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Old Country Roses
He was a young architect. He liked starkly simple furniture, the kind called, in those years (the late Fifties), Danish Modern. He liked dishes that were pure white with no pattern. He liked the black-green leaves of rubber plants in white pots, philodendrons (split-leaf) in tubs under the skylights. He liked the white glare of the screaming Arizona sun, the long forked branches of saguaros reaching toward the sky. He liked living in a sleek white apartment overlooking a swimming pool under the palms.
She hated perpetual summer, this landscape of bad dreams and synthetic seasons. She loved the spaces of Wyoming, the oblique blue glacial light of Jackson Hole.
She relived the Wyoming summers of her childhood--“gray shoal and green moraine, stillness that sings from granite mountains.” She yearned for horses.
Long torpid nights in Arizona, she dreamed of horses she had ridden, those childhood summers in the Tetons when she was learning to ride, learning the language of horses and landscapes, she who had known only the voices of suburbs and cities.
Her china pattern was Royal Albert’s “Old Country Roses.” Roses, roses, incredibly rose-like roses, bursting and blooming and dripping rose scent from the borders of thin, translucent dinner plates. Rose scent floating up from the depths of delicate coffee cups that rang like flowering bells when you touched them, empty, with a solid-silver spoon. A sterling silver spoon in Oneida’s “Damask Rose.” Roses. A cliche. Lauren, of the Chicago Ainsleys, who had always loved roses and the dark rooms of winter, whose husband told her she spoke in cliches.
Smog building up with rush-hour traffic. Shoppers buying china, sterling, and crystal at Goldwater’s and Diamond’s and Switzer’s, in ChrisTown, Thomas Mall, Camelback Village, and Park Central. Buying gifts. . .“for it is cruel summer, the month of brides.”
Tall, glassy office buildings rose, pastel and white, through the grease-blue smog. Blinking red and green, the planes came down toward Sky Harbor, and rose again, going to leafy places that Lauren longed for.
When they were divorced, she packed the china roses and the silver ones and left Phoenix on a morning in high summer. One-eighteen in the shade that week, then rain, and nights full of long tree frog cries, wistful and desolate. That morning the air was clearer, cooler, the smog washed away. Camelback Mountain sad in the first light.
The plane turned north, toward a landscape of cool snows. She got a job on a dude ranch in Colorado, breaking horses. It was 1975.
When he began seeing another woman, when the woman would come to his apartment and stay until daybreak, they would eat breakfast from the dazzling white dishes Lauren had abhorred. White, not china, not porcelain, not stoneware, but a wondrously hard, gleaming plastic, translucent as milk glass. Oneida’s “Winter Song.”
He and the woman would look out at Squaw Peak and Camelback Mountain, at the saguaros pointing their spiny arms toward heaven. Eventually they talked of marriage.
Lauren was 42 that year. She had had no children. She had wanted a daughter, a girl who would love horses and flowered china, Wedgwood and Spode and Jasperware, and the dark comfort of houses in prosperous Chicago suburbs.
In Jackson Hole one summer, an old man suddenly thought of her, remembered her name, the young girl riding, riding in sunlight, in silver evening light under the thunderclouds. Her gold braids. The yellow flowers she had gathered and fastened to her horse’s bridle, one morning, one morning in a time so distant. She glimmered for a moment, then was gone, gone from his memory, even her name.
That was the morning the plane turned north, above the forked branches of the cactus trees.