to grope in the nght until he found his mark.

Vortex continued to dominate in the night. He manipulated the darkness to suit his advantage. Even so, Betty’s mind began to wander back to the planet on which she had been born. She remembered the roses in Pally’s garden. She had thought of that old arbor as a place to love. She recalled her mother on the last day she saw her. Betty started to cry. Vortex became more furious. Then his energy subsided. He fell asleep with the unconscious absorption of a child. An armed guard stood at the doorway. Betty was alone with herself.

The next morning, the sun rose, an angry fire-god. Vortex stood over Betty.

“You can be my slave and do my bidding . Or you can stand trial before your enemies and be sentenced to death,” he said.

“My name is Betty,” said Betty, not Quantilla Quantulla.”

Vortex regarded her with something like patience.

“I don’t care to know of your Earth origins,” he said.

“My mother is the planet Huestra,” said Betty.

Vortex placed his experienced hand over her mouth.

“Enough of your female drivel,” he told her.

Betty continued talking though her mouth was covered and he could not hear her.

“I can be the woman of your dreams. You are my home now. I exist to please you,” she said.

But Vortex did not understand her. He made her go outside wrapped in his feather-stuffed blanket. It dragged behind her like a train.

“I would do anything to please you,” Betty said.

This time, Vortex heard her. He took her to a strip of land where no vegetation grew. It was not very large. It had once been the site of a test shack. The Huestran soil was in chemical regeneration, but had not yet sprouted. In fact, growth would not begin for another few years. Vortex grinned at Betty as she stood before him.

“I do not like liars,” he said, “Please me, or I will kill you.”

Betty dropped the blanket and took one step toward Vortex. Then, suddenly, she turned and ran. The raw, Huestran soil burned the soles of her feet, but she kept running. Vortex pursued her, and in no time, was upon her. He held her with one arm in a fierce embrace. With the other hand, he slid his knife across her throat, but before the cut was deep enough to be lethal, Betty struggled free from his grip. She was bleeding. She fell to the ground. Her blood moistened the ravaged land. It flowed from her wound in smaller rivers, streaming outward along the caustic terrain. Even though the cut would not kill her, it made Betty feel faint and queasy. As the blood was absorbed into the rough ground, Betty hazily observed a familiar phenomenon. Wherever her scarlet liquid wet the soil, roses started growing. They started as tiny, green shoots and grew in leaps and bounds before her clouded eyes. The healthy flowers blossomed as she watched. The roses of Huestra overtook time as they had done before. Betty wondered dreamily if they had any magic for her. She knew if she continued to bleed she would die. She could hear Vortex’s scraping footsteps fading, as he left her lying there. He was gone by the time the roses reached their succinct height. Then something unanticipated happened. The roses started to draw water from the soil as though they were drawing water from the air, itself. The instant bushes shook with all creation as droplets covered the blooms and limbs and leaves. Rainbows imbedded in the crystal

fluid flew furiously all over the barren landscape. The sad, rough land opened as a river gushed into existence. The pure water flowed past Betty . She dipped rose leaves in the stream and applied them to her wound. Soon, the bleeding stopped. But the engendering did not stop. Succulent roots pushed themselves through the ground. These roots were like an Earth potato and a watermelon. The skin was brown in color. The sweet flesh was light pink, and juicy. The roots did not need to be cooked . Betty ate them very fast. Feeling renewed , she got up and walked . She resolved to find Fontana, because she had something to tell her. Betty wanted to tell this mother bereft of her son, that she wanted to go home, back to the planet Earth. But looking out beyond the patch of water and growing things, Betty saw nothing but the sharp granules of soil and the orange sun beating down upon all, the heart of Huestra. Once again, she found herself in her own oasis. She realized she was going nowhere. So, she stayed within the boundaries of her own rose garden, living on Huestran roots, covering herself with leaves. She was there alone beyond the moment when her mind tilted slightly off the pedestal of sanity. At which point, a racy, transit vehicle stopped. From its portals poured an entourage the avidly curious. These Huestrans alternately ogled her and embraced her with sympathy. They were tourists, and they gave her some clothes from their luggage boxes. Then, they got ready to leave. Betty found comfort and support in their presence. When she saw that they were getting themselves together to leave, she felt her heart flutter with panic. That was when she solicited the men with favors. She told them that if they came back, she would serve them well. Then they were gone. Betty waited until the pale, blue Huestran moon crossed the sky a few times. Sure enough, one night, under the faint azure of moonbeams, one of the men came back, and he brought a friend. Soon, Betty had set herself up as a one-woman house of pleasures. She had a simple shelter built for herself. She wore nice clothes. She had plenty to eat, and some money. This was mostly spent on the peddlers who looked for her business. But her circumstances were not as before. No town grew up around her. She saw no one save her clients and the merchants she paid for goods and services. She lived the life of a popular hermit. When she was not occupied with her clientele, she paid attention to the roses. She began tending them. The roses were not like the wild roses she had before. Every day, she fed them a few drops of her blood. They were very hardy and they did not need much. The bushes thrived and spread, extending the limits of her green patch. Within time, she could not see the end of it from her abode. She explored her land when time availed her. She had lost interest in traveling beyond it. She enjoyed the fertile solitude of her environment. In her womanhood, she thought back to Pally’s garden and how she had wanted to live there. At last, Betty lived in a garden that was her own. Betty felt peace and comfort in her oasis. She had come home at last.

The purple nights of Huestra came and went. As the roses expanded Betty’s land, the governing factions deemed it necessary to establish a limit to her property. They built nurseries in her garden. The roses were cultivated in the Huestran manner. Her old Coaxer was one of the rose growers. Eventually, Coaxer and Betty were married. They both assumed an ordinary, planetary life. They even visited the planet Earth. They went to see Pally and Fred, who still lived in the same spot they had before. Pally’s garden had gone commercial and public. There was an admissions charge just to walk through it.

“Where have you been? Where have you been?”asked Pally and Fred,” Tucker said he drove you to the bus stop that night and you went who knows where. You ran away from us. Where did you go?”

Of course, Betty did not tell her. She vaguely explained that she grew roses in a nursery and introduced her husband as Coaxer Cox. She inquired into the house where her mother and she had resided.

“It’s been abandoned for years,” said Fred.

Betty took some roses from Betty’s garden. She walked with Coaxer to her old house. She placed the roses by the front door.

“Let’s buy this house and live here and build nurseries for roses all around it,” said Betty.

“Good idea,” said Coaxer.

Which is how Betty’s old, abandoned house was renovated and became the Cox Nursery. They produced some of the finest roses the Earth had ever seen. Sometimes, Betty and Coaxer would leave their manager in charge, get a house sitter, and go back to Huestra for a visit. Their flights back and forth would temporarily add a floating, twinkling star to either sky. On a clear night, if one were observant, one could watch the great ship disappear into the darkness.

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