Rose Water

I wrote this in 2019 for a writing short fiction assignment in my second year of university.

My short story is called Rose Water and is about four teenage girls and their relationship with the world. The reason I chose Rose Water for the title was to be ironic- rose water supposedly preserves youth, but these characters don’t enjoy theirs. The text explores issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the ways in which one may try and live with it, such as consumption of drugs and alcohol. The purpose of this story is to express the twisted delight of teenage angst, laced with the awareness of mental health issues.  My generation of ideas came from writing stanzas of poetry about girls and their connotations, which I was then able to identify with separate characters until they formed this friendship group.

YOU’RE going to be late.

This was the voice not that of her concerned mother, but of a parasite with a tongue that lived in the back of her head. She knew this, but still she stared at her reflection in the mirror. She turned away briefly to fish into her bag and pull out a small compact mirror, and her eyes darted between the two reflections. It wasn’t a vanity thing; she just couldn’t fathom the idea that she was a real person, alive and with dimensions. Her eyes were glazed over like doughnuts, no evidence of desire or wanting. She cleared the back of her throat, and watched attentively as her reflections reciprocated.

“Isla!”

This was her mother, and her voice called clearly up the stairs, summoning her for breakfast.

When she entered the kitchen, she saw her mother had laid out a spread of fresh blueberry pancakes and a selection of juices and coffees. She tottered around the table, gesturing towards her work.

“For your first day!”

Isla sat quietly on the nearest seat as her mother pottered by her, retrieving a plate and slapping on two pancakes. She pushed a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice next to it, eyeing up her daughter with an anxious delight. She was always worried for her, afraid of what could happen beyond her control, beyond the casual knowledge a mother has.

“Come on, love. Eat.”

The vibration of her phone caused them both to jump, disrupted from their thoughts.

“It’s Ivy,” Isla said without looking. “I’ve got to go.”

She didn’t look up at her mother’s expression as she scraped the chair back. “Thanks for the breakfast, though.”

            On a second thought, she picked up the plate. “I’ll eat it in the car, give one to Ivy. You know how she loves your pancakes.”

Isla forced a smile, but it felt like a grimace. It was unfair, but being around her mother made her feel drained, like a vampire-sucked corpse.

“Sure.” Her mother’s voice was barely a whisper; an echo that faded fast.

Isla walked back to her room to get her bag- it was a clear tote with lilac stitching, and pulled on the white denim jacket that hung on the back of the door. She left the pancakes on her desk.

Ivy was parked outside, her left hand wrapped around a carton of pineapple juice. Her nails were long and black, the tips neatly decorated with cherries.

She waited till her friend has gotten in to say, “We’re going to be late.”

As Ivy pulled up at the school, she gestured with her well-manicured nails at the girl getting out the car a few feet away from them. She kissed her boyfriend hard on the mouth before closing the door and starting to walk towards the girls. “There’s Amelia.”

Amelia waved at them and skipped over, yanking open the door with a flourish.

“Where’s Molly? Thought you were picking her up?”

Ivy wiped excess pineapple juice from her mouth with the back of her hand and shook her head in response.

“Bad day. Her mum text me to say don’t bother coming.”

“OCD issues again?”

Ivy smeared cherry chap stick over her full, top heavy mouth. “When’s it not?”

Amelia pulled a sympathetic face. “I feel so bad for her.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Same,” Isla echoed.

“I’ll call round after school. What’s your first class?”

Amelia shrugged off her baby blue rucksack to find her timetable. She was wearing a babydoll denim dress and white tennis shoes. “History.”

“With Ms. Middleton? I’ve got that, I’ll walk with.”

“Cool.”

“You’ve got English, right?” Ivy looked at Isla, shoving her chap stick absently in the glove compartment.

Isla nodded airily, to which Amelia barked out a laugh and Ivy rolled her eyes and a slow smile spread across her lips. “You away with the fairies today, honey?”

Isla allowed her own face to spread out a slow smile. “I had some tramadol before I left. Took them from my grandma when we went to visit her last Sunday.”

Isla could feel Amelia staring down at her from the corner of her eye, which was like a chilly, blue marble. She looked up and blinked, almost mechanically.

“I’ve just remembered- there’s a party on tonight. The year above are throwing it ‘cause Atka Sultan is the first to turn 18. We’re all invited.”

She turned to face Ivy. “I was thinking you could drive us to Molly’s, we’ll get ready and drink there, then get a lift to Atka’s.”

Amelia pulled a face. “I have to babysit, but depending what time my mum gets back, I can see if I can get dropped off, meet you there?”

Ivy nodded, “That’s fine, only if Molly’s feeling better, though.”

Dreamily, Isla responded, “Of course.”

Molly Talbot was lying uncomfortably on her bed, cradled in a fetal position as she whimpered incoherent mumblings to herself. Her hair was still wet from having been in the shower, where she’d come to the realization that her shampoo bottle didn’t have the facilities to let out the four pumps she required. Her eyes tittered cautiously around her room, and she breathed a small, ragged sigh of relief as she heard her mother come up the stairs. She kept her room clean, but not obsessively so. It was the counting, the pattern of two- that was her obsession. Her mother opened the door and placed a new bottle on her dressing table. She then motioned tentatively to the packet of sertraline next to it.

“Please, take your tablets, sweetheart.”

Molly nodded twice, routinely, before her mother dropped her head down and left, her eyes a reflection of pity and despair.

Ivy and Isla pulled up at Molly’s house at roughly 6’oclock. Ivy had picked up two packets of strawberry laces from the corner shop, and they were shoved in between the wiccan books in her leather bag. Isla pulled her own bag securely over her shoulder, the primary contents of hers being gin, cigarettes and lemonade.

They let themselves in, and after a quick hello to Molly’s parents, who were spread out on the sofa watching television, they made their way to their friend’s bedroom. They were instantly eased at the sight of Molly sipping from a steaming mug of peppermint tea, cross legged on her bed.

Ivy flashed a cheerful grin at Molly before ripping open her bag and spilling out the contents on the floor.

“Want to try something fun?”

“Sure.”

Molly winced at her broken tone. She still didn’t feel great, but her friends were trying and that helped. Truthfully, there were times in her life where she felt so grateful for it all: the good and the bad- but there were other times when she felt so sad and full of self-pity, she felt as though she could melt into her bed and liquidate a miserable blue all over the sheets.

Isla crouched down and flicked through the wiccan book.

“We could do a séance, maybe?”

A jolt spasmed through Molly as she forced a laugh, causing her to spill the tea on the bed.

Isla ignored the mess. “What are you thinking of wearing tonight, by the way?”

Ivy quickly and smoothly dabbled at the spillage with some tissue that Molly kept on her dressing table. Molly spoke unevenly. “A white denim skirt, I think? With this lacy blue body suit. Amelia text me and said the theme’s blue and white, right?”

“That’s right, honey,’ Ivy replied, casting the used tissue in the wastebin.

Isla nodded approvingly as she branded a piece of dark blue material from her bag. “I think I’ll wear this.” She stood up straight and held the dress against her body, waiting patiently for her friend’s comments.

“You’ll look amazing,” they both responded.

It was an hour later, and Molly’s parents had supplied them with a tray of shot glasses and a small bottle of peach schnapps. The candle lit room was softly glowing, the flickering shadows of the flames pumping light in and out in subtle, supple movements.

It was amusing to see Molly get progressively looser as they drank; something her parents surely enjoyed as much as Isla and Ivy, evident in their suppling of more alcohol and suggestion of shots.

“They’ll pick us up soon,” Isla reminded, when the parents had gone back downstairs.

They were all pleasantly tipsy, goofy grins picking up the corners of their mouths.

“We should go and wait outside, but do this, first?” She picked the two pills out of her purse and pressed one in Ivy’s palm, placed the other one on the floor by Molly’s knee.

“We’ll half this one, and you half that one, yeah?”

The girls nodded in agreement and took them there, washed down with the remaining schnapps.

            After collecting what they would need for the night, Ivy and Isla followed Molly out of the house, all instantly reduced to shivers at the cold.

“Who’s coming to pick us up?”

“Just some boys in the year above, they’re cool,” Isla answered.

She was wearing chunky red shoes, like fresh blood was pooled at her feet. Her bag was decorated with freshly cut oranges and lemons, and she clutched it to her chest, tight, as they waited in the dark. Her lips tasted of the home-made sugar scrub she had applied earlier; she licked lightly at the corners of her mouth.           

I hook my finger in your mouth,

And dance.

“Turn it up louder!”

Though she wouldn’t say it aloud, or even think it sober, it disturbed Ivy to see her friend this way, so sloppy and untroubled. Whenever Isla got them lifts from boys, she would insist on the passenger seat, and would occasionally look back at Ivy with a manic grin and dilated pupils and release loud, open-mouthed laughs that seemed to last forever, that were set loose as though they had been repressed for months and months.

Ivy and Molly were situated either side of the boy in the back, who was cradling a bottle of whiskey in his hands, staring intently ahead.

The boy driving adjusted his mirror. ‘So, what are your names?’

“Molly.”

“Ivy.”

“I’m Myles,” said the boy with the whiskey. He lifted his bottle. “Anyone want some?”

Molly answered first. “Sure.”

Isla twisted the lid off her gin and took a long, dry swig. “I’m good, thanks.”

Molly passed the whiskey to Ivy, who drank some and then perched it between her thighs, tapping at the glass with her nails. She could see the boy starting at her from the corner of her eye before placing his hand on her bare knee.

As they were welcomed into the party, Molly entwined her fingers with Ivy’s. “I’m coming up.”

Ivy pecked her sweetly on the cheek and took the strawberry laces from her clutch, handed them over.

“How are you feeling?”

Molly’s smile was ecstatic. She giggled. ‘I feel sublime.’

She carefully untangled the laces and began to chew them slowly, absently. Counting didn’t matter anymore.

They headed for the living room to sit down and found Amelia resting on a sofa, gossiping cheerily to a girl they didn’t recognise. She saw them and let out a squeal, beckoned them to go and sit with her; enveloped them all in hugs.

 “Mum never went out in the end!”

Ivy and Molly took the remaining seats, and Isla settled on the arm rest.

“Is Art here?”

“He’s just gone to get us drinks, there’s vodka and cherryade in the kitchen. Cups and straws, too.”

Isla made a noise of approval and pushed herself up. “I’ll get us some, I need mixer for this gin, anyway.”

“Anyone want to go the bathroom?”

Amelia nodded favourable at Ivy’s question and followed her to find it.

Molly wanted to play hopscotch.

“I’ll play with you.”

She didn’t even realise she’d said it aloud till she looked up and saw the boy hovering over her.

“If I can have one of them,” he added, gesturing towards the strawberry laces.

She sucked her lips and snapped off some.

When Ivy and Amelia returned from the bathroom, they saw Art and Isla resting on the sofa, slurping up their drinks.

Amelia settled on Art’s lap, took the extra cup from his hand.

“Where’s Molly?”

“Wondered off with a friend, she’s fine.”

Isla swirled her straw around the cup, temporarily fascinated by the red fizz. She adjusted her position to get more comfortable, and they all sank back into the sofa. Isla closed her eyes, and when she next opened them, the party had gotten increasingly louder. Ivy had returned (apparently she left), her expression a cocktail of disbelief and pleasure.

 “Guess, what!”

Amelia raised her shoulders in a shrug. “What?”

“I was going to the toilet and crossed Molly on the stairs, and she’s been busy.”

As she said the words, Molly entered the room again, wrapped around a boy that Isla recognised as being in the year above. Her beautiful, white dress hung to her hips when she walked.  “With him, I take it?”

Molly caught their eye as they stared over and unravelled herself, darted towards her friends.

“I just lost my virginity.”

“Was it okay?”

Molly shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, it was fine.”

“Well done, honey,” Amelia whispered, leaning in to hug her. They all mumbled quick congratulations and kissed her proudly, individually.

 “What about the number,” Isla whispered to Ivy. “You don’t think it’ll bother her in the morning, that she’s only done it only once.”

            Panic flashed across Ivy’s face. ‘That’s not how it works, is it? Oh, God, I don’t know.”

Isla looked back at Molly with equal concern. “Shots?”

Ivy took Molly delicately by the hand and led her to the kitchen. There was a girl slumped on a stool, but she instantly became alert as the two girls stumbled in. Her eyes were swirling pools of brandy; her skin a diluted cup of coffee.

“Is she okay?”

“Fine, just high. You got any strawberry jam?”

“No. My mum went to the bakery today, though. Strawberry jam doughnuts over there.”

“Sure, that should do.” Ivy plucked the brown paper bag from the counter and flourished one of the delicious snacks, placed it in her friend’s hand.

“Eat it, sweet.”

Molly chewed the doughball thoughtfully, sugar and jam smeared across her mouth like ruffled up lipstick.

“It’s so strange how I only feel normal when I’m on drugs, like I can finally breathe.”

Ivy pondered as she retrieved a doughnut for herself, breaking it gently down the middle before placing a half in her mouth, allowing the sweet jam to melt ecstatically on her tongue.

“Molly, that’s why we all do it.”

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