Russian Rose (A Short Story)



Her hospital room held a single window, cradled between its palms. Its clumsy fingers blocked out the majority of the light, leaving meagre scraps behind. Svetlana shuffled close and pushed her face up against the glass, her slippers soundless against tile. Her view was dominated, plagued, by concrete and stone – a bizarre juxtaposition, although in Moscow there was little else.

She observed a fly on the opposite face of the glass, savouring its freedom. Her envy of the insignificant, disease-ridden bug was evident. It could dance on the wind if it wanted. She was a caged dove in this place. She sighed in defeat at the robe she had been made to wear. She was certain she wasn’t imagining it – it accentuated her lack of shape, taunting her for her lack of a belly.

Her thoughts wandered to a different dress, the dress she had worn to dance a few nights before.  The memory haunted her, casting shadows on her thoughts. That night she had lost her grace, lost it forever.

Never had Svetlana been more lost or afraid: she was inconsolable, pacing around her little prison, her agitation growing with each plucky little tick-tock of the clock. It had been three days, and there had still been no word from her fiancé. Never before had he missed a performance or phone call.

The first time she had met Pierre was almost a year ago, after a stunning performance of Swan Lake at the Bolshoi. He had fallen over himself to present her with an armful of roses, brimming with awe. His eyes sparkled, as if her greatness had crystallised into stars to fill his eyes.

He had sworn that he would love her forever; the stars would surely fail to ignite without her inspiration; that even the light looked clumsy beside her, such was her grace. He told her the willows wept with envy when she danced; that her performance had stolen breath from him that would never return. All these proclamations had fallen from him without so much as a preliminary ‘hello’.

The exuberant bouquet he had brought for her tormented his nose, meaning his declaration of affection was punctuated by ill-timed sneezes. Svetlana had found him adorable. That night he had promised to be in the crowd every night, waiting to throw her a single, red rose.

Her little Parisian in Russia: for her, it was delicious. His colourful, European tongue exercised the mechanics of her language so terribly; she couldn’t help but envisage a weary poet at work, pouring with sweat, amazed at the effortless strength and execution of burly, sturdy Russian men. They had lost weeks to the blur of sightseeing, these two people so thoroughly wrapped up in one another, losing themselves in the old streets of Moscow. She had initially traipsed around the tourist spots for him, smiling although she was rigid as a puppet throughout.

At night, though, she came alive. Time froze around her to allow her to glitter. When Pierre mentioned his observation, she swore at night, if she put her ear to the ground, she could hear the pump of the lifeblood around the heart of Moscow. She said, at night, she felt its warmth swim the streets. Slowly, steadily, Pierre began to understand what Svetlana meant.

Bohemian cafes with ramshackle walls trembled as rapturous music flowed through them like the cheap wine they served. Splintered tables housed strangers becoming friends, and friends becoming enemies. Men without fortunes wearing silk neckerchiefs sang songs of revolution and change, raising glasses to their long-suffering wives. Tortured artists and aspiring musicians snaked the streets past dawn. Like a show for the lovers, night after night the broken city had come alive for them, all the while masking the approach of winter.

So, that Friday on her opening night, Svetlana had stood in the wings concealed by plumes of luxurious, crimson velvet. She had stood on tiptoe wrapped in that curtain for over half an hour, straining to catch a glimpse of the Frenchman she had fallen for. On occasion she thought she saw him out of the corner of her eye, but was left disappointed on further inspection.

Foreboding gnawed at her like rats; the hope inside her sank like rotten floorboards under the weight of the vermin. That night should have been the biggest night of her life for a very different reason. Instead, her mind kept skipping to savings and schools, credit and cradles. Her thoughts became one giant mouth to feet.

Trying to force her great confession to the back of her mind, she graced the stage. She felt clumsy, somehow; misaligned; a weighted die. The thoughtless intrusion of foreboding crashed over her once more as she caught sight of the chair her fiancé should have been occupying. Form failed her upon realisation that he could be gone forever, never again gifting her with a rose. It had become a symbol of their devotion to one another, but tonight he had broken his promise. Was she a fool to fall for his sweet lies?

Would she have to do this alone?

This new sensation of isolation and doubt displaced her feet. With infinite stealth, the floorboards seemed to re-align themselves. Grace deserted her as if someone had cut the marionette strings.

She remained where she had fallen, head hung in confusion and shame. A tsunami of offered hands came surging towards her, in a fight to reach her first. Their hands stank of it false kindness and the eagerness, so she attempted to brush them aside.

Svetlana realised that she had ripped her dress and that she had begun to cry silently. Mascara made ink spats on sugary-pink tights. It was a crude and ugly sight, the first sign of weakness. It was only when she tried to stand that she realised the reason for the panic around her. Svetlana had a lapful of blood. It was a thick and pungent brown; life blood. Death blood.

The soul she had been nursing left her behind that night. Then, as if it had been Svetlana who had died on that stage, they had packed her off in the ambulance and shut her in this little white box; a prison masquerading as a hospital. They had taken her dead, formless child and left her alone, all alone, with only her thoughts for company.

Her thoughts, and an empty vase, awaiting roses…


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