Rose Petals

June 23, 2014


THERE ARE pale pink rose petals on the coffin.

She would have preferred red. Those were always her favourite, and she didn’t care that they were a cliché. Not that it matters, I suppose, and maybe red roses wouldn’t be considered appropriate, but I can’t get rid of this picture of her, watching us, and thinking that the least we could have done was to pick the right colour.

It’s better to think that, to see that, than to see her the way she is, now.

The coffin is closed, of course, and I’m trying not to think of her trapped in a box. No need to worry that she might wake up, to hope that this is all a mistake.

She was screaming in my dreams last night, begging me to help her, and I couldn’t find her, just followed her screaming that seemed to get further and further away. Ben tells me these will fade eventually, but he thinks I’m dreaming of what happened. I haven’t told him different.

She was screaming for me then, as well, and they wouldn’t let me in, not till much later. Then I held her hand and tried to pretend I wasn’t crying when her voice faded and her hand slipped from mine.

Her parents have decided to have her cremated. I think it’s sick, after what happened to her… after how she… I tried to tell them not to do it, and, later, not to take her back. They listened, very gently, but said it was their decision, and they wanted her home.

I wanted to tell them that she was home, that it should have been my decision, that it was too late now to pretend we weren’t… that I was just a flat-mate, a friend. I couldn’t say it, though. I don’t seem able to fight any more, without her. It doesn’t seem worth it.

Everyone from the clinic is here – Mina, looking stricken with guilt, Dr Alex and Dr Kim, all the nurses – bad luck on anyone who wanted to see someone today. They flew over together from Stansted, which isn’t an easy connection to Bern, actually, and asked me to fly with them, but I couldn’t stand to be with them so long. I know it’s a terrible thing to think, but I feel like it’s their fault. If someone else had offered to cover that shift, she wouldn’t have been there, and – and I don’t wish any of them dead, I don’t, but she was my angel, and she’s gone, and I just can’t…


Ben tells me that that’s the best way to get through those moments when I want to fall to the floor screaming, or break into a million
pieces because…

There are pink rose petals on the coffin.

It surprises me how much of the service I can understand. Not enough to really know what they’re saying, but a lot of words. I must have absorbed more of the language than I thought, though it’s pitiful after four years. There’s no-one to translate, either, and they don’t put the hymn numbers up like they did when I went to church, a few times, years ago. It’s funny the things you’ll do when you want to be normal.

Funny, in the sense of making you feel like crying.

Which isn’t really all that funny.

The men – her father, her big brother, her uncle, I think, and three who look the right age to be old school friends – lift the coffin, and her mother starts sobbing in earnest.

My hands twitch where they’re wrung together in my lap. I want to reach out to her, to touch and comfort her one last time before she goes beyond my reach. It hurts too much to even cry, and I just want to be able to hold her hand one more time.

Some of the rose petals slide from the coffin as they lift it, and more as they start the slow walk out of the church. Her brother’s crying by the time they pass me, and he looks like he might drop the coffin. I wish I could get up and take his place, be near her, but I can’t move – couldn’t move, even if they’d let me hold it, which they wouldn’t.

In a taxi, speeding towards the airport and away from the wake I couldn’t bear to go to, I find rose petals in my pocket.

The sun’s setting as the plane takes off. Seen through tears, it’s a surreal watercolour.

Ben says I’m crazy and I’ll regret it.

Sarah says, since I’m losing a month’s rent anyway, I should take the month and think about it properly.

Helen, who’s been putting me up in her spare bedroom for three weeks and bringing me changes of clothes, just asks if I need help packing.

I tell them, no I won’t, no I don’t need to, and no, but thank you, in that order, and catch a bus to the flat where we lived for two years, where I went to bed every night and held onto her, cooked and cleaned and studied, and filled out application forms and complained about work and proofread her thesis; lied to her parents and screamed at mine, and danced round the kitchen and put her to bed when she was drunk, and kissed her good-bye when she went to cover Mina’s shift and listened to the radio news and stopped breathing.

The flat where we were us, and were going to be us forever.

It looks as though someone ought to be living here, but it doesn’t feel like that. More like a film set, after hours, waiting for people to come in and bring it to life.

It won’t be us any more.

I don’t even know where to start. Her parents want me to box up her things and send them back. They won’t come out here and do it themselves, and her mother was crying when she asked, and I couldn’t say no. They said I could keep whatever I wanted, but not to throw anything away.

There are two sets of boxes – blue plastic crates for the shipping company, and cardboard boxes from Helen and the supermarket at the end of the street.

I’m trying to look at things the way her parents will. I’m censoring, trying to give them back their daughter, or the daughter they think they have – had. Except… except that, to me, everything is her, everything makes me think of my girl, the way she was.

I imagine them looking at jewellery and wondering who’d given it to her, when she hadn’t mentioned a boyfriend in years. Asking where she would have worn some of those clothes, when she said she studied too much and didn’t have time to go out and meet someone. Why she’d have those books, or those pictures, and who the people in some of these photos were, what the club in the background of this one was like.

For a wild moment, all of it goes into a crate, because if they want their daughter’s things, they should get the genuine one, and not some picture that hasn’t been real for years.

She used to cry when she talked to them on the phone. She’d smile this brilliant smile, and speak in this high, happy tone, and tears would stream down her face. I used to make her tea and hold her hand and ask if it would really be that bad to tell them – ignoring the way my parents would yell, still yell.

She’d give me the same brilliant smile and say yes.

The jewellery and clothes and books and pictures and photos go into a cardboard box. They can go with me. I’ll keep the girl she really was.

Before I leave – Ben, for all his disapproval, is going to pick up the boxes tomorrow in his van and drive them to my new flat – I check the crates one last time. There’s twenty-three years of someone’s life in them, someone I lived with for two years, and loved for four, and I don’t recognise the girl I’m looking at. Even the photos seem different. That girl smiling out at me would never kiss me, never leave her boyfriend for me, never lie to her parents.

I’ve censored so well that I’ve censored her out of existence. Nothing in those crates is her, and that’s what I’m giving her parents.

What if I’ve changed everything? Not just the stuff going to them, but the things that are hers that are going into the attic at the new flat, and the things that are hers, mine, or ours that are coming with me because they’re so much a part of my life that I don’t even know what life would be like without them.

Maybe it never happened.

Maybe there is no girl who lied to her parents. Maybe the daughter they thought they had really is the daughter they had, and the girl I thought I was with never existed, and really was only my flat-mate. And the things I think her clothes and jewellery and books are saying aren’t really there at all and I’m deluding myself.

Suddenly, there are photographs everywhere, and my hands are shaking while I rip the box lids open. I only just looked at these, but I can’t remember what they show, and I have to know, have to check.

I never realised we had so many photos, rolls from holidays, nights out, family occasions and graduations, for both of us, the day we moved into the flat and – stop.

More photos slither across the hall floor as I fumble for the one I dropped too hastily, and is now the one I want. Sarah took it, the day we moved in, and we’ve got our arms round each other and we’re just about to kiss.

I don’t know how long I sit staring at that photograph, staring at her, her face, her eyes. I’m not imagining, though. I didn’t imagine it. She’s looking at me the way I remember, with the look that says she’d leave anyone, lie to anyone, give anything, for us to be together.

I used to look at her like that, too. I did. That night when I kissed her goodbye and watched her walk away.

The photos go back in the box. That one – into my pocket.

The new flat isn’t like the old one. It’s on the fifth floor, and it looks out over the nice part of the city, with a view of the Cathedral ruins, if you squint. There are a few clubs, and restaurants, and it will be noisy at night. She would have hated it, would have complained constantly about the noise and the people, and the cigarette butts in the mornings. Did complain, when I still had my old flat, and she insisted we move somewhere quieter.

The flat has one bedroom with a single bed, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a tiny living room with a table and four chairs. The walls are cream, and the curtains have pink flowers on them. Not all of the windows open, and the bathroom suite is a funny shade of green. It’s expensive because it’s furnished, but none of the furniture is ours and none of it makes me think of anything more than going out and buying some throw covers.

Most of the boxes Ben left in the middle of the living room are still there. The place looks even more empty than our flat did, packed up. All my life is in these boxes, and most of hers, as well. Unpacked, the objects will turn this place into a home, my home for the next… For I don’t know how long. I can’t imagine ever wanting anyone else here, or wanting to be with someone enough to leave.

It’s bare and empty, even with the furniture, a limbo land, between life with her and life without. Sarah brought me flowers a few days ago. She said it looked like I was squatting, not like I was living here at all. She offered to find me a vase amongst all the boxes, but I told her no.

The flowers sat on the work surface until they died.

There are some things here – the kettle, a mug and a teaspoon. Toothpaste and shampoo in the bathroom. A blanket and a pillow on the bed, and a few clothes in some of the drawers. That picture of us the day we moved into the flat blue-tacked to the bedroom wall, above my bed. I look at it every morning, every evening, before I leave, when I get back, while the kettle’s boiling, when I wake up in the middle of the night and hear a voice calling to me in words that I can’t understand.

That photo is the only thing that’s her, the only thing that proves it’s real and I didn’t imagine it. In this strange new world I live in, of clubs and restaurants and trendy young people who must be my age but seem light years younger, this world where no-one asks any more how I’m getting on, no-one mentions her, it’s so hard to remember that that life did exist, that she did exist.

I rang Helen at two thirty-seven this morning and asked her over and over: Had we really been together? Not her and me, but me and my beautiful girl. Had it really happened, or had I dreamt it?

She said it had, and she wouldn’t lie, not about that.

I should start unpacking today, really. It’s been two weeks, three weeks… or maybe it’s been four – weeks, months, I’m not sure any longer. But there are two pay slips next to the phone – which I still haven’t had connected – so it must be two months.

I should start unpacking. Some more cutlery, maybe some pans, and then I can cook. Ben says I’m getting too thin. He asked me when I’d last had a meal and I couldn’t tell him. I do know, but he didn’t want to hear that it’s been three days.

I don’t want to cook, and I don’t belong in any of these trendy restaurants. I don’t even want to listen to my friends be sympathetic, and ask me how I’m feeling, can they help, would I like to come out with them this weekend.

It’s all so overwhelming. It’s like stepping into a strange new world where nothing is like it was and I don’t know what it will be like. She’s probably sitting on her cloud, head in her hands, hair falling over her face, groaning at me. She’d think I was crazy.

I’m so scared.

I’ve denied her, us, to her parents for so long that I’m frightened of what will happen if I build a new life where she isn’t. What will happen if I live in this flat, even with our things in it, where she has never lived, never set foot, and start to meet people who never knew her and never will.

What if I wake up one morning and find out we’ve denied it so long that we’ve denied our entire relationship out of existence?

I’ll start unpacking tomorrow. I will, really.

And I’ll buy red roses for the kitchen window-sill.

(Emily Moreton)

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