Yellow roses are cold. Red roses burn you inside and white roses are broken pieces of a purer sun, but yellow roses have no flame, they are cold. Everyone knows this.
Karen remembers the day Dad gave her roses. She sometimes thinks about his as he was on that day, at that moment, the butter flowers making his face glow as if with an interior light. She knows it was only the fluorescents reflected off the petals, because as she took the flowers they chilled her skin.
Karen still sleeps in her old bedroom. She takes the same steps every day and smiles to herself as if each of her actions contained a secret. She is a shower of dark hair. She gets more beautiful every day. In the morning she sits outside and waits for the sun to crest the oaks at the edge of the garden, soaking up as much light as she can. When she comes back inside she radiates it - it's almost painful to touch her, and there's nothing beautiful in the world except her. When it rains she folds up her light neatly and draws it into herself. She drifts through the house like a thing barely alive. She arranges the flowers in every room. Daffodils for the kitchen, daisies for the bathroom, lilacs for the hall, and roses...
Roses are powerful flowers. Dad brought her roses that day. Their stems were bound with rough string. His face was caught in expressions from which he had no escape - every smile held the seeds of the frown that would soon return. He brought her flowers because it was raining and he knew that rain broke her heart. Karen thinks that the rain falling in our garden sounds like a dead person breathing.
Karen has put all her books in boxes and she says that one day she'll burn them. In her bedroom she is surrounded by red and white roses in vases, jars, glasses, dried and hung from the ceiling, pressed between sheets of paper, pictures and paintings of roses, roses on her bedcovers and sheets. She says that they keep her warm at night when the sun is gone, and while she sleeps the scent wraps around her and she feels loved. I've seen her smiling in her sleep. I've seen her sleeping with open eyes.
She saw it in Dad's eyes when he gave her the yellow roses. She didn't say anything then, but later she told me that she had known what would happen. The yellow reflected in his eyes, the smell of the petals, the slow crumbling of his smile. The way he'd been reluctant to let go of the flowers when she took them, as if he needed the light. When she took them he went grey again in an instant - the stone eyes, the stone mask of skin, like a golem no longer enchanted. When he left again she dropped the roses on the ground and wouldn't pick them up again. They were pulling the heat from her, she said.
Sometimes I bring her away from the house. I try to take care of her because she needs it so much. She sees all places as if they were the same place. She gazes through people as if they were as shallow as the skein of dew on flower petals in the morning. But at home she's alive because she knows where she is. Even on her dark days she burns from within like an angry ghost. When I have to go out she turns the lights off and moves through the darkness, and I come home hours later to find her glowing a subtle white, floating from room to room with her arms full of flowers, wet from the garden or crisp and pressed from the pages of books. Some day she's going to burn all the books.
She says that as Dad turned to go upstairs she heard him speaking, but she didn't catch the words, and then it seemed to her as if she might have been wrong, and what she heard was really the sound of the rain in the garden, the deathly whisper.
I keep the room locked, except when Karen comes to me with yellow roses in her arms, smiling, her eyes full of hope, a knowledge that she would give to me if she could, and I open the door for her. He had always given her flowers. After Mom died his love locked itself deep inside, and the harder he tried to reach out of himself, the further away his voice seemed to be when he spoke, the more distance his gaze had to cover. Karen sometimes cried after he spoke to her, and that's why he brought her flowers. They made her smile again, and the house would grow warm for a short while, and his spirit would come closer to the surface of his skin. He gave her lilacs and carnations and daffodils and irises and hyacinths and roses. Red roses and white roses. Then yellow roses, at the end. I'm sorry. That's how she knew.
At first, Karen burned the roses in his room because of the gunpowder smell. The cordite stench scorched her nostrils and brought tears to her eyes, and she put the yellow roses in vases on the windowsill and the shelves of his room and burned them with a cigarette lighter until the sweet perfumed smoke hung in the air like fog and the smell of powder was gone. Black, tattered petals floated to the ceiling on plumes of heat and fell on his body as ash. Then she came out and looked at me and I locked the door because I didn't know what to do.
Yellow roses are cold, like the moon. Karen watches the moon at night and smiles to herself. She knows who it reflects and she knows she shines brighter. She drinks the sun in the morning and gathers flowers for the house. She knows a secret. I don't know the secret and she can't tell me. She burns flowers in Dad's bedroom to take away the smell. Dad smiles a smile that isn't going to go away. Karen floats through the house like a star. I try to help her but soon we will have to go. When she smiles I feel warm. She's my burning little sister. She cries sometimes because she doesn't know how to say what she needs to say.
She says that we're outside time now. We're always going to be here, she says, and we were always here, pressed like petals between the pages of a book. She burns the roses and she will burn the books too. I know we're not always going to be alone here. Someone is going to come. It's not supposed to be like this, but I need her. I need her and I love Dad's smile, his beautiful cold smile.
When the others come Karen says she will bring me home at last.