I wrote this novella ‘Adventures in Flower Arranging’ in 2001. I thought I’d transferred it from my floppy disk (remember them?) onto the hard drive that I took with me to India. Seems that only half of it made the journey. I’ve decided to publish the half I have….
It was supposed to have all made sense today. She had felt so ready to understand—so flushed with hope. But quite abruptly and inexplicably, everything had broken again. No bright future glinting encouragingly from on high, only a thick buzzing present. She sat staring at her own remains. A child pondering the remnants of a vase, smashed in careless excitement—trying to connect her body with the act. She remembered floating in the sky, an impulse of pink flashing across the cloud bed beneath, something warm and comforting, and then….she couldn’t recall. A pillow full of bees filled the space where her memory had been.
She sensed company. Others sat nearby around a circular white table, sipping from Styrofoam cups. Mumbling. Smoking. Staring. She became aware of an urgent thirst, and it took a few moments before she realized that it was her own. A man sat quietly on a bench to her left. She felt the whoosh! of another striding past. They were different to the ones around the table. Even though she saw them, they were the ones who were watching. As her attention turned outward, she began to notice voices within the hive.
“Do you want butter on that?”
“You’re getting there, oooh, you’re getting there…”
“…and they all ran away like little children…”
“…and one end was as pink as a kitten’s nose and the other…”
“You’re getting nearer….nearer…..nearer….”
“….the liars in the gardens…”
“Whooops! You lost it again!”
What had happened? Everything felt different, although she couldn’t quite remember how it had been before. She tried to be logical. She wasn’t dead. She hadn’t seen Jesus, after all, and she knew that at the end he would be there to take her in his arms and comfort her. She hadn’t been abducted by aliens because everyone here was distinctly humanoid. But something very big had happened, something very big and very, very bad—something that could eradicate all history, could destroy everything in the wink of an eye, everything that had been built and believed in and worked for. It must have been an awfully violent force—a truly devastating power. Atomic. The word exploded in her head, annihilating all doubt. That was it! There had been a nuclear war and the people around the table were prisoners. She was certain that the man on the bench was one of the victors. But her fellow inmates seemed strangely unaware of their fate. Had their memories been altered, like hers?
“Do you like cherries?” The question fell from cigarette-sucking lips that wrinkled into zippers around the filter. Brenda struggled to form the words.
“Oh yes, I see, I see.”
“The zipper-lipped woman nodded her head over and over to show that she’d understood, but it didn’t seem to Brenda that she had.
“Nu…cle…ar war,” she repeated a little more loudly. The mumbling quieted a little around her. They didn’t seem to know. Maybe she was the only one. Her voice broke into a shout.
“We’ve been in a nuclear war!”
The murmurs rose once again. Some of the prisoners returned to their own private tangents, but others seemed to grasp what she was telling them.
“It had to happen,” said one. “That’s why they all ran away.”
“They were all wiped out, right out, just like that…” continued another.
Suddenly nervous, he lowered his tone. A cup shook in his hands sending weak coffee spilling over the sides. His metronome eyes ticked back and forth.
“It was terrible.”
This voice came from directly across the table, from behind a large white mustache that curled its tails into pink-veined cheeks. They were beginning to understand.
“No survivors?” whispered lips the color of ashes.
“Just us,” replied Brenda, buoyed by this glimmer of understanding.
“It was terrible,” repeated the coffee-spiller.
“Oh, I see, I see,” said zipper-lips, and this time Brenda believed that she did.
Then the hairs on her neck reported a new set of eyes upon her. The other prisoners fell silent and the skin on her back grew cold.
The next voice was of remoteness and static.
“How do you feel, Brenda?” A little better?”
It didn’t wait for an answer.
“I bet you do. We’re going to move you now. I’m here to help you get your things together.”
A smooth white hand closed around the top of Brenda’s left arm. The voice wore a white coat and a tired smile.
“You’re ready for Unit 5,” it said.
As Brenda stood, the coffee-spiller thrust his arm across the table and grabbed her sleeve. His face was taught, eyes keeping time to a polka.
“Everything’s radioactive,” he gasped. “It’s only a matter of time.”