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Editor's Choice

Issue 24 - Spring 2023

Roses on the River

      If you are reading this, dear Theoden, then I have truly gone mad. Because, you see, you are dead. People say you are mad when you talk to yourself. But I am clearly not mad, because I am not talking to myself…I’m talking to you, Theoden. However, I do know that you can’t be reading this. Because you’re dead. And that’s a fact. 

      That’s a fact. Fact. Fact. Fact.  


      I don’t like facts. They’re so tasteless, so bitter. People spit them around like they’re a religion. Or perhaps a particular curse word to dwell on, contemplate, feel in one’s soul, then spit out at the right moment to attack one unexpectedly and triumphantly. But facts are blind. They only see things on the surface level. They trick you into having a sense of control. But I do not fall for these tricks so easily. I’ve always had this gift, to see things beneath the surface, to see all the grays that make people so uncomfortable. But you know this, Theoden. Because I have already told you. 


      Can you see me, Theoden? Do you remember what I look like? Perhaps you don’t remember…it has been a long time since you’ve seen me, so I’ll tell you. You see, I am little, and I always have been. I haven’t grown since you saw me last, though I wish I had. You used to call me the most beautiful dwarf of all time. I have the same long, silvery white hair. You said I looked like an angel. And of course, my golden brown eyes are the same as yours, dear Theoden, so I needn’t explain that to you. Can you see me here, huddled in the cold, old shack, a rose in my hand and Daisy in the other.  


      Do you remember when you gave Daisy to me?  

      “You need to have friends. Even if the friend is just a stuffed bear.”  

      But I had you, Theoden. I’ve always had you as my friend. 

      I’ve always liked roses. They have such a romantic look to them. When I told you this, you laughed at me. But I wasn’t upset at you. I knew you liked that I was such a helpless romantic.  


      When are you coming back to me, Theoden? You disappeared so suddenly, with no explanation, and we could find no sign of you for days. I miss you. So does mother. She’s gone searching for you. She’s gone searching for you because she cares about you and knows I am always just fine. I am just fine, even now, brother alone in our house. And I am fine, happy even, knowing she will return, and we will all be together. She’s left little Morana under my careful care. How gently I stroke her little face, try to make her comfortable as the fever rises and as she coughs. But she will recover. And so will you. You were always the strong one. 


      Morana, only a few weeks old. And lying still, so eerily still. The coughing is finished, and it is wonderful to have peace and quiet in the house. This is what I am thinking as I lay my head back and I can almost see little Morana lying still and quiet on the ground. She’s finally asleep. She’s just sleeping. Sleeping. But I can’t find her anywhere, and when I open my eyes, she disappears. 


      I stand up, and make my way to the door. It’s cold outside, but I don’t mind. You always told me that nothing mattered unless you let it bother you. I smile at the thought, my bare feet leaving deep trails in the snow. Dead leaves crunch underneath my feet, and I smile at the pleasantness. But I don’t let it distract me. I finish the path to the river, and smile at the sight of it. Its water is blue and clear, even in the winter. I sit down along the bank, my pale nightgown sliding along the ice. But I like it, I am thinking as I drop my feet into the chilled waves and wiggle them back and forth. Like a child, you would have said, Theoden.  


      When I look down, all I see is the snow, my pale skin, moon-like hair falling down in waves, and my nightgown, a perfect silver sheen.  


      I love the color white. It’s so beautiful, so simple, so overpowering. It is clean, it is new. Always new, and can turn even the darkest colors away. It gives a tranquil feeling of rest.  


      I’m sorry, dear Theoden. Do I bore you with my talk? Yes, I can sense your annoyance, Theo. You always know me to get distracted by the beauty around me. You used to say it was one of the things you liked most about me, even though it drove you crazy.  


      I set Daisy down on my lap, and her fur is faded almost to a white too. But the rose I pull out is not. It is bright red. Like a sweetheart’s lips, the kind of red that no one can ignore. It is irreversible, forever there. You could burn the petals in a flame, and it will still remain, marking your mind like a scar. It is a taste, strong and bitter. The feeling of panic, the color of blood. Irreversible and forever. 

      Irreversible and forever. Just like our friendship. Do you remember when you told me that, Theoden? 


      I rip the petals off of the rose, careful to avoid the thorns. I must not let them hurt me. You always told me that nothing mattered unless you let it bother you, so I am careful not to let them hurt me. They can’t hurt me. They’re nothing but flowers. They don’t matter. So I rip off the petals, one by one, and watch as they fall in the river, carried away down the river and out of sight. 


      Little, harmless, red flecks bobbing on the river like little boats, like little specks of blood, gently being carried away down the river. Away, far away, where I will never see it again. It can never hurt me, and I smile, and drop the stem into the water with a little kerplop.  


      Theoden, do you laugh at my little games?   


      The little boats are sailing far away as I make my way to my feet. I giggle, thinking of the song you used to sing to me at night, and softly murmur the words down the stream to help the little boats carry themselves down the stream, further away from me.  


Row, row, row your boat 

Gently down the stream 

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily 

Life is but a dream. 


      I love dreams. You can do anything with them. You can make it anything you want, rewrite your story. You can do them at night, or you can do them during the day. There are many types of dreams, and you never have to grow tired of them.  


      Why do you laugh at me, Theoden? I speak the truth, do I not? 


      I am turning back towards the house now, Theoden. Please stop laughing at me. I am walking, my feet leaving little trails of blood in the snow. I wonder if I am bleeding, Theoden, and why? 


      Suddenly, what I see freezes me in my tracks. I turn away towards it, though everything tells me to turn away. I am like a deer caught in its tracks, but now isn’t the time for fancy words or phrases, brother.  


      Because there you are, your body broken and bent against the bank of the river. Red stains the snow around you, and I can see it. What frightens me the most is what lingers around you. They are there, in your blonde hair, you shut dead eyes, blending in with the blood spilling out on the ground. But they can’t disguise themselves from me. I know them too well—the sweetness, the strength of them.  


      The roses are everywhere, irreversible and forever, clouding my vision. They’re everywhere, and all I know is I have to get away. I turn and run, checking over my shoulder, but they are following me. Every footstep they are there, lingering and shadowing my every step. They are coming for me. 


      Stop laughing, Theoden! Please, stop laughing—I am falling, Theoden. Help me! 


      But it is the weight of a river pushing me like a corpse down the current, back towards a waiting sister. But there is no one waiting for me. 


      I shut my eyes, but I can still see the body, it is burned into my mind, unremovable, forever there.  


      No. Stop. Theoden, help me. But of course you can’t help me. Because you’re gone. I push myself to my feet. I refused to look behind me, but I could feel the roses coming for me, following me, whispering my name in my ear. 

      I opened the crooked door to our hut, heavy as it was. Why couldn’t you help me, Theo? I need your help. I am begging for it, and you know I do not like to beg. Please brother, come to me, help me. But all I can hear is your infuriating laughter, haunting my every move. Your laughter is light, fun, of happiness. And that’s what hurts the most. 


      But you’re stubborn. Of course, I know you have always been stubborn. I try not to let it bother me as I open the door. But what I see stops me in my tracks. Roses cover the floor, hang from the ceiling, dried out but still alive, vibrant and real. 


      In a mute manner, I shut the door cautiously. I lay down in the snow, and breathe gently. The snow is swallowing me whole, making me feel small and perfect. Like a little angel, a little dwarf melting farther from all that is real. I press the icy snow against my hot cheeks. 


      You always told me that nothing mattered unless you let it bother you. That’s why your being gone doesn’t bother me. Don’t plague me, brother, and we can be happy together. Do you believe that? I do, I’ve always been able to dream. We can be happy, we can dance in our fields of grain and gardens of flowers. We can relax in the warm sun, stretched out like a sunbathing cat. We can breathe in the fresh air on the mountains, and fly high in the sky. We can live in a mansion, we can swim in the ocean. 


Row, row, row your boat 

Gently down the stream 

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily 

Life is but a dream. 


                 But even there, the roses plague me. 

Cara Reeder. I am currently 17 years old. I graduate from high school next year but am currently enrolled in the CCP program and pursuing a degree in Creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. I've been writing from the age of 14, and one day I hope to publish as an author. I am also an avid reader; it's one of my favorite past times alongside writing, and much of what I read influences the material that I write. Some of the genres that interest me the most are: fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and classics.

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