The White Rose

They say the white rose is a symbol of innocence.

It’s clear how that works. The absence of color supposedly equates innocence…then does that mean colors — the elements so endearing in my heart, the only things that framed and shaped my world — is a symbol of contamination?

I say, the white rose is a symbol of naivety.
Surrounded by aphids thirsty for sweetness, a selfish multitude draining the life force of the dearest white rose. It has thorns, yes, but what is a thorn that pricks only my hand as I tried to squish the bloodsuckers against the particles that multiplied and covered all pores regardless?
So blind, so naive: that is the white rose, untainted by the colors of life that is good and splendid.

XXXI.

The town stuck like a stark contrast to Athlem at first: hearty red bricks, bustling vendors, lanterns leftover from a festival too fond in memory to be taken down…yet as Lyra joined the ebb and flow of visitors she saw its resounding resemblance to the physician: a mix of genuity with civility, and a quaint touch of character.

“Who?” Jiube reminded her of his existence: Alde found him cowering in a hole in a tree after the incident with the water nymph, and since Alde is too attention-catching, Jiube is accompanying her instead into town.

“Shh…” She ruffled soft feathers to coax the thing back into hiding under her hood.

She went past the boulevard of drooping branches and their whiskers, the spring of her steps cushioned by crushed banyan seeds and the shade casted by the giant green parasols. Alde told her earlier that a few imperial guards stalked about. Could it be that they, too, were searching for Horatio and Athlem? Perhaps they already got them? She felt for the hilt of her sword and her pounding heart, though she hardly knew how to wield a blade or yield her heart.

As they exited the shelter of shade, a grey house and its roof slanting into the security behind brick walls just tall enough for privacy and short enough for the tops of the citrus trees to reach over, greeted them. Right above the wooden gates hung a sign with a simple indicator, “Doctor Denthea.” It baffled her that the sign persisted even after such a long time after Athlem’s absence, though it then occurred to her that her relatives must’ve continued the business.

Oh, her relatives.

Lyra congratulated herself for her ignorance. She could blame Athlem for her silence on the subject: the number of times she’s ever remotely hinted at her family fit in one hand. As she scraped her brain for a flake of memory she vaguely found a scene of her inquiring after Horatio and Athlem’s absences one time…when she was five? Younger, perhaps…to which her mother said, “They went to visit Athlem’s, but will be back in a matter of a few weeks.”

So here she was, a hand apprehensively wounding itself about the door handle. Jiube had long made its escape and she thought it was chirping in belated triumph until she realized it was a warning.

“Do you need help with anything?”

Despite the gentle timber of the inquiry she was startled, snapped around to find a woman carrying her age with her straight back, sharp eyes and infinite grace. Lyra knew she must have appeared quite suspicious, lingering by a door with her hood and a bird on her shoulder.

“I…was wondering if Doctor Denthea is here,” She managed.

“You are looking for me?” The woman mused. “Very well. Come in, then.” As Lyra trailed behind the doctor she darted discreet glances for any hint of familiarity past the gate, seeking any clues of a recent visitor amongst the pebbles and doors.

Her attempt was fruitless, just as the citrus trees lining the walls, so she allowed her eyes to drift back to the paved path before her. They entered the front porch, seated.

“What’s your name?” Now that Lyra could faced her she could read the couplets of time across the physician’s face.

“Lillith from Dolores.”

“Hrm…what took you here?” The woman summoned pen and paper, scribbled.

“My..aunt –” Lyra began a story until she looked up, met the piercing gaze and lips pursed in consternation too familiar to her.

The gaze spoke a question, the slight smile the hint of familiarity wiped clean from the gardens, “She even predicted what colors you would be wearing today correctly.” Lyra looked down at her maroon travel cloak and blamed her narrow range of wardrobe colors. “Want to tell me where you are from again, Lyra?”

The princess was mortified, “Are they still here?”

Doctor Denthea smiled, “No, you missed them by a week. But, don’t worry.”

“Ah…” She thought, stupid and worried.

“I have a note for you,” The doctor got up, went to a shelf to withdraw a book and from it, a letter. It read in a rather foreign hand as follows:

Dearest Niece,

And you thought I was faint? My penmanship fare better with my left hand than Athlem’s best works — and with this comment I’ve earned a hard jab from the more-than-decent doctor). Still I stand by my statements in recognizing that poor penmanship is a common ailment of physicians.

Anyway, I hope this finds you in as good a health as your strange antidote placed me, and as lively the spirits your note gave us. The villain — I suspect Claud — is quite relentless, and one rumor coincided with truth to lead his men here. Very well! Let them chase, for they shall find themselves reluctant to bang at the doors of Etzion, which would not yield except for you and your raven. Hopefully soon.

Love,

Your Dearest Uncle

She fought the urge to bawl and won, “You ought to go soon,” Seeing her reading done, the physician started. “The soldiers would come here again.”

Lyra blinked a few times, “Yes…should you not…would you be fine?”

The doctor seemed surprised, going back to the shelf to restore the book and extract a ray of sunshine where the innocent laughter of a young girl with odd-eyes was forever stored: her brother’s copy, “I cannot abandon my patients. Tell Athlem to write.”

It was painful to leave anyone in their feigned strength: as Lyra exchanged one last nod with her and crossed the paved path armed with Horatio’s note her thought raced.

An idea, wild, sprung up among the cracks of the brick walls, just close enough to smell the flowers upon the orange trees, pungent. She bit her lips, stuffed the letter and Jiube into the sanctuary of her pockets as she paused.

Then she threw herself into action.

*******

*Disclaimer*: Obviously, the picture is just what the town was based on.

The Yellow Rose

They say the yellow rose is a symbol of friendship.

I see it, I guess, a drop of sunlight deciding to stay with the petals it befriended until one of them wither. I see it.

I see the grass, the mints, the weeds, whose brethren lay growing and rotting in the same heave. Yet, there it was, my friend, mounted on the pedestal of thorns, leaves still fresh, stem tinted orange from its brilliant light. I see the fibers, its blood vessels or arteries: doth the blood run away or back? The little rose rising beyond the overgrowth, shades brighter than any princess’s dress.

Some tried to paint my rose pink, and I was flattered by the effort, but realized the gold was much better than the indecisive hue. So I detested it, so I see it still: the yellow rose live for others more deserving.

Some joined me in my fellowship amongst the grounds of the rose. My spirit rose to meet their song, their words, their love: all I don’t deserve, I thought. At last, I thought, I’ve found my home. Then my eyes went adrift to catch the sun still setting soon.

The songs have numbered days, and so do my rose.

I know that, remembered the very first rule, that all that’s gold won’t stay. There’s no glass jar that can defend from time: my rose, one day, would also burn, be frayed and decay.

But would my mind and memory, armed with my pen and ink, forever etch the rose in prose, so least my hand remember?

Even if my hand only remember the pains, that would be enough.

XXX.

“You didn’t change,” The old man scratched his spotted head, the migration of hair from his head to his chin so successful that all of the migrants had abandoned their home. “Perhaps a little refined by the city airs, but you didn’t change.”

“Oh? Is that…bad?” Athlem ran a finger down the shelves, found dusts unsatisfactory.

The old man was either hard of hearing, or chose to pretend so to Athlem’s inquiry, “How’s your friend?”

“He’s…alright,” Athlem habitually lied to herself, and the old man knew, and she knew the old man knew: it was dumb for her to attempt a lie in the first place. “Perhaps…it might have been the dust. Ah, that must be it, your workstation is too filthy and your drugs are contaminated. I–”

“–Stop that, you ass,” The old man set down a pestle besides its mortar without gentleness but emphasis, getting up and wading across the loose papers blanketing the room. “How did you uphold your disguise? You are lousy actor.”

Memories flurried up alongside dusts and Athlem turned her attention back to the window in defense.

“Do you remember what I first taught you?” Athlem heard the tumble of wrinkled hands raiding drawers for a forgotten prescription directly behind him.

“Be orderly?”

“No, you stupid. I said…and you were sitting right there next to that shelf being all polite, that it’s not your goddamn fault,” A drawer slammed shut, the search was fruitless. “You are not great enough to be responsible for everything.”

Since when had she been gripping the window panes? Her knuckles burnt white, “But had I done the procedures properly…”

“You haven’t changed,” The old man retraced his paths.

“There’s simply no way I would be the same as myself as a child,” The repetition annoyed Athlem. “How would you judge the past two decades from mere hours of conference?”

The old man looked at her, either incredulous at her stupidity or his own firm grasp of his pupil’s characters, “You proved my point: you assume that not changing your character is detrimental even though staying firm in your beliefs in the winds of the times could be a great virtue. Do you still not believe in your own beliefs?”

“I…”

“How do people trust you with their lives when you cannot trust yourself?” The old man smiled. “Come back next morn’. I should have something figured out then.”

Their conference was over, and Athlem rejoined the world. As fresh air brushed against her cheek she resigned from the task of understanding her mentor altogether. She walked down the main road running through her home town of red bricks and lanterns and loud vendors. It’s gotten a lot busier now, the buildings grew faster than the trees: she was lucky that she found her old home, her aunt’s, to be relatively unchanged. The old woman held onto a firm belief that she might return any day even though she had the decency of preluding her visits with letters. It surprised, really, how writing mend the gaps of distances. But an actual meeting melts distances, as her aunt screeched in sheer joy at the very approach of her carriage and threw herself at her she could only smile stupidly. The very thought of her aunt reminded her of family, and family reminds her of…She kicked a pebble into the grass lining the brick roads.

“It’s not your goddamn fault.”

It’s always Horatio protecting her from the slings and arrows of life. Perhaps that’s why she never had to change. She was spoiled.

Then as though to congratulate her upon her realization, the Creator sent him a messenger with jet black plumes. She saw it sailing ahead of her for her home, realized its course and sped up her own. When she dashed to her study (where Horatio had taken temporary refuse since her aunt was renovating the guest room) she found her beloved in bed, propped up by cushions and stubbornness as he studied her raven’s delivery, his studies temporarily casted aside.

Horatio purred, “I thought you weren’t coming back until later.”

“My teacher told me to go tomorrow…what is that?”

Horatio handed her the satchel small enough to fit in a child’s palm. While cursing her ever trembling hands Athlem untied the strings and extracted the contents: a folded note and a…spherical thing wrapped in flimsy paper. Expecting the note to account for the strange thing, Athlem unfolded that first and read.

Dearest,

Limited paper and time bid me haste, but I am safe. Enclosed should be the heart of a plant that Alde said any decent physician would know how to make use of. I can only take his word for it since I don’t have a clue and know that you are more than decent. We are on our way.

Love,

Lyra.

Horatio, who rested his chin upon the physician’s shoulder and read from there, feigned disappointment, “You are her ‘dearest’…I’ve lost the competition again.”

“She probably assumed that you wouldn’t be well enough to read,” She unwrapped the object to find a red sphere, “Maybe you should’ve bribed her with candy more when she was little.”

“Bah, she’s rotten enough. She doesn’t need rotten teeth, too.”

“And who do you think she’s learned to be rotten from?” Athlem balanced the sphere in the middle of her palm, measuring the thing’s faint pulse. “This…this is amazing.” The Nokshan was right, she knew exactly what to do.

“What?”

“I must go.” She sprung up too suddenly, and poor Horatio nearly fell off the bed when his chin found air. “Ah, sorry…I will be back soon.”

So she ran, fought the urge to skip. The town seemed small, the world smaller. Lyra is alive and Horatio can stay so, too. Was the sky always so blue? Who cares. She’s got two lives to save: Horatio’s, and by saving that, her own.

The pulse in her hand raced against her.

My Sky

My room is painted blue because it’s the sky. It’s my sky, the window and its blue blinds a reality check. Or is it? When I lie on my bed the walls and the window blocking the sky outside blended together. I used post-it note reminders to make clouds, clumps of green, grey, pink or blue, urging myself to materialize imagination.

So my sky was never just a bright blue, besides the multi-colored clouds I pasted pictures, folded boats, hung medals or other shiny things, all in hopes of replicating a sunset years ago.

It was an explosion of colors, the Creator’s canvas. My eyes couldn’t pick out each shade and I was disappointed since I wanted to name them. But I never will, I never can, for it’s unfair to trap a thing so beautiful to a simple name.

So he said…

So he said, “My daughters would never want to commit suicide: even if they do, then that’s just too bad since life has so many burdens harder than college decisions,” when my mother urged him to stop throwing temper tantrums this month.

Hours later, he texted her, threatening her that he would kill himself if she continue to work at the magazine company she recently joined.

So he said, “Girls should only be educated so they would be more reasonable,” when I asked him about his opinions of women’s education.

He spat those words over a bowl of rice that was meant to be shared between the four of us as it wolfed it down, slurping miso soup and drowning pork katsu that he forced us to order even though we all hated fried things.

So he said, “It’s funny because I would want my daughters to be independent, but my wife should just stay home and make sure everything is good.”

Another bite of katsu. My sister set her chopsticks too hard onto the table while my mother shushed her. A “but you are part of the problem” escaped. Days later, he demanded to see everything in my sister’s phone since she came back from interning at the most prestigious research facility in Taiwan 10:00 p.m. since she wanted to buy some desserts before heading home. He suspected that she has a life.

How dare she have a life.

So he said, “Why didn’t you tell me her college decisions earlier so I don’t have to worry?” when my mother told him about my UCLA acceptance and scholarship a few hours after it came out.

I looked at my future. It’s as cloudy as my mother’s brows as he continued to bicker and threaten divorce, suicide while she continued to hide the atrocity from me.

You know, the usual.

So he said, “Is $200,000 enough? If we sell the house you are living in right now, sell your stocks, and I give you some money, we will have that. The three of you can live off of that for a while. Would you settle with that?” when he threatened divorce, again.

How could he know? That’s the amount he didn’t pay when my sister went to UCSD full ride. That’s the amount he would have to pay had I not also secure nearly equally financially beneficial deals with my colleges. I suppose I will no choices when it comes to my college decisions.

So he said, “You guys are so cold and logical” whenever we tried to reason with him.

Cold? I wish that I am frozen, logical enough to know that it’s not my fault when mother is forced to put up with him. How can I logically convince myself that I am not a shackle, and that my absence would allow her freedom? Am I not the cage? Her fear of her daughters being fatherless, her daughters being declared the “children of divorce” kept her there.

How much would it take so he would stop? I suppose I can only experiment.

XXIX.

The silence unnerved him. He called her again and again, yet the only thing that met him was nothing. The trees were too knotted and tangled for him to see much from above: even the bright blue, snaking stream were mostly veiled by thickets. He reached out to Jiube instead, only to find it making some incomprehensible cries. He was already hurrying, the grayish hue upon the trees darkened menacingly with the death of distance, still he was aimless without any hint of the two’s whereabouts. He considered asking the trees, but found too many of them withered — the ones still alive were too bitter to be any help — and so he landed by the convergence of the blue snake into the larger lake.

What happened here? It was as though someone plucked off the sun and the void in its place sucked away all life to compensate for the brilliance stolen. Aldebaran dared to stoop and examine the palmful of lake water he gathered in his hand, a hauntingly empty splash as it rejoined the rest of its body with a paranoia as though it feared being forever suspended from the rest of itself. Like iron to a magnet, a moth to a fire, the last droplet shot into the still lake like an arrow. As he watched the sombre ripple from the strange crash of violence, he formed a mild hypothesis. He circled the lake in search of clues to support his guess, tracked the scripts to a dialogue he missed. He nearly tripped over a root he swore wasn’t there before.

He retraced the root, found its owner, and wondered: by the bank of the lake perched the withered, wooden form. Graceful branches that used to provide an idyllic frame to the glowing sapphire snapped, crooked with angles sharpened by death. Dried leaves littered its feet, a speckled matt of yellow and rotten brown. Aldebaran placed a hesitant hand upon the dried bark, and fresh remembrances and tragedy poured forth. The story, the love, the men that came and took it away, then…then the accomplice of the crime, a Nokshan like him…the Nokshan he just sought with bright blue plumes and a tortured mind.

She was here.

The idea of the proximity, his imagination twisting the gentle sun’s rays baking the dried barks to be warmth from her touch, her hand, his sister’s hand.

Wait, he was looking for Lyra. And Jiube. The present has enough troubles of its own and saved very little space for dreams. So, he tore himself away, allowing himself to notice the haphazard prints telling stories in the drying mud

Ah. Of course.

With one last glance at the willow as he attempted to commit its place to memory, he followed the mess past the dried earth or hints or disorder or a stick snapped, too fresh, “Jiube, li di duaya?” The inquiry fell on deaf ears. “Lyra?”

Suddenly, a hollow screech rung out, bouncing off the equally hollowed trees. He leapt off for the source, swallowing the unpleasant taste of suppressed panic, “Lyra!” THe runes about his neck smarted, he ducked an ill intentioned branch. As he ran it seem as though the world was on fire. THe sky screamed an orange blood and him of unwelcomed remembrances. A blur of movement by the corner of his eyes, unnatural blue teased before it disappeared again. He took after it, the skeletons of trees the only witnesses to his stupidity. It egged him on, the deafening roar of laughter from the fallen leaves carpeting the floor, the root glued to their treacherous places to trip and maim.

The blue of blue again. But this time, he distrusted his eyes, for he saw not the dress of a water nymph as he assumed, but plumes of a bluejay. “Eridani?” The blue was far gone. He gave chase. The dead trees took a new hue, the leaves flesh and blood: for he ran in a nightmare. There was the tree, its enormous trunk that takes a good number of the village to circle. Its stair-like roots and their jade mirrors beckoned.

He blinked, gasped.

There he was before him, that same old bastard with his demonic sword and his filthy hand grabbing his father by the hair. Powerless, like before he was frozen in his place, powerless.

“Al…de…look away…look…a…way.”

No, no, nonono, not again. It can’t be.

“Close…you…r…eyes….do–” As he blinked the egret wings were gone, and in their place bluejay.

“Bro…ther…A-hya…”

No.

The blade raised, a clash of silence, it falls. He killed his scream.

“Aldebaran!”

The illusions, who casted them? For he saw now, he saw. There was no mercenary, just a tree thicker than the others, the blue but the body of the water nymph and the cursed man no other than Lyra. But she had no sword, no head rolled. The nymph drew herself close together, sitting on a protruding root embraced by a whirlwind of regret.

Lyra winced as she stooped, the gash on her arm still running scarlet, “It’s alright…” She didn’t like her own attempt at comfort. “It’s…over.”

It was raining. Aldebaran somehow never noticed it before, but he was glad. Rain disguises things.

The nymph was studying her hands, now, “It’s over.” She tested the words. “He’s gone…”

To that neither could say much. The rain pattered on all about them to fill their silence. The nymph looked up, caught her kin falling from the sky. “He’s…gone…” She tested those words again, told the raindrops, and they wept with her.

At that, Aldebaran helped Lyra onto her feet, and quietly they began to leave.

“Lyra,” The voice was the note of rain on dried earth. “Thank…you.”

She nodded, looking over her shoulder one last time at the nymph praying for the rain to flood and thanking the earth that it will before following Aldebaran out of the dead wilderness altogether.