If You Ask Rosie by Stevie Poling

Pink Flower

If you asked Rosie, she would have said it was the perfect weather. When you get up in the morning, walk outside, and when exhale you can see your breath, then you look past your breath to the world beyond, and everything is still. The grass is just slightly crispy from freezing overnight. You can smell the fresh bark and grass and mildew. You gasp at the cold and pull your scarf a little tighter, debating going back inside for a hat or gloves. But you are already running late, and it is the perfect weather.

Except that it was 2 degrees at the start of November in Melbourne. Spring should be starting, flowers blooming, mum should be outside assembling a bouquet of mostly dandelions . Alas, the sweetness of the perfect weather to start the day is ruined for Rosie after a minute, realising that it is indeed spring and that climate change has, as Rosie would put it, so blatantly taken the reigns from human control and is now driving us at full speed into a painful and fiery death. And her mum was no where to be seen. It was established in Rosie’s most recent grade 9 science class that the sun would consume the earth in 7.5 billion years; however if global emissions do not decrease, said timeline is ultimately unknown. It could be far, far less than that. Possibly within Rosie’s lifetime. This thought swirls around Rosie’s head, manifesting into panic, unchanging all day, until she can leave school and walk home. It is no longer the perfect weather.

If you asked Rosie what she learned in her school day she wouldn’t be able to tell you. This particular day was a bit of a one-off for Rosie, as usually she is quiet, engaged, and attentive. All day, Rosie floated through school like a ghost on a unicycle. She would glide for a few meters before bumping into something, her greasy golden-brown hair spilling over her freckled face, before her long legs could re-route and continue peddling her to her next class. No one took notice that Rosie was not on earth while at school that day, but that didn’t bother Rosie because she didn’t notice either.

It would be safe to assume that the unergonomic layout of school didn’t help with Rosie’s bad day. The walls are a chipped brick, with a horribly thick layer of white paint over the top. You could count 6 chips in the paint for every square meter. The lockers were a miserable gray that perfectly matched the signs on the walls pointing to the classrooms. The doors were an off shade of taupe, and the floors a white speckled linoleum that you would be better off calling grey because of all the black shoe marks. The whole building is about the size of three and a half family homes and has two stories to separate the junior and senior students. There are two basketball courts outside and a small corner of grass and two trees, usually where some students went to see how many cigarettes they could smoke before the teachers came and told them off. The whole school area, surrounded by wood fence, was in the middle of roaring Melbourne, hidden away in alleys behind the Collingwood community centre. In one direction, just a few hundred meters away was the busiest part of the eastern freeway, and in the other, huge, looming buildings and a train system you would need to take a class in to understand. The school was stagnant in this corner of the world, tucked away. The students who went here weren’t gross or scummy like you expect of an inner-city public school, but the public school system certainly did not allow for them to look any other way. Greasy hair, second-hand backpacks with patched holes in the bottom, and scuffed black leather shoes which are always two sizes too big so that mothers don’t have to buy a new pair every two years could be found on just about every kid in school. Rosie is not an outlier, nor does she care to be one. She just wishes the school hallways would be painted a brighter colour and that the stairs would widen by just a few feet, because she is tired of tripping down the stairs and bruising her knees.

A mere eight hours after stumbling onto the street towards school, embraced by the not-so-perfect weather, the school bell rang to signify the end of the day. How funny it looks and sounds from an outside perspective; amongst concrete boxes and concrete streets and skyscrapers, at 3:30 every day a piercing bell tolls and resonates, sound bouncing off the surrounding concrete boxes. And then an explosion of children, teens, whooping and hollering to get home. At the end of that explosion, a few hundred meters behind everyone, stumbles Rosie. Her legs failing to keep at the same pace as her peers. Her big green owl eyes still focussed on nothing at all yet guiding her footsteps. She seems to be gliding as she leaves the school gate and begins her journey home. It is just 12 blocks away. Easier walking than getting the tram, as at this time of day it is packed full of people and as soon as you get on you would need a snorkel in order to breathe in fresh air, or stilts to stand on so you are not sandwiched between two smelly people’s backs..

At first, Rosie felt envious of the kids who had parents waiting at the school gate for them, to drive them home in their safe and warm vehicle. But it’s best I walk home Rosie thinks to herself every day. The gasses that cars emit are killing the planet, filling us up with gas so eventually one day we will just explode[MH5] . That’s what Rosie learnt in school last semester. Sure, she would be far happier if her mum came and got her after school, even if they could walk home together; there are some mean people on the street that Rosie wishes she didn’t have to talk to alone. But Rosie’s mum is always working. It’s a funny thing, because no matter how hard Rosie may try, she is still not certain what her mum does. She is just never around. It’s that thing that adults do, she reasons with herself, keeping the truth from me for my own good. I bloody hate it; I am not a fucking baby. Sometimes her mum disappears for days on end. She usually lets Rosie know she is leaving. Usually… so I guess that makes this time unusual. Her mum always comes back with something different about her physical appearance- when she shows up again, Rosie will play a Where’s Waldo game on her mum. It could be a tattoo, piercing, or hair colour. Rosie can’t wait to see what will change on her mum this time.

If you asked Rosie, she would say she was walking north, but in actuality, she was walking east. Her auto-pilot was light still on, but her mind was beginning to reform consciousness. Okay, I am walking home now. She actively thinks, in an attempt to ground herself. She remembers some tactics she had been taught to bring herself “back to reality”, a term the school counsellor used, which Rosie felt was a little patronising. She begins to count 5 things she can see, hear, smell, and feel. I feel cold, rain, the lint in my pocket, my jeans, and my finger pads. I can smell the sewage, the rain, coffee, my deodorant, and cigarettes. I can hear the tram, cars honking, my breathing, that lady yelling, and music coming from that coffee shop. I can see the pavement, the rain, all those people crossing the road, something shiny, and … something shiny. Rosie had spotted something shiny. For the first time that day, she blinked. She blinked a few times, and then stopped in her tracks, causing a few people behind her to curse for stopping so suddenly. But Rosie could not hear them. She bent over and tried to pick up the shiny thing, but it hopped away. Perplexed, she followed it as it hopped along the pavement towards Hoddle Street, then onto Victoria Street down an alley she’d never been on, passing graffitied garage doors she didn’t know existed which she stopped to admire. Finally, it skipped through a park she wished she knew was there before, was there always a park on this side of town? Wow Rosie, you really ought to pay more attention to the world around you, it could get you killed.  And finally, onto bustling Church Street, being bumped around once again by busy commuters. Nevertheless, she managed to bend down and gently grab the shiny thing.

She held it in her hand. It was coarse, small, and looked like a coin. But it wasn’t a coin. It had no markings on it. It seemed to be made of a material identical to the rock in the necklace she wore every day that her mum gave her on her birthday last year. Exactly one year ago. Mum said it was Pyrite. “It soaks up all your sadness, eats it up and then swallows it so you never have to see it again. It is a magic rock”. Rosie briefly remembers her mum’s current absence, gone for two days now, before going back to admiring the coin. She traced its outline and convex curves with her finger, completely and utterly mesmerized.

She had been standing still in a busy street for so long she had stopped noticing the smell of rain and sewage, the people bumping into her, or the cold feeling that bit through her jacket. She could no longer hear the people yelling, nor the tram ding-dinging.

Look up. It was as if her rock-coin had whispered to her. So, she did, because when a tiny voice whispers something to you, obviously you do so without question, motivated by equal parts fear and curiosity. Rosie was expecting to see the same streets of Melbourne she saw every day, but upon tilting her head up, away from her rock-coin, she saw quite the opposite of that.

I’ll eat you whole whispered the rock. Perplexed, Rosie looked down at the shiny thing in her hand, and then back up. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Did her eyes deceive her?

Ahead, a hill – no, a mountain- covered in pink and purple flowers stretched so far into the sky Rosie’s neck hurt to look up that high. She stumbled, almost falling over backwards from leaning back too far trying to see where the top fell. A single path seemed to lead up the mountain beyond where the clouds cut off. At the base of the mountain was a stream, flowing and glistening, the riverbed lined with rock-coins just like Rosie’s. The river sang a song. If you listened, it wasn’t any particular song, but one that made you feel warm inside.

I’ll eat you up spoke the coin again, this time almost threatening, before Rosie could even consider putting it down amongst its kindred. So, she put the rock in her pocket and began moving forward. She paused to turned around, and was faced with a green sky, green like an emerald, and fields rolling out beyond the horizon. These fields were flat, unlike the mountain that loomed over Rosie, pulling her in. The fields were painted with yellow plants, a bright yellow, not dull like wheat. Must be buttercups. Just like mum would pick and give to me when she got home. As beautiful as the field was and fighting how badly she wanted to pick a flower, Rosie swiftly turned around to face the mountain. This time, it seemed to be bent over, impending. It was as if it had moved so it could get a better look at her. Rosie was unsure whether to be intimidated by the size of the mountain or in awe of its beauty. She took a sharp breath and began walking with absolute purpose up the path that lined the mountain.

Up she went, each step bigger than the last, each flower a different shade of pink and purple. Lavender, magenta, peony, pastel, all shades of the same end of the spectrum. Rosie couldn’t help a tiny, content smile creep onto her face for the first time that day. Actually, the first time in a couple of days. Pink was her favourite colour, and she did not discriminate among the various shades of pink. Like most fifteen-year-old girls, she went through a phase where she despised pink, demanding to be seen as an anti-girl. She was not feminine; she was tough and rough and liked the colour blue, and black. Until a few months ago when her mum came home with bright pink hair. She did not explain herself, nor did Rosie ask for an explanation, but from that day forward, pink was Rosie’s favourite colour, every shade of pink.

Rosie took a moment to bask in the visualisation of her mum’s face. Her wavy, pink hair framed her soft cheek bones and big eyes, big like Rosie’s. Her eyes sparkle and glimmer in the light, as if they are hiding something beneath the surface. She has long and dark eyelashes, and dark eyebrows too. She also has two freckles: one on the left of her chin and the other next to her right eyebrow. When she was little, Rosie would poke both the freckles and her mum would grab the hand that did the poking and pretend to eat it like she was a monster. Rosie misses moments like that. A breeze of cold air that blew past Rosie as she climbed the mountain, and the happy memory was gone.

Before she knew it, the top of the mountain was just a few paces more. Strange, she thought, I’ve only been walking for a few minutes. I wish this would last longer. It smelled like vanilla and lavender. She continued her stride up the mountain, until she had reached the top. She could see the most stupendous view of more yellow fields. To her left, a forest of oak trees, with a sparkling river protruding. The river stemmed from a magical waterfall, coming from another pink mountain directly ahead. The green sky was beginning to set, shifting into the evening. To the right was the clearest lake you could see. Rosie could have sworn she saw mermaids swimming, except her gaze was immediately pulled from the lake to her feet. The mountain was shaking, laughing. Looking forward, the other mountains were also shrugging with laughter. What’s so funny! She tried to shout, but the thought remained internal.

‘I love you so!’ sung the mountains, the deep voice below her shaking her even more, knocking her off her feet. She fell to the floor with a thud. ‘I love you so, I’ll eat you whole!’ The green sky quickly clouded over, the calming sounds of the river suddenly becoming overwhelming. Even the rock in her pocket started chiming in,

‘I’m going to eat you up, Rosie!’

‘Rosie!’ ‘Rosie!!’

Her name was being tossed around like pizza dough, swirling around, and disorienting her. And then, the mountain beneath her unhinged its jaw, suddenly and unavoidably swallowing Rosie up. Its pink lips exposed teeth, a tongue, and a dark, expansive throat with no bottom. Falling, falling, Rosie’s view of the green sky got smaller and smaller. Rosie screamed as her eyes glued shut with fear and she began plummeting for what seemed like forever through a dark abyss. She could still hear the mountains and rocks and grass and trees singing her name, calling her name, chanting Rosie, Rosie.

Please! Come back! Yelled Rosie. I want my mum! And with that, an arm reached out and grabbed her. The arm was long and pale and had rough fingers. Its grip was needlessly tight, and strength was unexpected. Rosie thought her arm was going to dislocate, she was yanked so suddenly.

The voices stopped chanting; the world stopped shaking. She could still hear one voice, however. It sounded an awful lot like her mum, warm and clear, unpatronizing. So, out of curiosity, Rosie pried open her eyes and hovering over her was indeed her mother. She had emerald-green hair, not pink, but it was definitely her mum. She smelt like vanilla and lavender and had the warmest eyes.

“Are you alright?” mum asked, sing-songingly. Rosie looked up at her with huge eyes and nodded slightly. Her mum looked down at Rosie’s hand. “That’s a cool rock. Let’s go home.” And with that, Rosie’s mum swept her off her feet, off of what Rosie could now see was the pavement outside of her house. She noticed that a few people had stopped, concerned looks on their faces. Rosie stuck her tongue out at them, which made her mum laugh and do the same.

Rosie and her mum approached the rickety front door of their home. Their home was made of brick and had a corrugated tin roof and was squished in a row of other townhouses that looked exactly the same.

After some silence, “Where did you go? For two days?” Rosie asked, suddenly small and scared, her voice barely coming out as a whisper.

“To get you this. Happy birthday, I love you so.” her mum opened her hand to reveal a package, wrapped in brown paper. Inside, a pair of earrings with sparkling, majestic mermaids on them. Holding them up to the light, Rosie could see one was pink and one was green. The light shone through them, leaving colourful shadows on the wall.

“Thanks, mum.” Rosie knew she was hiding something but was tired and happy just having her mum back at home that she didn’t press the matter further.

“Pancakes for dinner? Or maybe I’ll just eat you whole instead!”

About the Author

Stevie Rose Poling is a first-year student in the University Arts and Sciences course. She was born in Trail but at age 7 she and her family moved to Melbourne, Australia, where she grew up. Stevie moved back to the Kootenays in March 2021 and has loved every minute of it. She likes reading and playing music. She is studying to become a secondary school art teacher and hopes to inspire the future generations to love art as much as she does.

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