Ariel Kusby

The Rose Spinster

They say if you nestle your nose in one, you’ll smell a man’s body odor, see a face contract within the tiny bud. Avoid that street, mothers say, and if you can’t, always cross to the other side. A witch, the townsfolk warn, lives in that house. She grows her garden from the blood of men and houses their souls in the flowers. You may be curious to see for yourself, but any girl who sniffs a peony will end up pregnant.  

Little Sally is new to town, moved in with her daddy after mummy fell down a well. She has never seen a garden like this one, each flower so distinct, like a fingerprint or a face. She lingers, picks petals, and brings them home, where she secretly rubs them along her lips and thighs.

Sally’s daddy doesn’t know who to blame, embarrassed by his daughter’s body. She and mummy had not talked about these matters. Nature shouldn’t work this way, he thinks, running with an axe. New eggs don’t grow inside tender yolks.

Spring is always violent, the rose spinster thinks, watching new buds ravage their green husks. She sprinkles the soil with her own womb-juice from the quarter-moon. A man lies unconscious in her garden, knocked out by the heat and his own despair. The rose vines he’d hacked look barely touched. She moves a canopy over him, rousing him.

Some say she is young, but has a face like the skin of an unwashed turnip, unnatural pink and white like her garden, her eyes a dangerous red. Others say she is old and mute, cut out her tongue after a lover jilted her, so she could never again confess her love and be left heartbroken.

When Little Sally gives birth, the roots come out first. A mix of mud and blood, the rose spinster yanks the slippery threads out of Sally, who howls with pain as thorns catch in her womb. When the flower is born they plant it firmly in the backyard. The rose spinster asks Sally and her daddy to live with her in the cottage, an offer they accept, for they have fallen quite in love with her. The rose spinster then took the man to her pink sheets, where he blossomed, but only in the way a human body can.

Ariel Kusby is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her poems, stories, and reviews have appeared in Entropy, Bone Bouquet, Pith, 1001 Journal, Adolescent, SUSAN / The Journal, and Hunger Mountain, amongst others. Ariel works as a bookseller in the children’s room at Powell’s City of Books, and is the managing editor for Deep Overstock: the National Booksellers’ Journal. Visit her at