July 17, 2010 in F
We have two days to find the flowers. My sister found the family tartan ribbon, in Darwin of all places. A courier is bringing it down now. We found thistles in Toowoomba, also on their way. But I will not have carnations. They are cheap. They smell like rotted life. When I smell them I am six again, sitting after school in the dark church. Jesus’ pained eyes watching me from the Stations of the Cross. His sacred heart throbbing, bleeding. Young stone saints prostrated before apparitions of The Virgin. My Mother stands, leaning over a sink in the vestry, trimming carnations and baby’s breath, her hands heavy with obligation. Last week’s flowers have sat seven days in still water. The stench chokes me. As I wait for her I pray all those long prayers I have so proudly learned by rote. I stumble through the middle of the Apostle’s Creed. I light a candle on the stand for everyone I know who has died. I put coins in the poor box and they clunk on top of the others. I always expect something to happen, like it is some kind of penny-arcade game. I long to peek behind the altar. The closest I’ve come was to stand on the top step. I never feel so watched as I do in an empty church. My Mother marches up to the altar without genuflecting and sets the new flowers down.
When she is done, we walk home. I don’t want to hold her hand. It smells like the dead flowers. We have a silent compromise. I grasp her little finger in my whole hand. She stops me at the Old Italian Lady’s house.
Look. This is a peony.
She gently bends a delicate bloom down to meet me. It is larger than my face. It is white, stained pink, like blood under a soft fall of snow.
This, I think, is what a flower is.
We have to get the peonies sent (frozen) from New York. They say they will be here. I truly believe I will never see them again.
On top of her casket, there are peonies. They seem small to me now.