The Devil and the Rose- 1

‘You need to dump him. Especially when you have Peter chasing after you,’ advocated Linda who rather enjoyed giving these advisements to Rose. ‘I wish I had a suitor like Peter. My heart bleeds when I see him…’

Rose heaves a big sigh, ‘I know what you mean, Linda. I do like him a lot but… I need my space.’ Rose is sitting on the window sill, looking out towards the sky with a faraway look. Linda, as usual, is sitting by the fireplace.

‘I wonder why you don’t need your space when Jack is around,’ says Linda sarcastically.

Visibly upset, Rose gets up from the sill, ‘Please Linda, I am not in a mood to listen to all this.’

‘And you are always in a mood to not only listen to all this but take all that abuse from him,’ says Linda, again mockingly.

Linda was one of those sedentary sorts of people who always appear content with whatever little activity they have in their lives. Not that she was leading an extremely quiet life; she had a social circle bigger than that of Rose, and in that circle she had come to be regarded as a pillar of strength.

‘How did that happen anyway?’ continues Linda, ‘it’s curious I never asked you that. You and Jack? It’s like the unlikeliest match.’

‘I don’t know, Linda. I just felt so drawn towards him. I met him when he was still going out with Kate; at the New Year’s party at Mandy’s. I had heard stories about him being a user and stuff, but I wasn’t concerned with all that. So, I was standing with Kim and the rest of the girls…’

……………………………………………………

 At Mandy’s New Year bash Rose and her friends are chatting.

 ‘Hey, where’s Kate?’

 ‘With her latest catch, over there.’ 

 Everybody looks towards Kate and Jack. Still in his early thirties, Jack is clean-shaved, handsome man of more than average height. There is an aura of masculinity about Jack that is unmistakable. His well-toned athletic body is covered in black leather Jacket.

 ‘Oh him. He’s no catch, believe me. I reckon when he’s done with her, she won’t be able to recover for years. Serves her good; I never liked that bitch.’ The feeling of rivalry was obvious in Silvia’s voice. She was almost happy to see her with Jack. It was as if she knew Rose’s end was nearing.  

 ‘Hey Kate, over here!’ Mandy yells to Kate and she looks towards the girls, waves and comes over with Jack.   

 ‘Hey…I never knew everyone was gonna be here. Anyway, this is Jack…’

 Somebody calls Kate so she has to leave. ‘Excuse me girls,’ says Kate and turns to Jack, ‘be back with you in a flash, Jack.’     

 ‘Not a worry, kitty cat. Take your time.’ ‘So girls,’ Jack turns towards the girls, ‘Keeping the boys happy?’ He knew nearly the whole pack. He had bedded a couple of them.

 ‘I heard about your fight with those goons last week,’ Caroline comments. She was one of those girls Jack liked to keep as bait in order to get bigger fishes.

 ‘Yeah, this world is no place for a nice guy like me.’ Jack apparently sees Rose and instantly turns towards her, ‘Who’s this beauty?’

 ‘This is Rose,’ informs Caroline.

 ‘I don’t suspect. Looks like a Rose. Freshly blossomed,’ says Jack and then addresses Rose, ‘Jack Thorn… is my name. Anytime you like me…’ Jack takes Rose’s hand, with his eyes never leaving hers, doesn’t ask for it and kisses it, ‘…to show you a good time, consider me your servant.’

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The Devil and the Rose- 2

With memories of that night still fresh in her mind it took quite an effort for Rose to come out of her reverie. The dusk had started to engulf the world, and Rose could see the red winter sun going down to the sea. She was sitting on the sill again.

‘The party ended and I came back. I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking of Jack and how his piercing eyes followed me wherever I went. I had never been gazed at the way he did that night.

‘There was unmistakable lust in his eyes, but not the ordinary lust you see in most guys’ eyes. It was like… for him there was nobody else in the entire world. Not even Kate. I could feel that in spite of physically being with Kate he wasn’t with her.’

‘He sounds to me as someone extremely lusty. Someone who would use, abuse and leave innocent girls like y…,’ says Linda.

‘He’s not all that bad, Linda,’ Rose cuts in irritably, ‘you make him out to be this monster that he’s so not. Caroline was telling me he picked up that fight with those goons because they were being mean to some young guy and teasing his girlfriend.’

‘I don’t say there’s no good at all in Jack. I also heard about his patronizing some poor people living near his apartment. So he does help weak and helpless people. But that aside, it all boils down to one thing. Does he treat you good? And do you think Peter is not capable of doing those things? I think Peter is capable of infinitely better deeds than Jack.’

The sound of someone entering the front door interrupts them.

‘Did someone just come in? Jack?’ The anticipation of seeing Jack always stirred something up in Rose.

Peter enters the room, ‘Hey girls.’

‘Oh, Peter,’ says Rose with disappointment so obvious in her voice even a six-year-old couldn’t miss.

‘I forgot to tell you Rose. I was expecting Peter here,’ informs Linda, ‘my car is with the mechanics and Peter, chivalrous that he is, has come to pick me up.’

‘Yes! Always there for damsels in distress,’ says Peter.

‘Rose is in even greater distress, Peter. You should help her out as well.’

‘She only needs to say it once, Linda. Anything for her. Heck, I’ll even let them put needles in me for her. And you know how I hate needles.’ He turns to Rose, ‘what is it, Rose?’

‘I don’t know what she means by that Peter,’ said Rose, obviously annoyed with her bosom friend.

‘You know what!’ Linda looks Rose in the eye.

‘Oh Linda, come off it,’ says Rose irritably.

‘Am I missing something?’ Peter chips in; by this time he’d become curious enough to.

‘Nothing Peter, she’s behaving curious this evening,’ says Rose.

‘Let’s leave, Peter. She’s very touchy on that topic,’ mutters Linda, grabbing Peter’s arm as a mother would her child’s.

‘What topic?’

‘See you, Peter,’ smiles Rose, all too glad to have Linda off her chest finally.

But Peter wanted more… more of Rose. His Rose.

‘Umm…sometimes I get confused, Rose,’ says Peter, gesticulating to excuse his arm off from Linda.

‘What about?’

‘Is it your smile or is it your laugh?’

‘I don’t get it.’

‘Which one of these two is better? You look gorgeous when you smile. And when you laugh, it’s a feast to my eyes and ears. It’s like some musician is playing his best melody by the mountain spring with flowers all around.’

Rose laughs even louder, ‘Thanks for the complement, Peter.’

Peter and Linda leave for the door. Peter stares at Rose lovingly and Rose, like is customary of her, maintains her gaze and then lowers eyes.

‘What is it, Linda? That topic…’

Peter was right. Nature had bestowed Rose with boundless beauty. Her full-bodied rosy lips concealed perfectly lined teeth that were a marvel to watch when she laughed. It was like only a flimsy pink layer was holding the gush of blood. If lips had a life of their own, Rose’s lips would appear scared. As if they were afraid to go out, to try out new things. As if they were trying to hide themselves from the big bad world… so that nobody hurt them. Beholders from Bollywood would liken Rose with Aishwarya Rai, just blonde with added beauty boost.

Many a times Rose’s smile took Peter’s breath away. There was something in that smile that endeared Rose to Peter. Rose was an innocent girl, and her face did absolutely nothing to hide the fact. If anything, it only enforced her innocence and laid bare her vulnerability to the observers. And she was never more innocent looking than when she was smiling.

Her smile made her rosy cheek blush when Peter paid her sincere complements. Her skin wore a perfectly tanned golden hue that was a fit match for her golden blonde hair. It was probably her open blonde hair seen at sundown that prompted Peter to remark her face was ‘like moon shining through dark yellow clouds in the twilight’. And the moon had eyes the color of blue sea.

If her face oozed innocence, her eyes made her look even more vulnerable and helpless; like an unsuspecting baby. It was not so much as that she had big eyes but the fact that they were covered by long eye lashes and had bigger pupils that she elicited unsolicited attention from those looking in her eyes. Her pupils didn’t contract much, due to her long eyelashes foreshadowing them possibly, so that when she looked at people with expectant eyes she gave the impression of a baby looking up at an adult.

Rose didn’t laugh much. She wore a melancholic disposition that wouldn’t go away even if she was paid a billion dollars or was crowned ‘Miss Universe’. This disposition persisted despite the fact that she was the ‘blue-eyed girl’ of her social circle. It had something to do with the way she looked at the world.

She was like Peter in that. It’s curious because their melancholic attitudes made them ‘siblings in disposition’.

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The Devil and the Rose- 3

They called him the ‘bitch monk’. Monk because he lived the life of a hermit, and bitch because he was always mumbling the words ‘bitch’ and ‘why’. Also, he never left his black leather Jacket.

 He never told anybody anything. And nobody bothered to listen to his incoherent mumblings even if he was making some sense. It’s very slow living in the mountains still… life has its own pace. It never stops for anybody. ‘Life goes on!’, like they say.

 ‘I wanted to…wanted to… make you happy… happy. Why? Why? You just never…just never… Get it bitch, get it? You better… get it?…Why? Why…a day after…a day after… you were born… bitch, get it? Get it, bitch?’ mumbled the bitch monk.

 He had queer mannerism as well. He walked like a toddler except that he took even shorter steps. And he was always looking down and not up. Even if he had to mend the roof he’d be looking down. It was as if there was a knife over his head that would strike if he looked up. 

 His hut, which had been his dwelling for the last couple of years, ever since he moved in after that episode in his life, had started to leak from the roof. But he didn’t care, probably afraid of the knife. Like he didn’t care if the local kids tugged at his clothes when he went out to the local grocery store; like when people called him ‘why monk’ within earshot for him to miss it; or when the water tap went on all night a few nights ago; or even when a fly went into his soup and he finished it with the fly still in the empty mug.

 He was a curious being. It was as if nothing perturbed him. Yet… he was the most perturbed man.

……………………………………………..   

Peter is lying down on his bed staring at the ceiling. He gets up, goes to the living room, sits on a rocking chair and stares at nothing.

Peter wasn’t always like that. Broody, quite man who liked locked doors that nobody could come through. And he wanted darkness in his room. So did Jack but for different reason. Peter wanted darkness because he wanted peace and quietness; these only came with night. He wanted to lock the big mad world outside so that he could think… brood.

Presently, he was brooding on why Rose didn’t look at him when he waived to her from the car? She was looking at Linda. Was Linda more important to her than him? And she didn’t look very happy. She looked sad. Was she sad because he was leaving? He cheered up a bit at this thought. That she could be sad at him leaving. But she also looked disappointed when he walked in the door. She didn’t look happy to see him. It was almost like she was regretful that he came. Why? He always felt so cheerful when he met her. Why doesn’t she feel happy to see him?

Or does she? What about that look in her face every time he looks at her lovingly? She blushes! He was positive he made her blush. The look in her eyes told it all. The way she would maintain her gaze and then lower eyes…

He gets up from the rocking chair. The last few positive thoughts were enough to bring him to life. His woman wanted him. That gaze and that blush! But still…. why would she not feel happy to see him? Why? What’s…?

‘O Rose, what’s bothering you? You know you only have to say it once, my doll. I’ll give my life for you… Was that Jack bothering you? It must be that Jack.’

He felt suffocated all of a sudden. He needed some air… some fresh air… And his sight needed a change of scene as well. He made for the balcony of his flat. It was dusk when he sat in the rocking chair. It was night now. In the dark he could just make out the path to the moon light shimmering through the cracks in the door to the balcony. When he locked himself in, he put the curtains down on the windows. Only that crack bothered him, whenever he looked that way.

He didn’t like looking at full moon. Full clear moon… and the sea. At night they felt like two of the enemy’s closest confidants… laughing at him and mocking him; constantly rubbing it in. He couldn’t look at full moon and the sea underneath and not think of what could be… What could be overwhelmingly, breathtakingly beautiful was just a reminder of what could be…

‘O Linda, put some sense into her. I’d give my soul to you, Linda,’ murmured he, staring at the deep abyss up.

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The Devil and the Rose- 4

Wisdom is associated with men. It’s a masculine thing. After all, men are required to be wise in order to run the world. Conversely, wisdom is not a required quality in a woman. She doesn’t need to be. All that she needs to be is…. pretty. But Linda was one of those exceptional women who combine beauty with wisdom that is commendable. Of course, she wasn’t as pretty as Rose but Rose lacked Linda’s good sense.

It seemed every time Linda came to Rose’s place the topic of discussion was Jack and his heartlessness towards Rose. At the slightest chance Linda would veer the conversation to this subject. And Rose would try to do the opposite: avoid talking about Jack with Linda.

No one was more critical of Jack than Linda, with two of her best friends on the brink of insanity because of him. But she admired Jack for one thing: for using women’s own weapon against them. Unlike ordinary men, he didn’t demand sex from women. He commanded it. He used their own weapon to destroy them, subdue them to his will and debase them… mentally and physically.

‘Men are idiots’ Linda would say. Of course, men run the world, but who runs men? It is so easy to get the goodies out of them. She equated men with dogs when she said, ‘Just hover the booty over their heads, give them some and never in plenty, and you have them pleading after you with salivating tongues all day long.’ When it comes to romance and the matters of the heart, she opined once to her workmate, even the wisest of men can make silliest mistakes. It’s like their brains are not hardwired to understand the intricacies and subtleties of seduction.

‘Rose, accept it,’ Linda picked up the last conversation exactly where they left it, ‘You only think of Peter when Jack treats you good. Every time Jack has done something good to you, I have seen you open up to Peter.

‘May be you feel that if Jack is going to treat you good, he’s not good enough anymore. It’s as if he’s become lesser of a man. You know Peter can treat you way better, but the fact that you are staying with the bad proves that you like to be treated rough. It’s like between good and the bad you would rather choose the bad.’

‘It’s not as…’

‘Don’t interrupt me. Hear me out. And Jack, I am sure, feels that in you and is just not willing to let that good man come up in him.’

Rose got up now, to subtly manifest her annoyance with Linda, from the sill tiredly and headed towards her bedroom. Linda followed, picking up some breath and marshalling her thoughts on the way there.

‘And you can’t fool Jack,’ continued Linda with her counseling, ‘He knows every trick in the book. He knows when you are feigning something or pretending to be somebody you are not. He knows when he’s got you trapped!

‘You know when you came through that door the other day when you saw me with him? I must confess I could feel that… that raw animal magnetism in him. Even though I was aware of how it might hurt you, I couldn’t help feeling week in his arms. At the time you came in, I was at his mercy…’

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The Devil and the Rose- 5

‘Hey Linda baby …How are we?’ Jack slaps her buttock playfully. He had come to pick Rose, and Linda was already there. Alone.   

‘Control you hands, Jack!’

 Men were afraid of Linda. She wasn’t the type to take sweet liberties with. They could flirt with her alright, only long as she was enjoying. There was no muscling in her privacy with ‘masculine heat’, so to speak.

 But she was always vary of Jack.

 In the game of seduction it’s impossible for women to think after a certain point. They can only feel then. Jack understood this basic fact about women and capitalized on that. No woman, Jack believed, could resist his masculine come-on. Every woman was made to surrender to the more powerful man, and it was his job to make the woman he was seducing see that. For Jack, seduction was fundamentally about controlling and pushing. The trick was in knowing when to control yourself and when to push the woman. Control because the woman has to know she hasn’t become indispensable to you, push because the woman needs it. Personally, he was big on the ‘push’ part. Especially with Linda.

 Linda wasn’t on his ‘hit-list’, so to speak, but because ‘the woman behaved so unaffected by me!’ he had to have her.

 ‘Huh huh! I like that in you. You bite!’ Jack keeps on touching her.

 ‘This… makes me hate you.’

 ‘Does it?’

 ‘You disgust me.’

 ‘Do I?’ He keeps at it.

 ‘Of all the filthy rats of the world, you are the…’

 ‘Whatever…’ With this Jack grabs Linda.

 ‘Please Jack, leave me. Please.’ This was the word that told Jack the woman was ready for him. It was like she was pleading with him to take her. He wasn’t just confident then. He knew that the cat was as good as in the bag. He never stopped after this point, except this one time with Linda.

 ‘She’s coming. Leave …’ Begged Linda one last time.

 On hearing footsteps, Jack lets her go but they are still too close for Rose to overlook what has happened.

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