Rose is ten when the blacksmith’s son pushes her into the river. She lands badly, rocks scraping her knees, tearing her palms. Her dress is cold and wet against her skin as she drags herself out of the water.
Her anger forms a hard lump in her throat. The blacksmith’s son smirks at her, waiting for her to swallow it down like she knows a good girl should.
She screams and rakes her nails across his face.
Later, her mother pulls the anger out of Rose’s chest and stares at it. It is smooth and gray, like the river rocks. After a long moment, her mother presses it into Rose’s hand. For an instant, Rose can see her mother’s anger, pressing out above the collar of her dress. Then it vanishes. “You must be a good girl,” her mother whispers. “You know what you have to do.”
Her mother locks her in the storage shed. Rose stares down at the rock in her hand, at the blood drying beneath her fingernails.
She does not swallow her anger, or smash it and scatter the pieces. Instead, she hides it in the corner, under a bag of wrinkled potatoes.
Things are hard for her family that winter, since the blacksmith demands reparations. Rose’s new anger grows inside her, but she is careful not to let it show.
Rose is sixteen when she catches the eye of the local lord. He likes her face and the shape of her, so he makes quiet arrangements with her father. Rose listens from the other room, and the anger in her chest grows jagged spikes. She will kill him if he touches her.
Before the appointed time, her mother sends her into the city to find work, even though there is plenty to do at home.
Her mother gives her a shawl to wrap around her neck and chest. “You must hide it better if you are going to keep it,” she says, her voice still like a winter pond. “Keep your head down. Sometimes it shows in your eyes.”
Before she leaves, Rose takes her old anger out of the shed. She’s amazed by how small and smooth it is.
Rose is eighteen when she sees a girl being beaten in an alley. The girl’s skin and clothes color her an outsider. Her eyes are huge and wet, and when they meet Rose’s, they both beg for help and scream for her to run.
One of the men looks up at her. “Move along,” he says. “This is none of your concern.” There is kindness in his voice. Concern that she might do something foolish.
It is hard to breath around her anger. There are too many of them. She cannot stop this, and if she goes to the guard, they will not care.
“Let her go,” Rose says. The words catch on the sharp edges of her anger and choke her. She steps into the alley. “Let her go.”
The man who spoke detaches himself from the group. He grabs Rose’s shoulders and pushes her back. His grip is gentle. He leans down and speaks in her ear. “You can’t help her. Let me help you. Just go.”
Rose looks past him, at the girl. Tears roll down her cheeks, and the men’s boots are wet with her blood. Rose pushes forward, slipping out of the man’s grip and lunging toward the girl. Rose’s hand touches a wet cheek as a boot hits her in the chest.
Her anger shatters into a thousand razor fragments.
Rose is still eighteen when she wakes on the dirt floor of a tiny cell. Her chest aches and her vision blurs as she sits up. Her mother sits on the other side of the iron bars.
“What happened to the girl?” Rose asks.
Rose’s mother does not look at her. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “She died.”
Rose buries her face in her hands.
“The blacksmith has paid for your treatment,” Rose’s mother says. “You will be treated for your injuries, then you will be married to his son.”
“No,” Rose says.
Her mother says nothing, just sits with her eyes closed.
“I won’t.” Rose hears the fear in her voice and shame curls through her belly.
“You don’t have a choice.” Her mother’s voice is a barely a whisper. Rose watches her mother’s anger swell and vanish, swell and vanish. She stands up and brushes dust from her skirt. “I’m sorry, Rose. I wish things were different.”
Her mother leaves, and two men slip into her cell. “What were you thinking, letting your anger grow like that?” one asks. “It’s dangerous. Your fragile constitution isn’t made for it.”
The other holds her down while the first draws a long, thin knife out of his bag. “We have to remove the shards. You’ll hurt yourself if we don’t.”
Rose screams as he cuts and pulls and cuts and pulls and cuts and pulls. He drops the shards of her anger into a bucket. They chime like crystal when they fall.
When they are done, Rose feels scraped out and empty.
She curls up in a ball on the floor of the cell and cries herself to sleep.
Rose is just nineteen on her wedding day. She stands silently in her white dress. “Make your mark here,” the priest says, pointing to his book. Rose is too tired to argue, too weak to run. Still, she shakes her head.
The priest shrugs, and the blacksmith makes a mark for her.
Her husband takes her hand, and she wishes she had the energy to hate him.
When her anger begins to grow again, her husband pulls it from her chest and takes it to his father to destroy. “You can’t be trusted with this,” he says, holding the shards between careful fingers. “You could hurt yourself, and we don’t want that.”
Tears slip down her cheeks and she has just enough energy to hate herself.
Rose is twenty when she misses her menses and realizes that there is a child growing inside of her. She imagines it in her womb like a worm, eating her from the inside out.
Any kind of food turns her stomach. Her whole body aches. She dreams of cutting it out and throwing its tiny bloody body into the river.
She screams the first time she feels it move inside her.
Her husband is more attentive than ever, bringing her any food she seems to favor, taking extra care to remove any anger that grows in her chest, babbling softly with his cheek pressed against the hideous bulge of her belly.
Her ankles swell, and she cannot abide the feel of socks against her feet. She is always cold.
The texture of her hair changes. Her reflection is a soft-edged, empty-eyed stranger. Her body is not her own, and constant panic whispers under her skin.
Her labor is hard and long and she begs for death. No one listens.
When the child is finally born, it is wiped off and handed to her husband. He brings it to her, beaming.
Rose refuses to touch it.
“It’s a girl,” her husband says, his voice thick with joy.
Later, after the baby has been pressed against Rose’s breast, its suckling mouth hot and stinging, she does sit and hold it. She watches it breathe on its own, no longer a part of her, consuming her from the inside.
It is helpless, and its wet eyes remind her of the girl in the alley. She cannot hate it. But she can’t love it, either.
Its dimpled face crumples, and it begins to wail. Rose sees a tiny bump on its chest and pulls it free.
The baby’s anger is as small as a pea and as soft as a new cheese.
Rose hides it under her pillow.
Rose is twenty-four when her husband stops checking her chest for anger every night. It grows slower now, but is sharper than ever.
Her husband has taken over his father’s forge, and comes home exhausted to find a smiling daughter, a passive wife, and a meal on the table. He is happy, and he has decided that she is, as well.
Rose pulls out splinters of her own anger, leaving enough for him to assuage any suspicion. She buries them in the garden, between the parsley and the carrots, in the same spot that she keeps the child’s stolen anger.
The child takes after her father, and Rose makes herself be glad of that. She isn’t angry often, and she usually swallows it before Rose can take it and hide it away.
She’s a good child, and everyone else loves her. Sometimes, Rose finds herself wishing that she could just settle into this life—that she could love her daughter and her husband, that she could find happiness in keeping their home tidy and their stomachs full.
She knows that, in many ways, she is lucky. Blessed with fortune far beyond her deserving. If she was a different person, she could be satisfied with this life.
She is not a different person. She has no real desire to change.
So, she hoards her own anger, and she steals whatever she can from the child.
Rose is twenty-six when the child accidentally tells her husband about the anger in the garden. They sit together over dinner, silent except for the sound of chewing. “I went to visit the forge today!” the child says, her voice bright. “Daddy showed me how to destroy my anger by throwing it into the fire. It was so pretty! It went woosh! Maybe we could go together sometime and throw some anger in together.”
“Your mommy isn’t supposed to touch her anger,” her husband says. “It’s dangerous for her.”
“Oh,” the child says. Rose can see her doom working its way across that small, open face.
Rose is closest to the door, and she is moving before the child opens her mouth again.
“But what about all of the anger in the garden?” the child asks. “Is that dangerous for Mommy?”
She slams the door behind her and frantically blocks it with the shovel. It won’t hold, but it might slow him. She scrambles in the dirt, slicing her fingers on tiny sharp pieces of her own anger, gathering soft lumps of the child’s, all of them caked with dirt. She shoves each into her chest.
She feels alive for the first time in years.
She hears her husband coming, his steps slow. She whirls to face him.
He’s holding out his hands, speaking softly, like she is a wild animal. “Calm down. I’m not angry. Calm down.”
“But you won’t let me keep it,” Rose says.
“You know I can’t. It’s poison. It’ll consume you from the inside.”
Rose knows how it feels to be consumed from the inside. That isn’t how she feels now. “Then why do you get to keep yours?” she asks.
“Men are stronger. We can contain it.” He takes a slow step toward her. “I love you. Come back inside and let me help you.”
“I don’t need your help,” Rose says. And she runs. She hasn’t run in years, and her body knows it. She is short of breath in a matter of moments. She pushes her legs faster, each step a painful impact that jars her whole body.
The anger helps, giving her energy to push through the building pain.
Her husband shouts behind her. She doesn’t have to look back to know that he’s chasing her. That he will catch her. That, in the end, there is no escape.
She doesn’t even know where she is running to.
The river is high, swollen with spring rain. She doesn’t stop running. The water sweeps her off her feet, surges into her mouth, her nose, her eyes. She tumbles, rocks scraping her knees, tearing her palms. She thinks of the girl in the alley, wonders how things would be different if she had lived and Rose had died. Would she have been able to let herself be happy?
Her husband grabs her wrist and pulls her from the water. Her dress is cold and wet against her skin. For the first time, she notices a faint scar on her husband’s cheek, from her fingernails when she was ten.
“If I let you keep it, will you stay?” he asks. There are tears in his eyes.
Rose sags against him. She nods. Maybe she can try.
Rose is twenty-eight when the child realizes that her mother doesn’t love her. Rose watches her cry and wonders if she’s capable of loving anything.
Even with the bits of anger that her husband allows her, she still feels empty.
“Why?” the child sobs, curled in on herself in a corner. “I’ve always tried to be so good.”
Rose kneels beside her, puts a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry. I wish things were different.”
“I wish you were different,” the child whispers. Rose watches her anger swell, then vanish.
There’s still a part of Rose that wishes for that, too. But most of her is just too tired to care.
Rose is twenty-nine when she chooses the river.