Otter and Nathan’s reassurance that I was worrying for nothing didn't stop me thinking about the flowers in every spare moment. It was all I could do to submerge myself in my engineering coursework until fifth period physics where I jumped straight into wave particle duality. Why was it that real life was so much more confusing than the facts and figures of physics?
I had to wait in Little Angels for an hour after school before Mum felt she could leave. On the bright side, I got all my homework done. It seemed having some morbid thoughts about flowers on the side of the road wasn’t all bad.
“Are you sure you’re okay to lock up?” Mum said to Laura as I stepped out the door. “Because I can come back after dropping Abia home if you want?”
“Kim.” Laura held up her hand. “How many times have I closed up while you were fiddling with numbers in the back room? We’ll be fine.”
Jessica agreed. “We’re unlikely to get swamped in these last few hours. Go home.”
“Okay.” Mum nodded but her lips, which were pressed together in a tight line, told a different story. “Ring me if there’s any trouble. Any at all.”
“We can deal with this, Kim. Go home.” Laura shook her head and chuckled as I grabbed Mum’s arm and pulled her out of the shop.
I was distracted as Mum tried to ask about my day. I gave short answers and didn’t elaborate, glad when she started a story about the shop.
When we got to the car, I was in with my seatbelt on before Mum could even climb in.
“Blimey. Someone wants to get home. Something going on?”
“No, I’ve just . . . had a long day. I want to get out of this abysmal town.” I wiped my glasses on my top as she got in, wanting to have perfect sight when I saw them. And I would see them.
Neither of us spoke as we pulled out of the car park and made our way out of Suddich. I stared out of the driver’s side window as best I could. I wouldn’t have such a good view from here but that shouldn’t matter. I tried not to breathe but my heart was pounding too fast to allow it. I hoped it wasn’t obvious to Mum that I was taking command of my own breaths but she didn’t seem to notice. I had to keep swallowing down the anxiety as I waited.
We grew closer and closer and I could think of nothing else. Any moment now I would see them and Mum would see them too.
“Mum, it’s on this road here.” I found it harder to speak then I’d imagined. The words caught in my throat and I had to force past them. “On the other side of the road.”
“From this morning. I said there were flowers.”
“Okay.” The complete indifference in her tone was infuriating.
I held my breath and sat up taller.
There. I wasn’t imagining things.
In the spot I’d first noticed, there they were, sitting as though not a moment had passed since I’d first set eyes on them. In perfect position as far as my memory could recall. Although there were even more colours than I remembered seeing. Yes, the blues, reds, yellows and pinks were all there but with them were purples and whites also.
And a boy.
From here I couldn’t tell much about him other than he was tall, ginger, wearing dark clothes, about my age, maybe a few years older, and I’d never seen him before in my life. He must’ve known whoever it was who’d died. That’d explain why Otter and Nathan didn’t know who it was. We probably didn’t even know them.
I thought I would grin, I thought a feeling of relief would sweep my body at confirming I hadn’t been seeing things but if anything, I felt an unexplainable surge of melancholy. I was heavy with it.
I had to swallow before speaking. “Did you see them, Mum?”
“Mum!” I growled it. “I told you! The flowers!”
“Sorry.” She shot me a look. “I was miles away. But I didn’t see anything.” She looked in the wing mirror and shook her head. “Nope, nothing.”
“Well of course you won’t see them now, they’re back there.” I pushed some of my fringe off my face and huffed. “I can’t believe you didn’t look.”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because . . .” I sighed. “It doesn’t. I just wanted to prove I’m not losing it.” I looked out of my window, watching the green of the trees blur together.
I was silent the rest of the way home, trapped in a cascade of contemplation all the way to Cullham.
Cullham was the miniscule village that was a ten minute drive away from anywhere. It also happened to be my home town. Our closest neighbour was Suddich, a town that housed Suddich Secondary School where I went to Sixth Form – or SSS as we had always referred to it – Little Angels, Auntie Kate and Uncle Patrick’s house, and my father’s house. It was also as dismal as the name suggested.
Cullham on the other hand, was a sweet, old person’s village. Walking around the streets sometimes made me consider that it was a village built to die in. Lucky for me, Otter and her family were also condemned to live here and that brightened the place up.
By the time we pulled up outside our little house on The Grove, I had a plan. I shot through the front door, up the stairs, and into my room at once, feeling as though I had to shut the door behind me, as though this business was secret. Flinging my rucksack onto the cushions on my bed, squashing Paddy – my ancient teddy bear – as I did so, I dropped into my desk chair.
I tapped my fingers on my desk as I waited for my laptop to load, staring out my window down to our street, The Grove. I willed for Otter to turn the corner and then didn’t. I wanted to discover where these flowers had come from once and for all. But I also wanted to listen to her easy chatter and lose myself in her words. It didn’t matter anyway. I knew she was still in Suddich working on her latest painting. Her artwork was incredible but I didn’t pretend to understand it. She had Nathan for that, but Nathan thought he knew everything.
When my internet browser flashed to life at last, I began my search. I used all the terms I could think of: flowers, death, accident, Suddich. I even looked up the name of the road but nothing. Maps, information about Suddich, old accidents. Useless. Even the struggling local paper hadn’t written about it.
Perhaps it was so new that no information existed about it yet. The Suddich Standard may be going to great effort to find any stories at all but it must’ve taken them longer than twenty-four hours to get something to print.
I took in a deep breath, held it, and let it out, controlling the speed in which I did so. I leant back on my chair, pushed my glasses to the top of my head and rubbed my eyes.
There would be a reasonable explanation. Stop worrying, I told myself. You’ll drive yourself crazy.
Too late for that.
I spun on my chair and gazed around my room, positioning my glasses back on my short nose. My red bag didn’t belong in my blue room, though none of the shades of blue were the same. I liked that about Mum’s house. Everything matched and yet wasn’t part of a set. Angela needed order and precision.
I twisted my grandmother’s silver bracelet around my wrist as I attempted to get a hold of myself. After all, there was nothing to worry about. I almost wanted to laugh at myself. As though I could be wound up by something as everyday as a cluster of flowers. It was probably just an anniversary of a death. Plenty of people had lost their lives on that road. Those flowers were probably for someone long dead. And even if they weren’t, why did it matter?
That was the big question.
I pulled myself out of my chair and flopped onto my bed, freeing Paddy and pulling him close to me. I buried my nose into the top of his head and twirled some hair around my finger. I tugged it so the waves and kinks went straight and let it go again, admiring the natural black colour. Mum, Auntie Kate, and Nathan all shared it with me. It was a soft colour, not as harsh and shiny as dyed black hair. I was glad Otter had no interest in darker colours. There was no way her hair could survive that blue-black shine some people went for.
I rolled over and rooted around in the drawer of my bedside cabinet for the only remaining wooden brain teaser puzzle I was yet to solve from Christmas. I was sure before dinner was served the thing would be completed and therefore pointless.
By the time Mum called up the stairs for me, I’d finished the puzzle, moved on from building a three storied house of cards, and settled for timing myself with my old Rubik’s Cube. The thing had seen so much play that some of the colours were peeling off. It had chips and marks of who knows what on there and was dull in comparison to the new one I had at Dad and Angela’s.
I plodded downstairs and sat myself around our round, dark brown kitchen table. Our living room, dining room, and kitchen were one and the same, so when Mum appeared, holding her favourite heart-shaped bowl, I was staring at our pistachio coloured sofa. Though, to be precise, I wasn’t looking at it at all. From where Mum usually sat you could see straight into the kitchen and she seemed to like that, though I was unsure as to why.
“How’s the mouth?” Mum asked as I took my first bite of pasta. I’d managed to eat my lunch after ripping my sandwich into tiny pieces and snapping some of the bigger crisps into mouthfuls I could handle. Pasta was an easy dish to eat in comparison.
“Fine,” I answered, though now she’d mentioned it a gentle ache began to blossom in the place that, this morning, a tooth had been.
“It didn’t hurt too much at school?”
“I haven’t noticed until now.”
“You just said it was fine.”
“It’s really nothing to report and barely worth mentioning.”
We sat for a moment, quiet enough that I could name the song playing on the radio in the kitchen. A piece of pasta dropped off Mum’s fork onto her scarf and it rolled down her white vest top, leaving a tomato red stain.
“Oh shit.” She pulled away from the table as not to rub it in further. “Or should I say cripes?” She smirked at me.
“Smile all you want.” I pointed my fork in her direction. “Grace eats neater than you do.”
“So when did you swear in front of your baby sister?” she asked as she pulled her scarf off and threw it in the direction of the kitchen floor.
“I have never said anything remotely offensive in front of Grace. She would’ve heard worse at school by now.”
“She’s only . . .” She screwed her mouth up as she thought. “Seven? Isn’t she?”
I nodded. “The playground’s a battlefield.”
“So Angela just told you, oh by the way, don’t swear in front of my daughter, okay?”
“Well . . .”
“Ahh, there’s a story.”
“A boring one.”
“I don’t care. You know I enjoy all your Angela stories.”
I rolled my eyes. “It was a couple of weeks ago, in the Easter holidays. I was talking to Otter on the phone and some profanity of an undisclosed nature may have slipped out and her highness may have heard it.”
“Did she shout?”
“No. Worse. She knocked on my door, sat herself on my bed next to me, put her hand on my knee and told me very nicely that I can’t swear when Grace is in the house and I shouldn’t be swearing at all. Grace wasn’t even home.”
Mum snorted into her drink.
“You know that ladies don’t swear?”
“Bugger it, we do.”
I laughed. “It’s not like I haven’t heard her. Either she’s swearing a lot or she just adores Jesus.”
Mum started giggling and set me off too. I could only just swallow my mouthful without choking it back up again. My stomach squeezed as I struggled to take breath, Mum’s high pitched squeaking making it impossible to stop.
“That woman.” She sighed, wiping the tears out of her eyes.
“She’s not that bad,” I said when I’d found my breath again. “I could’ve been cursed with a truly evil step-mother.”
“As long as you like her I don’t care.”
“I can tolerate her I suppose.”
“Speaking of your other life, Dad called while you were upstairs.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Why?”
“He wanted to check how you were.”
“It was a tooth, not an arm or a leg. Anyway, why didn’t he ring me?”
She shrugged. “Who knows what goes through that man’s brain, Abz.”
“I’m not even sure he’s a hundred percent sure. Well I suppose it was nice of him to take time out of his Angela and Grace worshiping to ask about his first born child.”
“I think you’re a little too harsh on him.”
“You didn’t call your second child Grace Angel. She sounds like a fairy.”
“I didn’t marry a woman and make her Angela Angel.”
“Angel Angel never gets boring, I can tell you that.”
After dinner I decided it was never too early to shower and put my pyjamas and slippers on. Even doing this made me feel infinitely better. I continued my search from yesterday for universities that offered an aerospace engineering undergraduate course and read all their propaganda.
According to school, I didn’t have to choose the universities I was going to apply for until next year but it couldn’t hurt to be prepared. I hoped that whichever university I picked, and it didn’t look like which one I picked would make much of a difference, that I wasn’t the only girl. That was the only trouble with liking male subjects, or what were deemed to be the ‘masculine’ subjects by society. I was the only girl in my engineering course and one of two in physics and three in maths, if you counted Mrs Spencer. See, Curie and I took mechanics maths where all the other girls seemed to take statistics. What was wrong with the world?
Unfortunately, Curie and I weren’t best of friends. It seemed that the Fordes naming their daughter after the most famous female physicist didn’t give her great self-esteem and gave her a lot to live up to. I didn’t talk often, let alone in lesson, but Curie was on another level. I’d never seen her speak to anyone other than her best friend Bronte but even then I had only seen her mouth move. I didn’t think I had ever heard her voice. Sometimes Curie and Bronte didn’t even appear to like each other. Perhaps they were forced together at a young age and stayed close through familiarity and nothing else.
I curled up on the sofa with Mum after exhausting the search. She was wearing her red tartan pyjama bottoms which were the same as my blue ones, a gift from Auntie Kate who had the green ones. We watched re-runs of our favourite TV comedy and I refrained from asking Mum to put the local news on. I’d decided I was being stupid and ridiculous and I wouldn’t think about the flowers again.
Well, not until the drive to school tomorrow morning.