Anna watered the rose. It wasn’t too big or too strong, but it was something she’d done with her mom. She didn’t get to do a lot with her mom since her dad ran off to live with his girlfriend and her mom took up three jobs on her own.
The rose was bright red, glowing in the garden. It seemed to enjoy the droplets Anna gave it. She imagined that with each drink, it got taller and taller and eventually it would touch the clouds.
She thought about flying away. She could be a rose fairy, like her favorite book character, Rosina the Rose Fairy, and have ruby wings and delicate crimson slippers. She would soar in the clouds with the rose.
But looking now, Anna realized that the rose was pretty situated in the dirt. Its roots made sure of it. She’d put it there not a month ago. Trapping it. Dooming it.
She gave it more water. If it was big and tall, it wouldn’t mind be stuck so much. It would be able to feel all the parts of the atmosphere and look the stars in the face. Nobody could really suffer when they were strong and healthy.
Anna coughed. She looked for her mom’s car pulling up the driveway, but it didn’t show. Saddened, and with an empty bucket, she trudged back inside.
Soft thunder started. A little bit of mist fell outside. Anna opened up the curtains and stared at the rose. Although it was two stories down from her little apartment, she had no trouble finding it. Its redness made it seem like it kept staring back at her. She kept staring at it when the lightning flashed and the harsh rain pellets hammered down on its petals, staring until she fell asleep with her chin on the back of the couch, waiting for her mother.
Of all the things Ellen expected to get in the mail with Gabriel’s return address, this was not on the list.
It wasn’t a hate letter, it wasn’t a desperate plea for her to come back. It wasn’t even a scrapbook of memories. It was wrapped up in bubble wrap and buried inside three envelopes under that.
She sniffed it. The rose smelled like a rose, despite its obvious age. A little bit of pink hid at the deepest corners of the petals.
At one point this rose had been the perfect shade of magenta. That had been over a year ago. Ellen cradled it gently in both hands, inspecting it closely with her eyes. She remembered exactly how Gabriel had looked when he’d given it to her. He was wearing black skinny jeans with a tuxedo jacket, Converse and a tie. Her first thought when she’d seen him was that she’d never seen him look more handsome. She’d smiled ridiculously. He’d blushed.
Now the flower sat in her hands. The flower told Ellen everything she needed to know, without giving a word. It was the time capsule of every promise Gabriel had ever made her, and for that reason she felt herself start to cry. She couldn’t stop remembering. She couldn’t stop looking at the blossom.
The band was still attached that she’d worn around her wrist all those months ago. Mindlessly, she put it back on.
It was almost like Ellen could feel the steps she took with him, every time she’d laughed with him. Every word she’d yelled at him before she slammed the door, every meaningless thing that had blown through her mind since then. None of that matters now, the rose seemed to say. It’s all over.
The rose was intimate, as though it brought Gabriel into the room with it. She touched it tenderly and a handful of withered petals fluttered to the tile floor. Something broke inside of Ellen. It was all over.
The old man spoke as if he’d never met the girl he was talking about. He kept saying that she was always so cheerful, and loved nothing more than a day with her friends. He said things about her fantastic grades. Like that was all there was to know about her.
The Sophie that Christopher knew was much different.
He twiddled with the long, green stem of the rose in his pocket. Christopher was never good at sitting still, and now was no exception. His right foot was bobbing around in the air, and he thought one of those distant aunts had started to notice.
The rose had plenty of room in Christopher’s pocket. He’d given it a little plastic cup of water to rest in, and wrapped it in the design he’d cut out from Sophie’s favorite band shirt. Christopher had been careful to pick every needle off the stem so Sophie couldn’t hurt herself. The rose had lush, red petals, Sophie’s favorite color.
The old man said something about her love of drawing. He made her seem like the next Michelangelo.
Christopher’s foot started dancing around more quickly as he waited for the old man and everyone else to leave. It seemed like an eternity before they finally did.
Christopher walked gingerly to the grave. Soggy leaves collapsed under his feet as he made his way. Cautiously, he lifted the rose from his pocket. His hands shook as he read her name on the granite, like it was just now coming to him. With all the tenderness in the world, he set the cup by Sophie’s grave. The rose seemed to shine redder and redder next to the drab, misty colors of the rest of the world. That was the first time he cried for his little sister, and he stayed there crying until his parents pulled him away.