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I dry flowers in the afternoons. I hang them up by their tails, let their heads droop down, plump and bulbous. The water will diffuse into the air and leave behind the dried husk: pale, brittle memory of a petal.
I pick them fresh, the flowers. If I wait until they are already past their best, when they dry the colour is already too faded and they struggle to hold their shape. I go out in the mornings, wander among the meadow and past the hedgerows. I look for all kinds. I take lavender from the garden, and from the wilder places I pick gypsophila and pampas grass.
I was a fresh, plump flower once, until you picked me and hung me up until I was dry. I think of you when I gather them, though I wish I didn’t. You often walk into my thoughts unbidden, unwelcome, just like you would walk into my bedroom. Why did you like to be in places where you were not wanted? You would think a person’s confidence would be affected when confronted so often with a woman on her knees, begging them to turn around and leave.
I use the cupboard under the stairs for drying. It needs to be cool, not warm, and dry of course. Best if it’s dark, too. Light makes the colour fade further and faster. Sometimes I sit in there, crouch under the bristly fingers of the wheat, and I inhale the sweet smell. I do not close my eyes, instead I sit and concentrate on the darkness as hard as I can, until I begin to see darker spots within the black, and darker spots still within those, and if I keep going long enough I forget myself.
The day we first met, you were carrying roses. Five of them, wrapped in a piece of brown paper. You told me you had bought them on a whim. You said that you had noticed me working in the shop before, and that when you saw the roses for sale outside the station it felt like fate. You bought them and walked as quickly as you could down the hill so that you would not have time to change your mind and turn for home, fling the roses over a hedge. Oh, how I wish you had abandoned those roses.
I, silly girl, took them with all the red cheeks and averted eyes that suited such a bold approach. I was flattered, naturally, and as soon as I got home I put the flowers in a glass vase and placed them on the window facing the street. I had seen you once or twice before, too, but until the roses, I had not noticed you.
Knowing when the flowers are dry is a bit of guesswork. I am no expert; I take them down when they feel rigid at my touch. You have to be gentle, so as to not break off a flower head, or crack a stem. I arrange them in tall, glass bottles, or create a hanging to go above the mantlepiece. Truth be told, I dry far more than I need, but somehow I cannot abide the thought of fresh flowers rotting, trampled down into the wet mud of Autumn.
I remember carrying the bouquets you gave me to the compost heap. Apology bouquets, begging bouquets, returning home drunk bouquets, seduction bouquets. I came to learn what a bouquet in your hands meant, and it was never something nice. It was never again like that first bunch of roses. Whatever sad occasion had prompted you to buy the bouquet would then hover in the house with us for as long as the flowers lasted in their slowly putrefying water. If I tried to throw them out too early you would accuse me of being ungrateful.
I hear that you gave her roses, too. At first, can you believe, I was jealous. That was before my mind cleared, and I came to feel sorry for her and the floral tributes she had inherited. In the last weeks, the flowers stopped. Empty vases dotted about the house, pregnant with threat. What threat, I was unsure. The threat that you would leave, the threat that you would stay. Then you came with the last bouquet of all: an explosion of colour. Freesias, snapdragons, alstroemeria. I did not know all the names, then, I just saw orange and yellow and red. They stayed alive for near three weeks. Fate’s joke, perhaps. Insisting that even after you left your scent remained.
I used to be fresh roses: swollen lips around the pistil. But I prefer now that I am dry flowers: they are far hardier, their beauty more dull but longer lasting. Dry flowers do not beg to be picked and, if trampled, where fresh flowers are smeared in the dirt, dry flowers only crumble into dust and fly.