My Rose of Damascus
We stared at her for twelve minutes. She was kind enough to indulge our fascination, to not comment on our goldfish-esque gobsmacked expressions or the tearing of our eyes in the white overhead lights. Whatever picture you see of her is wrong, dragged through matte mud and desaturated camera shutters. It was the purple. The purple. Mauve, thistle, orchid, heliotrope, liseran, mulberry, purpureus, eminence, byzantium, pansy, palatinate, tyrian, whatever you call it, no dictation can encapsulate it. The Rose of Shiraz.
You have my nose. I whispered to her. Have we met before?
Yes. In your Teta’s perfume, your Amu’s garden, your sister’s baklava.
I love you. I cried.
That’s not true. She said. Because to love me would be to love you.
Your Teta loves roses, my mother would say as she loaded our cart with rose-scented candles, moisturizers, soaps, lotions, perfumes. She’d spray the violet bottle in four places three times a day: wrist, wrist, neck, neck. We’d get her bouquets whenever possible. With wrinkled hands she would rip each petal off and rub it on her aching joints, her skin tags, her whitened roots. Her scent lingered in a room hours after she departed it, carving her presence into the olfactory.
They grew roses in Damascus, she told me. I remember their smell. Her mind retreated somewhere further than I could see, tangling with an aroma only she could remember. She perched like that, stone-still, for hours at a time; the trance ended when the perfume wore off. The whites of her eyes popped like a cornered rabbit, as if she herself would fade with the perfume. Wrist, wrist. Neck, neck.
Am I doing it right? he asked. Is this too much? He shied from the hose, pulling back the stream of water from the rosebed.
You’re doing great, Amu. They need a lot.
His hunched form curled farther into itself. Sorry. She always watered them.
His niece softly smiled, patting his shoulder. I’ll show you how to take care of them, like she did. She absentmindedly began to prune the leaves. The shears reached for a dead rose. With a rattling gasp, he jerked forward, the hose spraying forward onto the petals.
Sorry. He pulled away. Sorry. Can you…let them fall on their own?
She acquiesced. You don’t have to apologize.
Sor—... His lips sealed. His eyes welled. She turned.
They returned to their positions like sentries on a battlefield. She fiddled with the lavender bush. He watered the roses.
½ cup rose water
½ cup water
2 cups sugar
At first it was just for the baklava. A cold pour over hot filo pastry, meant to melt into the pistachio and glue the layers together. My sister held out the spoon for me to taste.
I was hooked.
I began to pour it on everything sweet: cookies, cakes, teas, crepes, biscuits. Can you make me some more? I’d ask her monthly when the jar ran out. She’d indulge her youngest sibling with a smile—pleased to be needed. I kept using it—pleased to need. Once the sides had been scraped she’d pull out the sugar and the Cortas rose water like clockwork. I would help her stir, and when I complained of the heat burning my fingertips from the short spoon, she’d take over easily. She always had thicker skin. Stirring and stirring and stirring, she scrolled on her phone. I peaked over once—magenta-doored apartments, texts with her boyfriend, job posts. My rose-syrup heart dropped.
I began using more. I poured it on everything: pasta, pizza, salad, chicken, lamb, bread, eggs, rice. I asked her monthly. Weekly. Daily. Can you make me some more? My lips would smack together as I spoke, glued slightly together as the syrup oozed out of me. She began to hesitate, but never deny. Standing on a ladder, she’d stir the sugar with a broomstick, storing it in a pantry-sized jar. I saw her glancing at her phone. With a nudge, she dropped it into the vat of syrup.
I used it always. I breathed it, bathed in it, bled it, until it was all I had. Can you make me some more? I asked, unbeknownst to me, one last time. She frowned at the glopping mess of rose syrup I had become.
No. I need to leave now. She brushed my cheek, her skin stretching as she peeled it off.
I lept at her, arms outstretched. But my syrupy legs hindered my movement, and I fell into a heap. She apologized before turning away, leaving me to my rose-scented misery.
Sophie Najm is a young Lebanese American author from the San Fernando Valley. She’s a UCSB undergraduate for Writing & Literature, and has been published in Laurel Moon and The Catalyst magazines. A true “Valley Girl,” Sophie spends her free time ordering complicated Starbucks drinks, buying ridiculous earrings, and creatively incorporating “like” into her vernacular.
The Ekphrastic Review
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