As You Were

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Vultures, the lot of em! Yesterday morning you woke in this cesspit, by teatime I was kissing you goodbye in a stale, sterile hospital ward. You’d already gone by the time I was called for.

Here we are now, tasked with erasing your existence. They’re rooting through whats left of your life, searching for scraps that they may have missed. They think I don’t know they came here last night to feast. They’re good, I’ll give them that. Oscars all round for this lot.

I enter your bedroom, and sit on the bed you haven’t slept in for over twenty years. I look around. I feel numb, empty.  All our memories are at the old place. The smell of Nan’s cooking, the fresh, cold air clinging to us as we returned from our walks, your beer breath, none of that is here, well maybe the beer breath still is. I can here them in the next room, devouring the carrion of your life. Rage builds inside me, then, through tear blurred eyes I see it, the only treasure in this place, our book. I pick it up and the numbness is replaced by a million memories as I turn the pages. Like the time you introduced me to archaeology, you taught me how to locate Victorian rubbish dumps on old maps. You took me on a dig and I found an old clay pipe. Then there was the time you encouraged me to enter a writing competition and I remember your pride when I won. I flick through the pages and each page has a different memory. I land on page two, two one and suddenly I am reliving the day we found the Stinking Iris.

Don’t leave this house without your coat” Nan shouted from the kitchen. I protested, the sun was beating down outside but she wouldn’t relent, “ne’er cast a clout till May goes out,” she sang in her soft Geordie accent. We left the house with the smell of roasting lamb teasing our nostrils. You checked your pockets, inhaler, tissues, and our book. We headed off on our regular Sunday walk.

The walk to the woods passed quickly, but the heat was relentless. I looked at you and you smiled your approval. I tied my coat round my waist and we climbed the stile and entered the woods. It was always like stepping into another world. The dusty path was lined with Bluebells. Clusters of Forget-Me-Nots and Red Campion mingled with the Hawthorne. Butterflies travelled alongside us, it was as if they loved your company as much as I did. Puddles of yesterday’s rain explained the fresh smells. You were starting to tire and looked for somewhere to rest. The suns rays did battle with the treetops and was victorious when we came to a clearing. Warmth settled on my bare arms once more. The dusty path was replaced with rich green grass and huddles of Primroses. In the midst of the Primroses one flower stood out. Basked in its own sunbeam it commanded our attention. I hurried over and you forgot your weariness. The luxurious purple petals and rich green, sword-like leaves struck me. Its oddness among the primroses intrigued me. I stooped to pluck it, “No!” you startled me. In my state of awe I had forgotten the Golden Rule – never, ever remove a single specimen.

Out came our book and you handed it over. The knowledge you had already shared with me enabled me to pick out a suspect. At first glance I thought I was in the wrong place, the picture showed a yellow flower. You encouraged me to read on. I chuckled and you knew I’d found what I was looking for, Stinking Iris. Confusion crept over my face, how could something so beautiful stink? You explained, “It only stinks if its attacked, if its damaged”. My lesson over, you returned the book to your pocket. It was time to go home. Subconsciously I stored the events of the day away in the depths of my memory, never to be retrieved till now.

I leafed through the book again and fresh tears sprung as I saw your inscription, ‘To Michelle, from Grandad Ken’, such simple words so heavy with emotion. I smiled at our memories and cried for my loss. Then I realised why the memory of the Stinking Iris was so important. Proud to be different, alone but never lonely, it was so obvious. Beautiful, and yes, even stinky, especially when under attack. The Stinking Iris was you.

It had been two years since I had last seen you, thirty since our encounter with the Iris, but neither had gone anywhere. You were still in those woods basked in your sunbeam. As you were you would always be.

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