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I Have Carried Roses
Rose had been in the hospital since the fall, and six months was a lifetime when you’re twelve. I’d asked my mother that morning, shouldn’t Rose be heading home soon? My mother didn’t answer. She had to leave the room. I could hear her quiet sobs from the hallway even with the door shut.
Whatever was wrong with Rose, she didn’t seem to be getting any better. I watched Rose grow weaker and weaker wrapped in starched sheets and wool blankets, as the nurses, only shadows behind the white curtains, whispered thoughts of transplants and blood work and things I didn’t
understand. No one really did. But everyone told me not to worry. So I didn’t. I unplugged the IV tube from her veiny hand, and three drops of blood came with it.
Is it time to go? She asked me.
Are we going home?
Then where are we going?
A trip, I told her, To make you better again.
She thought for a moment: I should call my mom, so she doesn’t worry.
Don’t call her.
She paused and then she said, Is this the kind of trip you don’t tell anyone about? I took her hand. She was cold as ice and shivering a little.
No one noticed two girls walking through the halls of the hospital hand in hand: me and Rose, Rose and me. Rose in the papery hospital gown. Rose, spidery thin with gaunt eyes that had sunken into her skull. Rose with specks of dried blood on her wrist. The receptionist at the front desk didn’t even look up from the phone as we passed by her silently. And then we were free, and Rose was Rose again, running her hands through the tall grass and dandelions and wildflowers that still held that unnatural vibrancy of color and smell that do not seem to retain past childhood.
Four miles into the woods Rose had to stop. She’d been stopping and starting since the roads gave way to dirt and mud.
Here, she said, We’ll stop here.
I lay awake that night for a long while. I’d never been out alone after curfew. But then, I wasn’t really alone. I could hear her raspy, strained breathing through the long hours till it blended into the gentle hum of cicadas and leaves rustling in the grass and became nothing more than a natural thing of the forest, another nighttime noise lulling me to sleep, and I slept. The next morning we went further, and that is where we found home. Home didn’t look like much at all. An old house abandoned, alone, and rotting with holes in the floors, but it was larger than Rose’s white room at the hospital.
We found its owner in the second-floor bathroom. He was rotting too. We shut the door quietly on our way out. But the riches were what he left behind. Cans of food to last six winters, a roaring hearth with plenty of firewood, every sugary confection known to man. After we’d had our fill, we explored the rest of the treasures: moth-eaten clothes that held the promise of forgotten luxury, four bedrooms all but emptied save the most gloriously comfortable beds, moonlight shining through a hole in the roof of a floor to ceiling library where rain had clearly made its mark. We counted six hundred water-stained books before we gave up. And so home became home.
It was our place. We lonely cavemen, we unwilling time travelers, were free to create a new civilization if we chose and call it our own. We threw an entire bottle of bleach on the stove and burned a dozen eggs before we managed to make a decent omelet. It was a little green, and the yolk had soured weeks before, but it was the greatest thing I’d ever tasted because it was ours and ours alone.
That day, we were housewives cooking for wealthy husbands away at work. Another day, we draped over us silk sheets and were warriors in togas akin to that of a great Ancient Roman army. In the library, there was an entire shelf dedicated to Shakespeare, and we recited as far as Act 2 of Julius Caesar before the pages were too stuck together to continue. That day we were players. There was a long fur coat in the master bedroom we sometimes used as a blanket on especially cold nights. I ripped out a handful of the fur and taped it to my upper lip. On my head, I placed an old top hat, and in my hand, a wooden branch for a cane.
What are you today, Gilly? Rose asked.
Today, I’m a man, I said.
In turn, Rose chose the evening gown we’d found packed away, never once worn. It was nearly twice the length of her and dragged along the floor.
Are you a woman today Rose? I asked.
No, she said, Today I’m a lady.
Rose danced in the foyer and laughed every time she tripped and fell, as I smoked unlit cigars, played the simplest card games I knew, and talked of childhood politics. The next day, we switched.
We were happy. I’d like to think we were, but no matter what I did, how hard I tried, how many times I prayed to gods I’d never seen or heard, Rose was getting worse. I stopped trying to fall asleep on the nights when it was hard for her to breathe. And then it wasn’t just nights. Two weeks passed. Rose stopped sleeping. She grew weaker where I’d never felt lighter out there just the two of us in our home under the open sky as the roof slowly caved in on us. In the library, there were six books on medicines, herbs, and treatments, and two of them were still legible. Armed with bleeding notes and diagrams, we searched through all the cabinets floor by floor till we came across a prescription bottle. Near empty, but it’d do.
One a day, I told her.
It was what I’d hear the nurses at the hospital say a thousand times. Then I rubbed some pain relieving ointment on her throat and temples as the book instructed. Rose said she’d never felt better, but still, she did not sleep.
You never know when things are ending, till they end. You always think there’s just a little more time. Just a few more days and nights, but on the night when it was all over, a singing bird woke me.
It was far too late for a bird to be singing. All other warbles had ceased, and yet it sang. I listened for a few minutes before I realized Rose was not there. I found her outside, standing over something that I immediately knew from the smell was dying. A deer I saw as I came closer. Its legs were broken, and it looked as if a hunter had gotten to it. Or perhaps a wolf. I could hear the whisper of howls when I looked into its terrified eyes. It couldn’t even run away. Rose had a stone in hand. She raised it over her head, over the deer, to kill it.
I yanked her back.
It won’t last the night, she said.
I shook my head, It might.
We have to put it out of its misery.
I shook my head again, No.
In the end, she lowered the stone and let it fall to her side. We decided to wait with it. Till the end at least. We didn’t know if a deer understood the comfort of not dying alone, but perhaps it wasn’t only the deer that kept us there. I don’t remember when I fell asleep, when the blood pooled all around me staining me with a deep red I could never quite get out, no matter how hard I scrubbed.
In the morning, the deer was dead, and Rose was gone. A rock had crushed its head. I yelled her name and only heard my own echo return to me. I stayed out there in our house another three nights hoping whatever was taking Rose would take me too. But it didn’t. I only starved slowly till I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to be a human that day. I hated everything about how weak we were, but I did not know if it was weakness that kept Rose away. Weakness or strength. She did not return. I screamed. I cried. I broke windows. Six more days had passed when they finally found me. Alone. I went willingly. They never found Rose, but I did. Buckled into the backseat of the police car barreling down the only road that ran through those woods, leaving dirt and dust in the air behind us, I saw her then. Running through the woods light as a bird, but not towards me, towards some unknown destination privy only to her. She did not see me. It almost looked like she was floating. When I blinked, she was gone. That day, though I was surrounded by people, weeping parents, both Rose’s and mine, I was alone.
Rose was gone. Rose was gone, and it was my fault. I knew that. Perhaps I’d only postponed the inevitable. Or expedited it. But still, I hoped against all might, wherever she was, that day, and every day after, she was free. Free to be whatever she wanted. Free to just be a girl.
Steph Prizhitomsky is a playwright/screenwriter, co-founder of the White Rabbit Film Festival, and editor in chief of Suits and Sage Magazine. Her plays have been featured at Off Broadway theaters the Chain Theater and the Player's Theater and published in magazines 3elements Review and Fleas on the Dog magazine. She is a sophomore studying film at New York University.
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