The living room was a riot of freshly picked forget-me-nots. Every corner of the room was filled with vases and bottles, the little blue flowers exploding everywhere. In the middle of the room the usual furniture had been pushed back or taken away. A coffin, occupied, lay there, with two hardback chairs facing it. Made of walnut, the box was simple and unadorned. The deceased lay in state. The body was wearing a midnight blue dress, white face so pale against the dark surrounding it. A small bouquet of forget-me-nots was clutched in cold, stiff hands.
A small girl entered the room. She walked apprehensively halfway across the floor and stopped. This room and this girl had seen happier days. Days when she had laughed so hard that tears had sprung from her eyes. She had lain on the couch that usually sat in the far corner, just so she could catch her breath. One day she had hidden in the curtains and waited. Then the drapes had been flung aside and she had been enveloped in warm, soft arms. Breathing in the floral scent that accompanied those arms she had believed herself safe forever.
But now she walked into the room alone. She no longer felt safe. This room was no longer safe. It was alien, strange, too large but, at the same time, claustrophobic.
Her grandmother followed her in, and stood behind her, quietly waiting. The grandmother’s face was stony. She was tall and stately, her age concealed by a force of intensity emanating from her person. Grandmother asked the girl if she knew the name of the flowers that covered the room. The girl did not know the flowers. She shook her head minutely and did not reply, focusing instead on the coffin and the body inside.
Grandmother surprised her by telling a story. When the Creator was painting flowers at the beginning of time, one plant was missed. It had leaves shaped like mouse ears so was easily overlooked. This made the flower upset and so it called out, “Forget me not!”. The Creator had run out of paint, and used instead the pale blue of the morning sky. Now, said Grandmother, these flowers help us to remember the promise of a new day.
According to Grandmother, they were the favourite flower of the coffin’s occupant.
The girl spun around and ran, almost tripping over her own feet. At the door she collided with a man. He towered over the girl, his hair, blonde like hers, rumpled and unwashed. He wore sweat pants with a once-white singlet. No shoes. His eyes skimmed over the girl to survey the room’s decorations. He snarled, a barely human noise. The girl took a few steps back. She no longer recognised his face.
He snatched up the nearest vase and smashed it to the ground. The sound was deafening. The grandmother flinched; the girl didn’t. He moved on to the next jar of flowers and pushed it off the shelf. Shards of glass flew everywhere, catching the afternoon sunlight as they danced through the air. He worked his way around the room, systematically destroying each posy of flowers.
When the flowers lay crumpled and crushed on the floor he paused and gazed at his handiwork. It was then he registered the final small bunch, clasped in the hands of the body in the centre of the room. Without looking at the face, he ripped them out and threw them on the floor, grinding the delicate flowers under his bare foot.
A pause. His face shifted: he no longer looked angry. Now he seemed horrified at what he had done. For a second it seemed he would say something, reach out to the two people watching him. But then he fled.
Slowly, as if pulled down by a great gravitational force, the old woman crumpled to the ground. Her limbs sprawled uncharacteristically, and she beat the ground with her fists. This was a woman who had ruled with an iron fist. She didn’t even cry chopping onions. But now, she screamed. She howled. The old woman’s devastation rang in the girl’s ears. But she stood still, aloof and numb. She couldn’t understand why the person in the coffin didn’t get up and fix things. Why did she not tidy away the mess? Why did she not stop Grandmother from making that awful noise? Why did she not pick her, the young girl, up and hold her close, kiss her, tell her “I love you” just one more time?
A lifetime passed. The now not-so-small girl walked into a woodland clearing and happened upon a patch of small, blue flowers. And she was transported back. To that day and that moment when she watched the strongest, most stoic figure in her life lie crumpled on the ground among delicate, desecrated flowers, the crushed blossoms releasing a scent far stronger in death than they had in life. She sees her mother’s dead body lying in state, feels again that flood of anger and confusion. And then, as always, sees the one blue flower not thrown to the floor, a single tiny forget-me-not still clasped by those pale hands.
Emma Simpson is a third year medical student at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.