It is early Monday morning. A stunning woman, Marah Stone, sits before her Edelman executive desk. Seen through panoramic windows that encompass Marah’s spacious office, a budding sun erupts from a dark horizon permeating a blackened sky with its radiating brilliance. A new day is born; an event that resonates with the words of creation: “Let there be light.” But the glorious vista is lost upon Marah as she stares at a computer screen reading an email she received with an unknown IP address. Her expression is set in concentration as she strains to decipher the meaning of the electronic message.
The onset of frustration causes Marah to abruptly push herself away from her desk with a huff. She struts before a large window that overlooks an empty metropolis below. Soon the hustle and bustle of millions of busy individuals will occupy every street and byway, becoming the living pulse of the city she has come to know so well. It is a breathtaking view that never fails to remind her how far she has come in life. From her view point—as she stands in the highest corner office, on top of one of the most prestigious firms in the country, while looking down at a city predominately ruled by men—Marah stood on top of the world.
But in this instance, as Marah stares out the window, there is no glimmer of ascendancy in her demeanor. An unsettled look mars her flawless features suggesting an inner turmoil brewing deep within her. With a sharp turn she pulls her gaze away from the window, away from the view that has given her so much inspiration throughout the years, to stand before her desk once more. Her brows furrow as she clicks the print option on her computer screen. A moment later, Marah’s printer spits out a copy of the mysterious email. Without skipping a beat, she hastily presses a button on her office phone. “Cindy. Reschedule all my appointments. I have decided to take a personal day. Have my car ready in 5 minutes,” she orders. A brief silence follows. Not too surprising considering how obsessive Marah is towards her work. Marah is always the first and last person in the office; she never misses an appointment or meeting; she never takes vacations; and she is always on point when a major decision is to be made. To say that the firm is her life is a vast understatement. Thus the fact that she is now taking a personal day shocks Cindy, the most competent assistant Marah has ever had, into a state of uncertainty.
“Oh…huh, right away, Miss Stone,” Cindy replies in a shaky voice.
Marah marches into her lavish penthouse suite. In her hand is a folded piece of paper which at the moment is forgotten. With a critical eye, she methodically surveys her apartment for signs of imperfection—a thin layer of dust on her stenciled gold wall; a smudge on her Tiffany stain glass windows; a tiny smear on her marble floor; Victorian styled furniture angled incorrect. All these miscues produce a disapproving look on her face. “Details,” she mutters, feeling a growing sense of frustration with her surroundings. She has spent a lot of time and money to give her dwelling a natural eclectic look. A misplaced pillow is the final straw. Marah makes a mental note to fire her incompetent house cleaners. Stopping in mid-stride, she unleashes her pent-up anger. “All you had to do was follow my instructions! How difficult could that be?!” She yells. Her shrill voice echoes throughout her empty apartment. Shocked by her own off-putting behavior, Marah quickly composes herself. “Now that was rather unbecoming,” she chuckles self-consciously, as if someone had witnessed her little melodramatic moment. Looking down, she notices the folded piece of paper she held in her hand. It is the reason she returned home early from work. A meditative look crosses Marah’s face. Slowly she makes her way towards her private study deep in thought.
Upon entering the study, Marah’s behavior immediately changes. It was as though all the tension and stiffness in her body simply melted away. There is an ambience of warmth to the study room so unlike the rest of the apartment. Some of Marah’s snooty acquaintances have commented on—what they studiously referred to as—the quaintness of the space. Within the study there is an old desk worn by age, an antique doll house, a stack of photo albums, and childhood toys and possessions displayed on a dusty bookshelf. Marah absently recalls how someone once leafed through her family photo albums, commenting on how happy she seemed as a child. “What’s his name?” Marah muses. Names were never her strong suit. She scoffs at the thought. “Photo albums are nothing more than relics from your past,” Marah quickly reminds herself. But the objects in the study have an undeniable, if not subconscious, calming affect upon Marah. In other words, she is at home with her surroundings.
For several moments Marah stares at the email. She took the time to carefully unfold it and place it flat on her desk. “It’s from a pervert,” she originally thought. While catching a glimpse of herself from a reflective surface, Marah couldn’t help but admire her own appearance. She is exceptionally beautiful beyond doubt. It seems logical that twisted men would want to dirty her with their lustful thoughts. Yet this email held none of those vile intentions. It is a poem, a short poem which reads “sweet words may sway the mind to dreams divine, but a ROSE stems from the heart.”
Marah ponders the meaning of the poem. There is a passage, in Paradise Lost, where John Milton wrote that roses grew thorns only after the fall of man. The notion of guarded beauty (or is it protected innocence?) intrigues Marah. Is she the ROSE to whom the poem refers?
“Sweet words,” words from the poem echo in Marah’s head.
A ruthless smile replaces Marah’s stony expression. She had learned long ago how to use her feminine wiles to achieve her goals. Saying the right word at the right time, a suggestive smile here, and a subtle touch of her hand there, makes all the difference in her line of work. Simply put, Marah is a master of manipulation. “No,” she is forced to admit to herself, “I am not a rose by any other name.”
At work they call Marah the ice queen. Of course, no one dares call her that to her face. But in the common room, while hiding in the shadows, she hears how her coworkers speak about her behind her back. “Watch out or the ice queen with get ya,” they would warn in an ominous voice, comparing her to the antagonist of so many childhood fairy tales.
“May sway the mind,” an inner voice whispers in Marah’s mind.
Marah suddenly becomes irritated. “I don’t care what they say about me,” she argues to herself. “They’re just jealous of my success. Besides, tears are a waste of emotions,” Marah states emphatically, hardening herself in the process. While glaring down at the email, Marah’s expression reflects her sudden feelings of resentment. “It’s all just a big joke,” she hisses almost spitting out the words. The copy of the email crumbles noisily in her hand. She is the process of throwing it away when something stops her from doing so.
From the corner of her eye, Marah sees the antique doll house her father gave her on her sixth birthday. Within the toy house stands a tiny doll. The doll’s dress looks tattered and faded from years of neglect. “Belinda,” Marah whispers. The name of the doll brings back fond memories of her childhood. Belinda was more than a mere toy. She was the sister Marah never had, the confidant to all her childhood dreams and feelings. The way Belinda stood, as though she was looking out the window of the doll house waiting for someone, catches Marah’s attention. Suddenly, she finds herself reliving a distant memory.
“Who are you waiting for, Marah?” A woman asks with a voice heavy with concern. “All your guests are downstairs waiting for you.”
Six year old Marah looks back at her mother. Though still a young woman, Marah’s mother appears old and haggard. “Not without daddy,” Marah declares defiantly, locks of golden hair cascade down her porcelain face. Even at a young age, signs of Marah’s future beauty are written on her youthful features. “He promised me he would be here.”
Marah’s mother paces the room. She needed to settle the matter once and for all. “Your father isn’t coming, Marah. But look at the lovely doll house he sent you. He promises that he will try to make it to your next birthday.”
“No!” Marah shouts. Her childish rage brings a swift silence to the guests below. “I don’t want a doll house! I want my daddy!”
Marah’s mother sinks limp-like into a chair. “Your father has a new family now." Marah’s mother speaks with a weak voice. “The two of us have to accept that, and move on, Marah.”
“But I’m his little princess,” Marah argues with an innocence that only children possess. “He has to come.” Turning her back to her mother, Marah resumes her vigilance. She stares out a window of her room searching for signs of an approaching car. “He has to come.”
Marah’s mother knew that she had lost. Not knowing what else to do, she reaches for her phone and dials a number. After a moment, a man’s voice is heard on the other end of the line. Marah jumps to her feet when she realizes it is her father. “You’ll have to tell her, Steven,” Marah’s mother states plainly before placing the phone into Marah’s eager hands.
Knowing how her father despised the show of emotions, Marah composes herself before speaking into the phone. “Hi daddy,” she quickly says, “I am wearing the pink dress you sent me, and I …”
“Listen up, Marah!” Marah’s father bellows impatiently.
Marah instantly becomes rigid and silent, much like a soldier snapping to attention.
“Good,” Marah’s father continues. “You’re a big girl now, so you have to understand. Your mother and I have decided to take separate paths in life. She needs you to be strong for her, so no more of this nonsense. Do you hear?”
MARAH DOESN’T REPLY.
“What do we say about tears?” Marah’s father demands.
“Tears are a waste of emotions,” Marah responds automatically, not fully understanding the meaning of the statement.
“That’s my girl,” Marah’s father asserts. “Remember how I told you that I was a trooper in the army?”
MARAH DOESN’T ANSWER.
“A trooper is the strongest of all soldiers,” Marah’s father adds. “He will put on a brave face no matter the situation. Do you know why?”
MARAH DOESN’T RESPOND.
“Because it is expected of him,” Marah’s father answers his own question. “A trooper doesn’t need anyone to hold his hand when ever things start to get rough. That is what gives him his power: his self-sufficiency. Do you understand?”
MARAH DOESN’T REPLY.
“Now. Who’s my trooper?” Marah’s father asks in a serious tone.
After a brief silence, Marah answers in a hollow voice. “I am daddy.”
From that moment on, Marah would always aspire to be a trooper. The years that followed were paved with that one philosophy. Whenever she sets her mind on a goal or task, nothing, and no one, would get in her way. It is the secret to her success; the reason she, a woman in a man’s world, was able to rise to the top of the corporate ladder so quickly.
“To dreams divine,” an internal voice whispers in Marah’s head.
For the first time, Marah was beginning to understand what her life’s pursuit for wealth and power had cost her. She vaguely remembers the day she received a message from her father. It was the first time she had heard from him in over two decades since her sixth birthday. The message indicated that her father was in critical condition and wanted to see her. But Marah was on the verge of a major promotion, something she has been working so hard to achieve. Without batting an eye, she ignored the message and carried on with her day. That message was the last time she heard from her father.
“What have I become?” Marah asks herself. Never has she felt as empty and alone as she did in that very moment. There was no one in her life; no one to call upon; no one who mattered. Marah realizes that she was still clutching onto the email she had crumbled up earlier. Slowly, she straighten the paper, taking her time, feeling a strange sense of relief as she did so.
"Who could have sent it?" Marah wonders out loud. None of her associates had the wit or insight to come up with a poetic thought. Her mind drew up possible candidates but none of them fit the bill. Marah carefully places the email into the pages of a photo album. “But perhaps,” she thought to herself, “there is someone.” Taking her doll, Belinda, in one hand, Marah makes her way to her bedroom. “What do you think, Belinda?” She asks playfully while delicately arranging Belinda’s tattered appearance. A beaming smile slowly spreads across her reflective face. A girlish laugh escapes her. Marah began to feel good about herself something she hadn’t felt in a long time. With a rekindled sense of hope, Marah reflects upon the words of the poem in silence.
“But a ROSE stems from the heart.”