Friday, May 29, 2009

'A Rose of Midsummer '- a seasonal short story

Susan looked up from stitching the veil as her tenant entered. All men were out of place in a bridal shop, she thought sympathetically, and this one more than most. Stooping under the ceiling beams, red hair and lean features glowing in the June sunlight, Michael was hopelessly conspicuous. Quite unlike David had been. Steady David, who had taken on the old house she was now subletting to Michael.
Putting the veil down, Susan rose to her feet behind the counter of tiaras and ballet slippers. After David had died, people wondered how she could bear to keep working in a bridal shop. It was only part-time, because of the children, but it took her out each day, made her face the future in each bride's happy plans. Taking trouble for them, making their day special, was something. David would have understood, thought Susan, comforted by this reflection.
And now here was Michael, striding into the shop with that hunted air men reserve for boutiques. Steering a desperately careful course round the racks of shimmering white gowns, he stopped a metre short of the counter. Susan smiled up at him to set him at ease, her heart jolting as Michael smiled back. His artlessness always startled her, as did his sinewy body, which seemed incongruous in a university librarian, too physical.
'Is the maypole up yet?' she asked.
'Finally, yes - and the main refreshment tent.'
Today was midsummer's day and on the village green that evening there would be a mock pageant: dances round the maypole, spit-roast suckling pig and for more modern tastes, barbecued spare ribs. Stephen and Jane, her twins, were dressing up with the rest of their class as little Jack-in-the-Greens. For the adults fancy dress was not compulsory.
Michael certainly wouldn't be going in doublet and hose, reflected Susan, and the thought struck her that the jeans and checked shirt he was wearing now suited him very well. Roped in as historical researcher and general strong-arm, Michael had taken the day off work and was busy helping to erect the tents and position the stalls.
'I don't want to lose you sales, but if you're not busy right now - Join me for a goblet of mead?' A quirk of humour tugged at Michael's mouth. 'Or perhaps just a cup of tea?'
Susan glanced at the veil she was stitching, the empty shop. Then liberation took hold and for a moment she was a little alarmed, because she was glad no one was there and she could steal this time with Michael. 'I'd love to,' she said, stepping nimbly out from behind her counter of silver crowns.
The bell jangled behind Michael. Stephen and Jane stampeded in, little faces wild with glee.
'We've got the afternoon off!' bawled Stephen.
'Today in class Miss Taplin said our house is really old -' Spotting Michael, Jane stopped short. Ever since Michael had appeared on the scene to take up the tenancy, nine-year-old Jane had been smitten by him. 'Oh! Hello.'
'Mike!' Stephen cannoned against Michael, who swung the boy up towards the rafters. 'And which do you want, Stephen, tea or lemonade? I'm taking your Mum for a drink.'
'Lemonade, please,' put in Susan.
'Can we play football afterwards on the green?' Losing her initial shyness, Jane claimed her share of attention.
'Sure - if your Mum can play too.'
'Mum? But she's -' A gleam of calculation entered Jane's dark blue eyes. Glancing at Michael, then her mother, she announced: 'Mike's got a smut on his chin - aren't you going to wipe it off for him?'
'I believe Michael can do that himself,' remarked Susan, frowning at her daughter as Michael rubbed his square jawline. Every now and then, Jane tried to speed things up between her and Michael: this was another ploy. Susan sighed, wishing she could be so blatant. For the last few weeks, she and Michael had been hovering somewhere between friendship and attraction. She looked at Michael.
'Tea?' he asked her again, setting Stephen down. 'I'd like to be sure.'
Susan nodded.
As they strolled out of the shop, Michael remarked, 'Their teacher's right about the house: I've been doing some checking. By rights we should really be holding our medieval fete in your garden. The place is mentioned in a fourteenth century covenant, when it passed from the old knightly family of Montford to one Alice of Godman, for a sum of money and a rose at midsummer.'
'A rose?' Susan was intrigued. Stephen and Jane were scrambling over the green towards the big white refreshment tent: she and Michael had a few moments. She paused on the newly mown grass and looked closely at her tenant.
'A rose of midsummer,' said Michael. 'It was more than a courtesy for Alice. It was a way of agreeing to keep faith between the former owner and the new tenant, a way of showing loyalty.'
Unaccountably, Susan found herself wishing...
'May I come for you and the twins this evening?' Michael interrupted her thoughts.
'Of course!'
Michael grinned. 'I like to be sure,' he said again, and seemed on the point of saying more when Stephen and Jane shouted to them from the maypole, demanding that they look.
Later, after work, Susan dressed with some care in cream sandals and a cool cotton sundress: shell-pink to show off her tan. No jewellery except her wedding ring - David would have understood. She brushed the twins' silky black hair and sent them out of the small, two-storey cottage to play in their tree-house. Then she opened the door and stood watching for Michael, inhaling the scent of honeysuckle wafting down from the gardens.
He came with the sun at his back and a white and pink rose, half open, in his hand: Rosa Mundi, sweetly fragranced. A badge of loyalty and faith. A rose of midsummer, for her.
Smiling, Susan went out to meet him.

Happy Midsummer! Lindsay Townsend


Bekki Lynn said...

That's was wonderful, Lindsay.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

You know I love roses. When I first saw the photo, I thought, wow - Georgie. It's so similar to George Burns. I haven't been out to him yet today, been busy with housework, prepping for a cookout tomorrow and reigning in the hyperactiveness that goes along with the first day of summer vacation. I must get out there - roses are blooming everyday now.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi, Bekki!
No - this is Rosa Mundi - a very old rose. I love its stripes and it's very richly scented. Perfect! When I knew about the 'rose rents' of feudal England I couldn't resist adapting the idea a bit.

Has anyone else taken an old custom and given it a twist to put into a story?

Have you, Bekki? Are there any half-legends or anything like that which you've used in your writing?

Bekki Lynn said...

It's a beautiful rose -- the markings and detail are very much like George Burns. He's red and white.

The closest thing I have to half-legend is the Peridot gem -- Jewel of the Sun's BLOOD DESTINY - it's my favorite gem. I originally wrote the story for Ellora's Cave Jewel of the Nile line. I didn't go out of the country as most authors of the gem line did -- I remained within the US - it's mined on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona - Mesa Peridot.

I love the possibilities of it's healing of mind, body and soul. The research had me hankering to return to Arizona more than I already did.

It's my birthstone and has always been my favorite gem. I wear it year round. It just does something to me to look at it. Makes me happy and feel good.

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, sweet and gorgeous story, and makes me want to plant a Rosa Mundi.
I recall including rose scents in a medieval story I wrote for history class as my final. The professor loved and gave me an A.

Bekki, Peridot are incredible gems. One time I saw a tray of them in different shades... they feel mystical.

Linda Banche said...

What a wonderful story. A man bearing roses.

I have a rose story, too. My husband I met in college. One summer we both stayed there beacause we had jobs. He worked in the gym, and I had a locker in the women's changing room.

One day I opened my locker, and on the top shelf was a paper cup with a little pink rose in it. I had quite a shock seeing that flower. Who could have gotten into my locker? Then it dawned on me Jim had put it there.

Well, we're still together. And he still brings me flowers. HEA

Lindsay Townsend said...

Linda- that is so romantic! How lovely! Truth really is more amazing than fiction!

Bekki - I think a jewel blog would be great here. Think about all those rings that get exchanged as symbols of HEA.

Savanna - have you still got your medieval story? How about getting it out and having another look? perhaps it can go somewhere?

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, I think it's buried somewhere. However, it wouldn't work for pubbing... maybe as a blog???

Linda, beautiful story. Kudos to your hubby.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Why not as a blog, Savanna? That sounds super to me.