A Portrait of Asphodels
She walked through the door; the air was cold. But something about it felt familiar. Almost like home. She hadn’t been in that room in years, but nothing had changed. Why would it have, nothing changed there. The small bed was still in the corner, neat tidy white flowers all in a
row on the pillowcase; the six petals created a sort of star. They had been her mother’s favorite, she thought. Sheer curtains covered the windows, light bursting through the fabric. The closet door was a dark gray, almost black. The room was as bare as it always was, but as she crossed the room a sliver of red caught her eye. It was sticking out of one of her dresser drawers, one of her old scarfs. She walked over and touched the soft knit. As she pulled the scarf, a folded piece of paper tumbled out.
She picked up the paper, and delicately unfolded it. The drawing was familiar, one she had done for somebody, his portrait she guessed. But there was something off about it. The image felt like he was watching her. Studying her. She let the paper fall from her hands. It drifted in the air, lazily, oddly. Paper didn’t do that. Or maybe it did? She wasn’t sure anymore. Nothing was certain now. Now that she was there.
The drawing landed softly in a stream of light, and the image vanished. No small amount of panic rose within her. She studied where the image had once been, when the door slammed shut behind her. She spun around expecting to see somebody. She knew who she expected of course, but she couldn’t put a face to it. To him. Nobody stood there, of course. She knew in her heart she was alone. She was safe, but the shadow of somebody’s presence remained even still.
Another folded paper shot out from beneath the bed. She carefully stepped around the first drawing, not wanting to take her eyes from it for fear that the image would return. But
something deep within her needed to know what it was. She knelt beside the bed and picked up the folded paper. It was another drawing, but this time of the flower, her mother’s favorite. The drawing detailed the plant, a long stem growing up and then bursting with small white flowers. The white was only interrupted by a thin line of red down the middle of each petal. Her mother had always said that the line down the middle was the blood of gods. But she never understood that. Why would there be blood in flowers? What was the flower called? She wasn’t sure, but she felt that she should know.
She studied the picture for a while. It reminded her of warmth, the sweet smells of lavender in the summer, the hours cutting down the plants to dry the flowers, and then the careful tiptoeing around the drying stems to keep the seeds from all falling to the ground. She stood up, pacing around the room staring at the drawing. Placing it next to the scarf, she studied the room once more and found another paper poking out from under the bed.
Walking back to the bed she bent over to pick up the paper, but something reached out from under the bed, grabbing her wrist. She tried to break free, her heart pounding in her chest, but it was no use. The hand pulled her under the bed and everything went black.
She pushed open the door. The building was dark, but she recognized it as her school.
The walls were lined with lockers, flyers sticking out from some of them. She walked through the hallway, hearing only her own footsteps. The hallway was long, she wasn’t sure where she was going. To either side of her stood doors, one dark gray, nearly black, the other a natural wood grain. She felt a pull from within to go to the gray door. She stepped towards it and rested her hand on the handle. A flyer was pushed out from under the door. She saw a couple of teenagers dancing on the page, with the words “Too soon to do this?” written across the top.
Recognition flashed within her. She felt that she knew who the boy was and the anxiety he caused in her. Her mind raced, thoughts of him flowing. Images of him, of them. She let the flyer drift to the ground and, with that, the panic began to subside. Gripping the door handle, she tried to push the door open, but it wouldn’t budge.
She turned back to the wooden door. Light was coming from beneath it, but she didn’t think that it had been there before. She stepped into the room and was greeted by a bright white light. Black top tables were facing a giant whiteboard. Each of the tables had rows of beakers and jars covering the tables. An aisle ran down the middle of the room and a desk sat at the back.
Walking down the aisle, a carving on the desk stopped her. TS+BK surrounded by a heart. The carving distorted through the myriad of glass on the table. She looked at the other desks but saw no other carvings. Curious, she thought.
A book caught her eye from the desk in the back, lying there solitary and alone. She began to walk further into the room but the sharp sound of marker writing on the whiteboard caused her to stop. Her breath caught in her throat. She spun around to see what was there as the lights went out.
It was dark for only a moment before lights blinded her again. The room was different. Flowers littered the table, tiny white stars filling the beakers and jars. Spilling onto the floor. “This is for the best” was written across the board. She stepped backwards, feet crushing the small delicate flowers. She backed into the desk then turned to face it, searching for something. Her hand found itself around the book The Scarlet Letter. She wasn’t sure if she had ever read it, but she gripped it tight as she ran out the room.
The lights in the hallway flickered, illuminating lockers stuffed with the small flowers. What were they called? From far behind, she heard the metallic clang of metal on metal. She turned around to see the lockers behind her flinging themselves open, flowers pouring out. Delicate things, she thought as she looked at them. The next set of lockers in the hall flung open, and she jumped. Then, the next soon after. They were getting faster. They were coming for her. The flowers would overtake her. She had to run, she had to escape.
She sprinted down the hallways, taking turns at random, holding on to the book. Eventually the sound of the lockers subsided. She stopped running and sank to the floor in the middle of the intersection of hallways. They stretched on for what seemed like forever in every direction. She opened the book, expecting to find pages of words but they were blank. The book was blank. She turned it over in her hands, noticing for the first time that the cover was different. It was black, with the white flower in the center. Now titled Meet Me in the Back. She threw the book and began to cry. The lights flickered above her before fading into darkness, leaving her alone on the floor.
She had forgotten everything that happened that summer, that cruel summer. She stepped out of the door into the sun. White flowers populated the garden, bright white with brilliant strokes of red. Her mother had always wanted to plant those. It was a short walk, but she knew where she was going. The city seemed to form around her, buildings appearing where there was nothing moments ago. This was how it usually was here. She walked down the streets of the city; streetlights seemed to tell her which direction she needed to go. But she knew the way. She had always known.
She walked into his building and began the climb up the stairs. She had known him for most of her life, he had charmed her mother. She had almost believed that her mother would have rather kept him than her. But somehow he never made her feel like that. He had felt like home. Warmth flooded through her; she was going home. She would see him again. A tear fell from her eye. She wiped it away, why was she crying? Another fell, and then another. She was weeping. A cry rose from her throat, echoing in the stairwell.
She opened the door into the hallway and began to make her way down the hall. He would be waiting for her; he usually was. He had always seemed to know where to find her, even when they were kids. She would go running off into the field to dance in the flowers and he would find her. She would hide in the woods, and he would find her. She would have run. But he would have found her.
The gray door stood at the end of the hall, it seemed almost black in the dim hallway. She raised her hand to knock. Another tear fell from her eye. She didn’t wipe it away. Everything was tainted by him. She searched for a part of her life that he hadn’t touched. He had made his way so assuredly into her life, weaving himself in, thread by thread. She remembered the day he said he would never let go. He was too young to have said that. They were too young. But with the touch of his hand, it seemed alright. Her hand was raised into the air, poised as if to knock when he opened the door.
But it wasn’t him. He couldn’t be here.
But there he stood, the little white flowers covering his eyes.
“There you are. I’ve been waiting. We have guests coming soon, won’t you clean up?” She stepped into the apartment. It felt like a tomb. Her tomb.
“I got you something” he said, his voice sounded wrong in her ears. He didn’t speak with the right cadence. It wasn’t him. Why did her body still think it was? A certain panic arose within her.
He turned around and gently placed a small white flower behind her ear.“There, now we’re a set.”
Another tear escaped from her eyes. They were welling up. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t be here. She tried to move her feet, but they wouldn’t obey her.
He placed a hand on her arm and led her to the couch and set her down.
“Now, dear, what’s upsetting you? You can tell me anything. It’s you and me against the world. Only us.”
She tried to open her mouth, she wanted to scream. But she couldn’t make a sound. Tears began to stream down her face, her heart beat as if it were trying to escape her chest.
She stayed there, but he moved around, decorating the room with the white flowers. They reminded her of death. Little white reminders of him.
“Dear will you hold this?”
Her hands reached out and took the item, a small bowl, filled with the white flowers. She couldn’t breathe.
She wanted to scream.
The tears wouldn’t stop coming.
She sat there.
Please, she thought to herself, please let this end. Please.
A sharp rap came from the door.
“Lover, will you get that?”
She stood up and placed the bowl on the coffee table. Please. She walked to the door.
Upon opening it, she saw a meadow; small white flowers littered the ground. Without looking back, she stepped through.
The door closed behind her. She was alone, truly alone. She thought that she would have
felt happiness, but there was nothing. She sank to the ground and stretched out, looking up to the sky. It was full of stars, small, brilliant lights looking down at her. She had always wondered how many there were. She had often wondered what the stars looked like from other planets; would they be the same? A shooting star flashed across the sky. Make a wish,, she thought.
A soft breeze blew across her face, and with it came a scream. A cry of pain, muffled, stifled.
She didn’t want to think about that. She couldn’t think about that. But the sound persisted. Her breath began to catch, and the tears came back. She remembered the dress; she remembered the midnights. She remembered what she had left behind.
She hadn’t wanted to hurt him. But she hadn’t wanted what he wanted. She hadn’t wanted to be what he wanted. The flowers around her began to flow with the breeze, mimicking the scream.
They climbed around her, covering her body. They smothered her.
She didn’t want it.
The flowers covered her mouth, climbing inside. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move. She searched herself for a heartbeat, a tether to reality, but she found none.
White flower petals covered her face, so she closed her eyes. The ground sank around her, embracing her into their depths. It was cold, but it felt like home somehow.
Asphodels, she thought as the ground filled in around her. That’s what the flowers were called, her mother’s favorite.