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May 26th, 2019
Lucilius watched as his steps disappeared in the sand of a strange and foreign shore. Water rushed up the slope of sand in gentle sheets brimming edges of white bubbles. He walked along, looking out at the copper horizon, a sun of hot iron warping in the low sky. He pushed his satchel back further behind him as he strode from the water’s reach. He was an old man now, and as he reflected on the ever-fresh light of a dying sunset, he noticed a girl sitting in the distance, her face in her hands, the bent arc of her back trembling.
Lucilius walked up to the girl and looked the way of the sunset. “I suppose it must be death, heartbreak, or you’re just a sucker for sunsets.”
The girl looked up at him, confused, her face streaked with tear. Lucilius’ smile faded looking at the girl.
“heartbreak, isn’t it?” he said.
The girl nodded, her face further clouded with suspicion and the welcome relief of company. Lucilius slowly took a knee on his old bones and then sat down.
“fresh?” Lucilius asked.
“A week ago,” the girl murmured as she sniffed and wiped her face.
“A week?” Lucilius questioned.
The girl’s eyes welled up once more. “It’s just become so mean.” She looked away, her face distorting to hold back against the push of feeling.
Lucilius nodded. “Strange how we become so quick to poison the memory others have of us.”
The thought calmed the girl and she looked at Lucilius.
“Who are you?”
“Oh, just an old man, no one anymore, at least not to anyone I’ve known.”
A corner of the girl’s mouth pulled down at his response. She sniffled again, watching him look out at the sunset.
“Tell me a story,” she said.
Lucilius glanced at her.
“Hmm. A story.” He looked at her again, judging her face a moment. “When I was about your age, I found myself in love, but it didn’t work out. She took to a friend, my very best at the time, and the whole of it left me so bitter, I just took off without knowing any direction, not caring, just going. I walked out of my home town and into the country, and when night gathered, a storm came with it. I was soaking wet by the time I came across a big barn, and by that time I was so tired out from my own hurt and bitterness, I broke my way into the barn and fell asleep away from the storm.
The next morning, I woke up with a cup of coffee sitting in front of my face. I sat up and there was an old woman standing at a table. The barn had no animals, it was a studio, filled with paintings of flowers and from the ceiling hung thousands of dried flowers.
The old woman noticed me when I woke and called me over. ‘come here boy,’ she said. I was somewhat dazed, the memory of how bitter I was still hadn’t hit me and I took my coffee and went to the old woman.
She had more flowers arranged on the table with a big book open. She handed me two slabs of wood that were bolted at the corners and told me to undo them. Said she could get them tight, but said it hurt to get them loose herself.
So I loosened the bolts for the old woman and she took the wooden slabs apart and between them a flower had been pressed into paper, it was flat as the paper but as bright as if it had never been picked. She took it with a smile and fitted it into her book.
I ended up staying with the old woman a month, helping her with her flowers. She’d had a husband who did the paintings but he was passed by the time I found my way into the barn. She never asked me any questions, just told me what to do, and each day we sat down and worked together, pressing flowers. She knew the names of all of them, had a whole library filled with them, and then one day when we’d been working with the flowers for weeks, I asked her why.
‘Out there,’ she said, nodding to the open door of the barn ‘they rot and, turn ugly, make food for other things.’ Then she glanced up at the ceiling of the barn where all the dried flowers hung. ‘Up there they stay, but they lose all their color.’ Then as she gently pressed a fresh flower with her wooden slabs, she said ‘but in here, they stay bright forever.
It takes work – a little work, but it’s worth it to hold on to the colors a little longer, so they can be appreciated days down the line, as though they’d just opened up. Flowers are like memories in that way. They’ll rot if you’re not careful.”
Lucilius pulled his satchel from behind him and unlatched the flap, and took from inside it a small old book. He handed it to the girl and she took it with curious hands.
Lucilius slowly raised himself to his feet. He looked down at the girl. “I think that ought be yours now,” and with that he nodded at the girl and then continued on his way.
The girl opened the book and it was filled with flowers, still vibrant and sharp. She carefully turned the pages. And eventually she found, inside the back cover, in the old woman’s fine penmanship:
If I were to be drawn into a battle I lose, by friend or lover or foe; none,
not even my greatest enemy nor greatest love could spoil the memories I have of defeat.
donating = loving
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