Life

Rose

  1
  As I drove along the sparsely trafficked Maine highway, letting the scenery flow by on both sides of the car window, I was still a little dazed, wondering why I had to go to such an appointment. Maine is of course beautiful, Thoreau once described it as paradise on earth. Along the way, there are pine forests, pearl-like lakes, and rough and magnificent coastlines dotted with Atlantic reef beaches… But this beauty is too quiet and empty for me.
  I haven’t been in touch with her for many years. But since the emergence of WeChat, whether it is people you want to meet or not, sooner or later they will be connected through that intertwined network. So, I received her invitation. Through her description, I learned that her husband bought a hill facing the sea somewhere in Maine, which is famous for its scenery, and they built a big house on the hill. She invited me to visit her (although she used the word “we” in her email) and listed everything she thought would attract a writer: a white house facing the sea, a private mountain forest, a beach, Moose encountered on walks, undisturbed silence…it came to my mind like one of those flat, talentless landscapes. In this imagination, what interests me is not the scenery, but the two people living alone in that scenery.
  I was admitted to the university in the same year as her. At the welcome meeting for freshmen, we recognized each other as fellow villagers. We are in the same province, but the cities we live in are quite far apart, one is in the north of the province and the other is in the southernmost part. Not long after our relationship, I once wrote a letter to her, quoting the phrase: “I live at the head of the Yangtze River, and you live at the end of the Yangtze River…” Geographically speaking, this is a true description. She was very beautiful at that time, and her face and body were full of beautiful tenderness, which made people want to get close to her. She has a name that suits her very well: Xiuyu. This kind of girl is always very busy, not to mention she has a soft heart. She was busy refusing this and placating that. So much hospitality, so many letters, so many frustrated and wounded young men’s hearts in need of persuasion. . Soon, everyone learned that she had a regular relationship with a junior boy. That boy is not an idle person either, he has good grades and is a member of the student union, and because of his handsome looks, he is still the “school girl” in the eyes of many girls. There is no suspense, the school beauty and the school grass are together. Shortly after graduation, she went abroad with this man. And this “school grass” is the male owner who has now worked hard to buy a mountain.
  Apart from the exchanges between fellow villagers, we don’t have any deep friendship, but a scene related to her has always remained in my memory. It happened during the winter vacation when we both rode the same train home. At that time the train was really slow, I would take twelve hours, and she would take sixteen hours. Most of the time, we were surrounded by the noise of steam engines, the frequent passing of food carts and the smell of filth. The train traveled in the dark for a long time. Later, the lights in the carriages were dimmed, and the surroundings became quiet. The snoring and breathing sounded like a breeze. I don’t know when, she fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, her hair rubbing against my chin, and her soft head made me vibrate violently. At first, my body was tense, but slowly, I let myself relax, simply enjoying the contact, even pretending to close my eyes, tilting my head, and gently touching her head. It made me ecstatic, deeply moved and even a little inexplicably sad. I think that turning their heads and touching their heads like this is the most gentle meaning of “a couple”. When she woke up in the morning, the gentle game was over. Now, like an echo of the game, I’m driving on unfamiliar roads to where she lives.
  Passing through a coastal town, I ate a lobster roll at a roadside shop, and then drove around the town for a while. This small town is quiet and peaceful, but it doesn’t look desolate at all. From the park on the high hill, you can also overlook the long and narrow bay. On a cloudy day, the sea water spreads from the blue near to the gray in the distance, with a faint silver light, blending with the sky and the long dark clouds that shimmer slightly due to the reflection of the waves. The bay is full of colorful private boats and sailboats, with white masts standing in clusters… The scenery here is really refreshing, especially in the light of cloudy days, the scenery lacks the impetuous glare and a little more Sombre tones, which make it even more beautiful. I think of the big white house in the photo she sent, a tall and grand but old-fashioned house, standing alone on the hillside of Songshan Xiuba. With a professional meanness, I couldn’t help guessing that she invited me to show me her superior life, her happiness and contentment? It may not be very kind of me to think so, but it suddenly occurred to me that I went to her home to see if everything really fit her description. I came with the enthusiasm of an observer and tester. Maybe that’s what I’m here for.
  I drove more than 30 miles eastward, and according to the guidance of Google Maps, my car turned onto a mountain road. There are two or three families scattered at the foot of the mountain. Then, as the road narrowed, I slowed down and noticed a sign at one of the bends that said “Private Road”. I guess I’ve entered her family’s “territory”. The sky in the mountains is getting more cloudy, and the white fog in the high places becomes clouds, layer upon layer. The tops of the wet green fir trees turned black, intertwined with strips of mist, like ink paintings. The car turned another big bend to the other side of the mountain, a large open land suddenly appeared in the forest, and a sweeping view of the Atlantic Ocean opened in front of me like a scroll. I think this is the scenery she sees every day—the scenery that belongs to only two people.
  2
  What I noticed first were the flowers. To my plant-blind self, the flowers all looked like roses, just in different colors. Flowers densely surround this two and a half-story white house with a loft, making the flat-looking house a little bit alive.
  As the car turned into the driveway, I saw a woman standing on the front porch. Then another person came out of the house, and the two of them walked down the front steps surrounded by roses in tandem. When I got off the car and saw the two of them from a close distance, the shock to me was even stronger, so that it was difficult for me to speak naturally and fluently the greetings of the long-lost reunion. The two figures on the porch just now gave me only a dim and sluggish impression. Seen up close, these two people look very old. They are the most amazing changes I have seen among all my friends of the same age. This doesn’t just refer to superficial things such as skin and wrinkles, but indescribable things emanating from all parts of a person’s body, a wave of stagnation? A general rout, recession? If the man is still just an ordinary premature aging appearance, she has become an old, sloppy American village woman. Her hair, cut short over the ears, showed no sign of careful trimming, and the black hair, intermingled with too much white hair, turned into an ugly, lifeless gray hair, which did not match the old dark gray fleece jacket she was wearing. Very proportionate. It is not surprising that some American women spend their days working in the garden with dirt and pruning, wearing baggy old clothes and clumsy shoes. But she was receiving a guest, someone she hadn’t seen for many years, who had seen her beauty in her prime!
  I followed the skinny couple to their big house. At this time, the male host asked hesitantly: “Did you bring your wife and children to play?” I said: “I have no children, and I am not married.” I wondered that she hadn’t told him about my situation. He looked a little embarrassed. Passing through those roses, I found that they mainly have four colors: dark red, pink, flesh pink, and white. I praised the flowers for blooming well, and the host responded that the flowers in the yard were cultivated by my wife. “It takes a lot of work to cultivate these flowers?” I said out of words. “No need, roses are very vigorous and resistant to drought. In winter, just cut all the branches short. In the next spring, they will bloom again.” She said neatly. I noticed that her voice had changed too.

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