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The Tender Mercy of Roses by Anna Michaels

Near the Tennessee/Alabama line

It donít take no high school education to figure out Iím in a pickle.

First off, thereís cow shit on my boots. Dirty boots is a sign of a shoddy upbringing. Since I mostly brought up myself, I guarantee you I ainít no low class woman.

I ainít no fool, neither. The good Lord give me plenty of brains then shoved me out of the womb a buckiní and a rariní and I ainít stopped since.

I come into this world with my eyes wide open and I ainít shut Ďem in twenty-six years. Except to sleep, and that donít count. I aim to see whatís coming my way, and if I donít like what I see Iíll dodge or run or dig in my spurs and beat the living shit out of it.

But I sure didnít see this coming. How did this happen? Did I blink? Is that how I ended up flat on my back in a bunch of piney woods not being able to feel a thing, not even my own skin and bones? Iím laying here with my eyes wide open under one of them cloudless skies the good Lord strews through Alabama in the summertime and I ainít got a single urge in my brain. Not even to get up and saddle my horse.

Since I canít figure out no reason for all that, I might as well lay here till the good Lord gives me a clue.

Now I ainít no religious nut, but me and God come to a understanding thirteen years ago.

I was setting in Doe Valley Baptist Church listening to the preacher shout, ďThe road to redemption is straight and narrow,Ē after which he passed around the collection plate. Dollar bills began dropping like faintiní goats. Then Brother Lollar commenced hollering about tithing which is just a fancy way of asking poor folks to part with their butter and egg money. Twenties began drifting into the plate, and it looked to me like the road to redemption was paved with greenbacks.

I resigned myself on the spot to eternal damnation. Then lo and behold the preacher waxed eloquent about a option called endowments. Now I had two of them suckers setting on my chest.

I knew on account of my science teacher. The week before heíd invited me to his house to look at the stars through his telescope. While I was on his back porch trying to find the man in the moon, he sneaked up behind me, told me I was ďwell-endowed,Ē then proceeded to try to feel both of Ďem. I run back into the kitchen, grabbed the nearest weapon and whacked him over the head with his own corn bread skillet. Heís the one ended up seeing stars.

Be that as it may, setting in the Baptist church with sweat rolling into my endowments, I figured that finally me and redemption might make a nodding acquaintance.

As soon as the shouting was over, I asked the preacher how I could use my gifts for the Lord. After he got his jaw back in the right place, he laid his hands on my head and prayed for ďthe soul of this pitiful, unfortunate orphan.Ē

I ainít no orphan Ė I got a daddy Ė and I sure as hell ainít pitiful. I walked out and marched myself back up Doe Mountain and never looked back.

Daddy found me sulking in the hay loft. ďPony,Ē he said to me, which is my name on account of being so little everybody said I reminded them of a Shetland pony, ďainít no use fuminí at God. He didnít see fit to give you no riches, but he give you a brain and plenty of grit. What you do with it ainít up to that preacher, itís up to you.Ē

Me and God had us a understanding that day. I promised if Heíd understand why church was gonna be nature from here on out, where ainít no bird nor tree ever looked down on me, I wouldnít never let Him down about using what He give me. I reckon God was okay with that bargain, because I done proved my daddy right a million times over.

Now I ainít what youíd call a woman of the world, but I done traveled a good bit and seen how things is north of the Mason Dixon line. And let me tell you, I ainít seen nothiní I canít handle if I set my mind to it.

I try wrapping my mind around being in this condition, but donít nothing come to me except the scent of Cherokee roses - seven star-white petals, seven tribes of displaced Cherokee, the tears of a grieving nation turned to flower. I feel a rushing across my skin like the flow of cool blue water, the kiss of greening spring winds, the brush of a starlingís wing. Right before my eyes a wall of roses springs up in the piney woods, blankets the trees, swings from the branches and covers the ground.

This ainít happened but once in my life - the day I kicked free of my motherís womb, the day she died. His heart split in two, my daddy took his chain saw and cut down my motherís climbing Cherokee roses. She was Morning Star and sheíd planted them roses as a reminder that half the blood running through her veins was Cherokee. Daddy raved through the woods like a mad man till there wasnít nothing left standing but him and the trees stripped of scented vines.

Satisfied there wasnít a single rose left to remind Ďem of his loss, he marched out of them woods with tears streaming down his face. The mid-wife laid me in his arms, a screeching bundle of kicking wildfire. When he turned back around to show me that we was starting over - just me and him - everí one of them Cherokee roses had sprung back to life.

As I watch now, the Cherokee roses start dancing, a swinging and a swaying like a wild windís shaking Ďem. But the air is so still you canít see nothing move except them roses, not even the wind over a eagleís wing.

My heart strains upward, trying to rise, and rose petals drift down and cover me like snow, like stars, like the tears of my ancestors. I figure I must be dead.

If thatís the truth, there ainít nothing I can do about it. I might as well hang around and see what happens next.

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