“The Rose Ceremony” – A Short Story

Illustration by Ryan Bauer-Walsh

Wait! You haven’t seen The Bachelorette? We have to watch it.” 

Out of desperation to meet a deadline at the PR agency where she worked, Ani remembered her grandma’s stories about Astghik, the ancient Armenian love goddess, and summoned her to help with some Valentine’s-themed social media posts. That was Friday. Now it was Monday, and Ani still hadn’t figured out how to send the goddess back. So she did what she always did on Monday night. She ordered Thai food and introduced Astghik to The Bachelorette. 

Astghik sipped her rosé. Ani said this show was like Vartavar, Astghik’s pagan celebration day when everyone exchanged roses. That felt so far away now. She wasn’t in Armenia anymore. She was in an apartment, in Uptown, in something called the 21st century. She wanted to ask what social media was, but there were so many modern things she felt like she should ask about first. Like internet, and wi-fi, and caucuses. 

“Can you believe this?” Ani gestured at a man on the laptop screen. “There’s a rumor he’s got a girl back home.”

“This is a show about love?” Astghik asked.

“Kinda. It’s more like people who really want to compete for a kind of love,” Ani said. 

Astghik frowned at the six male models vying for the Bachelorette’s hand in marriage. The Bachelorette had really long hair. Astghik remembered the old Armenian proverb: A woman’s hair is long, her brain is short.

“She’ll never choose. Her hair is too long.”

Ani sighed. “Just because they didn’t have dating competitions when you came from doesn’t mean there’s not a chance someone will fall in love.”

“But you just said—“ 

“Shhh! They’re fighting.”

Two of the men shouted at each other. None of them were like Astghik’s beloved Vahagn. Oh Vahagn, Astghik thought, Slayer of dragons! God of Thunder and War! 

“This isn’t fighting,” Astghik said. “There’s no blood. Besides, my Vahagn slew dragons. That’s impressive.”

Ani nodded dismissively. Astghik thought of another Armenian proverb: What does the donkey know about the almond? 

On-screen, a very earnest man cornered the Bachelorette.

“I just want to guard and protect your heart,” he said. Astghik’s face brightened. Through the window, the stars above Calhoun Square shone brightly. 

“Lame!” Ani shouted.

“What is wrong with a man who wants to protect his beloved?” Astghik demanded. “On the coldest winter night, my Vahagn stole straw from the silos of Babylon, carrying it back over the mountains to Armenia in one leap. We had plenty of straw to heat every house in the land, and the bits of straw he dropped along the way became the Milky Way.”

“Maybe we should have watched Nova.”

There are fools in every age, Astghik thought. That wasn’t an Armenian proverb, but she was planning on making it one. 

“The rose ceremony!”

Everyone on the show was draped in fine clothes. The Bachelorette looked radiant, as though Astghik herself had anointed her, and the roses she held were lush and red as the sacred pomegranates of Armenia. The men looked almost as strong and broad as Vahagn, or at least some minor lizard-hunting demigods she knew. Still, Astghik drained her glass and steeled herself for a mockery of love. 

“The guy who doesn’t get a rose will leave and the rest come back next week,” Ani explained. There were six men and five roses, but the Bachelorette wasn’t following anyone else’s rules. She scattered all the roses on the marble floor but one. Then she sent the first man home because he had a girlfriend. She dismissed two more for fighting. A half hour had passed. Things were tense. There were three men left, but she handed the one rose she held to her beloved. Suddenly, the show changed to a commercial.

“No, she didn’t!” Ani gasped. 

“He wanted to guard and protect her heart!” Astghik crowed. Then something occurred to her. “Is the show over?”

“Well, one of those other guys is going to be the Bachelor.”

It wasn’t exactly love, this competition, but Astghik had to admit it was compelling. 

And she was beginning to fall for it.