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Roses in the Basement -- creative nonfiction by Elisa Hsieh

“There are roses in the basement.”

In the morning, no one is ever really awake until they’ve eaten breakfast. This was true for me last year, when I still ate breakfast before school. It was especially true on February 14, the morning when my mom announced that there were roses in the basement.

I didn’t understand what she meant. Our basement included a laundry room, a storage room, a bathroom, a playroom, and several closets filled with either coats or old toys from our childhood. Maybe she found fake flowers in one of the storage closets. But why would she be telling us? She said it with the little flair of nostalgia that she uses every time she talks about us when we were younger. When I was four, I was a magic fairy named Rosie-Glow for about two weeks. The wings that I wore as Rosie-Glow were stored in one of the closets afterwards, along with tennis rackets. Maybe she’d found the wings and was reminiscing about Rosie-Glow. I assumed she didn’t mean real roses. They wouldn’t survive in the basement, and who would’ve bought roses just to leave them in the basement?

So my brother and I didn’t have anything to say in response. We were eating–what was it, eggs? It must have been fried eggs. It was an ordinary school day, after all. We must have been in a hurry to finish eating, too. We always were on weekday mornings, even back in eighth grade. Maybe that’s why we didn’t say anything.

“You don’t believe me?” She pressed, faux offended.

We shrugged.

“There really are roses in the basement,” my mom insisted.

My dad announced his arrival to the kitchen at that moment by way of his typical stomping downstairs. He usually came down later than us, and that morning was an ordinary morning.

“I found roses in the basement,” my mom told him, with the same little bit of mischief in her voice, like she’d found a present she wasn’t supposed to know about.

He paused in the hallway at her announcement and made an “aw, you caught me” shrugging motion. It occurred to me then how little my dad knew about growing things.

My mom is also a plant mom. It’s been two years since that February 14, and during those years, the number of plants in our house has increased exponentially. They were already creeping into every room back then, along with instructions to never water them so we didn’t mess up my mom’s schedule. My dad, on the other hand, seemed like the type of person who would try to store real roses in a closet.

I suppose I was just surprised because I couldn’t remember him ever doing something for Valentine’s Day before. My mom would tell us later that for years after they married, my dad was too embarrassed to hold my mom’s hand in public. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them hug each other. Us? Absolutely. Each other? Not that I can remember. They just seemed to know each other better than anyone I know, and I always thought that that was what mattered, when you’re going on fifty and your eldest is graduating high school. Ordering for each other at restaurants while the other parked the car. Watching six-hour long Italian dramas late at night, when we had finally gone to bed. Their shared terror of mice. Wading to the edge of a balcony pool and watching the sunset together.

I didn’t think about these little moments while I was still eating breakfast. I was thinking of the day to come, and in between passing periods and keeping track of homework, the connection between Valentine’s Day and roses flew right over my head. As school consumes more and more of our time and energy, I’ve noticed holidays and special days like birthdays slowly get swallowed up by the stress and work that school provides. My sister spent Halloween that year writing college applications. I spent my birthday taking a math quiz. We wake each morning to the monotone movements of preparing for the eight-hour slog through the school day. Sometimes I forget to exist outside of it. When the ordinary days feel like the only days, I forget that it’s Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I go through a whole year without writing, and by the end of it I can no longer remember the details of the story I wanted to write.

My dad would eventually one-up himself, after spending that Valentine’s Day in California for work. He turned up at the front door the next day with purple tulips that had survived a several-hour long plane trip from Berkeley to Chicago.

When I came home from school that day, I saw the roses in a glass vase on the dining room table. My mom had rescued them from the basement and mixed “flower food” in the water, which she said would help them live longer. I can’t tell you what I learned in school those two weeks after February 14. I’m sure I had at least one math quiz, and perhaps a harkness discussion in Humanities. I can tell you that for at least two weeks afterwards, those roses lived on in their vase, drooping, but not quite ready to die.

Sometimes cut flowers will outlive their lifetime after a dead night downstairs. Sometimes there’s a balcony pool at sunset and four elbows resting side by side. Sometimes you find something to remember, something to hold on to beyond the endless cycle of schoolwork, despite the clog of theorems and subjunctive conjugations.

And sometimes? Sometimes there are roses in the basement.


Elisa Hsieh is a high school junior with big dreams of being a novelist. She spends her free time writing, and then continues writing during time that probably shouldn't be free. She has been published in her high school's literature and art magazine. Other than writing, she enjoys a good mango boba and warm weather.

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