【“Love & Death” Trilogy】No.2: Time of the Roses

            He had been standing for almost half an hour by the window. If one looked out from the window, one could see beneath this building coiled overpasses tangled together. At four o’clock in the afternoon, there was constant traffic outside, and from high up, each car looked as if it were a small moving box. He did not look out, but had been leaning against the window, looking at her, who was sitting on the couch. Eyes tightly closed, she had a mesmerized expression on her face. There were several red roses standing in a vase on the tea table in front of the sofa, yet the color of the red suit on her was denser than that of those flowers. After being silent for a while, she started talking. She asked him: Do we still have time? He replied: Of course. Then she said to him: Every day before going to sleep, I think of you, you stand right before this window, I have only seen you standing in front of this window.

            He asked: How do I look in your mind?

            You’re tall, wearing a gray plaid shirt, you lean against the window and speak to me, but I don’t hear you clearly. She finished these words, opened her eyes, and folded her hands over her chest. Right now he was wrapped in a black suit, the two big under-eye pouches giving away his tiredness. He became interested in what she said, and asked her: Then what do you want to hear from me?

            She closed her eyes tightly again, as if trying to recall something. Then she said: You should tell me a secret; this secret is about a river.

            Where’s the river? He got a little confused.

            She said: The river is nearby, the spring season lingers forever in this place, the river is covered with big roses, and they are ceaselessly floating in the river, no one knows whether they are touching the river or the river is touching the roses, soon the roses fill the curvy body of the river with their silent words, you should lean over and listen to these roses, you should tell me what they tell you. Her hands trembled slightly, and a small sigh sounded in her. 

            He did not say anything. He needed to think over it. One minute later, she opened her eyes again, and said: The windowsill crumpled your suit jacket, you actually should have worn a gray plaid shirt, and then it would have been alright.

            He was speechless for a moment, then said: I don’t have a gray plaid shirt, and what did you just say, roses, and a river?

            She nodded and replied: Roses are the most important, even their thorns are so stunning, they are pricking themselves using their thorns, when their blood drips on my suit, one can’t differentiate the color of the blood from the color of my clothes, and those roses are far more beautiful than the ones in this vase, because they are lovers of the river, yet the river cannot moisten them, only time can, I hope you could spend some time to look after them.

            He still did not understand her. He asked: Could you tell me where these roses are?

            Roses are in the river, the river is near you. After saying these words, she took a few deep breaths and smiled at him. She got up and left before he could continue his inquiry. He stayed for a while by the window, imagined that she entered a car and then disappeared into the flow of traffic. When the setting sun shone its light into the window, he opened a notebook at the desk, and wrote down words such as “rose” and “river.”

            He thought of the scene she described to him before falling asleep that night, but only for a short instant. He did not know why the roses would float in the river. Perhaps because he was too tired, he fell asleep soon after turning over to lie on his side. The next day he looked into an encyclopedia. Under the entry of rose, there was the following description:

            Rose is also known as thorn flower, wandering flower, and heart-piercing flower. The plant is a shrub in the family of rosaceae. Its stem is prickly and tomentose.

            The roses on the tea table already withered a little. He hesitated for a moment, but nonetheless made a phone call to the flower shop downstairs and asked them to send in a new bouquet of roses. I want some red roses in full bloom, he stressed to the florist. When the roses arrived, even the water-drops on the petals were fresh. Some of them flew into his hands.

            When she came in, she did not seem to notice that the flowers had been replaced. She sat on the couch, her very fair calves showing beneath her red skirt. And she asked him: Every time when you look out from this window, what do you think of?

            He went to the window and looked out, and said: I often wonder where these people in the cars are going, but, why did you ask this question?

            She moved her gaze away from him, stared into the sky through the window, and said: Those people are lost on their way of going to that river, they probably could never reach there, but they still do not know this fact which would make them feel sad, in fact, they know nothing, the life and death of a rose have nothing to do with them, in that river, the roses are lonely. She paused for a short while, looked at him and asked: Do you love me?

            The traffic went smoothly outside the building and was never interrupted. He turned around to look at her. His eyes met right with her focused gaze on him. He was not able to interpret the meaning of her facial expression, yet he found it difficult to hide his uneasiness at this point. After a while, he said: Whether I love you or not, this should not be a matter between us.

            Soon afterwards she asked: Do you know that I love you? She continued without waiting for a response from him: Under the sun, the color of the roses is reflected onto the river, seen from afar, it is a red river, when the roses pierce themselves with their own thorns and bleed, the river looks more scarlet, all of that sticky, dense water is the precious blood of the roses, you should take care of these roses, they are far more enchanting than the ones in your room.

            Her words made him feel he was in a fog, and that his own words diminished to nothing in the face of hers. While he sent her out, she looked up at him and asked him again in a serious tone: Do you know I love you?He was once again tongue-tied, and could do no more than shrug his shoulders and say: Sorry, I think you might be too tired.

            That night, the look on her face when she raised her question was constantly emerging in his mind. He decided to solve this riddle, however, he thought of that river again a few moments later. In a hazy sleepiness he thought he saw a gray plaid shirt flowing in the river along with roses to somewhere that no one knew about.

            She would ask the question for a third time, and that day came sooner than he expected. She was in her red suit, remaining quiet for a long time, until the moment when the setting sun sprinkled its light onto the windowsill. She got up from the sofa, staring at him, who was standing by the window, and said: Your jacket has wrinkled a bit, you are supposed to arrive at that river as soon as you can, and then tell me what you have heard from those roses. She sighed and went to the window and opened it. She asked him: Do you know that I love you?

            At this time he was so close to her. He could see the light green veins underneath the skin on her face as well as her trembling fingertips. Finally he said: Yes, I know that, but I’m not clear about that river. She looked up at him and said slowly: All of that river is now covered with roses, and its body is getting heavier and heavier, because the roses are stabbing themselves and losing more blood, the blood of the roses has a fragrant weight, the river has turned into a deep crimson color, yet it does not stop flowing.

            Now every breath of hers was heavier than the last one. They were so heavy that he could only hear these breaths but almost did not hear what she was saying. Long after she threw herself out of the window, he remembered her pale pink lips. Only then could he recall that she seemed to be saying: Every single rose is a day of the future.

            In that last moment, he was watching her body falling down from the 30th floor of this high-rise building. There was no time for him to have any thought, and only in a trance-like state did he see her falling like a red rose into a solid river. 

            His eyes were sore and wet, but a few minutes later he stabilized himself and returned to the desk. He opened a large notebook, wanting to write something down. Right then, the door was pushed open and she walked in, with her red suit completely covered under a white doctor’s gown. She went to the couch, sat down, and said to him: It’s again our conversation time, how are you feeling today?

Qinyun Li, August 18, 2007 in Beijing

Translated by Qinyun Li in 2017

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