I walked through the gardens as I did every spring afternoon, reminiscing on my life as I always did. There wasn’t much to life now, only memories.
Today I turned 90.
I was still fit, for an old bird, although one of my carers still followed me like a hawk, as young and as exuberant as the flowers surrounding me.
I breathed in the heady aroma and drank in the warm sunlight.
I was glad my eyesight had not dimmed so badly that I could not see at all without glasses, although shapes were slightly blurring around the edges. Still, in the gardens one did not need to see clearly. The colours of the flowers screamed at you, stirring memories more finite than them.
I strolled along, moving slowly so as not to startle my bright shadow.
I was drawn, as always, to the bright yellowness of the buttercups as they waved gaily in the wind.
I thought of the farm where I had grown up, of the fields of golden flowers, buttercups predominant. Every spring, while working in the fields, my father had gathered them for me and woven them into a crown to bring home. I had always squealed in delight when he had come home, placed it on my head and pronounced me “his little princess.”
I remembered too, my mother’s face at those moments, the only clear memory I really had of her. She would smile, half with bemusement, half with welling affection. Her cheeks would dimple and her whole face would seem to shift from something beautiful to something ethereal.
I still missed that smile, missed her.
I moved on again, leaving the delicate little flower behind. I strolled along to the next patch of vibrant colour.
Ah. Periwinkles. An old school type of flower. I gently touched their soft petals with my gnarled hands.
The lilac blue reminded me of my grandmother’s house when I was older, just before my mother had stopped smiling forever. She had a fondness for periwinkles, the demure yet vivacious little flowers. They were mischievous, my grandmother had said, growing in abundance in her yard. The periwinkles set off the bright blue of her eyes, eyes I had inherited. Memories of her invoked warm feelings, at least before the funeral for her only daughter.
I stopped in my strolling for a moment.
I was only 12 when my mother had passed away, cancer it was, that eroding, invasive disease. The funeral had been beautiful, perfectly black and white, except for the red roses amongst the white lilies, the white carnations and the black that people wore. It had been sombre though, deeply so. Everyone had loved her, especially my father who was never the same.
I continued strolling on and found the roses, the red ones that had been at my mother’s funeral. I caressed their soft petals and breathed in their rich scent.
Unbidden, another memory sprang into my mind, a happier one.
Prom night at seventeen. Ah, so, so many years ago. I was dressed, I don’t know, in some sort of fancy dress that made my father smile one of his rare smiles. The knock at the door, then him standing there, the first love of my life, holding a bouquet of red roses for me, shifting nervously in his slightly over-sized suit. Eleven roses, I think he’d bought, a sign of true love. It made me feel like blushing, the memory of that night.
Next, a long time later, my true soul mate had come along.
I was in my late twenties, working full time, studying part time and completely overwhelmed. In a rush one morning, I spilt coffee on him, much to my horror and his pain, then amusement as I frantically dabbed the liquid off him.
Destiny at work.
After apologising profusely, I had hurried off, thinking I would never see him again.
I did, of course.
After many more meetings at that very coffee shop, jammed in between our busy schedule, he had finally worked up the nerve to ask me out. I had agreed and so we had arranged our first date.
He had arrived holding a roughly put together bouquet of daffodils. Not the typical first date flowers. When asked why the daffodils, he had abashedly said that he’d forgotten to buy flowers beforehand, so had hastily picked some from his neighbour’s place. I’d laughed and held the bouquet to my nose, smelling their rich, cheerful scent.
And thus, that was that.
The wedding one year later was gorgeous.
The air was scented with flowers of all types, but all white, except for the wreath of buttercups in my hair, a symbol of my bright, happy youth. My father had smiled again when he saw me. In fact, he beamed and called me again “his little princess.”
In fact, that
Perhaps that’s why I loved the gardens so. The gardens smelled like my wedding had; heady, rich, happy, alive. They reminded me of home, of happier times, of love.
“You should rest now,” my bright shadow said.
“I’m fine, child,” I said, slightly irritated that she had interrupted my thoughts. “I’m not that old.”
My shadow unsuccessfully hid a smile and nodded.
“Just a little longer then,” she said. I waved her away.
Young people. Annoying and nosey.
Still, I had not been any different as a child. And my own children were even worse. There were three: Julia, Alexandra (Alex for short) and Todd.
They were the light of my life, and my time spent with them had been beautiful, more beautiful than a hundred gardens, though we had our ups and downs.
They had been with me at my father’s funeral too, a sombre affair, but not as my mother’s had been. My father had been living a half-life since my mother had gone. Now, he was finally at peace, hopefully with his one true love.
I stood for a long moment, staring at the flowers before me.
My husband had laid one on my father’s casket, the only splash of colour.
“A rose for how much he was like a father to me too, and yellow for the buttercups he used to pick for you, and how he will always be with us.”
He had been a great man, my husband. And then life took him, as it took all of us, some too soon.
I wandered on, the sun beginning to dip and the shadows becoming longer.
I stopped as I came to a garden bed strewn with the limbs of chopped flower bushes.
“What happened here?” I demanded.
“Ah. Some sort of disease or something was wrong with them, so the gardener said they had to be cut and burnt,” my bright shadow said.
I looked forlornly at the dead foliage, of the blossoms that would now never blossom.
“Life can be cruel,” I lamented.
“Yes, it can be,” my bright shadow said, and for once I did not mock her youth. She too bore the same weight as I.
I reached over and patter her on the shoulder gently. She smiled and then checked her watch.
“My goodness! It’s almost visiting hours. Your family will be here soon. We should go inside to greet them,” she said, beginning to lead me towards the large building abutting the gardens.
“Nonsense. They can come and sit out here in the garden with me. Much nicer out here anyway.”
“Will you be fine until I’m back?” she asked.
I slowly walked to a nearby bench and sat down, bones creaking in protest.
“Yes, I’ll be fine. Can’t do much harm while sitting.”
She smiled again and dashed off towards the building to find my children, and their children, the other lights of my life.
I looked beside me and couldn’t help laughing at the flowers I was sitting next to.
Silly flowers, really, but I liked them. They were so cheerful, like sunlight, like my husband had been. They would always remind me of him, and our first date.
I basked in the slowly waning sunlight, enjoying the peacefulness, the aroma of the garden. In the distance, I could hear the garbled laughter of children, my grandchildren. Death will come for us all, in our own time, but that should not lessen the time spent living, or make it less. Even though there is death, there is always life, ever eternally turning, the great circle.
We are born, we bloom, we are life itself.
Then we wither and then we die, and those after us continue the circle on and on, endlessly.
Such is the lesson of the flowers.