Beauty and the Beast taught children one true thing: every rose must die. Wilt away and lose all of its splendor. In part, it was an undercutting cautionary tale to little girls about ever daring to “lose their looks.” But what about another kind of rose? The one that already starts out dead inside to begin with? They’re not as rare as one would think, yet, nonetheless, the day Elisabetta received twelve dozen roses from “a secret admirer” (as the card was signed), she was rather surprised and disappointed to find that one of the buds was visibly “more closed” than the others. And that, upon closer inspection, she could already see that it was a slight brownish color at the bottom of the bulb, something rotten taking hold from the stem.
Accustomed to the munificence of men, Elisabetta thought little of the bouquet other than that brief vexation about the lone imperfect rose. She then proceeded to go about her usual routine, which involved an elaborate beauty regime that tended to take up almost half of the day. She blamed Marilyn Monroe for this—after all, this was her go-to icon. Her number one source of inspiration for How to Be Beautiful. And it seemed to be working, based on secret admirers like this one sending her such a lavish bouquet. But then she had a brief flash to that bum rose. The one that was so clearly displaying early signs of being dead inside, and would likely never open up and bloom like the others. Something about that felt portentous to Elisabetta. Like a signal of some unwanted ugliness or unpleasantness. And though she dare not say it out loud, Elisbetta feared that it somehow meant her own beauty was about to be vanquished, to die out. She had just turned twenty-five at the end of 1961. Regardless, she promised herself that the summer of 1962 was going to be her moment. She was finally going to make her decision on who was worthy of being “husband material.” Illusion was on her side, for everyone would’ve already told her she was day-old bread—as good as old maid material—were she not so lovely, so easily able to pass for no older than twenty-one.
But the rose was beginning to shake her confidence. What if something inexplicable happened to a woman once she exceeded twenty-five? What if it was like an overnight transformation that no religiously-applied skin care regimen in the world could stop? The panic was really setting in by the next morning, when she awakened to find that she had slept on her face in such a way so as to leave noticeable marks that made her fear she would incur wrinkles. She was usually so vigilant about sleeping on her back so as to avoid such risks, but something had made her lax the previous night. Was it that goddamn rose? Mocking her from its perch in the vase, where she situated it as non-prominently as possible. She couldn’t say, but the only way to make herself feel better was to pluck that abomination from the fold and throw it in the garbage where it belonged. Hideousness had no place around her, and she wasn’t going to continue to stand for it.
After tossing it into the garbage and then taking the trash out, she felt infinitely more secure. Free and unbothered enough to go about her daily beauty regimen. She posted up on her stool in front of the vanity mirror, the bare lightbulbs surrounding its oval shape further illuminating her flawless countenance. The one she studied inch by inch as she applied her maquillage with slow and thorough grace. About two and a half hours later, she was ready to get dressed for the beach. It was Friday, August 3rd and a man named Arthur was going to pick her up at noon. Already a late start for “fun in the sun,” but she lived closed enough to Malibu so that they wouldn’t lose too much time in traveling there. Of all the men—boys, really—who had tried to court her of late, Arthur had been the most promising candidate of that summer’s offerings. She didn’t feel the lackluster nature of the selection was a reflection of her beauty, so much as a reflection of the genuine lack among the male species in being able to satisfy any woman of quality.
When Arthur rang the doorbell, she passed by the bouquet of roses on the countertop, noticing out of the corner of her eye that a few more were starting to wilt, with telltale petals having fallen onto the Formica surface. There was something cheap and foreboding about the entire scene that she tried to shrug off until Arthur appeared before her at the door holding out the rose that was dead inside like it was some grand offering. “I found this on your lawn and thought you might want it.”
She sneered. “Arthur, darling, why would I want a dead rose?”
He smirked and retorted, “Why, because that’s what you are.”
She gasped. “What are you talking about?”
He sighed. “I’ve watched you all summer, Elisabetta. Studied you. Noticed some… rather observable changes. I know you’ve lied to me about your age. And I won’t be taken for a fool down some primrose path.”
A tear started to stream down her cheek. He was calling her ugly, old. The surest ways to strip a woman of her power. He was unmoved by her pain, concluding, “Find some other chump to con.” And with that, he threw the rose down at her feet and stalked away. Elisabetta ran back inside to look at herself in the mirror, whereupon she realized he was right. She had been deluding herself all summer. She could see the formation of sun spots and crow’s feet starting. Even detected an errant gray hair. And, oh my, was that a wart beginning to brew on her nose? Was she the very thing she had feared? A crone?
Elisabetta went into the kitchen, after several more hours of examining herself, took one look at the vase of roses and shrieked. They were all dried up now, totally dead. Weren’t roses supposed to last longer than this? And then it dawned on her that some knavish spirit had put a curse on them that had transferred to her. There could be no other explanation in her mind. She picked up the vase and heaved it at the wall. Sobbing, she then decided to roll around amid the glass shards and decayed flowers where she belonged.
The following day, Marilyn died. An overdose, they said. But Elisabetta knew the truth. Marilyn couldn’t stand the thought of getting old and decided to commit suicide to avoid it. She knew that a movie star would always be held to an even more impossible standard of beauty than any average attractive woman, and it was too much to deal with. A thing of beauty knows not its purpose once that beauty has faded. What is that “thing” now? What is it supposed to “be”? To do with itself? Ugliness from the start was easier to bear. And, like some Rudolph Valentino fans before her, Elisabetta decided to take her own life as well when Marilyn expired. It was better than continuing to watch her appearance expire without having any control over it. This, therefore, was an act of empowerment. Of saying no to the societal expectations women had to play into, if they wanted to play the game at all. To be considered or seen at all. She and Marilyn both decided, that weekend in 1962, it was time to stop. It was better to die beautiful than to live long enough to be ugly.