A thatch of sugar-frosted blades crunch beneath my feet and an icy nip catches my nose. I pull my collar up, thrust my hands deep into my pockets and push on through the cold. I’ve a way to go and wonder if I should bother; my reception will be cool, my welcome curt. My pride says go back, my heart says go on.
I rap the iron knocker on the paint-flaked door – the bell is mute and she’s too … careful with money to replace the batteries. Everything about her is sinking into a mire of neglect and decay, her life withering while she cracks the whip on those who care.
"Hhmph," she growls as she opens the door, turns her back and retreats down the dark, narrow hallway of her existence. "Did you get everything?"
"I think so," I say, trying to sound cheerful but she doesn’t answer. Her words are short and uttered only to hurt, her heart hard, her emotions calcified.
I put my shopping bag on the kitchen table. I could do with coffee but she doesn’t offer. "When I left yesterday," I say, "I thought maybe you needed cheering up, so I bought you these flowers." And I hand her the lilies, some bound tight in green coated buds and some wide open, revealing their silk-white purity; their honeyed vanilla scent already overpowering the mildewed air.
"Funeral flowers," she grumbles staring, slightly out of focus as if seeing them yet not seeing them. Straight as a rod she picks up the bread and tin of peas.
I pull a vase from a cupboard, wash encrusted dust from its deep carved crevices and fill it with cold water, gushing from the tap till sunlight catches the cut-glass diamonds, flashing new life.
I carry the flowers through to the living room which, as always, is shrouded in darkness and dust. It should be called the dying room. I stand the vase in the empty fireplace and draw back the curtains, letting daylight kiss the lilies and waken the room.
As I turn to leave I see a photograph in a silver frame, shining strangely against the faded wallpaper. It must be the only thing in the room she's kept polished. I stop and smile at the bride and groom from years ago, who smile only for each other. And Irecognise the bride, with the glow of love in her eyes … and a bouquet of white lilies clutched tight against her silken dress.
I look up and there she is again, standing in the doorway watching, creased with age now and with the glint of a tear in her eye … and a glimmer of life in her smile.
Outside the front door I pull my collar up and push my hands deep into my pockets. A thatch of sugar-frosted blades crunch beneath my feet and an icy nip catches my nose, but green shoots are peeping up through the dark, winter earth.