Smell the Roses

By Deborah Hunniford.

Only yesterday, walking in Geelong West, I stopped to smell the roses. Behind lace curtains a shadow twitched, as if it had been lying in wait for me. I stiffened to form an exaggerated bow, hands tucked behind my back, to lean and smell the roses; not picking, just smelling.

Planted somewhere in my childhood, a memory pushes towards the light. And I am in my neighbour’s garden in Northern Ireland. My best friend is by my side. We are rambling amongst her father’s roses, their thorns snagging our summer frocks. It should have been a warning, for we were forbidden to touch his precious roses.

My friend’s house was my second home, but its front and back gardens belonged exclusively to her father. It seemed to me even then, that he was a dad in DNA only, keeping his nurturing for his plants. We were cautious of him and mortally offended that he found our very presence irritating, preferring to potter alone in his gloomy shed, or endlessly tending his summer displays of perfumed colour, unmatched in our neighbourhood. His roses brought him a flush of pride that others receive when their children are high achievers. In the northern hemisphere a rose garden is usually south-facing, gratefully receiving the limited summer sunshine. His roses flourished there, conveniently doubling as a sharp boundary fence, deterring the neighbours from taking shortcuts or parking too close to his stiff garden gate.

The backyard faced north, guarded by tall shrubs and dark hedges. At its end, and creating its own dark shadow, he had erected his ‘shedquarters’. Black crows gathering before dusk dried their outstretched wings on its tarred flat roof, absorbing any incidental evening warmth. My friend and I would squeeze between the wet laurels and the shed’s wooden sides to disappear for hide-and-seek, and when older, to cough on our first stolen cigarettes, inhaling only

the sticky creosote. But it was always a place of intrigue and danger. What secrets grew behind its murky window? Our young imaginations, fed by Nancy Drew and other teenage page-turners, shuddered at the thought. He kept its key on a string that dangled enticingly from the pocket of his tweed jacket before us. I don’t think he ever knew that his independent and pragmatic wife had a spare. She would use it after he had left for the morning train to Belfast, when she would trespass to find a screwdriver for a wobbly dining chair or to hang school photos of her gorgeous girls. Whatever he was hiding there, she must have known and been unfazed by it. No dead bodies for sure then.

I don’t know whose idea it was to make a perfume factory, but I do clearly remember its aftermath; our hands stained with rose petals and our eyes with sorry tears.

By teatime that evening the rose stems stood naked and embarrassed by their severe new haircut. They shivered silver as the rainclouds gathered. As a tired commuter train buffered into the nearby station, my friend’s wise and gentle mother filled a soft cotton pillowcase with midnight snacks for an unscheduled sleepover at my house, until the storm passed.


About the author:

Deborah Hunniford lives with her husband Nevan in Geelong, Victoria. She has two grown up sons, who also live locally, and who provide her with lots of fun and companionship. She enjoys casual employment within the Disability sector, after a lifetime in teaching.  She was already in her forties, with a low boredom threshold, when she and her family emigrated from Northern Ireland, looking for a new adventure. She credits her love of storytelling and dark humour to those Irish roots. Although she writes mainly for her own amusement, having her first two short stories published by Geelong Writers has inspired her to begin work on a long-contemplated memoir.

4 Responses


    Wonderful. Well done Deborah we look forward to reading more of your work

  2. Maxine

    As the fellow rogue petal think, I love how Deborah has described our misdemeanours. All of it true. She is a born storyteller. X

  3. Elsie Teer

    Great story Deborah, it brought back memories of my grand-mothers garden (we lived with her). Her roses were wonderful. treated with warm soapy water ,after the big wash day (kills green fly). Only “special” people were given a bunch of flowers from her garden.

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