Wednesday, November 2

Dead Flowers

She stopped talking to me on the fourteenth of October, just as everything was becoming more autumnal: the day’s sky dying in pink, the odd glimpse of a falling leaf in fluttering motion, the air smoky and brisk. The last thing she said to me was—‘You’re as difficult as I am, but in a different way.’ Hmm, she was sure to destroy me. Her last send-off! If I had known that those eleven words would be the last to pass her seahorse lips in my direction, I would surely have asked her to talk a little slower so that I might savour them in her sweet voice. As it was, I received nothing more. I hung my head and thought that life was back to normal; unremarkable and slow. Indeed the only joy one could experience in life was from the likes of people like her.
During such times, it is one’s sole desire to lock him or herself away. So it was I locked myself in my flat. Of all the places afforded to me on this earth, it seemed the best and most convenient in which to feel sorry for myself without being bothered by others. I did not even emerge to go to work. I busied my time by keeping the place as clean as I could: I loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, sorted out old clothes, washed fruit, worked my way through bottles of wine and looked out of my window at the streets down below. It was strange: framed by my window, the outside world seemed very distant to me, as though it were a picture book and I some curious child. I watched the gangs of young men swag hither and thither; I watched the midnight lovers walk their dog on the only patch of grass around; I watched the drunks fight. It was a pleasant enough pastime. I even saw two women stroll past, their heads turned to the other, hands signing in silence and their faces flicking in expression. What were they saying? I did not understand them. Maybe they were saying—‘You’re as difficult as me, but in a different way.’ Was that more or less impactful in sign language? I wondered.
Of course I thought of her.
Of course I thought of her and memories floated through my mind and I pined infinitely like one of those dead poets. Everything in my flat brought back recollections of her; seemingly innocent items became weapons of nostalgia, causing me to recoil in sadness from something as inane as a burned-out tealight. I missed her. It had been We then it was just Me; the mathematics of heartbreak. The days came and went. When the sun was up I listened to records that sang pictures of us in love. In the evenings I lay on the sofa and, between photographs of her smiling in Brighton, tried to understand why I was different to her and at what point I had been happiest and if it matched the point when she had been happiest. If only I were an artist I might have channelled that grief into something productive, perhaps even beautiful. Instead I did nothing.
On the fourth day I needed eggs for an omelette. Sometimes you just need the eggs. For the eggs I would have to leave my flat; an unnerving prospect. After a period of summoning courage and multiple checks of my appearance in the mirror, I opened the front door only to discover flowers surrounding my doorstep. There were, I counted, five bouquets of flowers, mostly yellow and white. The shape of flowers all together, the chorus of their petals pouting upwards, is quite a sight! I smiled, but how soon was the smile wiped from my face when I spotted a note among the stems—‘Rest in peace, darling. You shone like no other. I love you.’ I did not know what to make of it: the handwriting was my mother’s.
I moved on to the next note, tied to a trio of sunflowers—‘Thanks for letting me borrow all your Otis Redding CDs. I’ll take good care of them. See you in heaven.’ That was my brother’s handwriting; a mishmash of upper- and lowercase characteristically carved angrily into the card with a biro. I did not know he was so religious.
There were three candles, too, each flame wobbling like an inebriated dancer atop a table.
Bemused, I stepped over the three candles and five bouquets and went down to the cornershop. The man in there never says hello to anyone. He is an unhappy man with his thin black hair gelled back and all the comb-teeth running through it like fish. I quickly bought a half-dozen eggs and went back to my flat.
There were photographs of me amongst the flowers; one of them was of me with my first dog, aged only two, and I thought it was a particularly lovely photograph, so I took it inside with me and stuck it to the fridge. The omelette was not very tasty.
The next day there were more flowers still, all of them tagged with cards requesting – as polite as they were succinct – that I rest in peace. And then: ah, I see it! her handwriting! the cursive she always desired to be more elegant—‘Thank you for teaching me to love myself.’ I wrestled the note from the bouquet’s grasp and delicately carried it indoors. Sitting down and untying my laces with my spare hand, I studied the note, reading it over and over. Then, not knowing how I felt, I watered my plants, which took me the best part of an hour.
So her no longer talking to me must have been the final nail in the coffin, so to speak. A terrible ending certainly, but death? How dramatic! Surely I was dead though, and many were mourning me – well, more than I had anticipated. It is strange, I thought, that I noticed no great difference between life and death; much of it felt the same. I paused while cleaning mould from around the bathroom taps and considered how dead I was; not as dead as disco but not as alive as Shakespeare. Imagine those neighbours of mine stepping over the shrine that had gathered outside of my front door—‘I dunno why they have to leave flowers here!’ ‘O, show some sympathy!’ Once more I regarded the note she had left—‘Thank you for teaching me to love myself.’ Holding the card to my dead nostrils I could not determine whether the scent was of the previously accompanying flowers or of her carved and fragile wrist as it trembled across her final message to me.
I stayed indoors for a while longer, although I could not tell you how much longer because all of my time was incessant and prolonged; however the memorial outside my door grew until it heaved with flora, and, as they began to wilt, a sickly sweet smell crept into my flat. Waking up drove me to nausea; my first breath of the day clogged in the stench of decaying flowers! Family and friends all came to pay their respects; leaving tributes to someone who, in their mind, was no longer alive. A colleague brought my cafetière from the office; my grandmother left a box of scrabble for me, after all the afternoons we whiled away together, each ruthlessly attempting to defeat the other; my uncle left a small statue of the virgin Mary.
Eventually, although I had not noticed it, I no longer thought of her all the time, she who had loved me and then stopped talking to me. I remembered her name and many things about her – mostly her smile, laugh, laughing, laughter – but the spectre of her wonder that had so haunted me before became dimmer. That is when the flowers and memorials began to slow. I thought of other things. There were even moments when I thought of happy things that had nothing to do with her. Each day brought a bit less sorrow, and life, as the bearable string of events and flatness it was, reemerged.
Finally I returned to work, and everyone greeted me most happily, relieved that I was alive. The world was changing into winter and I was walking through it with my coat buttoned up. A phone call to my mother and she screamed down the line with joy; that evening she visited with the rest of my family, a home-cooked curry and a tight embrace that warmed me through. Things began to return to normal and I cleared my doorstep of all the dead flowers. Finally, I went a whole day without thinking of her, and what is most amusing to me is how I neglected to realise I had gone a whole day without thinking of her. It just happened.

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