The roses grow in the old woman’s yard, with cherry-red heads brandished perpetually at the clouds. They only answer the questions of those who ask nicely.
You go to the woman’s house sometimes, to waste away the lonely summer days. She’s an old friend of your grandmother, and she gives you iced tea and cookies when you come over. You’ve seen the roses in her front yard. Gleaming like jewels, scraps of beauty standing against the desolate landscape.
One day you ask her, “Why roses?”
The old woman smiles, as if it was only a matter of time before you asked. “Roses not only symbolize love,” she says, “but secrecy, too. I like that.”
“I see,” you say, taking a sip from the cup of iced tea the woman gave you.
People come to the old woman’s house, sometimes. They smell her roses. They slit their hands on her thorns. They clip off her roses’ heads and gather them in a fistful, bounding away into the searing heat.
You arrive at her house one evening, at the request of your grandmother, holding a bag full of fruits to give away. As the yard comes into view, so does a young boy, clutching a pair of scissors in his hand. He beheads a poor rose, turns, sees you, and runs away.
Half of summer has dwindled away, and so many frequent visits to the woman and her roses makes a pit of anger bubble inside you. You gaze at the headless rose, and softly ask, “How could he do this to you?”
A whisper replies: “It’s a game for him. He finds entertainment in us.”
The bag of fruits drops from your hands, making a circle of spilled citruses around your feet. You look at your surroundings, but there’s no one to be seen. “Who said that?” you exclaim.
“It was me, of course,” the voice replies with amusement. You look down at the roses. Their petals move ever so slightly, in sync, like lipstick tilting upwards. A smile. “It’s rude to ask a question and not expect an answer.”
“Are you,” you stammer, “are you the roses?”
A breeze comes, and the roses move in the wind. A sigh. “A long time ago, I wasn’t.”
“I must be dreaming,” you breathe out. You close your eyes. You open your eyes. You pinch your skin, and it hurts.
“If only that were true,” the roses say.
A weird sound escapes you, half cry and half laugh, a noise of disbelief and shock. “Does the woman know too?” you ask the roses.
“She knows a lot of things,” the roses reply with a flutter of their petals. “As do I.”
“Well, what do you know?”
“I know humans,” the roses say, but this time their voice sounds heavy. Weary. “I know the earth in which my legs grow in. I know the sky that blankets my head. I know the warmth of the sun. I know pain. I know loneliness.”
“Oh come on, everyone knows that,” you say, frustrated. “What’s something only you know? Something different?”
The roses are silent for a long time. You begin to think you imagined the whole conversation, until they finally speak: “Do you really want to know?”
Your eyes shine. You do want to know. You want to know what no one knows. You want something to set you apart and beyond. You want the knowledge of these flowers, the secrets that hide inside fragile scarlet petals and knife-like thorns, inside pea green stems and tangled roots.
So you reply with excitement. “Yes!”
The heads of the roses seem to dip, in a movement so subtle that it’s almost imperceptible. “Take my hand, child,” they say.
“Your hand?” you face scrunches up in confusion. “Roses don’t have hands.”
“My thorn, then. Take it.”
You glance at one of the roses’ thorns, a pointed triangular shadow against the night. “Will it hurt?”
“Always,” the roses say.
A bit of fear blooms in your heart, but you realize the roses are being ridiculous. Pricking your finger doesn’t hurt. So you extend your hand to meet the roses’, and a small dot of blood appears on your fingertip.
You barely feel it. Everything melts away, the colors around you swirl and collapse and it’s like you’re falling asleep, or falling off a building, and you get the feeling that you’re both there and not, all at once. There is everything, and there is nothing.
When you awaken, it’s with eagerness, with the expectation of the endless fountains of knowledge waiting for you in your head. You rack your brain, searching for the wisdom the roses spoke so fondly of, and find nothing. Your face washes over with dismay.
You lied to me! You shout out, except you don’t shout it. The words run circles in your head, never leaving your lips, never escaping into the air. You can’t speak.
The door to the house opens, and you turn your head to see the old woman step outside. You open your mouth in a soundless plea, begging her to give you some answers.
The woman stops. She glances down at you, and picks up the watering can that she keeps by the roses. There is no emotion at all in her face when the words slip out of her mouth, smooth and slow like honey.
“Wisdom comes with time, child. Enjoy being my secret while you wait.”
She raises the watering can, and the water splashes against your face like rain.
You grow in the old woman’s yard, with your cherry-red head brandished perpetually at the clouds. You only answer the questions of those who ask nicely.