from The Death of Flowers

Patrick Martin

I had knocked back a fair measure of maltwater and meltwater, savouring it in the manner I thought befitting the water of life. My mind was long grown fuzzy ; like some deranged spiderplant had made home in its midden. My thoughts still sprawled likewise, disconnected, slowly tapering from one node of inconsequence to the next. In need of clipping. Such budding revelations.

At some stage I receive a phone call. It's nearly sun-up. I'm out of whiskey and Madeline is dead. Even more so than before.

And my thoughts should have turned to Madeline, to "familiar memories of her", "tributes and affection" ..."a consideration of the world's loss in her passing" ...

Dust accumulates gradually on my windowsill.

And gradual the the approach of change. A fugitive thing, except in the one guise that Madeline now bears. Juvenile, to think of deathly things. The shit smears, the teardrops. The cold crescent of the kissed cheek, the doll's-eye gaze and stopped scream. The presence of change in the tincture of the mortician's make-up, in the manicured anthropoid with strickened joints.

The homeless dentures, defunct spectacles, unfinished crosswords...

Madeline in her grave witness to this change and unhearing little noises like mousegnaws in the dark and the centipedal shuffling of death coming over as in the sussurrous movement of sound through the airwaves or the eerie lament of seawash, the muttering of stones. With knowledge only in the stillened blood as to what it all forebodes.

Other than these rank specificities of death and the skinny-fingered promptings of happenstance, change is but the choosing of new clothes and new accoutrements.

I'm putting on a fresh shirt and an attar fragrance.

Just come from the funeral, be sad to relinquish this suit. My garb of woe, Nichola called it, said I looked like a scarecrow Byron. There was the business of the commiseration and the business of the internment. Ostentatious, all of it, not how she would have wanted it - if one should speculate after the desires of the dead - but I wasn't paying for it : Nichola's little investment in her own piety and grace. I brought vasefuls of cynthias and mandrakes for the gravebed, Mother always like these, or said she did.

In days gone mother's passing would have been of more import. But mother had been in decline, deprived of sustenance since the death of Madeline. She concerned herself with death, prophecised it over in her mind, as I played with my own bored living semblance of it. Death, that is, to speak with proper clarity. Such heavy words for one so ignorant....


You weren't listening when I told you how her room was gutted. All black up the wall and full of cinders and things burnt and unburnt . I saw the flowers you sent her on the kitchen table and the loving note that she never read. I've told you these things but I know when you're not listening. You look different. It's the only time you smile.

I wish you'd call sometime instead of leaving it to me to make the effort. Its not easy for me either. To listen to your indifference and each word you speak so distant, so far removed from me. You used to be interested......

And the winter now. Coniferous trees, gargantuan and still, and the hibernal posture of crows, set in small counterpoint on their branches like charred buds begetting no life save their own twitching. Like precipitates of some unchronicled visitation from a less enlightened place. Or a tribe of elders sat in judgement.

Snowflakes lost.

Hands in gloves in pockets I walk the roads. Like a lonesome bachelor boy speculating on a tune to whistle.

I got a letter from Nichola today.

She sent me pictures of our cousin. My cousin, a woman. A neat codified suggestion that disregards certain taboos. My cousin, a woman, available, attractive. You might like to drop her a line, arrange for a drink, catch up on old times, take a meal someplace... It was my own fault for making some facetious remark about desiring the company of women amongst whose appendages I might rummage for something to comfort me against the coming cold. I was forgetting Nichola's disregard for specifics.

Could I love my cousin?

A gelatinous patch of ratgut in the shape of a heart bypassed on the road beneath me.

Footfalls on the gravel in my shadow.

Beside my cultured garden children are playing on a see-saw. The noise wrought from grated rust and the rending of cold metal and the wind around the chrome bars and through the trees. Soon it will be four months to the day. Day she was buried. Who knows when she actually went - A question, why did she go like that, like what? ...

The white sky bodes an electric storm. Snow falls wanly on my head, like ash falls. Falling on her gravebed to smother the flowers in slow embrace. And I turn the corner to go home, still some miles off.

And in her bed she was lain, her each succeeding pose identical to the last. An imaginary mouse settled by her locker, inflicting gnaw and teethmarks, its each effort punctuating the slow drill of silence that prevailed there. She holds her head with one hand, off-brown strands insinuating themselves between her fingers. One more breath blooms, to keep company with, to listen to above the mouse's damaging. How yellow everything is and only a mouse to ignore her.

On the locker an empty tea cup, once white, ruddy lip-prints on it for fading petals. For something to fade into. Thy will be done. A forgotten cigarette and fire flaring on the mattress - a creature with its own stealth - and sears of black smoke, curlicues or some such form evolving, till lastly serpentine and pitch. Through its welter seen her eyes still obsidian, unfrightened. A mouse unimagined in a room full. A fire has railed and her pose has come unstuck.

A change has come upon.

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