As the sun set in the city park he reached up to pick one perfect rose for her. He went down on one knee and as she laughed and blushed, he asked her to be his wife. She said yes and kissed him, and he pinned the rose to the lapel of her jacket.
They married in October in wartime Leeds, soon to be separated. She went back to field hospitals across Europe, he stayed in the UK to maintain the planes that took the pilots, the men he regarded as heroes, off to the skies. He never understood that he was a hero too – saying goodbye to friends as they flew off. Watching them return. Or not. Repairing the damage and making the planes safe to fly again.
She came home from duty at concentration camps where she had repaired broken bodies and wept over broken minds. She danced with a sailor on VE day, while he stood on duty in the rain. And then they started their married life afresh in a fishing port, where, newly pregnant with a victory baby, the landlady’s fish head stew made her heave in the quiet of their rented room.
Both demobbed, the captain and corporal built a life together. Jobs and houses across the country, before retiring to a northern village. A quiet life. But both still heroes in their own way. She a nurse, he an engineer. Bringing up five children on little money but homes full of homegrown vegetables, beautiful flowers, love and flowers and food and laughter.
She died at 90 when her heart would work no longer. He died five years later at 95, from a broken heart masquerading as bowel cancer. In my cupboard, hidden from light, is an envelope containing a 75-year-old rose. And in my eyes, it’s still perfect.