Rose was known as the bolder of the two, so everyone expected for her to go the furthest. She was the fittest, they said, with a beauty unsurpassed by any who dared to walk on God’s green earth. Therefore, it was decided by the scientists that she could not be anything other than the product of evolution, and the Creationists got upset because they thought she was the property of the Garden of Eden, and wanted her in their circles. But Rose hadn’t bothered with any of this; she was young then, and cemented her focus, as all children do, in imagination rather than science or religion.
Looking back, Rose wished that she could have stayed a child forever, for as she began to grow into her adolescence, both dogmas were proving to be equally disappointing. But if she had really wished for it, on things like shooting stars and pennies and birthday candles, she feared that her wish would be warped, the way genies often did in movies to teach greedy children lessons. She feared that if she wished to be a child again, she would still have to keep an adult mind, trapped inside the tight bronze curls, the lace, and the infant body with the skull bone sutures still soft and not yet fused. These were all things that could not sustain such a rampage of adolescent desires, thrashing about like a wolf held captive in a cage made of bone and straw. And she would have to keep it like a secret, as children do not take kindly to things they do not understand. But then, neither do adults.
So instead Rose became the bold one, and in the bones of her adolescent body she knew she had to be, for the sake of Honey’s heart.
Sometimes they called Rose the Desert Briar because of her thorny countenance. A countenance covered with dust and spiked cacti, and with nothing blooming in youth’s beauty. She was just Briar then, all thorns and no flowers, her demeanour indigestible to lovers. But now and then the rains would come and encircle her body with a wet caress, causing a whole spectrum of emotion to explode in a shower of ephemeral petals, swarming across shallow earth with the opening of her palms to the sky. The drops would fall from the clouds swelling black with compassion, but they came too fast and too few, and before long the flowers began to furl up, their petals browning in the penetrating sun that burned so harsh it could break open young skin like a pomegranate, and scatter the seeds to the wind. It was always only the seeds the remained, little cases of potential life clinging to the memories of such unpredictable splendor, waiting for their turn to explode. It was a harsh life to be tied to, and certainly no place for a rose to lay her roots down. But when Rose was a desert in bloom, nothing could truthfully be called more beautiful.
Rose had just turned fourteen, and Honey only two years younger. Each was on the verge of their transition, and because everyone agreed that they were the most beautiful of all the girls, they waited with a quivering anticipation that stuck to the air and made it press against their shoulders .They waited in the big stucco house that baked children like pies in the California heat, with its mazes of hexagonal rooms, low ceilings and long windows. The windows were always left open, yet the curtains were nailed to the frames, so that occasionally the hibiscus vines would try and push their way in through the gaps. The bright fleshy flowers gaped open mouthed, their stamens choked with pollen, swaying their heads back and forth towards the door. Rose imagined that if they had voices they would be screaming “Get Out, Get Out!”, but their silent vigorous gesturing seemed to her all the more terrifying. They seemed almost unnatural to her, these flowers that were the softest parts of the garden, like omens. In many stories she had read, it was the roses that signalled the coming of something; spring, sleep, an eternity of beastliness, or death, roses kept in glass bell jars, growing on graves, growing in the snow. There are no roses in the garden here, Rose thought, just tough woody plants with thick grey leaves and no flowers, and the palms that broke through the endless powder blue sky and made the air smell like burnt sugar on hot nights. If anything, it was the palm trees that could get her out, not the pink and orange imposter flowers that bobbed their heads in the stale air and served only to remind her of the danger of her situation. She hated them for that, and the phallic shape of their own genderless sex organs, so when she saw them she would tear the petal flesh in half and crush the stamens with two fingers till they were stained yellow, leaving the shreds of beauty at her feet as a reminder that it was something she could not rely on.
Honey, though, was sweet through every season, and they were all tired of waiting for it to rain, so they chose her instead; her beauty was more dependable, they said, more palatable, and accessible to everyone. So they kept her pure, in room away from the other girls, and if Rose wanted to see her she would have to sneak in after dark. The communal rooms were mostly bare, old strips of wall paper falling down like palm bark, metal bunks with soiled floral mattresses from one hundred yard sales, and the curtains nailed shut over the open windows. Honey’s room, however, had the makings of a royal bedchamber; the room was a wide square, big enough to house a queen size bed, with a peony bedspread and gauze curtains that hung from the ceiling. The air was thick not just with heat but also with the smell of flowers; bouquets of star gazer lilies, birds of paradise, honeysuckle and roses, all bright and fresh with their perfume spilling out from the corners of the room and soaking into the bedspread and the walls and the floorboards. Rose knew that they were from well beyond the garden; there was a group of girls who were allowed out every week to gather the flowers, but where they came from Rose didn’t know. The markings on the star gazers made reminded her of eyes, eyes that would catch her out, and when Honey wasn’t looking she would pick the heads off from their stems and eat them, half because she was afraid of spies and half because she was hungry.
The final defining feature of Honey’s room was the small television set that sat like a great blue eye on a decaying damasked chair. The reception wasn’t very good in that part of the valley, so they had left her with an old collection of VHS videos; Disney movies, out dated American sitcoms, and wildlife documentaries tapped off BBC2. There was also the first seven episodes of Twin Peaks, and these were the only tapes that Honey wanted to watch; she watched them in secret late at night, with Rose beside her, her face pale in the cold TV land light. Sometimes they liked to imagine they were having coffee and huckleberry pie at the RR with Shelly and Norma, or breakfast at the Great Northern, but their life seemed to be parallel across the border. Rose promised Honey that one day they would break out so they could find out who killed Laura Palmer.
The thing that Honey loved most about Twin Peaks was the trees; she had never seen a tree grow so tall that wasn’t a spiky palm. She loved them so much that she kept a PineFresh cardboard air freshener in her dresser draw, and pressed it against her nose until she could taste the dull scent. Honey wanted to go to a forest full of pine trees; she was sick of the look and the smell of the stunted eucalyptus, with their waxy grey leaves and the little nuts that fell and rolled painfully on the muscles of her bare feet. She was sick of the palms that pierced the sky and cut up your hands and feet if you tried to climb them. She wanted real tree scent, one that engulfed her senses and made her feel cleansed and didn’t just come from a piece of cardboard that could dangle from a rear view mirror. The seasons here weren’t right either, she thought, there was no proper winter, no time for hibernation; that’s why everyone is so strung out, they haven’t had their four months under the snow. Before she turned thirteen, all Honey wanted was to go to Seattle, to a town with good coffee, surrounded by trees that smelled like her cardboard tree one hundred times magnified and the dead foliage soft under her feet.
Rose felt like she’d been asleep for a hundred years.
“Why do we have to leave, Rose?”
“Because they want to separate us. More than we are now; I won’t be able to sneak into your room anymore, Honey, they will move you to where I can’t find you, there will be guards outside your door. Soon it will only be men that will be allowed to pass through it. You won’t see me anymore.”
“Why not? You’re my sister! I will make them let me see you. When I am the new Queen, I will protect you,” Honey said.
“I don’t think that’s how it works, Honey,” Rose replied. Honey sniffed.
“So how come they didn’t pick you then?” Honey asked sharply, not taking her eyes off the television, “Everyone says you’re the pretty one.” Rose smiled a private smile, and replied darkly, “I would have given them too much trouble. Too much hard work. The hard work is for us.”
“I don’t believe you” Honey said. Rose gripped Honey’s chin in her hand and wrenched her gaze from the screen to face her, her eyes full with disbelief.
“Honey, this is not a Disney movie! Good will not triumph over evil, love will not conquer all, and everyone will not live happily ever after. You are not that kind of princess. This is not that kind of story.”
“Is our story worth writing down then?” Honey asked, rubbing her chin disdainfully, checking for bruises in the mirror.
“It could be, but it will be forgotten before long.” Rose replied bitterly. “Our fairytale is grim.”
Rose didn’t like to admit that she had believed in that archetype once, back when these stories were all she had to go on. Now she believed that if you were stupid enough to let the blue light of love draw you in, you deserved to end up as charred as an insect carcass.
“One day I will live somewhere up high, somewhere closer to the stars. I will be close enough to touch them, close enough to steal them from the sky,” Honey said.
“They’re dead, though. By the time their light gets to us, they’re already gone” Rose replied, “Why would you want to keep a dead thing?”
Honey thought that Rose was teasing her, that something so beautiful could not be dead, but then she remembered the face of Laura Palmer, mermaid blue and wrapped in plastic. Honey wanted a lot of things that Rose couldn’t give her.
For months Rose tried to convince Honey to leave with her, to go to the desert, or to the mountains; she even tried to entice her with the promise that they would go to Seattle. But Honey stuck fast; the thought of a world outside those hexagonal walls scared her into agoraphobia. The others would say that this dependence made her weaker, that it would make her a subservient Queen.
Honey awoke early one morning with the tv still on; she had fallen asleep but the tape kept going until there was just a blue screen lighting her face like the dawn. She looked for Rose, but all she could see were the shadows of the flowers poking out from the corners, bobbing like demon heads. Honey rolled to the other pillow of her Queen’s bed, and something sharp cut against her face, her hand coming away from her cheek wet with blood. In her palm curled a single thorn, like a large gnarled dog’s claw, tipped red. Honey wiped her face with the back of her other hand, snailed herself into a ball of sad flesh, and pressed rewind on the remote. When she awoke again, three men stood over her bed, their heads bobbing like demon flowers.
Roses didn’t realize that she was out of her depth until the sun started to go down. The sky lit up rainbow colours with the smog, and the wind on her back felt hot and prickling like static electricity; she had visions of it igniting the poison gas horizon and setting fire to the palm trees. She didn’t know which way the city was, but she could see the Hollywood sign embedded in the hills, shining out like tiny edible birthday cake letters, so she began to head towards it. The heat of the day was still trapped in the asphalt, and the tar began to burn and stick to her bare feet. The fear Rose had always kept in check for the sake of her sister began to bubble with each searing step, but as she passed the through the suburbs and on into the lethargic evening metropolis that she hoped was Los Angeles, her eyes remained permanently fixed on her sign of life, the holy wood.
Rose went into a police station with expectations that she and Honey would be reunited within the week, and they would go off to Seattle and live in a tree house with the owls, but it seemed that fate couldn’t keep her hands to herself. Having not been in line for the throne, Rose was not pure of blood, and so her veins were constantly being invaded by the sting of their needles and a clumsy sedation. The nurse took one look at Rose’s pupils and tore open her sleeve that came away like flesh to reveal the track marks, giving her away.
“This explains your aggression”, she said, punching at numbers on the telephone while Rose kicked at her from under the table. “This one will have to go to Malibu,” was all she said into the receiver.
Honey stopped and glared at the nurse and her treacherous orchid shaped mouth.
“No, I’m going to Seattle.”
“No honey, that’s where your sister’s going,” she said, and slapped at her weary veins.
“My name is Rose,” Rose said through gritted teeth.
Being in rehab wasn’t all that different from the hive she had come from, but Rose was grateful because the rooms were square, the curtains could be drawn and then opened, and no flowers could reach her this high up. In the rec room at the clinic she found an old stack of watermarked National Geographic magazines. They reminded her of the documentaries she used to watch with Honey, and so every day she would come out of her room and read one. There were stories about the bleaching of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, the destruction of natural Palm forest in Borneo, and all the different tribes of people that coexisted in the Serengeti. She saw photographs of draws of filled with taxidermy parrots in the Natural History Museum in London, great jade effigies to Buddah that the size of small houses, women wrapped in colourful silk burqas so you could only see their eyes; they reminded her of star gazer lilies. In one she saw a photograph of a great pine forest taken in a town just outside Seattle, and her heart cringed inwardly. She read an article about climate change, and imagined the high heeled silk of the starlets stained wet as they walked along Sunset Boulevard, the earth crumbling under the heavy steps of the punk kids heading towards the Roxy. She imagined the world as a balloon.
Rose thought that if she had the choice she would have been a scientist. Instead, she tried to call Honey from the pay phone.
The woman that Honey lived with now had told Rose it would be better for Honey’s recovery if she did not speak to Rose. She had an Irish lilt and used her words like a Catholic nun, sparsely and cold, so Rose knew there was no hope in contacting her until she got out of rehab. As she hung up the phone, Rose realized that as far as her sister was concerned, they were completely different species.
Honey’s new mother did not know that Honey was listening to her and Rose on the other line. The thought of meeting up with Rose after all this time made her anxious; she had friends now, she had classes and homework and yesterday she had heard rumors in the stalls about how Carey was going to ask her to prom. It felt as though Rose had been sleeping inside her for a hundred years, and after spending so long only inhabiting parts of her, this new life wasn’t something Honey was ready to share. This was a life that belonged to a real teenager, she thought, and she was afraid to see Rose because she had been having dreams about her body washing up on a pebble beach, blue and wrapped in plastic.
Three weeks later, Honey received a letter from Rose. As the PineFresh cardboard tree fell into her lap, Honey felt her heart swell like a nimbus cloud, and as she breathed the fake needle scent down into the bottom of her lungs, she realized how much she had missed her sister.
“Meet me at the RR. Tell no one. R”
Honey cut class and took the bus from Seattle to Twin Peaks. She could tell the exact moment she had left the city because of the smell of the trees, and this settled her nerves. The roads were quiet, and the rattle of the bus as it rolled was the only sound loud enough to cause any disturbance to the picture perfect scenery. Honey wanted to thrust her hand out of the window and grab fistfuls of needles, but instead she thought about what she would say to Rose. Would she tell her about her knew family, about school, about Carey? How she was taking dance classes and how she wanted to become an actress? Would she tell Rose about what had happened after she left her in the house in Laurel Canyon?
As the bus pulled past a diner that looked more or less exactly like the RR, Honey tried to cry out to the driver, but her heart rose up like a helium balloon and blocked her throat; a tall, pale woman with long auburn hair leaned against the stone wall, smoking a cigarette. Honey got off one stop too late, and the gravel from the road caught in the bottom of her shoes as she ran up the embankment. She wasn’t sure why she was running, but for some reason she felt like she needed to.
Rose heard the crunching of footfalls on the gravel, and looked up from her cigarette to see a skinny fourteen year old girl running with her limbs akimbo and then balk like deer in the headlights. She recovered by moving all of her limbs in perfect rhythm as nonchalantly as possible, which coincidently synced with the beating of Rose’s heart; the thump and pace seemed to quicken simultaneously. When there was no more ground for Honey to cross, she stood inches from her long lost sister, the warm strawberry gum scent of her breath stirring the tiny hairs on her cheeks.
“The trees. They’re Douglas Firs,” was all Rose could think to say, as if she were confessing to Honey that Santa Clause wasn’t real. Her voice was rough, scratchy from the cigarettes. “I’m sorry.”
“I know.” Honey’s voice spread thin over the air, suspended in the mist of the fall morning.
“It’s ok. I cried when I first found out, but I’m over it now.”
The girls stared at each other, misty silence gripping at their confidence.
“Shall we have something to eat then?”
“I could go a cup of coffee.”
Honey and Rose sat at the counter of a diner that should have had Norma serving them coffee. Instead a woman with a mane of dyed brunette hair filled their cups with a sneer and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. Nothing seemed as it should be; the atmosphere, the décor, the space between the two girls who were trying to decide what to eat, their hearts heavy as logs now that the veil had been lifted.
“How about a burger? I haven’t had one here, but Carey says they’re really good.” Honey says, the words falling nervously out of her mouth.
“I’m a vegetarian now,” Rose replies, chewing on her bottom lip, “Partly because the food they have in rehab made me sick, and partly because of the grasslands.”
“The grasslands?” Honey asks.
“I read in an article in the National Geographic about how natural grasslands are the most coveted, used and transformed biomes by humans. We destroy acres of ecosystems and whole species just so we can grow wheat to feed the cows and then we slaughter them to make burgers.”
The waitress poked her head out from behind the saloon kitchen doors and glared at Rose.
“Oh” was all Honey could say, and then “What else did you learn in rehab?”
“Not much,” Rose replied, holding her coffee cup up to her lips. “Who’s Carey?”
Honey’s cheeks blushed red the way they did when Carey walked past her in the hall or someone mentioned his name in conversation. “Oh, no one, just some guy at my school.” Rose raised her eyebrows slightly, and Honey continued to talk faster, not aware that Rose was not surprised by the mention of a boy, but by the fact that she hadn’t even considered that Honey might be attending Junior High. “He plays football, but he’s really smart too, he’s good at math and he’s a David Lynch enthusiast, like me – us.” Honey stopped at the end of the s, searching Rose’s eyes for the sister that she hoped she hadn’t lost. “And he’s really cute.”
“Is he your boyfriend?” Rose asked dully; she felt as if she were viewing her sister’s life through an outside window.
“What? Oh, no,” Honey spluttered, “But Lucy said he might ask me to Junior Prom.”
“Oh. Cool.” Rose’s body jarred with pain at the mention of Honey’s foster sister, so she changed the subject.
“Did you ever find out who killed Laura Palmer?” Rose asked, and Honey saw it then. The thin evolutionary line that connected her to her sister. She shifted her weight on the vinyl stool and cleared her throat; she had hoped the Rose already knew the answer.
“Yeah. It was her father.”
Tegan Elizabeth is a fledgling writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves reading, writing, fighting for wild endangered animals, and unexplainable phenomenon. To date, her work has been published in The Writing Disorder, Francesca Lia Block’s Love Magick anthology, Storychord, and Drunk Monkeys.
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 16-year-old internationally award-winning photographer and artist who has won first places with National Geographic, The World Photography Organisation, Nature’s Best Photography, Papworth Trust, Mencap, The Woodland Trust and Postal Heritage. Her photography has been published in The Telegraph, The Guardian, the BBC News website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. Her art is globally exhibited, having shown work in London, Paris, Indonesia, Los Angeles, Florida, Washington, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Germany, Japan, Australia and The Environmental Photographer of the Year Exhibition (2011) amongst many other locations. She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus run. See The Bigger Picture global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010.