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THE ROSEBUD THAT DIDN’T WANT TO BLOOM

Once there was a hidden valley, a beautiful valley never seen by man. And in that valley grew a tangled bush of richly-coloured, velvet-petalled roses. Their leaves were deep green, their thorns exquisitely fine, and their blooms among the loveliest in creation. It rather hurt the roses’ pride that there was no one to admire them at their peak, for roses are vain flowers. But, since it was their destiny to blossom, they blossomed anyway, simply for the pleasure of doing so.

Only one rosebud was reluctant to open. Her time had come and gone, and there she was, still tightly locked within her bud, stubbornly hidden. She was a sensitive-hearted rosebud. It hurt her that the roses preened and glowed unnoticed and unvalued. It hurt her that their beauty was so brief, their end so sordid, a heap of decaying scraps. She remembered one spring storm in the valley, a terrible night of driving rain and shrieking winds. In the morning, the entire rosebush was devastation. Only a few buds were left, huddled within themselves, shocked and alone.

No, shuddered the rosebud, it wasn’t worthwhile opening at all. Life was dangerous and short. Safely cocooned, she could watch the other roses, enjoy their hues, eavesdrop on their conversations. It was dark inside her bud, and rather cramped. But at least it was secure.

One day, the rose beside her burst into flower, a vibrant yellow creature, brash as a sunbeam. He was fond of the rosebud, for they’d become acquainted while in their buds.

“Come,” he invited, “open now and we can bloom together. That will be delightful.”

Horrified, the rosebud shrank deeper within herself.

“Come on,” coaxed the yellow rose, “it’s lovely blooming. The sun’s so warm and the wind feels fresh as it strokes my petals. And look, that butterfly has noticed me. He’s coming over to visit.”

The rosebud trembled with fear. “No, absolutely not!” she protested. “It’s quite enough for me to watch you blooming.”

And in her heart of hearts, she pitied the yellow rose. Soon he’d be a heap of withered petals. And only those awful black ants would visit him.

In a few short days, her companion’s colour faded. His proud head drooped. One morning, the rosebud woke and saw that his stalk was empty. She glimpsed his tattered petals caught here and there among the thorns below.

The rosebud heaved a sigh. She felt lonely without her friend. He had been robust, warm, light-hearted – the opposite of herself. Now he was gone forever. She began to cry. Her chamber filled up with tears, and soon it was wet as well as dark and cramped. The rosebud shivered. With great effort, she stopped her tears and forced herself to look at the roses blooming. She always felt consoled by their glowing colours.

For the first time, she wondered what colour she was. Quickly, she suppressed that dangerous thought, curling ever more tightly into her bud.

Time passed. The roses continued to open bloom after bloom in sumptuous display, and then to shed their petals in dignified silence. The rosebud watched, trying to ignore her growing boredom.

One day, a gentle rain fell in the valley, and after the rain came an enormous rainbow. The soul of the little rosebud trembled with pleasure and admiration.

Oddly enough, the yellow seemed familiar – that soft yet vibrant shade. To her surprise, the yellow band began to speak.

“Hello there, don’t you know me?”

“I’ve never spoken to a rainbow,” said the rosebud shyly.

“Once I was a rose,” said the yellow.

“Why, of course!” exclaimed the rosebud. “You’re my friend.”

“That’s right,” winked the yellow. “Are you still sure you won’t join me? It’s wonderful being a rainbow. I think it’s even better than being a rose.”

“Well, I haven’t even been a rose yet,” said the bud. “How did you become a rainbow?”

“I’m not quite sure,” said her friend. “After my petals dropped, I wandered on the wind a little while before I found myself in this rainbow. The other colours are very charming fellows.”

The rosebud suffered a pang of jealousy. She began to feel sorry she hadn’t accepted the yellow rose’s offer on that long ago spring day. But she was a proud little bud, so she said nothing. Much too soon, the rainbow began to fade, and in a few moments it was gone.

What a dreadful night the rosebud spent. She missed her friend so badly. Strange sensations disturbed her. She finally fell asleep, and in a nightmare she was shouting, “What colour am I really!” But no one knew.

When she woke, she sensed that something had changed. There was an alien presence within her bud. What was that odour – so strong, so sweet, so thrilling? The rosebud didn’t know that it was the fragrance of roses, for, locked in her bud, she had never smelled it before. She felt a little warm. Why, her room wasn’t totally dark any longer! Somehow, a little sunlight had leaked in. Then came realization. Horror of horrors. She was opening. She was actually opening and beginning to blossom.

Soon a new bloom joined the others on the bush, a pure white rose with just the faintest blush of pink at its heart. The other roses gladly welcomed her.

The rose was full of tumultuous emotions. She was thrilled and aghast, proud and ashamed, angry and joyful. Though her days were pleasant and sunlit, she feared the future.

Finally the fateful moment came when she, too, began to wither. Her petals dropped and her soul was tossed upon the wind. “I think I was right,” she mused. “It seems that it was really all for nothing.” She tried to steer towards a rainbow, hoping to find her friend there. But he’d gone elsewhere.

One morning, she found herself curled up on a grass blade near a brook. She asked the friendly brook whether she had made the right decision.

“It was pleasant to bloom,” she confided, “but not so pleasant to wither. My beauty was brief, and death was painful and demeaning.”

The brook was sympathetic, but unhelpful.

“What do I know of choices?” the stream gurgled. “I just flow on forever.”

The rose blew on. She met many spirits in her wanderings, but none could reassure her. Some sorrow had befallen each of them and none knew its final destination.

One day, in a busy city, the rose saw a middle-aged woman, thin and tired, walking down a street. Some impulse made the rose drift along beside her. They reached an old and shabby building where the woman entered, unlocked a door, and stepped into a dim apartment. Accustomed to the spacious, windy world, the white rose gasped and choked in the musty space. Presently, the woman turned on a light. The meager glow was sallow and depressing.

“Why am I here?” wondered the rose.

Yet, there was something about the woman, something familiar.

The woman hung her coat and began to prepare a simple meal of bread and jam. The soul of the white rose hovered nearby.

“Why, it’s the shy rosebud!” exclaimed a delighted voice. “What are you doing here?”

The white rose gasped. She recognized the voice. It was her old friend, the yellow rose. Utterly bewildered, she replied, “I’m not sure why I’m here, but what about you? What could you possibly be doing in the soul of this sad woman?”

“This woman is an artist,” explained the yellow rose. “Her soul is full of marvelous colours.”

The white rose gazed at the woman incredulously. “She doesn’t look like an artist.”

“Well,” winked the yellow rose, “she’s much like a frightened rosebud I once knew. She was meant to paint a mural for the front of the music center near the lake. I was sent to be a bit of yellow in that painting – a rather important bit.” For a moment, his voice held its old confidence and warmth, then it became wistful. “But now there’s to be no painting, and I’m imprisoned here.”

This time, it was the white rose who urged her friend.

“Don’t despair, yellow. I’m sure we can do something. We must fight!”

“No,” said her friend despondently. “I’ve tried. I’ve tried all my charm, all my humour, all my optimism. Nothing has changed. She is just too fearful and discouraged.”

“We must continue,” said the white rose. “We can’t give up. I won’t leave you here in darkness. You must shine.”

“You are a true friend,” said the yellow rose, sounding a bit more hopeful.

And so, the roses threw themselves into the struggle. They persuaded, they encouraged, they tormented. They shamed and flattered. They lit fires of ambition and envy in the woman’s heart, so that her seclusion became unbearable. At last, the woman began to paint and to show her paintings. She gained a reputation. After a time, she was commissioned to paint a mural for the music center, a work of many months.

The evening of the unveiling finally came. A host of cultured people arrived to view the picture, to sip cocktails, to admire and be admired. The artist moved from group to group, resplendently dressed in a gown of her own design. Her eyes shone with pleasure, especially when they fell upon the face of an attractive man who generally kept quite near her. She spoke a few carefully-chosen words to the crowd.

The mayor also spoke, for rather too long. Lights danced on the lake, and music played.

When the painting was revealed, the guests fell silent. For this was no ordinary piece of decoration, it was a dream, a glowing image from the heart of life. It stirred their senses with beauty and danger, like a flame.

The white and yellow roses went to sleep very late. The next morning, they were woken by a burst of melodious noises. An orchestra was rehearsing for its concert. The lake glittered with floating panes of sunlight that shattered and reassembled from moment to moment. A number of people were gazing up at the mural, at the wild and beautiful rosebush it portrayed. From her place within the picture, the white rose smiled with pride. Beside her, the yellow rose yawned lavishly and spread his shining petals.

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