Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Still Lilies

When we arrived in this house there was a pot in the backyard with some green leafy stems in it, which looked nice. The previous owners had placed them there for the inspections, to make the yard look pretty, and had kindly left them for us when we moved in. I watered them for months not knowing what they were, imagining they were a kind of plant that had no flower and would just keep shooting its leafy stems up towards the sky, and perhaps fan out, before dying. But suddenly one day there was a large tight bud on the top of one of them, then another, then another. Kiki and I watched in curiosity. One hot day we came home and two of the buds had opened into glorious pink and white lilies. We were astonished - how did something so extraordinary just make itself, with so little input from us? The third lily bloomed, more compact but even more magnificent than its sisters.

I couldn't figure out why despite their beauty I felt repulsed. Were they too beautiful? Then a puff of breeze directed their scent into my nostrils and I saw it - a hundred vases on our childhood back lawn. That week after mum's death - the doorbells and the vases and so, so many lilies.

I had awoken one night with a start, stomach clenched. A strong scent was in my nose, in my soul. I was sleeping in the dining room with lots of cards and cakes and vases. I took the vases and put them in the kitchen, pulling the sliding door closed. But the scent was still there as I tried to sleep. It was the lilies, I realised, their powerful scent I normally loved so much. In concert the effect was nauseating. I tried to sleep. Couldn't. Eventually I got up and moved all the vases into the living room, past sleeping siblings, aunts, friends. On top of the harmonium, behind the big floral couch, beside the stereo.

Then I went back to the dining room couch and closed my eyes.

Still lilies.

It made me want to scream. I buried my face in the embroidered cushion. Tried suffocating my nose with the sheet. Still lilies. Lilies everywhere, up in me, all over me. Lovely lilies, cheery lilies, kind lilies, caring lilies, sweet lilies. My stomach turned, my head felt like it was going to explode.  

I couldn't take it any more. I went out and collected every single vase from all over the house - downstairs, upstairs, the bathrooms, the entranceway - and covered the back lawn with vases and vases and vases. It took an hour to collect every one, heavy ones, small ones, ceramic ones, glass ones. Even outdoors all I could smell was lilies.

I climbed up on the outdoor table and sat looking at what I had created, a landscape of tilting and toppling structures, castaways in the moonlight.

It is a year now since the surprise lilies burst open in our backyard, and today, despite being utterly neglected and forgotten, a brand new lily has appeared, boastful and defiant. 

And I'm back on the table in the moonlight. Madeleine de Proust.  



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