Chapter Five; Persica
Disclaimer: the plot is Murray Bail's the canon is JK's. all i own, really, is the names.
‘Till the rose’s lips grow pale with her sighs.’
Rose Terry Cooke
There are five different types of Persica, like the five sisters in mythology, ancient greek goddesses of fate and destiny. There is sclerophylla, signata, rossii, racemosa and the most beautiful of all, haematoma with red rimmed flowers.
The Persica rose is concentrated in and around the small dense area of Derbyshire, although there is a thin line that grows wild along the edge of the county, and (since county borders have no meaning to flowers and weeds) protrudes west into Yorkshire.
Signata is one of the oddest kinds of Persica, for it closely resembles the Australian Eucalyptus Scribbly Gum in that the stem of the rose is covered in the distinctive calligraphic markings that look like scribbles. Sometimes they resemble hasty signatures or idly composed, elegant doodles.
Rose loved her signature. It was concentrated in one spot, as if intent to take up as little room as possible, before breaking free with curly flourish. Once her enthusiasm actually tore a hole in the parchment she had been signing and she let loose a laugh of horror that quietened all conversation in Gringotts. Some people didn’t believe that such a girl, such a beautiful girl, could have such a, well, scribbled signature. It was ugly they said, as if she had never learned penmanship.
Rose thought it was lovely.
Rose was interested to see the letters she received from some of the suitors who had been eliminated, and their handwriting. Some had written quickly with stubs of pencil, another on butcher’s paper. There was one that was so covered in rubbings and markings it seemed to be in a secret language, and in the bottom hand corner was the only thing she could reasonably recognise, a single rose growing tall.
Rose did not know what to do with the letters, or what to say to the boys when she inevitably passed them in corridors. She usually just gave them a smile, and then passed on through the hallway to her classes. The letters she bundled up and placed in a box underneath her bed. She neither wanted to forget them or remember them, just to have them, there, underneath her.
Finley Cave was coming along nicely. He was most impressive, taking his time with his hands in his pockets, examining each picture for a very long time and then pronouncing, quietly, tentatively, what he thought was the answer.
The realisation that he had well and truly struck the halfway mark hit her on the 5th day. He had taken a break during the week for classes, and on the Sunday would be knocking up his fifth day of identification. As she flipped through the book she realised the number of pages, the sheer number of flowers that had already been accounted for. Even as she thought this he was identifying another one, the lined paper turning as he moved onto the next, and the next, each sticky-taped cut out failing to falter him.
He wasn’t rushing, but it was a steady advance, and nothing would stop him.
Rose couldn’t think straight. That afternoon she went to her dormitory, sat down. Stood up again, and then sat down once more upon her bed. She didn’t know what to do.
She hadn’t really taken anyone seriously until now, but it became clear that this man not only knew his roses, but intended to complete the task. Rose moved like a ghost to the bathroom where she turned on the taps full blast and let the water soothe her ears. For a long time all she could hear was the running, bubbling, gurgling motion of the water, and it was calming.
She didn’t know what she thought of him, he was certainly clever, and engaging, and she liked his smile. But she didn’t know him, and wasn’t sure… She couldn’t be sure…
* * * * *
‘I think this is getting stupid.’
Audrey and Saskia looked at Rose sharply. ‘What are you talking about, Rosebud?’
‘I think this whole thing is getting stupid and silly and I’m in way over my head.’
Saskia laughed, ‘Rose you always take things so seriously! It’s just a silly game, you go on one date with him and that’s it.’
Rose rolled over on the bed so that she wasn’t facing her friends anymore. They didn’t understand, it was more than that, much more. She was certain that after having to name hundreds of different Roses the man would not be content with just one date, and even if he was, the whole reason she had never gone out with anyone before was because she wanted to wait until she met someone that she truly, truly felt for.
No-one understood her. She wasn’t rude or picky. She was just a teenager who was looking for love.
* * * * *
The scientific manner of naming the flowers doesn’t really follow a pattern. It almost has an amateur, elegant, attractive randomness to it, like the distribution of the petals themselves. Some names describe phenomenon on the stem, or the colours of the petals. The pedestrian, Multiflora signifies the sheer number of flowering buds from one stem, similarly the Grandiflora indicates the size of aforementioned flowers.
Some of the roses are named after explorers or geneticists who bred the new hybrid. Some are latinised, which always makes for interesting reading. Some authors, watercolour artists, even a few politicians are honoured. There is even a rose named after the ubiquitous first lady of the White House, Jackie O.
How did R. nubilius get its name? That is a curious one. Nubilius means marriageable.
* * * * *
Rose watches as Finley stumbled for the first time. For a moment it looked like he was finished, and there was a swooping sensation in her stomach that she couldn’t identify as either elation or despair. He looked away from the rose in question, idly perusing the grains of wood in the desk.
He then began talking about something almost completely different altogether, about how the problem of global warming should be fixed. He was jabbering away about climate change and the rising levels of the ocean when suddenly, he stopped talking.
The silence pierced the room. Rose could feel herself gripping the folds of her skirt tightly, her toes curling inside their sensible shoes.
‘A rose without a common name.’ He muttered to himself. And then he smiled, and Rose knew he was safe. ‘Canina.’ He said. Rose nodded.
‘That’s enough for today, don’t you think?’
* * * * *
Rose ran, she didn’t know why, but it was all she could do, and she ran so fast the colours of the world bled into each other until it was just her and a rainbow of smudged paint. She reached the forest and pressed her head to the trunk of the tree, its stillness had a calming effect. And yet she still let loose a bestial cry of despair, loud and wild.
She stayed in that same position for a long time, hugging the tree, until she thought it time to return to the castle. Turning she thought she caught a glimpse of something, a centaur or a unicorn, and moved closer to gain a better look.
Then the light revealed its secret, the contours of flesh appeared and she could see it was not an animal at all, but a man, lying in the shade, his hogwarts tie loose and his blazer bundled up underneath his head as a pillow.
She was shocked, for a few minutes she remained very still, and nothing around her moved. What if he was dead? She took a few steps towards him, and then a few more. If he was asleep she could see who he was, and she wanted to see his face.
But his head was buried into his elbow, and both drenched in shade. To see his face Rose had to squat, down by his body, so close she could touch him.
He was her age, that was clear, the size of the body showed that he would have to be her age or older. Perhaps he was older, because he hadn’t shaved, and Rose could see the echoes of a tanned jaw, the bristles each standing upright like a soldier. His clothes were of good quality, but carelessly worn. And he looked familiar, the hair, the shape of the face… she had seen him before.
As she watched him his lips moved. He must be dreaming, but what would a man, out here in the forest be dreaming about? What would he think about so late in the afternoon?
Concerning the bodies of men, which now seems as good a time as any to explore, they have scars. They accumulate them, even. Proud of them as women are of jewellery. To carry a scar is to carry a story. It means that you have something to tell, that something about you is interesting, even if it is only because you scraped your knee on an exposed fence when you were younger, or because you didn’t dodge quick enough when your mother sent the silverware flying.
Rose had been looking at the vertical mark below his eye, straight like the stem of a Rose, when the eye itself opened and looked at her.
Green, so very green. And, considering the setting on the breach of the forest surrounded by grassy moss and leafy foliage, it was the colour Rose expected.
He didn’t move, and continued to lie there looking at her. To her surprise Rose spoke first.
‘What do you want?’
‘I was sleeping.’ He said, and then, ‘Who might you be?’
‘That doesn’t matter!’ Rose said, standing up. He was being a smartass. She should have known, and so, brushing imaginary twigs from her skirt and straightening her shirt she turned around. Now he made a move. He reached a sitting position and she could finally see his face, all of it.
‘I opened my eyes just then.’ He said, ‘and instead of stars or the leaves of the trees, I saw spots.’
Rose didn’t understand what he was talking about. Maybe he had been hitting the firewhiskey. She made as if to go, and then said in an explanatory way. ‘You were talking in your sleep.’
He smiled. ‘Did I say anything interesting?’
‘Someone’s name, I think.’
He laughed, and Rose wanted him to stay that way, his head angled up at the branches and his hands flopping carelessly in his lap. He looked around, and saw a bed of roses further on. ‘I should have chosen a better place to sleep, now I’m going to smell of flowers all day. If I’m not mistaken that’s a…’
Rose knew what type of Rose it was, a beautiful Grandiflora spilling forth over the green. But the stranger never actually named the Rose.
Rose looked at him sharply, but he wasn’t even looking at her, he was focussed on something else entirely, watching the grass sway softly in the wind. He was too much! He was too much just to sit there carelessly and let the silence open up between them like a cave. She felt annoyed, and wanted him to know, and didn’t quite know why she felt this way.
‘Why not sit down?’ She heard him say, ‘Either that, or I ought to get to my feet. I can’t have you towering over me like that. It doesn’t make sense.’
Without waiting for an answer he stood up anyway, and she had to tilt her head to look at him. He put his hands in his pockets and grinned at her, doing a little irish jig as if he was pleased to see her. Rose smiled.
‘Do you know…’ He said, resting a hand on the bark of a tree. ‘Do you know that there is a woman who lives in Sussex, not far from the channel. For many years she worked for a firm of solicitors in a small town called Hatchworth near Brighton. They specialised in wills.’
Clearing his throat he glanced at Rose, a few paces away.
‘She was born in Bulgaria, see, in a city of many bridges. Her father had a dark moustache and hair that was crinkled like crisps. He wore a coat over his shoulders, but without the arms in their holes, an odd habit, really. Very feminine. The mother was a singer, and first realised that the man courting her was a tenor of some renown when he took her to a pine forest and began to sing. She came from a prosperous pureblood merchant family.’
‘But for a while in Bulgaria there was trouble, and people were scared. A government made of cement. No one could leave the country without permission, and no-one wanted to enter it. Even if they did manage to get permission they couldn’t get their money out. It became worthless. And so to get around this people started to get creative.’
‘Under a tree in their garden the woman’s parents had buried a stamp collection of immeasurable value, containing nineteenth century classics and rare items from the Isle of Wight or Scottish highlands. It had been inherited from a Great Uncle who collected that sort of thing. Every year or so the tenor with the crinkled hair and deep voice would go to the tree, dig out the tin wrapped in calico and with a pair of tweezers he would remove one, just one single precious stamp which they would slip into an envelope and sell in Geneva for cold hard money. It was how they continued to sing throughout Bulgaria when everyone else was crying.’
‘The father always spoiled his daughter. He gave her extravagant gifts, slices of bittersweet sacher torte from Vienna, the soft cashmere of a beret from Paris… When he went to cafes with his friends he took her with him and she would sometimes fall asleep with her head on his shoulder. When she was with him he became loud, contented, conceited even… She even met some beautifully dressed women who were always laughing, their faces covered by netting from their perched hats, their feet clicking along parquet floors and their lips leaving red kisses on glasses and white cakes.’
‘But now she had grown up, oh how she had grown up. We will have to say she was a melancholy beauty, a flame-haired law student with no doubts and a man who loved her with aching heart. But they could only whisper in alleys or at the café, her father wouldn’t have him at the house, or let him see her. At the mention of his four syllable name he would fly into a dirty rage and break things. To make matters worse the student was under surveillance by the government for suspicious activity.’
‘She tried to tell him, tearing her hair, to stop writing letters because everything he sent was torn up and burnt by her father.’
Rose was staring hard at his face, trying to make out if he was inventing the whole thing as he went along or if this was true.
‘There were a few stamps left.’ He said, slowly. ‘To take her mind off the student who he knew she was still meeting, he took her on a trip, just the two of them. Together they went to Switzerland where they cashed in one of the last stamps. There they met a Prima Donna, an Italian Diva with flashy smiles and ample bosom and rings on all her fingers and bells on her toes.’
Rose smiled, thinking of a large woman with gold for a skirt shaking her feet and making the world jingle.
‘The father fell in love, and he wouldn’t give up until she was his. They travelled across Europe, and the daughter watched on as he tried to woo her with flowers and chocolate and jewellery. It was in Barcelona that he succeeded, with a bottle of champagne in a 5 star hotel. But he ran out of money! He had to return home, weeping and clutching his beautiful daughter he sang mourning songs all the way back to Bulgaria.’
‘There was his wife, stout as always but with her beautiful singing voice, her arms folded and her brow stiff. Just her look was enough. She was sick of it, there was alwayas another woman somewhere, and she always kept her mouth shut. Well, not anymore.’
‘The husband had nothing to say to his wife, all he could think about was the Italian diva. He wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t sleep. He wanted to leave again, for Switzerland, this time on his own. The wife tried to intervene, clutching at his trouser legs, wringing her hands. She begged her daughter to help and the daughter, who now lives in Sussex, tried her best. Meanwhile her law student man was arrested, he had the choice of jail or leaving the country.’
‘So the daughter struck a deal with her mournful father, they would split the remaining stamps and he would take of after the Diva while she left with her student. The father readily agreed.’
The man looked up to the sky and seemed to notice something, narrowing his eyes slightly.
‘They decided on a date, and the daughter tried to be as nice to her mother as possible. But the mother would speak to neither of them and shut herself in her room all day long. When the day came she joined her father at the base of the tree as he dug for the little tin and the little stamps. She held up the tweezers, the same tweezers she had used on her eyebrows minutes before, and he hummed a little operetta, childish optimism infectious like a disease. To think that a few images on perforated paper and a small value could solve everything!’
‘He winked, the father winked. She would remember that wink all her life. They opened the tin. The stamps had all been burnt, there was nothing left except ash.’
‘Years later she managed to escape her country and came to England where she grew Roses in her garden and drank cups of tea. Everyone else in this story remained behind, and she never saw them again.’
* * * * *
Poor woman, Rose though, that poor woman. Imagine having to live with a husband that you knew hated you and a daughter who had helped the father try to achieve a new life. Imagine being the daughter, trapped in an oppressive country.
She tried to picture them all living together, and saw that a story never ends. In real, heart-beating there is no neat finish like ‘the end’, there is only new beginnings.
She wanted to know more, but the stranger with all his words wasn’t interested anymore. He was thinking about something else, whistling a tune idly and tapping his boots. He turned away, leaving her as if she was nothing but a flower blowing in the breeze… It was despicable! There was no-one else around, and yet he had left her there, as if she was nothing.
Rose glared at his retreating back and turned away herself, stalking through the grass. She never wanted to see him again.
A/N; I am so sorry for the wait, life came and knocked on the door, and i had exams and all sorts of terrible things. But i've got this chapter done, i hope you like it, and hopefully will be updating my other stories and also answering reviews as well... thanks for all your kind words and thoughts, i'm glad that people like this story. !!!