My short stories span horror and the absurd. What is horror? In my mind, ‘horror’ is a blunt word. It evokes images of blood-splattered floors and deranged and imaginative means of dispatching poor souls from this world to the next. That is certainly horror but its only one strand of the rich genre.
But there are many types of horror. To me, the most chilling form of horror is the depiction of losing control of one’s life without the hope of ever getting it back. There are no screams or gore or in the following story Stigma and Memory but some fates are worse than death as the hero in my story can testify to.
The story is set in Sligo, Ireland and there are many words and references that are peculiar to my country which an international audience perhaps may not understand. Therefore, I provide a brief glossary of terms:
Bookie – In Ireland & UK, it is a store/shop where one can place place a bet on a horse-race and other events. It’s perfectly legal unlike many other countries. Such offices are nicknames ‘bookies’ which is short for ‘bookmaker’
Enoch – a reference to a now deceased English politician, Enoch Powell, who was infamous for being anti immigrant in the 1970’s
Buckfast – a fortified wine brewed by Buckfast Monastery of all places, in England. It’s strong, sweet and cheap and beloved by those who like to get drunk economically. It’s not the kind of wine to bring to a dinner party.
Bin-liner – a plastic bag one puts into a garbage pale.
Evian – a brand of bottled water.
Old Spice – a brand of cheap and nasty aftershave. Still very popular in parts of Essex, England and towns with irregular bus services.
Croaks it – dies
Hallions – rough people
Ignoramus – an ignorant and stupid person
Gardener’s Question Time – a popular radio show in the UK about gardening.
Stigma and Memory –
Please bear with me but I’m a plant. Yes, you heard that just fine. A plant, an actual plant that grows in the ground, sucks up water from the earth, plays footsie with the earthworms and tilts his head towards the sun whether I like it or not. I was a man once, a human but not anymore. I don’t know what kind of plant I am though as all I can see is my green stalk and some weeds sprouting around my feet which are damp from a patch of dog piss and some overnight drizzle.
So you’re wondering how I became a plant. It’s a long story but it might be worth your while sticking around, sure what else are you’re doing?. Anyways, it all started, or ended depending on your point of view one November night several years ago. I left my friend Larry’s house around one in the morning after having spent the evening alone in his library reading the Tropic of Cancer for our book club. I was supposed to be at home by eleven but I lost track of time. My wife Kate was sick and in bed asleep all day long and I had promised to drive her to St Vincent’s Hospital the following morning to meet some neurologist called Dr Jerry McSwiggan. The weird thing was, Jerry was a chap I went to school with. He was a pompous sort, even then. An old bookish man in the form of a boy with a liking for using big words he learned from reading dictionaries just to show his superiority. It’s no surprise he became a doctor, anesthetizing the world with his monotone Latin no doubt.
Years later, I was to take my wife to see him about her chronic migraines. I often wondered if he made the connection when he saw our names on the appointment sheet. Probably not. My name is not uncommon and besides, we all then lived hundreds of miles from our hometown. The name of the hometown is of no consequence as all hometowns are variations of the same prison.
The Tropic of Cancer, a fine book, a very fine book indeed. It was risqué for it time but they probably have it on the reading list for seven year olds these days. I couldn’t put it down. Every page was a well to be drunk from. My friend, Larry, a bookie with a yen for good literature and Laphroaig whisky (he told me couldn’t stand Bushmills, ‘Orangeman’s Piss’ he called it but I once came across a bottle of Bushmills tucked away behind his encyclopedias. It was half full, or as he would put it, ‘half empty’), had a long day that day at the Leopardstown Races and told me to lock up the house on my way out. I sat in his library. You should have seen it, it was a cracker library, all wood paneling, leather bound portfolios, oak drinks cabinet fashioned like a globe and the mahogany desk with those green Tiffany lamps and the armchairs, oh those comfy plump armchairs and cushions.
It was the dog’s bollocks of a room and I loved it. Larry also liked a good cigar, a vice I occasionally shared when he had a big win to celebrate or a big loss to commiserate. The Cuban variety was his favourite. He even had one of those little cigar-cutters on his desk in the shape of a French Guillotine. Beside it, an ivory dish that held a good number of these cut cigar-ends like so many Frenchmen’s heads in a bloody wicker basket.
Larry was the dog’s bollocks himself. I hated him but in a good way. Envy you call it. He lived life in his own terms, did what he wanted whenever he wanted and was never lonely. He had tons of friends in all the shapes and sizes that could be. He loved books especially. That’s how we struck up our friendship, in his bookies shop in George St, Sligo. I had just nipped into the library to pick up the Collected Verses of Yeats before putting a fiver on a nag called Philby’s Progress at the four o’clock at Sandown. I plopped the book on the counter whilst fishing out loose change from the depths of my pockets when Larry peered over.
“Fuck me, is that a book? Well we are honoured, listen up everyone, a man of learning has come in to grace us with his presence and he’s brought a book in with him” he said in a loud voice for the whole shop to hear. I was mortified and quite pissed off as I thought he was taking the mick. I looked around the shop, half expecting sniggers and derision but not the bit of it, no one passed any notice. All I saw were the wizened faces of thin poor men, cloaked in cigarette smoke and frayed donkey-jackets and ill-fitting jackets from Dunnes, staring vacantly at the silent TV screens that covered the walls.
Larry walked over and picked up the book and recited a couple of verses off by heart.
“Those are pages 154 and 155” he said.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I’ve the exact same edition at home. I read it from cover to cover more times that I care to remember”
“Is that a fact?” I said with a raised eyebrow and the most subtle of smirks.
“Yes it is and I don’t care if you don’t believe me. Go on, open up the pages, you can check it out”
I opened the book at the appointed pages and there they were, the verses Larry so eloquently recited. I raised my eyes and was about to indulge in some mea culpa but Larry had walked over to the counters rifling through a pile of betting slips. He wasn’t the kind of fella who hangs around to be told when he’s right.
I had a fiver on a four year old filly Philby’s Progress . The starting price was ten to one but I heard whispers about her being fancied to win. I never usually gambled except when I think it’s a sure fire certainty but there’s no such thing. I straightened up in my high stool and watched the race. Half the screen was taken up with racing statistics and a live news ticker that took up a big fat stripe of space along the bottom of the screen.
For a good part of the race, Philby’s Progress was way in the lead but in the second last furlong, Moscow Mary had come from nowhere and cut my filly up on the bend and took the lead. There’s an irony in there somewhere. Philby’s Progress started to stagger and just stopped dead. The jockey’s entire frame shook as he tried to whip her into motion but she didn’t care. Some horses only want to be the only one who ever led.
Larry looked over and waved a fiver in the air.
“Now I can get a haircut”
“What barber in this town charges just a fiver for a haircut?”
“Oh I don’t know, I thought yours did”
He always was a cheeky shite.
I hoped to finish The Tropic of Cancer but my eyes were getting a little heavy. Larry was out for the night but he often let me use his library. He knew I didn’t much peace at home and we often conspired with excuses that let me off the domestic hook. I could have crashed at his as I sometimes did but that night I had a real stubborn notion off wanting my own bed, next to my own wife, beside my own bedside locker with all my things the lay on a heap on it.
The picture of my daughter Imelda, my pile of paperbacks, the broken Rolex my father gave me before he vanished that I never got around to fixing. I’m not sure I ever wanted to fix it; the time was perpetually frozen at nearly a quarter past eleven. I used to crash out on Larry’s sofa in my younger days but as I grew older, I took a dislike to waking up in rumpled clothes that I wore the day before and not having a chance to shave, brush my teeth or have a change of socks. I sometimes turned my socks inside out before slipping my shoes on but I still felt like something the cat would turn her nose up at.
I got up, turned off the lights and locked the front door behind me with the spare set of keys that Larry had lent me and jumped into my car. I don’t remember much about the journey home as it was the same old road I took a thousand times before but I do remember the brief moment when I hit a slurry tanker head-on at over eighty miles an hour when I lost control taking a bend. I remember being startled and then just the biggest blankness, no, it was worse than that, a void. In fact, it’s wrong to say I remember what happened after that anymore than I can remember how things were before I was born. I didn’t feel a thing.
“He died peacefully in his panic”.
There was no white light, no line of shimmering ancestors standing side by side with Jesus smiling beatifically at me, beckoning me to join them with outstretched arms covered in the sleeves off impossibly white robes. None of those things. It was like going to sleep but without dreaming.
I don’t even know how much time had passed between then and my new life as a flower. A flower of all things. I don’t even know what kind of flower I am. ‘What am I?’ must be the Descartian question of the plant kingdom. I saw different species of flower all around me so I couldn’t deduce if I was a petunia by being surrounded by other petunias. It was like the United Nations in my flowerbed.
Multi-horticulturism. Ha! Psst, don’t tell Enoch.
Roses, chrysanthemums and some flowers that look like the love children of sunflowers and daisies, they were all around.
So, I bet you’re wondering how I can see and hear stuff. Well, God knows how but I can see through my stigma. They didn’t teach me that in the General Science Leaving Cert.
Perhaps I was distracted by Miss Morris’s legs during that particular lesson.
I can also hear and smell but I can’t speak. I do fail pain when a wasp sticks its nib into me and when it gets cold at night. I wish I could tell the vegetarians. That would make them wet their organic-origin knitted pants for sure. It must be worse for the carrots, those big sturdy red things being thrust from their soily slumber by the efficient and dispassionate hum and whirr of blade and engine by the thousand. I guess everyone and everything is some kind of Hitler to someone or something.
And we don’t even know we’re doing it.
I’m in the middle of a flowerbed and my line of sight is pretty low so my horizon is pretty limited but I can look up and see around me, after a fashion. I’m in a public park and not a private garden. I know this because in the Springtime, lots of different people walk by and stop and stare at us at all, especially old ladies and young couples.
I guess they think I’m lovely.
I don’t get hungry even when I smell food. That kind of food does nothing for me anymore. I live an enforced natural diet of sunshine, god’s good air, rain and dog and pigeon piss these days, whatever days these are. I don’t even know what year it is but people dress more or less the same as they did back in the day and talk the same old crap into mobile phones. I have noticed conversations are a little more dramatic than they used to be. Everyone’s a one man show.
I am alive of course but I do consider myself quite dead. I was a man after all, living a life a little more vivaciously than I do now. My former life is the benchmark. I’m alive but not living therefore I’m not dead but dying. Eat your heart out Descartes.
I forgot to say that I cannot speak. I don’t even know if all the other flowers were also people in a past life or just plain old dumb-fuck flowers. There’s no way of knowing. Sometimes a dog comes over and pisses on my head but it doesn’t piss me off as I thought it would. My biggest fears are children and single men. They like to sneak over and stare at us before pulling us from the ground. I’ve seen it happen but I’m in the middle of the flowerbed. It’s the poor bastards on the edges who are the most vulnerable. I’m pretty sanguine about it. I’m sure I’ve a pretty short lifespan and who knows what I’ll end up in the next life, assuming there is one. Sometimes I hope I’m the next neck to be broken by some barbarous little brat. I’m not suicidal, definitely not but I figured if I died, I would move onto being some other life-form and eventually become a man again.
When I first realized what I was, a flower, I thought that I was in heaven but I soon realized I wasn’t when I saw and heard the kind of people who walked past me. They spoke in Sligo accents and swore a lot. Some of them drank straight from plastic bottles of White Lightning. Perhaps it was the other place that lies to the south of Heaven but there was no fiery furnace or anything like that. Sometimes you’d hear the sweet tones of an Italian or a French woman pass by, their words falling on my ears like dew upon a desert tongue.
Such delicious exoticism.
I was never one for sitting around and doing nothing. I liked to busy myself with fixing up the house, the car or reading. I was easily bored but now, I don’t get bored at all. I do miss the things I used to do but much in the same way you think about the makeshift games of tin can football and kerbsies you used to play when you were a kid. You wouldn’t imagine playing those games now you’re grown up but when deprived of those things as kid, you’d have been bereft. I remember my old life and that’s what it is really, an older life, a life that once was but no more. A memory of old feelings but feelings that are just memories of feelings and not the feelings themselves, like the memory of good meal. You remember how great it tasted but not the taste itself. I’ve no anger or love or bitterness. I know I used to feel those things but it’s impossible to feel them now. Perhaps I don’t feel them because they would be little point; it’s not as if I’m able to do anything about anything in my current condition.
In some ways, I’m content just being here, being lolled by the breezes and washed and watered by the rain and dog piss.
It’s funny what you get used to.
It’s funny what you end up as but you have to make the most of it otherwise you’d go mad. Mind you, how exactly does a flower go mad? Do we flail around and bite off our petals, if I could see even them? I don’t have teeth or even mouth so that idea’s dead in the water. If I do let myself go down the pan, it would be purely psychological. Could I refuse to drink the water that quenches my thirsty roots? I tried that but ingesting moisture seems to be a reflex action that I can do nothing about it.
No, I’d just go quietly insane.
My thoughts would become jumbled and incoherent and I’d indulge myself in silent screaming. Flowers don’t have much choice but to live until something, someone or something calls time and eats us, tramples us or plucks us from the ground.
These past few days have been quite sunny. The park has been more busy than usual. It must be a bank holiday weekend as I’ve sensed this for three afternoons in a row. Mornings are always quiet though. In my previous life, I liked to walk through the park as early in the morning as I could make it before the worries and torments of the day ahead caught up with me. My morning walks were my own time where I had a precious hour all to myself to collect my thoughts and clear my head of the dross that leapt inside it like rabbits with myxomatosis. The sweet morning air, always crisp, fresh, clean. I remember tasting the dew in the air, seeing my breath turn to fog for only a moment even on a summer’s day. Any later was no good. Magic exits when people enter. I took an especial delight in thinking I was the only man alive in a world of the sleeping.
Right now, it’s the afternoon and I hear kids screaming, balls bouncing, dogs barking, people chattering, random cheers from the green that lies ahead and the distant jingle of an ice-cream van. This is what a summer’s day sounds like.
I sense a rustling.
It is a rustling
It’s not a dog, it’s something a little more deliberate in its movements. A strange and unusual warmth strangles my stalk. A squeeze and a pull and Jesus, I’m now flying in the air. I see the sky above me and then the tree tops but for the briefest of moments. Now the time has come . All those hours and days secretly both wishing and dreading being yanked from my bed.
Yet it was painless.
I didn’t feel a thing other than weightlessness. Someone has picked me and who knows where I’ll end up.
I hope it’s someone who will put me in a vase. Women have vases. Men have empty beer bottles and not very well rinsed jam jars. There was no voice to go with it so it couldn’t have been a kid. Kids prattle a loud running commentary to go with every second of their nasty little derrings do. Women like flowers but they never pick them from public parks.
No, it must have been a man.
I used to do the same when I was a young man when I had someone to steal a flower for.
I hope he’s a nice man who plans to give me to his wife or girlfriend. I hope he’s not doing it as a way of apology. This in itself has its risks, not least the indignant women throwing me on the ground and squashing my face under her heels to make a point that forgiveness is worth a few more ounces of flesh before being handed over the counter.
I speak from experience.
I think the man is holding me in his right hand by the end of my stem, face downwards. I catch glimpses of his trousers as he strides up the path. I’m upside down and swaying. He’s holding me as any self respecting Irishman would, upside fucking down. In this beacon of modernity that is Ireland, a man who holds a flower properly, that is to say upright in front of his chest is considered to be effeminate, the kind of man they say is close to his mother and never marries. No, a man must carry a flower, especially a single one as though it’s the hand of a naughty child.
A beautiful embarrassment in other words.
I’m worried I might get a little dizzy. He’s not wearing jeans I notice but a pair of proper brown trousers. He must be quite a sharp dresser to wear a pair of proper pantaloons on a bank holiday weekend. His bird must be classy but then again, a man with class doesn’t pluck flowers from a public garden, does he? Why isn’t he at a florist or phoning Interflora? But this is Sligo after all. Some men know how to dress the part of a man of means but don’t know how to act it. Class comes from within and there’s not a lot of that about in this town I can tell you.
Fuck, just thought of something. What if his woman is some crusty or a minger, some bit of rough he’s taken a fancy to. Some woman who’s easily impressed and doesn’t have the wit to know that flowers should be presented in a carefully wrapped bouquet. She might put me in a sandwich along with some salt and vinegar crisps that would sting the fuck out of me before being swallowed like Jonah.
Get a grip of yourself you halfwit, stop letting your imagination get the better of you. Chin up.
We leave the park and he puts me on a park bench. I hear the jingling of coins and keys. Some coins fall on the tarmac.
“For fuck sake” he says. He makes a lot of awkward noises when bending down to pick them up. Hold up, I’m rolling over. A breeze.
“Don’t you blow away on me now you wee cunt” he shouts. I stop rolling and I feel myself being pinned down against the bench. I’m face to face with an ice-cream wrapper that’s stuck fast an inch or so away. He doesn’t seem that fit, this man. He picks me up and I hear him groan and catch his breath. I’m flying up again, being twirled around like candy floss in the hands of an epileptic.
‘Beep beep’ goes his central locking.
I’m looking forward to this, could this be my first ride in car since I kissed the fender of a slurry tanker?
I’m obsessed with time and working out what year it is.
Who knows, your man could be in one of those fancy flying cars we always were told were just around the corner by mad scientists on the TV. I hope not. Flying cars in Ireland? The fuckers can hardly drive safely on the ground never mind the air. This could be how the Irish self destruct en masse – millions of red-necked culchies take to the air and cancel each other out in innumerable Guinness and Buckfast fuelled mid-air collisions. How would they staff the call centres and meat packing plants after something like that?
I’m getting a bit worked up now. Too much time to think can do that, even to a flower. A thought has just crossed my mind, if I catch a glimpse of myself in his car window or mirror, I could find out what kind of flower I am. It’s true what I said before, I really haven’t a clue what kind of flower I am. I could be a pansy, a daisy, a rose or just a weed even. A weed, I never thought of that but it’s ok, no one picks a weed deliberately without throwing it into a bin-liner first. No-one walks all that way with a single sad little weed in their hand. No, I must be a proper flower, a beautiful flower.
A rose even.
Now there’s a thought. A rose, me, a rose and to think I once yearned to be Regional Sales Director for the gas board. Never in a million years…
The man opened the driver-side door and got in. I never got a chance to see my reflection, well not this time. He plopped me in a bottle of Evian that stood in the coffee cup holder beside the gearstick. The water was very warm but barely lapped at my feet. He started the engine and drove off.
All I saw during the journey were his brown trousers beneath the knee, his great big hand and a giant gearstick. Sometimes my head was lightly sprinkled with cigarette ash that blew back in when he tried to flick it out the window. The radio was set on a low volume for background noise and the sound of the engine was too loud to make out the words.
I didn’t really care. I just wondered where I was going on but I knew my days were numbered. Even if I did make it to a vase full of fresh water, how much longer would I have? A couple of days before I turned brown, shrivel up and end up in a bin? Life’s funny, you wake up in one bed and end up in another.
Will I come back as a baby? A baby ‘what’ though. There’s millions of life forms. Do I have go through them all before coming back as a man and God knows when that would be assuming we haven’t blown ourselves to kingdom come. I’d rather take the bull by the horns and become an insect. Insects don’t hang around like people do. They live fast and die young. After that, I will graduate to being an animal.
A proper animal with four legs, a snout and a coat of waterproof fur or a thick hide of skin but hopefully not an elephant. Nothing against elephants, they’re fine fellas but they live as long as people do and they never end up on the booze or the fags, not unlike Presbyterians but without the joy of having a TV set to sit in front off. If I came back as a beast in some African savannah, I’d hurl myself at the nearest lion to quicken my path back to graduation to become a man.
I say that now.
Easy to be big and brave from the comfort of a barely full bottle of warm Evian water in car that smells of divorcee, Old Spice and cigarette smoke.
I bet he’s divorced.
Married men don’t pick flowers. He’s probably a bookie or one of those farmers who only gets married when mammy croaks it only to realize his pot belly and whiskey nose don’t attract many mates unless of course he’s rich in which case all bets are off. The cut of some of the men I’ve seen who’d pass as diseased bloated buffalo who are arm in arm with a stunner. Some of them marry Filipino women in these parts. Those girls are cute in more ways than one. They love you long-time but never at all. I don’t blame those girls. More power to them. Those boys are thick are shite if they think those young maidens don’t throw up every time they conjugate their nuptials. My uncle Phil married Maria from Manila when he was 66. She was 28. When he died, she sold his farm and moved back home. She never kept in touch with us.
She never spoke, I remember. They just smiled at each other a lot.
She wasn’t really from Manila but we just called her Maria from Manila. It’s the only Filipino town we ever heard off. I’m sure she told us the name of the village she came from as I know she was a country girl because of her trusting face but since the name of her hometown didn’t start with Bally or Kil, it didn’t register with us, being the culchie numb-nuts we were.
But this isn’t a rich man’s car. I caught a glimpse of the backseat when he turned a corner rather sharpish. The bottle fell to one side and me with it and at that moment, I was able to see past the gearstick. It wasn’t that great a vision, just a bundle of clothes, books and old newspapers. I remember seeing a picture of a horse’s face flapping in front of me.
The journey didn’t take all that long, just a few miles I’d say. He pulled up outside a decent enough house. I didn’t see the house exactly it but I recognized the sound the tyres made when running over gravel, the crunching and grinding of hot heavy rubber on a bed of broken stones. It’s one of those sounds that tell you you’ve arrived somewhere special, the kind of place where you straighten your tie and spit on your fingers to comb your hair before getting out of your car.
And no word of lie and true to expectation, I heard two little spits and the rubbing of palms and the sound of fingers running through hair. He grabbed me and lifted me out of my Evian bottle and we left the car.
This time, he held me properly. I was held in front of his chest with my head just under his chin. Ah I was right, I must be for a woman. He made sure no man would see him like this, holding a flower up in front of him with a grace he last feigned during his first Holy Communion. He could be a Protestant for all I know and there indeed a few of them in these parts. They’re quite refined types. The lost tribe of England. They’re nice looking too. Strong chins and willowy blonde womenfolk. They’re not the double-chinned, puffy-faced hallions like us Catholics. No, for the life of me I can’t see a Protestant stealing a flower from a public park. Perhaps they do in the north but they’re all a bit mad up there anyway.
The house was grand. Terribly grand make no mistake about it.
A detached house surrounded by a lot of land and a well cut lawn, you know the type with nice tidy two-tone stripes of green. The window frames were those fancy Casement ones and the window-panes themselves were latticed no less than. The front door looked solid enough to crack open a bullock’s skull if it took a sudden anger to it. I was right about the gravel driveway.
Damn, I forgot to look at my reflection. I hope the women of the house will exclaim my breed aloud.
“Oh a rose, a rose, you shouldn’t have” or something like that.
Flowers aren’t said to have breeds. Dogs and horses do but not flowers. We are just catalogued and labeled as ‘kinds’ of flower.
What ‘kind’ of flower am I?
There’s a reasonable chance I may die without ever knowing. Isn’t that peculiar? Not knowing what I am yet I know I’m myself. I guess water doesn’t ask if it’s in a bottle, bladder or vase. It’s still the same stuff but then again, after my recent spell of existence, who knows what water may think.
The man coughed and rapped the door in a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm with vigor. This was a man who liked to make his presence felt. I remember Kate was very timid when it came to knocking on doors.
“Knock the bloody thing harder” I’d tell her.
“I don’t want to disturb them” she’d say
“Then if you don’t want to disturb them, why the feck are we here visiting them?”
Then she’d look all sheepish. I’d then knock, much harder than she did and I’d see her face wince like a prune.
The door opened. There stood a blonde woman. A bit of a cracker actually. In her forties and she looked very handsome. Slim, well dressed in a blue suit and crisp white blouse with those over-sized collars. A silver locket nestled above her cleavage that glinted in the sunshine.
“Oh it’s you” she said.
“Is Katie in” he asked?
She opened the door and let us in.
“KAT-IE” the woman yelled.
“Who is it?” said a voice from upstairs.
We stood in the hallway. Whoever this dude is, he doesn’t seem to be universally popular but either he thinks that someone here in this house holds him in some regard. That or he has a neck of sufficient brass to kit out a squad of statues.
A door slammed from upstairs followed by creaks of on the wooden staircase. Seconds later, she stopped but she was close. The man turned to face her.
You couldn’t make it up. It was Kate, my Kate, my wife. That’s who Katie was. Who the fuck was this monkey giving my wife flowers, not even flowers but a flower – singular. I screamed her name a thousand times in my silent voiceless mind but it was no good. She was deaf to me.
“Larry, what are you doing here? I wasn’t expecting you? Is Adele with you?”
“I don’t you mind me barging in like this but Adele told me about Imelda’s science project, something about flowers and she said all she needed to finish it was a begonia. Now I know they don’t grow around here but today I was downtown, in the park and I found this wee thing all by itself in the flowerbed. A begonia so I thought, ‘what the feck’, looked around to make sure no one was looking and then I picked it up, you know, to help Imelda. Is she in at all?”
Kate smiled and the smile gave way to a giggle. She covered her mouth with her hands and looked shyly away. I remember that coquettish look she often gave. It was the look she had on her when she stole my heart all those years ago at the Hothouse Flower’s concert in Roscommon when we first met.
“Oh Larry I hate to tell you this but that’s no begonia. It’s a tulip and Imelda has tulips coming out off her ears. Sure what does a lump like you know about flowers anyway?”
“Oh I’m sorry Katie but I thought it was a begonia. Sure what’s the difference?”
Kate cocked her head to one side and shook her head at Larry. Hold on, Larry? Larry! I thought I recognized the fecker’s voice. Jesus the feckin’ chancer, so he’s on Gardener’s Question Time now is he?
“It’s really sweet of you Larry. Don’t worry, it’s the thought that counts and that’s the main thing”
Larry reached me out to Kate. I was just this close from her bosom. I caught her scent. Christ it send my brain into frenzy. There’s no time machine like a long forgotten aroma that makes a Sinatra-style comeback. I wanted to grow hands and a mouth and a tongue and touch her and taste her all at once. Every cell in my body was bursting for her.
“Shame to let a good tulip or a bad begonia go to waste”
Kate took me from Larry and held me in her fingers and twirled me around a couple of times like a swizzle stick.
“I never was one for tulips you know. They look nice but they always die very quickly. I got one once some years ago but it barely lasted the time it took to fill the vase with tap water. I prefer flowers that last the distance”
“Well, you can have it all the same Katie”
An embarrassed silence fell between them.
“Katie, I didn’t really come here to help Imelda with her homework you know”
“I kinda guessed that Larry”
“I was wondering, if you’d like, to come out for dinner with me this evening. There’s a new bistro in town that’s owned by a friend of mine, a Belgian chap who married a local girl last year, only, well, if you haven’t anything else on..”
So Larry’s playing at being shy but Kate has the wit to see through it. I know her. He doesn’t.
“Larry, Larry…I..don’t know…it’s just a year since Jeremy and..”
“I know that but we were about to tell him, you know, before he….”
“I wasn’t even sure that I could”
Larry stepped towards Kate and grasped her arms with his bony wrinkled, warted hands.
“We were in love Kate. I thought I’d leave a decent length of time before you know, before we pick things up from where we..”
“Left off?” said Kate. She spun me around again in more ways than one.
“Let me sleep on it Larry, I can’t tonight but I will let you know next week when I have my head’s a little more clear. I’ve an awful lot on, you know, with the business”
“Do you promise?”
“Well I hope you find some use for that begonia. The trouble I went to”
“It’s a tulip you daft bat”
“It’s whatever we want it to be”
Kate smiled and leant forward to kiss Larry on the cheek.
“Can I ask you a question Katie, if Jeremy was still with us, would you have left him?”
Kate dropped her hands and I was now at her knee level. I couldn’t see her head from the angle I was at. She didn’t say anything and I couldn’t see if she shook or nodded her head.
“Well, Katie, that’s all I needed to know” Larry said.
Larry let go off Kate and saw his way out and left the house, gently closing the door behind him.
Kate walked into the kitchen and filled an empty jar with water and put me into it. My new home was on the window sill that overlooked the garden out the back. She must have bought herself a new house from my life assurance. It was her dream home. She used to fawn over such houses in glossy home and garden magazines.
Larry never returned to the house but that’s not to say Kate didn’t meet him again. I simply couldn’t tell. I often saw her dolled up to the nines of an evening and not come home again until the morning. Imelda was seventeen and brought boys home. I wish I could close my ears as I could my eyes.
I kept on living and confounded Kate with my longevity. She sometimes expressed surprise to her friends about how long I survived in a jam jar of tap water.
At least I know what I am now but I was never was a rose.
That was months ago now. These days you will find me inside an unread hardback romance novel, dried out and stapled into place on page 143. I’m very thirsty but it’s not that bad but I’m still living. Perhaps someday a burglar will ransack the place when Kate’s out, overturning the book cases and kicking the books to kingdom come with his Addidas adorned gnarled feet and I’ll be tossed to the ground and crushed into crumbs by the avalanche of paper and cardboard and lie spent amongst the dust mites of the big fancy rug that lies in the middle of the floor of the library room no one visits.
Then my journey home will begin.