Dried, but still rooted in the earth, the strange flowers are still growing, year on year. She is bringing some inside to fill her unlit fireplace with the orange orbs, faux flames in a Chinese vase. She is carefully stepping over the fallen plaster, carefully placing her feet on the threadbare Indian rug, following its pattern like a map. Kneeling with some difficulty on the hearth, she is shivering as the chimney exhales a cold blast over her shoulders. Her stiff, red hands are arranging the display, bending and breaking off the long, brittle stems; some longer, some shorter. She is struggling to her feet; it’s getting harder, almost impossible. She is standing back to admire the flowers. Now her eyes are weakly travelling along the mantelpiece to portraits so faded they can barely smile through the reflecting glass of their frames. Boys and girls, a man and woman – is it her in the foreground of attendant scenery? Too tired to consider their testimonies, she is turning to see her next destination – the sofa, where she can look through the French windows to the trees; the movements of squirrels, birds, cats. She is retracing her steps, gathering tiny pieces of the chalky stucco on her slippers like a honey bee gathering pollen. Weighty lumps of cornice are lying wasted like a Greek tragedy. A white haze is still hanging in the air. The long bookshelves are choking and wheezing; the books want to spill their guts, have it out once and for all, before it’s too late; poetry against prose, music against words. But it is. She is bending to sit, stretching out her hand for steadiness, anticipating the softness of the upholstery; seeing, momentarily, the pattern of white lilies with which she is so familiar. Her throat is dry, her chest heavy and her tongue tight and hot. She is thirsty, but she isn’t thinking of a drink, because the white haze is thickening, brightening; so intense now that she is scowling and gasping and falling onto the sofa, feeling the lilies stroking her cheek, composing their valediction.
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