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Once I, Rose

A. Merc Rustad is a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker who lives in the Midwest United States. Favorite things include: robots, dinosaurs, monsters, and tea--most of which are present in their work to some degree. Their stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Inscription Magazine, Scigentasy, and InterGalactic Medicine Show, as well as the anthology The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015. Merc has considered making their tagline "The Robot Who Makes People Cry With Their Stories." In addition to breaking readers' hearts, Merc likes to play video games, watch movies, read comics, and wear awesome hats. You can find Merc on Twitter @Merc_Rustad or their website: amercrustad.com.
Life/Death #7
The woman I'm given to is finished with her boyfriend, so she throws me and the other roses into the garbage disposal.
Because memory lasts between life and death, I make lists as my new body grows on the stem.
When I Am Human Again, I Will:
* Eat a twelve-course meal full of cheeses and pie and roast chicken and mashed potatoes and French appetizers with names I can't pronounce. Anything that doesn't taste of NutriGrow.
* Watch the sun rise and set and the stars bloom over a country field.
* Go skydiving.
* Wear microfleece sweaters and downy slippers and drink hot chocolate by an open fireplace.
* Hold you tight and tell you, I love you I love you I love you.
Life/Death #19
Petals ripped from my stem one by one to gamble for love. At least the pain lessens with each wound. Roses can't scream.
The curse was nestled in a chocolate truffle glazed with butterscotch.
Was it meant for me, or was it meant for you?
Life/Death #37
Tossed in the compost after Valentine's Day. Decomposing amid carrot tops and lettuce heads, coffee grounds and melon rinds. The flies are the worst.
I am always the brightest, reddest, biggest rose in a bouquet. I must be the most beautiful so you will find me.
I bolster my fellow roses with encouraging thoughts--"Look how lovely you are! Your fragrance is delectable! Your thorns are so sharp!"--but they never answer. I know they suffer. If I had a heart like I did, it would always be breaking.
Life/Death #58
Eaten by a Golden Retriever. Half-digested in stomach acids and vomited up on a Persian rug.
I wish this would stop.
Our life together was rocky and sharp, because we were both poor and students and unsure where we were headed. But I remember loving you. So hard that it stretched my chest into a balloon I thought would pop if I couldn't see your bedhead in the morning, brush my teeth beside you in our tiny apartment bathroom, cuddle you in the evening, write you sentimental texts at work.
When you said my name, an electric thrill buzzed in my stomach. I said yours back and you would smile. Kiss me. Hold me.
We were happy, weren't we? In all our struggle and spats and goofy dates at the waterpark or the zoo or free museums?
You're still trying to find me, aren't you?
Life/Death #71
Tossed in a puddle after wilting, tires grinding my body into asphalt. Drowning in grit and rain.
I went to bed with a stomachache from eating the curse. When you woke, I was gone. You never thought to look at the dozen roses on the table.
You looked. You waited. You called the police. But I was gone--transformed, unable to beg you to kiss me and set me free.
You threw out the roses a week after I left.
That was Life/Death #1.
Life/Death #87
Dried and pressed between the slats of a vice, crushed into paper. Suffocating against mulched wood until the book opens and I crumble to dust.
The curse-maker purchased me during Life/Death #42. She was a chocolatier who worked on her spells on the side. One day she was mixing brownies from a box, a shortcut she was ashamed of, but it was such a last minute invite to her niece's potluck, and everyone expected her to bring chocolate.
"It didn't reach my ex," she said, cell on speakerphone as she worked. "The package was mislabeled and sent to the wrong house. He never received the curse. I feel just awful."
A mistake? All this... was a mistake?
"So no," the chocolatier said. "I won't make any more. You'll have to find someone else."
I couldn't scream. I was right there and she could fix this. Why couldn't she see me?
She crumbled us roses into a frosting for the brownies.
Life/Death #93
Used for an amateur's homemade perfume. Left to ferment in an old milkglass jar. The smell is terrible.
I want you to keep looking for me. I shouldn't. You deserve to move on, to find other loves, to live. But hope is all I have.
Attempted Methods Of Communication Thus Far:
* Shedding petals into the words HELP ME. [Too difficult to arrange with no hands.]
* Pricking every finger that touches me; someone must realize I am not a rose. [People are imperceptive.]
* Asking the bees to carry my message to someone. Anyone. [Humans understand bees poorly.]
* Thinking your name as loud as I can, remembering how we said we would always recognize each other's ghosts.
Life/Death #103
I refuse to eat or drink. Once withered, thrown away.
The number of Valentine's Days I've endured as a rose: fifty-two.
I no longer strive to outshine all the other roses. If I give up, will the curse end? Will I die forever?
You must have stopped looking for me. It's okay.
It's... okay.
Life/Death #111
My stem tip rots in the old water of the boutique fridge. I'm the only rose left after the holiday rush. Too dreary to be picked. The shop owner, a tiny woman who sings to us in Russian, shuffles about as she closes up for the night.
The door chimes. "Do you have any roses left?"
Footsteps approach. I bow my head, petals drifting in a washed-out drizzle to the fridge floor. I want to disintegrate before another stranger finds it necessary to discard me.
Hands that smell of cocoa butter and minty arthritic cream cup my wilted head. Lift me. "Hello, love."
It's your voice.
You found me.
After so long, you didn't give up? I have so many questions. Yet just to be held in your hands once more, to be remembered--it's enough. I strive to blossom one last time for you.
You came back.
You smile and whisper my name and kiss me.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 27th, 2016


This story was written for a Codex contest (Flash, Saviour of the Universe)--it was so much fun, and allowed me to play with the idea of looping (I'm a sucker for time loop stories). I always feel bad for flowers on display, and wondered what they must be experiencing. Personally, I much prefer looking at flowers in the wild, not in vases.

- A. Merc Rustad

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