This was the first line of a scrappy Word document, dashed out one afternoon in college, when the sky hung tattered black rags at the window. The wind whipped coils of leaves about the glass; they whispered and giggled, watching as I battered out the words that would mark a pivotal point in my life – not that I knew it at the time. It was an idea planted beside another, and another; the first garden of blue roses, to hold my life in stasis.
Fifteen years old, strung up between childhood and the woman I am now (with so much lost and found in between), I was feeling the effects of adolescence. Not so much in the boring stuff, though that was bad enough – extra hair, a chest I didn’t want (of all the girls who couldn’t get away with a loose T-shirt, it had to be me) and the sort of push-pull feelings that can make a lunch-break last forever, or seem a droplet of time:
“Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans, when an hour isn’t just an hour – but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands – and who knows what to do with it?” – Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
That was my life. Long afternoons huddled beneath the playground canopies, smoking and watching the silver-fish rain, as it filled the gutters with yellow leaves and petrol rainbows. That smell of toxic beauty – isn’t it divine? – the way it burns the back of the throat, tingles in the nose. And those colours, how they go sliding away like a life, spent … You know that to take a sip, to get down on your knees and dab a finger to the shimmering run-off, would be a vileness on the tongue and a potential hospital trip that couldn’t possibly warrant touching such beauty.
Still it lies there, still it exists – a laugh in the face of men and women alike.
That’s how the symbolism began. I was aware of it, even before those rain-driven afternoons. Perhaps I really did try tasting petrol, or something like it, as a child. I know the acidic burn on the tongue, that’s for sure; it’s a memory, like a bee-sting, but there isn’t a sequence of events I can tail it back to.
Still, the colour itself – that shimmering teal, not quite blue and not quite green – has been synonymous with the Unattainable and the Beautiful, ever since.
(To be honest, given what I was like as a kid, it’s the sort of thing I would do. A pile of broken glass under a slide was a trove of shining jewels, after all.)
Caught up in those fever-dreams of childhood and the barbed wire of hormones, I couldn’t seem to make the two halves of my life fit together. One pleaded innocence; the other demanded sex and night wandering. I’ll admit, I was horrible, as most teens are – spitting in the eye of the world, since it couldn’t provide the fundamental answers on where to go, who to be. So many choices, none of them appealing. Boyfriend-husband; wedlock-children; household-mortgage. With work as a steel coil about the throat, cutting off creative circulation and breath.
I sought a truth to adhere to, something to live by, which preferably didn’t involve religion (I’m an agnostic and a loner to boot) or hard drugs. All the real hippies seemed to have died with the youth of that good Dr. Hunter S Thompson, and what was left was a reel of whale music and incense sticks.
Though I did burn a fair few of the latter, in among the webs of my bedroom, strung over with fringed scarves and ferns to hold the trailing shadows in. My old man would stick his head around the door, take a whiff of the Opium and a glance at my sullen face, and shake his head.
Looking back, I can’t say I blame him. We barely knew each other, and some trends don’t change. But at least he accepts the fact I “talk a bit strangely”, now. The hippy skirts, multi-coloured hair and penchant for going unwashed, didn’t sit so well with him at the time.
That afternoon in 2000, I was stuck in an IT lesson at one of those clunky old machines which overheat and burn out their hearts, losing all your precious documents. With no home computer, I was fast becoming the bête noire of the IT assistants, who despaired of my download-freefalls. These consisted of (and certainly weren’t limited to) entire anime series, related fansite media, mythology-inspired artwork (dragons were a favourite) and so forth. I almost bought a replica Excalibur with Dad’s credit card, but chickened out at the last minute. Probably for the best, all things considered. Delivery would’ve been a bitch.
Something vital was missing. I was already a writer by that point, scratching out stories between the pages of whatever text we’d been lumped with in English (as much as I love Wuthering Heights, if I ever have to dissect it again it’ll be too soon.) A fantasy world was forming behind my eyes, in conjunction with the strange mood-colours that I only now recognize as typical of synaesthesia.
I needed an emblem, a standard to bear – something to encapsulate the imagery already taking hold of my life, in so many curling, coiling roots. Its symbolism would mark that alternate world, which I still retreat to these days when the concrete reality of Now becomes too much to bear. It’s a place to be alone and not lonely. A filter of bramble-thoughts, the bonelight glow of the moon, mood-colours. Burning blood, cats and corners, petrol rainbows, all that guff. It goes twisting through my writing as an extension of Self; what you read, is more or less the inside of my head on a daily basis, though this doesn’t mean that reality and facts are cancelled out. Far from it. It’s just a step-through step-back system, like walking through a clock to know Time. It allows for such things as Responsibility and Sociability.
One of the positive aspects of being a dreamer, is having the ability to disappear even while walking among others. I’m sure many of my writer-friends will understand this element of our art.
I had been watching an artist-friend doodling her signature beneath yet another jaw-dropping piece, which she would nonchalantly stuff into her little cloth bag – it was one of those pictures done up charcoal lines, shadow-haven eyes; the kind to make your heart break a little with the knowledge that they once existed solely in her mind, until nerves sent the message home to her hands.
Beneath the scrawl of her name was a small symbol. I can’t replicate it here, and no doubt she’s deservedly famous enough now that it has been copyrighted. Suffice to say, it summed her up perfectly – tidy little lines, jagged corners, with a heart soft as the tufty flower atop a cactus.
Being a writer, not an artist (my graphite sketches pain my eyes, though they’re as much an unstoppable outpouring as the words they accompany) it didn’t seem in my capacity to design something similar. Something uniquely symbolic of who I was then, and am today. I asked her where she’d come up with the idea.
“Oh, it’s a reform of the Zelda Triforce,” she told me. “Not the original design, just something I adapted to suit me.”
So I took a leaf out of her artbook, as well as the works of J.R.R Tolkien.
Heavily influenced by Nordic mythology (among others), Tolkien never made it a secret who and what inspired him while writing about Middle Earth. As well as possessing a formidable imagination and dedication to craft, Tolkien could respin those ubiquitous yarns which hold our world together through the ages; the word-of-mouth folklore and songs inherent of our race. We are made up of memories and stories, after all. Each work of fiction has a kernel of truth.
While idly scanning the internet on that graphite-afternoon, I happened to come across the first luminous image of a blue rose. I’d not been overly impressed with the genus thus far, blooming in my parent’s garden; all fervent lust in red-gown petals, the florid turbulence of yellows and pinks. Though I must say, I’ll always have a soft spot for the icicle-purity that is the white rose. But altogether, the rose genus seemed too showy for anything as subtle as magic.
This rose was blue. Defiantly so, and in that exact shade which never fails to draw my eye – the petrol rainbow of flowers, all toxic beauty and thorns like little black eyes, with argent highlights in the petals for that elusive shimmer. A wink of the eye, gone away by night, returning at dawn with no one the wiser.
I decided there and then that this rose could only ever bloom at night, for how would such coyly-curved petals survive in the harsh glare of the sun?
It captivated my mind, this image of the unattainable; a perfect symbol of all I stood (and stand still) for.
I say unattainable because the rose genus cannot naturally produce the Delphinidin pigment necessary for the colour blue; the botanical market is reliant on genetic modification for the flower’s mass production.
Yet for all this, the blue rose has maintained its status as a near-universal symbol of the mysterious, the elusive – smoke held in the hands. There are many interpretations to be found, and mine are but another handful to throw in the mix.
Even while available to me only as an image on a cracked computer screen, magic seemed to live in each petal, and I began a desperate search for more – much to the disgust of the IT assistants, though I bribed one with a handful of Twix bars, to allow me several printoffs of that all-important rose.
So many shades, scattered across the internet: Winter sky, forest lake, the hardest diamond, the darkest eye.
Quick as the words would fly – it was coming to the end of break, with the clock muttering under his breath – I rapped out that short story around the blue rose. A jumble of sentences, really, the outline of a map to which I might trace back thoughts when ready. It concerned a boy and a girl, kept apart by circumstances – a world of shadows and fear, double-crossing and barbed words; an apocalyptic Here and Now which owes more than a little to Orwell, and this world we’re all tied to. Always on the run, always trying to find one another again, after separation became inevitable. The blue rose of the title was the one given by the boy to his soul mate – a pact of love eternal, the blessing and curse of being marked by One, and no other. Their love became something distant as the stars, traceable only as the lines connecting constellations – patterns unseen, to be altered at the whim of the viewer who may create a new image each time, if they so wish, based upon what they want to believe.
Seemingly a myth forever, at least until they found one another again. When the world stopped getting in the way.
Maybe one day, the story will finish itself. I ran out of time in that late afternoon, while the sky looked on and the clock spun out his relentless laughter. Even now, I can’t bring myself to write the ending. It doesn’t seem as though the song is yet over; as though a resolution is here.
So I weave those roses through the narrative of my stories, and in my hair. Though of course I don’t own any particular rights to their image – they had been a part of folklore and literature long before I found them – they are an integral part of that other world, to which I retreat for peace (more often than not, the release of a feral mood) and writing.
Each world we create has its own set of governing rules, its own suspension of disbelief. For me, the blue rose has the ability to freeze time. To be buried beneath a garden of their blooms is seen as the greatest honour one half of a union can bestow upon the other; it’s also the longest curse, for these roses do mean Eternity, and their growth feeds upon/sustains that love-pact which is willingly made, binding the one buried and the one still forced to walk the world.
Alone, and not lonely.
I came upon this idea while writing a short story about two years ago. It sits on the backburner for now, as I need to get all other things out of my system first before tackling that arcing narrative, full of spin-offs and novellas. Poems leak out of it every now and then. The entire process of assimilating thoughts / writing the damn thing down, will take years. This is how long it’s been forming in my mind, after all. Since age fifteen.
The father featured in that short story was an inventor and professor, prone to building clockwork robots for fun and creating exoskins that keep out all forms of weather. He laid his wife to rest beneath a garden of the rare blue roses, as per their agreement before her death, to keep their love in stasis while he waited for death to reunite them. A selfish act perhaps, though such unions aren’t noted for their inclusion or consideration of the rest of the world. Still, it hadn’t curtailed their joy at the arrival of a daughter, whose presence set the last bar in place for a strong family triangle.
When death took her mother, the child – Daena – could only watch in silence, while her father walked alone through the moonlit grass, a ghost among ghosts, to stand by the grave of his wife and wait with patient tears for his time to join her.
The clockwork robot who is the child’s guardian, had no answer for her father’s strange behaviour. C4A7L1E – “Charlie” – isn’t programmed to understand eternity and love in the same context.
That child has grown into a wanderer between worlds, whose pleasant and intelligent nature is at once appealing and frustratingly mysterious. It’s impossible to pin her down to any one time or place. The blue rose tattoo at her shoulder is the burden and blessing of love in her family; a single bloom cut from her parents’ shared grave, the petals crushed and mixed into the ink, thereby marking her as one “cursed by life” until death reunites them all.
This is the rarest form of rose-carrying in that world; the strongest bond. It’s subjective to the personality of the carrier, but most will wander for years, uneasy in crowds – Alone and not Lonely – unable to give or receive love again. Others will languish and die among the blue rose grave-gardens. Because the professor had his work and his daughter to live for, he continued to toil through life, until an invasion of the stronghold saw him murdered before the girl’s eyes.
As a promise to her parents and a curse on her own life, Daena walks between worlds, hunting for the one who cut her father down and stole the exoskin blueprints. The rose tattoo is an aching reminder of home, a need for absolution. Eye for an eye, etc.
There is always choice. A blue rose can be turned away, unaccepted; it will wither with the bearer, unless buried in the soil, at the roots of its parent.
To form this pact is to be set apart for the rest of time, alive and in death, thus ensuring that the blue rose – as an actual bloom, in the context of my world – is a gift not lightly given.