There was nothing nice about hospitals.
The lights were too bright, and everything always smelled of bleach. However, Miranda always looked forward to visiting her younger sister every afternoon. Somehow, those florescent lights didn’t bother her, nor did the bleach, or the beeping machines, or any of the other things that made hospitals, well, hospitals.
“Miranda?” Blare whispered, her raspy voice barely audible above the beeping of the heart monitor. Miranda looked up from her worn copy of Hamlet, which she’d checked out from her school’s library last week for her English class. Whenever she opened it, the book seemed to breathe a dusty sigh, as if it were happy to be read. Perhaps it was because Miranda opened it dutifully every evening around four thirty and read aloud to anyone willing to listen(namely her sister) until nearly six.
“What is it?” Miranda replied, folding the pages corner just like she knew she wasn’t supposed to; just like she always did anyway. To her left her mother clicked her tongue, not looking up from her needlework. Miranda ignored her, snapping the book shut with a satisfying thump.
Then she looked at her sister.
Looking at someone whose ill is like looking at someone you know after months of not seeing them. Every day it seemed as if Blare was just a little bit paler, a little bit thinner. A little bit sicker.
Blare was sitting beneath her white covers, skin ashen and nearly translucent. Hallow cheeked and sunken eyed. Everything about her whispered of death and the slow decaying of her existence. Only her eyes still twinkled, but only if you looked at the right moments. Miranda could see that sparkle now, as her sister sat up straighter, the corners of her lips turning up in excitement.
“Would you tell me the story again. The one about the roses?”
“Of course.” Miranda smiled, settling back into her seat. She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Wait a moment, I think I’ve forgotten that one.”
“Miranda!” Blare began to chuckle, before breaking off into dry coughs.
“Miranda, you need to stop adjatating your sister!” Her mother scoleded, leaning forward to take Blare’s hand.
“I’m fine mother.” Blare smiled again, looking to Miranda. “Go on, please. And no joking.”
“But, Bee, that’s what I’m good at.” Miranda whined. After another sour look from her mother, she cleared her throat and began.
“Once upon a time,” Miranda started, ” there was a girl, a girl who was beautiful and kind. And this girl lived in a small cottage by the river all by herself. It was lonely out in the forest, but the girl was happy because, behind her cottage, she kept a garden.”
“Now, this wasn’t just any garden. It was filled with fruits and vegetables of every shape and color that always grew plump and delicious. And every Sunday, the girl would take her crop to the village and sell it at the market where it was coveted as the most delicious in the town.”
“But…” Blare started, leaning forward eagerly.
“But, the girl’s favorite part of her garden were the flowers, and, more specifically, the roses.”
“Now, it was well known within the village that the girl possessed the best land in all the forest, and it was rumored that her home had been blessed by the fairies. The girl, however, believed that her good fortune was due to her hard work and love for the many plants she nurtured.”
” Then, one day, the girl had a very busy day at the market, for a number of patrons from the neighboring village had come to buy her goods, and she did not return until very late. The full moon was high in the sky when she set to work, and low and behold a voice spoke to her:”
“ ‘Lady of this house, I have seen you work and toil in this garden for many a moon. You dirty your golden hair, you mar your milky skin. Despite my enchantment to improve the soil, still you do not work any less. Why?’ ”
“And, without turning from her work, the girl said: ‘Good Lord, I work because I enjoy it. A fairy enchantment may make the plants grow, but it is my love and labor that make them sweet. Beauty will fade by winter, but the bounty of my work will last until next spring.’ ”
“With that the stranger left, and the girl continued wither work Until the next full moon, when the stranger appeared again to speak with her. For three months this continued, until fall’s temperature began to wane and the first frosts of winter began to set in. On the last full moon before the onslaught of snow, the girl stood outside in her garden.
“ ‘Strange apparition.’ She said, staring up at the moon’s pale face, made all the more lovely by the night’s cold. ‘For three months you have been my companion, but now my nightly duty is done until next spring. Let me see your face before this long winter divides us.’ “
“And there before her appeared a great glowing figure, more beautiful than any she had ever seen, with hair as dark as night tipped with fire…”
“…and eyes as amber as the autumn leaves.” Blare sighed. “That’s my favorite part.”
“ ‘I am the lord of these woods, the King of fairies, and, fair lady, before we are forced to part, I must confess my love to thee, and beg thee for thy hand in marriage.’ And he knelt before her, head bowed. The girl stood there, stunned, before smiling warmly.”
“ ‘Rise, King, son of the sky and earth. For over these many nights I have discovered that I, too, love thee. However, our union must wait until the first buds of spring. So I ask thee, beloved, to find me a blue rose before that time. A quest to pass the time we are apart.’ The King, elated at her agreement to his proposal, embraced her and left her with a single kiss, before setting out to find the mythical blue rose.”
“He searched and searched all winter, but still no rose could he find. As spring neared, he returned to the home of his beloved, only to find it empty.”
“For the girl had known that their love was ill-fated. Fairy and human. Immortal and mortal. King, and girl. His duty was far greater than love, far more precious. Love cannot conquer, or defeat. It lasts even when the object of its devotion is long dead. And so the girl left, despite her love, and disappeared forevermore.”
“The King, his heart broken, wept at the sight of the barren garden that had once been so loved, wept at his loss, and at the tragedy of their meeting. And where his tears fell, roses bloomed as blue as his sorrow.”
“Perhaps, one day, the lovers will meet again. Or, perhaps, they are destined to be separated forever. Their ancient love, however, will live on, marked only by the roses their lonely hearts left behind.
“And so, the King went, travelling the world in search of a blue rose. But such a rose he could not find. He returned to his beloved empty handed. But in the garden he found not a girl, but a grave, surrounded by dying flowers. For the Fairy king had been gone many years, and his love had grown old and died in his absence.
“I disagree. “Blare said.
“I think that love can conquer. True love that is. And I think the Fairy King and the girl will find each other eventually. After all, he will never stop trying. Righ…” her words broke off into a yawn.
“Come on sweetie, time to go to bed.” We’ll be back tomorrow, okay?” Mom kissed Blare’s forehead, pulling the blankets up to her chin just like she were a little kid.
“Miranda?” Blare said sleepily.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. See you tomorrow, ‘kay?”
“Okay. As always.”
Too bad Always ended that night. That’s the thing about illness. Every time you see a sick person, they look even worse. But it never looks as bad as it actually is. Or maybe it does, and everyone’s too busy hoping for the best to notice.
Sunlight shone through the trees leaves, dancing along the rugged dirt path that lead through the graveyard. The world was reveling in an autumn masquerade, hidden behind masks of red and gold. It had been six months since her sister’s death, but Miranda still hadn’t stopped coming to say hello.
A breeze whispered past, carrying with it the sound of rustling leaves and laughter so familiar it brought tears to her eyes. Making her way through the maze of marble, Miranda found herself at Blare’s grave.
“Hey Blare, it’s me again, I hope you haven’t been lonely while…” Miranda stopped, noticing something on top of the headstone. Stepping closer, she picked the object up, a surprised gasp escaping her throat. In her hands she clutched a rose, a rose so deep a blue, it matched the emotion that had laced her heart ever since her sister had left this world. Sorrow.
For a moment she stood there, watching her tears speckle the flower’s delicate petals, before a smile spread across her lips.
“You were wrong Bee, love can’t conquer all. But they still found each other in the end.”