creative non-fiction remembrance

Planting Lilies

Heartbreak can bloom, just like lilies. Read Samantha Blaney's short story, budding with hope of a different kind.

By Samantha Blaney

All parts of me are bruised, but I can’t feel a thing. I look for you at the end of corridors, but you’re never there.

I’ve phoned in sick for work again, using an excuse other than heartbreak, for fear of being seen as pathetic, or weak, or like a teenager. I’ve been surviving on cups of tea made by Mum and sympathetic glances from the rest of my family. The looks make it hurt more. I can see my reflection in my dad’s eyes and I’m a swollen blotch of grief. I stop washing my hair. I stop eating – unless it’s put directly in front of me, cooked with a love that I struggle to see. I stay away from the city, where all maps lead to you. I see our ghosts and our lasts on street corners and I almost don’t recognise myself standing on tiptoes to kiss you. I want to get a grip, firmly shake myself with two hands, lift myself up, but the loss of you weighs heavy on my chest, and breathing doesn’t feel like something that my body performs subconsciously anymore. I’ve held my breath since I’ve left our flat, and I’ve been waiting to exhale ever since.

Adele has, all too timely, released her saddest song to date, and I wish I could bundle my pain into some art. I click the radio off each time the song comes on. I can’t make anything. I try to write a song on my uke but my voice has changed and it no longer blends with the sweet noise that the strings make when plucked. It’s too heavy, I am too heavy and yet I become lighter. Ribs show where they once were hidden behind flesh. Parts of me begin to show that I didn’t even know existed. I’m a jigsaw puzzle that no one, not even myself, can work out how to put together.

One morning when everyone else has gone to work and I am in bed bathing in my sorrow Mum comes into my room and tells me to get dressed and come to the garden. I dress myself in dirty clothes that carpet my bedroom floor and walk downstairs. The kitchen door is open and the chill from the spring air creeps over my bare feet. The sun is bright. I walk to the border of the inside and outside and I use my hand as a visor to shield my eyes from the light. Mum? I’m down here, she says. I’m not wearing shoes, so I find a pair of wellie boots by the door and slide my bare feet into them, the bottom of them crusted in dry muck, leftover by the last wearer. I fold my arms, not ready to face the world yet, and descend the steps to the garden. Mum is on her knees by two large terracotta plant pots, bulbs spread around the ground, a small trowel in her hand. She looks over to me. Good morning, she says. It’s a small greeting, but what she really means is, I see you, and your pain, and I can’t make it better, although I truly wish I could. Morning, I reply. Which really means, I know you would. I thought you could help me plant some lilies, she says.

And so, we get to planting.

“The lilies turned out to be a triumph. Orange and red trumpets proclaiming their beauty.

Not shy of their bloom.

They bloom regularly, as do I.”

I dip my hand in compost, my nails become stuffed with dirt. I don’t try to wipe it off. We work in near silence. I hear blackbirds and starlings in the trees, and the wind slipping her fingers through the branches. We ensure that there’s enough drainage in the pots and when we are satisfied that there is, we place the bulbs in the earth. They are bald and stringy, like garlic left too long. It’s hard to imagine they could be anything else, could become anything else, but Mum assures me that they will, that nothing stays the same for long, even pain.

We leave the pot to my Mother (nature). There are hours of care I don’t see. The excitement as they start to burst to life, becoming tiny islands in the soil. The extra watering on the too-hot days in summer. The potassium fertiliser gulped down by the greedy plants, so keen to reach their full potential. I shouldn’t be surprised by her actions, she did the same for me all my life.

I don’t know it now, but the truth is, that I never love again. Not in a romantic way. I find joy and love in other people and in other moments in my life, but I never fall in love again. Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve swam in the ocean with my whole family, the waves lifting us up and the salt scrubbing us raw, our laughter so loud it can be heard on other continents. I have learned how to say ‘I love you’ to my parents without a wobble in my voice, confident of my words, confident of myself. I’ve watched children be born into our clan and I’ve held their tiny hands and felt love for them, and admiration for the Mother who birthed them. I’ve read my niece bedtime stories, and drank cups of tea my sister has made, which always taste sweeter than when I make tea myself. I’ve looked out at the world from mountains and felt love for this, our earth. I’ve read poetry aloud on rainy afternoons. I’ve watched opera and spectacle with awe and what I like to think is splendour. I’ve looked for you in all these places, you weren’t there, not in the clouds, not a face on a passing train, not in the tuning of the orchestra. One day I caught sight of this woman in a shop window, she was walking towards me, and I started to wave when I realised this woman, this woman that I recognised just enough to wave at, was me. It took me a long time to love myself again, but when I finally did it was like welcoming a long-lost family member none of us new existed. So, no. I never fall in love romantically again, but I fall in love with many, many other moments, and this was one of them.

The lilies turned out to be a triumph. Orange and red trumpets proclaiming their beauty.

Not shy of their bloom.

They bloom regularly, as do I.

 


Samantha Blaney | Instagram: @SammyBlaney

Samantha Blaney is a Scot in London who, when not dropping her r’s in a bid to be understood, can be found practising yoga and writing her first novel.

3 comments on “Planting Lilies

  1. Ali Mechan

    Wow Samantha… I’m so proud of you! You must have had a fabulously inspirational P7 teacher 😝
    Seriously though, this is a beautifully written piece, written with feeling, and will touch many people’s hearts.
    Keep being creative Sam 💚

    Like

  2. ❤️❤️❤️

    Like

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