The Rose with No Thorns

The Rose with No Thorns

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Rose with No Thorns

Kindness is a language the dumb can speak and the deaf can hear and understand.

Christian Nestell Bovee

A young man carrying a guitar case boarded the afternoon school bus at Maple Street. Obviously ill at ease, he found a seat, placed the guitar on end beside him in the aisle, and held it upright with his arm. He looked around anxiously, then hung his head and began shuffling his feet back and forth on the floor of the bus.

Melanie watched him. She didn’t know who he was, but from his looks she decided he must be a real loser.

Melanie’s friend Kathy looked up from her book. “Wouldn’t you know it? Crazy Carl again.”

“Who’s Crazy Carl?” Melanie asked, tossing her sunny hair.

“Don’t you know your next-door neighbor?”

“Next-door neighbor? The Bells moved into that house. We met them the day we left on spring vacation.”

“Well, that’s his name, Carl Bell.”

The bus rolled on under the big trees along Elm Street. Kathy and Melanie stared at the newcomer and his big guitar case.

When the driver called out “Sycamore,” the new boy awkwardly picked up his case and got off. It was Melanie’s stop, too, but she didn’t budge. When the bus started again, she rang for the next corner. “See you, Kathy.”

Melanie ran home, up the steps and through the front door. She called out, “Mom, does that weirdo live next door?”

Her mother came into the hall from the kitchen. “Melanie, you must not refer to anyone as a weirdo. Yes, the Bells have a handicapped son. This morning I called Mrs. Bell, and she told me about Carl. He has never been able to speak. He has a congenital heart defect and a nervous disorder. They have found a private tutor for him, and he is taking guitar lessons to help improve his coordination.”

“Just the pits! Right next door!” Melanie exclaimed.

“He’s a shy boy. You must be neighborly. Just say hello when you see him.”

“But he rides the school bus, and the kids laugh at him.”

“See that you don’t,” her mother advised.

It was a week before Carl boarded the bus again. Melanie thought he recognized her. Grudgingly, she said hello. Some of the other kids started whispering and making jokes. Pretty soon spit wads were flying. “Settle down!” the driver yelled. Carl shuffled his feet. Each time a spit wad hit him he twitched. When his guitar clattered to the floor, the driver again admonished them to settle down—this time with a warning tone in his voice. The bus grew quiet but the fun didn’t stop. The boys seated behind Carl started blowing on the back of his head, making his hair stand up. They thought is was funny.

When Sycamore Street came into view Carl jumped up, rang the bell, put the guitar strap over his shoulder and headed for the door. The guitar case swung wide, hitting Chuck Wilson on the neck. Carl rushed toward the door with his case still crosswise in the aisle. When Chuck caught up and took a swing at him, the shoulder strap tore loose and the case slid down the steps into the gutter. Carl stumbled off the bus and ran down the street, leaving his guitar behind.

Melanie sat glued to her seat. “I’m never getting off there again,” she said to Kathy. Once again she waited until the next corner before getting off, then retraced the block back to Sycamore. The open case still lay in the gutter. She walked past it and headed toward home. What a character! she thought. What did I ever do to deserve him for a neighbor?

But by the time Melanie had gone half a block, her conscience bothered her for leaving Carl’s guitar where anyone could pick it up. She turned back to get it. Both the handle and the strap on the case were broken, so she had to carry it in her arms with her books. Why am I doing this? she wondered. Then she remembered how terrible it had been when everybody laughed at him.

Mrs. Bell opened the door before Melanie could knock. “Melanie, I am so glad to see you! What happened? Carl was so upset he went straight to his room,” she said, laying the case on a chair.

“It was just a little accident.” Melanie didn’t want to alarm her with the whole story. “Carl left his guitar. I thought I should bring it.”

Carl didn’t ride the bus after that. His parents drove him to and from guitar lessons. Melanie saw him only when he worked in his rose garden.

Life should have gone more smoothly, but kids still pestered him. They hung around his yard, threw acorns at him and chanted, “Crazy Carl, the banjo king, takes music lessons and can’t play a thing.”

One hot day as Carl relaxed on the grass with a soft drink, the kids came and started their chant. Melanie glanced out her window just in time to see the soda bottle shatter on the sidewalk at their feet.

The next day at school Kathy said, “Did you hear about Crazy Carl cutting those kids with a broken bottle?”

“No wonder,” Melanie said, “the way they keep after him.”

“Whose side are you on?” Kathy fired back.

“I’m not choosing sides, but I heard them bugging him.”

“Bet you two hold hands over the fence,” Kathy said sarcastically.

At noon in the cafeteria line a classmate teased Melanie, “If you’re asking Crazy Carl to go with you to the banquet, I’ll be glad to take Jim off your hands.”

Before the day was over, somebody wrote on the blackboard, “Melanie loves Crazy Carl.”

Melanie managed to keep her poise just long enough to get home. She ran in the door and burst into tears. “Mom, I told you it was the pits having a weirdo next door. I hate him.” She told her mother what happened at school.

“It hurts when your friends turn on you,” Melanie said, “and for nothing!” Then she thought of something she hadn’t considered before. “Carl must have cried lots of times.”

“I’m sure,” her mother agreed.

Why do I feel so mean about Carl? she wondered. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I just think I’m supposed to because everybody else does.

“Sometimes, Mom, I don’t bother to do my own thinking.” Melanie wiped her eyes. “Jim’s coming over. I have to wash my hair.” She ran upstairs.

On the last day of school, Melanie came home early. Carl was in his rose garden. When he saw her, he clipped a rose and went to the gate to wait. Melanie greeted him with her usual hello. He held out the rose. As she reached for it, he put up his other hand to delay her, and started breaking off the thorns. He pricked his finger, frowned a moment, wiped the blood on his shirt sleeve, and continued breaking off the thorns.

Tonight was the banquet, and Melanie wanted to get home and be sure her clothes were ready. But she stood and waited.

Carl handed her the rose with no thorns. “Thank you, Carl. Now I won’t stick my fingers,” she said, in an effort to interpret his thoughts. Touched by his childlike grin, she patted his cheek, thanked him again and walked on home. At the door she looked back. Carl was still standing there, holding his hand against the cheek she had touched.

One week later Carl died of congestive heart failure. After the funeral, the Bells went away for a while.

One day a letter came from Mrs. Bell. There was a special note for Melanie.

Dear Melanie,

I think Carl would have liked you to have this last page from his diary. We encouraged him to write at least one sentence a day. Most days there was little good to write.

Mr. Bell and I want to thank you for being his friend—the only youthful friend he ever had.

Our love,
Carla Bell

Carl’s last words: Mlanee is rose wit no torns.

Eva Harding

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