On the Origin of Rose-Giving

by Alexis Carter

There was once a most beautiful young man who had roses growing from him. His lips were rose petals, the most beautiful, scarlet rose petals. From his dark hair grew white roses and dusky pink ones and erupting from his otherwise smooth, lily-white skin were red roses, pink roses, the dusky ones, and the white. Curling gently from his hair and wrists and ankles grew delicate green vines and leaves. They circled his ears and intertwined with his fingers and crawled up his legs giving him the perpetual appearance that something was trying to keep him captive. But he was free and happy because he was a most beautiful young man.

One day, as all beautiful young men are generally supposed to, he fell in love. That night as he lay in the dusk blue garden among the roses as he liked, he sighed and said, “If only I knew how to make my love—my darling— fall in love with me.”

“Oh!” the white roses cried. “But she must be in love with you! You are beautiful! No one in the world is at all like you.”

“Yes but that alone won’t make anyone fall in love,” he said.

“Give her a gift!” the pink roses suggested with coquettish shivers.

“But what to give her!” the young man mused. “Most men give women flowers.”

“Well, then there you are!” cried the red roses, the roses as red as blood and the passions of youth. “Give her a rose. A rose from yourself.”

“But that would hurt very badly,” the young man protested. “And if I at any time don’t have at least one rose on my person, I shall surely die!”

“Yes, but you have many roses,” the red roses said impatiently. “And of course it will hurt. Do you expect us to take the pain of your love for you? Do you expect us to spare you, dear brother, the prick of Love’s barbed arrows?”

“No of course not,” the young man replied quickly. “Of course I will give her a rose of myself, and surely it will mean much more than a rose from a bush, if you would pardon me, my dear brothers.”

“Of course,” they replied, the white roses with earnestness, the pink with giggling and the red with eager anticipation, for the red roses secretly hated the young man for being more beautiful.

The next day, the young man went to his love, bowed to her and with courageous bravado, plucked from his hair a single white rose. She took it, smiling with all the stars glistening in her mouth and she kissed his cheek.

“Why, thank you! I shall keep it forever! Do you love me?”

“Of course I love you,” the young man, who was now fighting grimaces of pain, said. “Who could not love a beauty such as yourself?”

She kissed his other cheek and ran off to show her stern-faced mother who watched with disapproval.

Drunk on the love he felt for his darling, the young man ran swiftly as a cloud to the garden where he announced gaily, “I am in love! I gave her a rose from my hair and told her with great earnestness about my love for her—my undying love! And she kissed both my cheeks. Oh, I will give her all my roses if it will make her happy! I love her!”

“Oh, how perfectly romantic,” cried the white roses.

“Young love!” sang the pink.

“A word of caution!” the red roses said gravely. “Remember that you have your limits.”

“Oh, no! I have no limits, nor shall I if I have my love for her! Surely I could live off it alone, because love is greater than anything in the world!” Of course, this was precisely what the red roses hoped he would say.

“Very well,” they intoned. “Do what you must for love. Though be warned, it is a foolish thing.”

And every day, the young man would give his love a rose from his hair. He would soon after drink much water and make sure he got the proper amount of sunshine that he may grow more roses. Alas, it was not enough, and the young man ran out of roses from his hair to give his love. He told her this one day and she frowned.

“Well, can’t you give me a rose from your skin?”

“Yes, but it would hurt very much.”

“Don’t you love me?”

“More than anything!” he said taking her hands in his, but she pulled away. “Let me think about this, my love.”

“You don’t love me,” she sniffed.

“I do!” he cried, for it made him wretched to think she didn’t know. And so, he seized a dusky pink rose that bloomed from his shoulder and with a sharp cry and a bitter tear, plucked it from his very flesh. His love looked on with something like pity, but greed also lurked behind that look. He gave it to her saying. “Please accept this rose of my very flesh. As an apology.”

She smiled and kissed his cheek. “I do believe it is my favorite yet! Now I know you must love me!” And she hurried away to her mother who no longer looked in their direction these days.

That night, as he lay in the garden in the pale moonlight, he confessed what it all had come to. The white roses applauded saying, “How sweet! How devoted! How self-sacrificing!”

The pink tsked and shivered with hardly contained delight. The red secretly smiled and said, “There, now, young man, you were so willing and eager to give so much of yourself. This is really all your fault. But one wouldn’t have the right to blame you if, for example, you decided to…revise your hastily spoken vow— “

“No!” cried the young man. “I am fine! And my roses will surely grow back in my hair within a few weeks. I love her!

“Then by all means!” the red roses said with mock seriousness. “Do what you must!”

And so it was that every day the young man plucked with a sob or scream the roses from his very flesh, leaving bleeding wounds where they had been and shriveling vines and leaves in their wake. He grew very sick in this time…until eventually, all that the young man had to give of himself were the two soft, scarlet rose petal lips of his, which were only just keeping him alive.

The young man decided, after a night of illness and tossing restlessly in bed, that he would tell his most darling love the truth of himself, how he would surely die if he lost all of his flowering. And the hour came when he would visit her and tell her the news when he saw she was weeping bitterly.

“Why are you weeping bitterly, my love?”

“Oh! It is nothing!” she hiccupped. She turned her dark eyes onto him and said, “My mother is marrying me to another young man with money instead of flowers. I leave tomorrow. And I was thinking of how I would miss you and how I will forever keep your roses. And I was thinking how there is one thing that I want from you, and I am afraid it is quite selfish.”

“No, never selfish!” the young man consoled her taking her hands in his cold, trembling ones. “Love is greater than selfishness!”

She laughed tearfully.  “I wanted a kiss from your mouth. Really, that is all I’ve ever wanted.”

And staring deeply into her eyes, the young man said softly, “Then you shall have it.” And he leaned closer unto her and let her kiss his scarlet petal lips and with the kiss take his one saving grace, for his lips were sweet like nectar and the petals melted in her mouth.

Then, with tear-filled eyes, she cried, “Good-bye!” and left him forever. The young man sprang to his feet, for he was suddenly very weak and the world was suddenly very dim. He stumbled away, clutching his heart until he reached the garden. He ran forward in search of the roses, for his vision was blurry. At last he did find them.

With one last burst of life, he flung himself upon the red rose bush and cried, “Help me! Give me counsel! I have loved and it has killed me!”

The red roses chuckled aloud. “Dear brother, poor fool! Roses aren’t counselors, nor can we mend mistakes! We are only beautiful! And now more beautiful than even you!” And they let their thorns blind him that he may never see beauty even in his last moments, and then they pierced his body so he may die more satisfactorily.

Unbeknownst to them, however, was that they would become, in essence, just like the young man, as he was the very embodiment of pure and earnest love. A drop of the young man’s blood entered their veins through a crack made when he had flung his body upon them in his grief. They then, because of his great love, became themselves symbols of love and hope, and also of mourning as they felt terribly about what they had done to the beautiful young man.

Alexis Carter is a freshman who hopes to major in Creative Writing and English. Her human alias is from Madison, Mississippi, but, as it turns out, she isn’t quite human, but rather a space creature whose name is incomputable with this font.