By Laura DellaBadia
Towering as high as the old, weathered castle’s stone walls, the veins of prickly crimson red roses climb. The rosses have run wild in the years without a proper caretaker and have overpowered the smaller, frailer flowers that once grew in vibrant colors. Only the rosses now bleed against the gray.
My long black dress brushes over the decaying leaves as I tread into the rose garden. I pass the stone bench that, too, has been stained by the earth when we abandoned the wild. My feet ground into the dirt in front of my favorite rose bush.
My fingers brush against the widest rose, as I say to it, “One king.” I touch the one underneath it, the one with the longest petals, while saying, “One queen.” I say, “Two rooks,” when I touch the darkest flowers to the right of the queen, and I say, “Two knights,” when my fingers brush back over to the lightest flowers on the left of the queen. “Two bishops,” I say to the flowers underneath them that have begun to wilt. Finally, I say, “Eight pawns,” to the nearly bottom row that are neither the most beautiful nor the ugliest flowers.
“Sixteen marionette dolls, each one strung tightly,” I say on a sigh as I rearrange the blooming flowers and ruffle their petals. As I think on the days ahead of me, I say, “The pawns sit in wooden pews, judging the show they missed the premier of. The bishops speak in arguments the pawns cannot comprehend. One bishop stands for and the other against the accused. The knights? They have lost their shining silver armor while they await their orders instead of thrusting into the fight under their own knowledge and skill.”
My fingers pause on the king. I rip off its flower from the stem. It weighs heavily in my hand braced against my heart with all its hope, judgment, and expectations. “The king is cornered by the queen,” I say right before my free hand rips apart the queen. “Both rooks compete to overthrow that queen, battling to be the one to claim checkmate tomorrow.” In my hands, the rulers sit, close but far, knowing but ignorant.
I tilt my hands downward. The queen and king fly to the ground and are cradled by the earth even though they have been torn from it.
“I have to be the rook who wins,” I declare as I twist the stems of the two rook roses around each other. For now, they are still attached to the bushes, to each other. “Mr. Rook moved the first pawn in our little match a few weeks prior by playing me through my weakness.”
I lean in, rubbing my cheek against the rook flowers, and say, “His first pawn dared me to sneak into the castle and steal a few beloved and prized classical tomes, because Mr. Rook knows I can never reject a bet, especially when involving the written words. I thought the dare to be effortless, as stories told of how the castle became abandoned decades of yore.”
I step back, leaving my one foot hovering over the fallen roses. I tell them, “The stories proved wrong, and in my miscalculation, a fire ignited.” Gravity defines, and the queen crunches underneath my boot, the sound reverberating through our private section outside the castle, whispering a warning to the other flowers.
“Mr. Rook set up this board of sixteen manipulated players,” I say. The queen frayed and crushed, the other roses of this set I tear off from their home. Petals float around me for a moment before raining down to the earth where they will eventually decay to the dust of hollow memories.
I pick and pick the petals except for the rooks while I say, “Mr. rook was too confident that the players would move to his whims. He called checkmate far too early.” With the petals staining my footprints red, thorns prick my fingers as I snatch the stems from the bush. Swiftly, I find the movements that thread the stems and vines together. I string these jewels around my wrists, my neck, my fingers, my crown.
“But I cannot regret infiltrating this stone castle of roses and thorns,” I say. My fingers cradle Mr. Rook’s rose before crushing it. Leaning in, my lips brush across the stem that cuts my lip shallowly. This is all that he will ever take from me. This is his reward for knowing me too well, and his punishment for knowing me too well.
“Mr. Rook, you manipulated the first few rounds of our match. You set your own failure when you set up my discovery. My discovery remains far superior than your first winnings.”
I kneel to the earth, the only being I will ever kneel to, and find how the petals paint my dress. The last flower unhooked peeks up at me with its questions. I answer this king by touching the diamond ring on my left ring finger to its most inner petals.
“Entering the last set tomorrow, I know I cannot wear the King’s gift to me—our secret. Only when I have solidified my case and need one last bit of evidence in favor of the King, will I show this, my final move.” Pulling back and pulling it off, I hold the ring to the sun that flashes sparkles across the broken roses.
“I will reveal to all how my king did not strike the murdered in these gardens on that first full moon of winter. I will reveal the murderer as Mr. Rook.”
I twist, my back align with the bushes. I brace my arms out, away from my body. I close my eyes and fall against the petals and stems and vines and leaves. My fingers spread and touch the last rose remaining.
“I know my tale and how to spin it. I know the queen and how to control her. Ms. Rook says checkmate as she reclaims her king. Mr. Rook thus weeps.”
With one hand protecting the final rook rose, my other hand holds the ring that I kiss.
“Checkmate. Checkmate, Mr. Rook.”
About the Author:
Laura DellaBadia graduates UNCW in May 2017 with a B.A in Communication Studies, a B.F.A in Creative Writing in fiction, and the Certificate in Publishing. Her future career positions include attorney, political commentator, and fiction novelist. When not studying, this Sagittarius finds hearts and angel wings in clouds and raindrops while counting stars and flipping pennies to heads.