Sometimes Harriet took cuttings from other people’s gardens.
She usually did it in the evening, while people were inside cooking their dinner and watching the six o’clock news. The light was a dark blue then, the scent of frying meat on the warm evening breeze.
She liked to slip out of her side gate and use the wreath of jasmine that grew along her wooden fence as cover. Tonight the scent was overwhelming, the small white flowers releasing the last of their scent to the day. She checked her surroundings, then crept silently along the fence line, secateurs hidden inside her light blue jacket.
Past the Murdoch’s house, with their hydrangeas looking sad, as always. Harriet tutted quietly to herself as she passed, her old turquoise sneakers scraping against the rough concrete of the pathway. The suburb was quiet. The only sounds were those from the occasional television in someone’s open lounge, or a passing car on the next street over.
As she neared the corner she could see those beautiful roses in the distance, like a fuchsia sail on the sea, bending and beckoning to her in the breeze. Her breath caught in her throat even as she admired them.
Full of renewed vigour she darted under cover of the Holt family’s cherry tree, just in time to hide from a passing van. She poked her head out from between the leaves tentatively, and saw the corner dairy at the end of the street. Cars were pulling in beside the small fish and chip shop, their brake lights just visible in the advancing dusk.
She judged the distance between her hiding place and the roses. It was at least 10 metres, across the open road and then over to the white fence. There was no cover.
In the small house beyond the garden she could see a yellow light on, and the blue flickers of the television against the back wall. She thought she could make out a pair of slippers resting on the coffee table, but couldn’t be sure. The sliding door was open to the evening air.
Her secateurs were ready, gripped in her hand. She could feel her heart beating in her chest. She took a deep breath, and walked quickly out from under the tree and across the street. Already she was across, now walking on the cracked concrete pathway, the weeds jutting through below. Then suddenly she was at the fence, the bright rose bush above her, her heart in her mouth.
She worked fast, locating a young, healthy stem from which the petals had fallen, checking the leaves with hands like lightning. Her secateurs came down decisively, cutting through the firm fibres. Then, just like that, she had it.
Exhilarated and panicky, she peered through the rose bush, her eyes wide, half expecting to see a face staring back at her through the thorns. Then she turned and ran.
Back down the block, past the cherry tree and the Holt’s broken letterbox, past the Murdoch’s sad old hydrangeas, she ran like the wind, the fresh green cutting in one hand, the sharp secateurs in the other. She threw open her old wooden gate, pushing the jasmine out of the way, and once in, slammed it behind her, breathing hard with relief.
Elated, she cradled her new acquisition. Home safe.