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The final winner in our Environmental Disaster flash fiction competition – inspired by our current Book Club read, Astra – imagines a world without flowers.
Days later, the work done, he walked into the room and found her gazing at the technicoloured field.
Row upon row of tulips in every available colour, as far as the eye could see.
He had hoped to make her happy, but she was close to tears and did not look at him as he entered the room.
“This was real once. Can you imagine that?”
He reached out to touch her shoulder, offer some comfort but she flinched and turned away from him.
He looked at the field and tried to imagine it. Not just the colour, but the smell, the movement. Real flowers would have swayed in the breeze. He knew that much.
But it was like trying to imagine the world when you are no longer in it. Impossible.
Real flowers, growing in that barren dust?
No, he could not imagine it.
A week he had laboured at it, ploughing furrows and drilling holes. A week in which she had languished in bed, feverish and delusional.
He had marvelled at the way the work had seemed so purposeful, even though he knew it was futile, absurd even.
But there had been moments when he’d felt something close to a connection with the land and the way it had formed people. People like him.
Bent low, above the furrows, as he stuck each plastic flower into the ground he had had no need to imagine. He had felt it in every fibre of his body.
Each evening he had straightened his back and looked out across the field at his efforts and found himself satisfied and thinking “this is how it must have felt for them once, before all this.”
She kept a book. Photographs and drawings of fields and forests. Of the way things used to be when she was young.
He remembered how, as a small child, she would pull it from the shelf and have him sit on her knee. She would turn the pages and talk to him in hushed tones and only later did he come to understand that it was longing he had heard there.
He had stared at the picture book and marvelled at the fantasies she had woven.
“No, this is real” she would explain to him. “This is how it used to be. Look.”
And he would giggle, and nod, then scamper away, afraid of her.
In those days when she had drifted between living and dying he had wiped beads of fever from her brow and listened to her mutterings.
“It was so beautiful…”
At one point, ravaged with fever but momentarily lucid, she had gripped his hand “Destroyed. We destroyed it.”
And he had hushed her quiet, then taken the book from the shelf and searched through it, trying to find what it was she imagined they had lost.
He knew the story. The land ravaged by forces of wind, rain, drought and a pestilence so biblical he had feared it as a child.
But he had known nothing else. When he looked at the land he saw beauty there. The way the morning light in winter could be tinged with gold. And though he knew it was simply dust refracted in the sunlight, it was beautiful for all that.
Could she not see it?
But he had never shared her loss. Never known what had been.
He stared at a photo of an orchard. The colours had faded, but there was enough there to cause wonder. That the grass had been so tall, so green. The trees, in blossom, a delicate pink he had never seen. And he felt it then, the weight of melancholy in his heart.
Beyond the window he could see the field, a blurred mirage of colour in the afternoon haze.
The flowers stood erect and unmoving, their plastic colours garish, like a taunt, as if they were calling out not just his foolishness, but everyone’s.
“You cannot re-make this.”
And he ran then, out into the field, ripping the flowers from the ground. The dust billowing around him, the ghost of the land.
From the window, she watched him and nodded and wept.
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