BY BARRY VAN-ASTEN
BY BARRY VAN-ASTEN
THE CRYING ROSE
As Peg stood gazing at the lifeless body of the Peacock, that was dangling over the assistant undertaker’s shoulder, its head swaying from side to side, she felt a small hand grip her own and as she looked down she saw the bruised and bleeding face of the fat boy.
‘Does it hurt?’ asked Peg.
‘Immensely!’ uttered the fat boy as they stood in the centre of the Great Hall, surrounded by masked faces and ball gowns twirling to the sound of violins.
‘This way!’ said the fat boy, gently pulling her hand. And they both slipped out of the Great Hall through a doorway into a dark corridor. Along the way, Pegamina learnt that the fat boy’s name was Crocket and he told her about all the ill treatment he suffers at the hands of the kitchen staff and just about anyone he happens to get in the way of.
‘Is there no one that is kind to you?’ Peg said pitifully.
‘I don’t think I know what kind is; does it involve being slapped on the legs for eating too many tarts? Or does it involve being locked in the cupboard for getting caught with my fingers in the treacle jar?’ ‘It doesn’t involve any of those!’ said Pegamina dabbing at his face with a corner of her dress. ‘Kindness is treating other people how one would expect to be treated oneself!’
‘Then I should like kindness to be custard and jam for I should so like to be treated with custard and jam!’
Pegamina laughed and then Crocket laughed though he didn’t know what he was laughing at. When they came to the end of the hallway, Crocket showed Peg a small opening that was hidden behind some hanging tapestry.
‘Where will it take me?’ asked Peg.
‘I don’t know, I’ve never been able to squeeze through but I’m sure you can and you shall be safe there!’ Pegamina kissed Crocket’s fleshy cheek and thanked him for being so kind to her.
‘I don’t know what you’re doing’ he said as she kissed him ‘but it’s very nice!’ and Crocket blushed and ran down the hallway, leaving Pegamina to squeeze through the opening that lay behind the tapestry.
Once inside, she found herself in a white chamber. ‘It’s whiter than the moon’ she thought. And looking round her eyes fell upon the white splendour that seemed to unfold before her. There were beautiful fine laces, delicately embroidered with fabulous and mythological beasts, hanging from ivory pillars encrusted with pearls and opals. And with each careful step across the white marble floor, the lace gently blew about her. And as she pushed her way through the cascades of lace that hung like smoke about the room, she found herself confronted by a large mirror that stood upon a stone altar in the shape of a wolf; and there, on the altar, resting upon a glass orb, filling the chamber with a strange scent of sleep and death, was the deadly hemlock flower. Suddenly, Pegamina heard the sound of weeping, and as she turned to the sound, she saw the beautiful body of a woman, her face turned away behind a lace curtain.
‘Why are you weeping?’ asked Pegamina. And the woman said in the saddest voice ever to speak:
‘I am woman and I am man and I am the secret of the moon; though I touch no soul but my own, I bear the weight of the morning upon my heart!’
‘Can you not look at me for I wish to see your face?’
‘I cannot, for I am all that is hideous in the heart and I must turn from the mirror for all eternity because I dare not see the terror that lies within my own soul. It asks for much and gives so little in return for I am plague and pestilence and I bear the face of all the hungry children in the world!’
Pegamina turned towards the altar with her heavy hear and without a moment’s thought she swept the ghastly flower from the orb with her hand, and clutching the glass orb, thrust it into the mirror, which shattered and fell like tears upon the marble floor. She hung her head and in looking round she saw that the weeping woman wept no more and had been released from her torment, for she was dead upon the floor! The light dimmed in the chamber and all the beautiful lace fell as dust upon the marble floor and Pegamina could hold her tears no more. And she felt a shattering sadness as she turned away from the woman that lay amidst the decay within the chamber, as she entered a doorway between two stone pillars.
She now found herself stepping into another chamber, a red chamber. ‘It’s redder than the sun!’ she thought as she walked across a mirrored floor that reflected the red silken drapes and the pillars of porphyry stone, encrusted with beautiful rubies and sapphires. Again she pushed between the flowing curtains until she came upon another altar. And she could see, as she had seen before, a large mirror supported upon a stone altar in the form of a unicorn, and there upon the unicorns back, placed upon a piece of scarlet satin, was the orb and the flower, but a different flower for it was the monkshood.
Pegamina turned, as she had done in the white chamber, but not to the sound of weeping, but to the sound of sighing. And there before her, sat the handsomest man she had ever seen and it appeared as if he was looking straight through her.
‘Who are you and why do you sigh?’ she asked. And the man replied:
‘I am man and I am woman and I am the secret of the sun; though I touch no soul but my own, I bear the weight of the evening upon my heart!’
‘Is that why you sigh?’
‘I sigh because I am the love that destroys and breaks hearts and I must turn towards the mirror for all eternity, for it reflects the most beautiful face in the entire world and there is nothing fairer for my eyes to fall upon. It asks for little and gives so much in return, for I am avarice and all that is greed and I bear the face of the entire world’s beauty!’
Although Pegamina was struck by the man’s beauty, she turned towards the altar and picked up the orb and hurled it into the mirror as the flower fell to the ground. The mirror splintered into a thousand pieces and fell like ice upon the mirrored floor. And once again, she turned to the sight of another lifeless body lying upon the floor, still bearing the world’s beauty, but unable to see it for evermore! Then the room went dull and the silk hangings fluttered to the floor in scraps and rags and Peg felt an unbearable sadness grow within her heart!
Then after what seemed like an eternity, Pegamina suddenly remembered what the old gardener, Grudge had said:
Snow shall cover the land of Doom;
Tears will flow in the pool of gloom.
And within a room, within a room, within a room,
The heart of sorrow has built her tomb!
Pegamina looked around her but she could find no entrance into a third room. She carefully examined all the walls for any signs of a concealed doorway, but she found nothing. And so she sat down before the altar, with her head in her hands looking at the shattered fragments of glass and tattered strips of silk strewn about her; then, some sound made her look up. And as she peered into the space where the mirror had been she could hear the faint sound of crying coming from within. She went towards it, and as she got closer she could see that a dark chamber lay beyond and so she climbed up onto the stone unicorn and entered through the mirror’s frame.
Once inside she was unable to see anything. ‘It’s blacker than the night!’ she thought. The floor was of black marble and black velvet drapes hung from ebony pillars depicting fantastic imaginary creatures. As she slowly pushed her way through the drapes that brushed against her face and seemed to be filled by midnight’s fear, she came upon a stone altar in the shape of a turtle with a piece of black satin across its shell upon which stood a single candle. And so Pegamina walked towards it as the sound of crying grew louder.
‘But where is it coming from?’ she thought to herself. It seemed to be coming from the turtle’s shell and so she removed the candle and placed it upon the floor and pushed the satin to one side. Grasping the turtle’s shell, she lifted it carefully, and there inside was the flower of death: the crying rose! It was the whitest rose she had ever seen, but as she looked again, she saw that the rose had become red! ‘What makes you cry so rose?’ Pegamina asked with tears flowing down her face.
‘I cry because I hold the sufferings of sorrow for I am death; though I touch no soul but my own I bear the weight of the night upon my heart! Already I grow weak, for the morning and the evening have fallen and my white petals have become red and welcome the release from an eternity of suffering!’ And here, Pegamina reached into the turtle’s shell and gently lifted the rose from the black satin tomb and cradled it in her hands.
‘The weight of the world’s sorrow is the greatest of all sorrows and I have carried that sorrow since all life began! Let it crumble as I crumble, for death is the only release...’
Pegamina felt a great pain as the rose withered and died between her fingers, never to cry again, as the final curtain lifted from the land of Doom!
And so, with the dying of the rose, all the wickedness of Doom was gone, for indeed Doom did fall and Lord Magnus became a kind and generous man. And as the snow melted and the great walls came down, the gardens were beautiful once again. And in time perhaps happiness would return to Sleepy Sadness. And as for Pegamina, she felt as if a great sadness had been lifted from her heart and she knew that her father loved her more than anything in the whole world, for she was so very loved... she was so very loved!
The Flower of Death: The Crying Rose