Marie is a young Haitian woman who works as a maid for a wealthy family in Pétion-Ville. While walking one day in Port-au-Prince, Marie stumbles upon a beautiful baby girl lying abandoned in the street. She is wearing a blue dress with the letters R-O-S-E embroidered on it, and so Marie decides to call her ‘Rose’. Unlike other children, Rose doesn’t stir or cry out. Her lips are wide and purple, and she smells like gardenias and fish. To Marie, who has suffered from multiple miscarriages, Rose is a gift from Heaven, much like Baby Jesus or Baby Moses. At first, she thinks the baby may be a trap from her “enemies,” the women that sleep with her husband; however, she is so consumed with the idea of having her own child that she buries her suspicions and takes the baby home.
Marie frequently dreams about her dead mother and other dead women from her family. These women include Josephine’s mother Défile from “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” and Lili from “A Wall of Fire Rising.” Marie believes these women have “claimed her” because they want her to “do some good for somebody” (Danticat 92). Perhaps, she thinks, this “somebody” is baby Rose.
Back at home in Pétion-Ville, Marie hides Rose in the maid’s room before rushing to prepare lunch for her employers. Called ‘Monsieur’ and ‘Madame’, they are bourgeois Haitians and call Marie a manbo, or Voudou priestess, behind her back. After she serves the meal, Marie lays Rose on the kitchen table and talks to the baby about her life. She explains why she left her home in Ville Rose and her husband after being married to him for ten years. Because she was unable to give her husband children, he cheated on her and had “ten different babies with ten different women” (Danticat 94).
Marie also tells the baby about her relationship with the Dominican man who cleans her employers’ pool three times a week. She and the man slept together once, but haven’t talked since then. Marie pretends that Rose is the baby of her and the Dominican, and that the three of them own her employer’s house. Rose doesn’t react to Marie’s chattering, and Marie remarks that she is a perfect child. When Monsieur and Madame are finished eating, Marie takes Rose outside and sits with her in a rocking chair. She falls asleep in the chair with Rose in her arms.
The next day, Marie wakes up and Rose is still in her arms, as perfect as she was when Marie fell asleep. It is only three days later that Rose begins to smell. Marie compares the smell to rotting pig intestines and bathes the baby several times a day to keep the smell down. She even uses some of Madame’s perfume, but it fails to keep the smell at bay. Marie wants to return Rose to where she found her, but feels responsible for the baby’s soul. She begins to hide Rose in a shack behind the house, where the Dominican man keeps his tools. She visits her 3 times a day, and watches as Rose’s body decomposes. When Rose begins to attract flies Marie realizes that it’s time to let her go. She dresses the baby in a yellow dress she had sewn for her own miscarried babies, and goes to bury her.
Marie decides to bury Rose in the garden next to the pool. She puts her on the ground and digs a shallow grave next to the gardenias. As Marie is lowering Rose into the grave, she feels a grip on the shoulder. She turns around, expecting Madame, but it is the Dominican man. He asks her what she is doing as Rose slips out of her fingers and lands on the ground between them. Marie starts to explain, but the Dominican cuts her off. He says he knows Marie killed the baby and intends to use her for some evil purpose. He tells Marie that he has already notified the gendarmes. When Marie tries to reason with him, saying that he knows her, he retorts that he doesn’t know her “from the fly on a pile of cow manure” and accuses her of eating little children (Danticat 97).
Marie knows resistance is futile. She looks down at Rose and sees in her mind all her miscarried babies. She waits for the gendarmes with Rose and the Dominican, between the pool and the gardenias.
“Between the Pool and the Gardenias” is perhaps the most mysterious and mystical story in Krik? Krak! The source of much of the mystery and mysticism is Rose, the dead baby that Marie finds in the streets of Port-au-Prince. For most of the tale, it is not clear if Rose is dead or alive. Though Rose doesn’t cry out or speak, Marie’s treatment of her leads the reader to believe that perhaps she is still alive. After all, why would Marie take a dead baby home and care for it as if it were her own child? It is not until Marie mentions Rose’s growing smell that the reader receives confirmation of Rose’s mortality.
That confirmation introduces a whole slew of new questions and considerations. Are Marie’s employers correct–is she actually a manbo? Does she intend to perform some sort of ritual to bring Rose back to life? Or is she a woman suffering from PTSD after her numerous miscarriages? Or perhaps she is so gripped by the desire to have a child that she hallucinates when she sees Rose’s corpse. The story provides enough evidence to support any one of these theories. And yet, in the end, it doesn’t really matter what Marie’s intention or motivation was: if Défile’s fate in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” is any indication, the gendarmes will condemn Marie to a life behind bars no matter what she says. Unfortunately for Marie, the love she has and the care she gives to a complete stranger are her downfall.
Marie’s dreams are the other source of mysticism in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias.” In these dreams, Marie’s mother, great grandmother, grandmother, and godmother visit her. These women are familiar to us, because they are characters from other Krik? Krak! stories. Marie’s mother, grandmother, and great grandmother are Josephine, Défile, and Josephine’s grandmother from “Nineteen-Thirty Seven,” while Lili from “A Wall of Fire Rising” is Marie’s godmother. All of these women are dead, but they reach through time and space to commune with Marie. How they are able to do this is not explained, which adds to the mystery and mysticism. Marie believes these women put Rose in her path so she could help the baby girl. She mentions them when she tries to justify her actions to the Dominican, which probably made her seem more culpable in his eyes.
The Dominican is an important piece of “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” and of the entire Krik? Krak! collection. Before his character appears, non-Haitians are only discussed in the abstract. In “Children of the Sea,” Cubans are described as people who treat Haitians worse than dogs, while in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” Dominicans are remembered as the perpetrators of a mass murder of Haitian people. “Between the Pool and the Gardenias” is the first time a person of a different nationality plays an influential role in the story’s plot. The slightly antagonistic and complicated relationship between the Dominican and Marie suggests that not much has changed between Haiti and the Dominican Republic since 1937. Despite the fact that he and Marie were once intimate, the Dominican does not hesitate to report her to the authorities. He even claims that he doesn’t know her anymore than he knows a fly on a dung heap. It is unclear if the difference in nationality contributed to the man’s refusal to hear Marie’s side of the story; however, it is important to highlight that the first non-Haitian character of the Krik? Krak! stories is in part responsible for the arrest of one of the main characters of the stories.
While mystery, mysticism, love, and national identity all play major roles in “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” imagery and parallelism are also important devices in the story. In the passages about Rose, Danticat uses rich sensory details to describe the baby’s appearance, behavior, and smell. Descriptions of the last feature are particularly poignant; for instance Danticat compares Rose’s decomposing body to the smell of rotting pig intestines (Danticat 98). Early on in the story, Baby Rose’s situation is paralleled to that of Baby Moses or Baby Jesus. Like Moses, her birth parents abandoned her, and like Jesus, there was no one to kiss her in her final moments. The use of these literary elements adds texture to the story and helps to tell Marie’s story more fully.
“Between the Pool and the Gardenias” is the first Krik? Krak! story to include people of different nationalities. It will be interesting to see if subsequent stories continue this trend.