short story: carnations for mother

Carnations for Mother: A Short Story

The moment I was born, the world turned white. At least that’s how my mother likes to tell it. When I was little, I thought it was fairies, or unicorns, or other manner of mythological creatures who brought me to this earth. But then I grew up, and realised that it was just lightning, striking a tree and killing a man who walked by. 

If you asked my mother – and even if you didn’t, she would tell you – the lightning was a sign of good fortune, of an unbeatable spirit. I believed her, of course. Though it turned out that I had neither good fortune nor an unbeatable spirit. And by the time I turned twenty-five, she changed the way she told her tale. The man who died made an appearance, the tree that fell, and the story was always told with a shrug at the end, as if to signify that one should make their own conclusions on what that says about me. 

I truly believed it said a lot about me, and even my therapist – who my mother mercilessly made fun of every Sunday at dinner – couldn’t convince me otherwise. I was broken, there was something wrong with me, I was sure of it. My therapist thought I should stop seeing my mother for a while. My mother thought I should stop seeing my therapist forever. 

“They always blame the parents, always blame the mother,” she’d say, wine sloshing over the rim of her glass. “A bunch of mumbo-jumbo if you ask me. You came out that way. Did I ever tell you the story?” 

So I cancelled my next appointment, and all the others soon after. 

My mother wanted a remarkable daughter. She came from a long line of astonishing women. War heroines, painters, suffragettes, journalists, she would list frequently. My mother herself was a doctor, a famous one at that, and she had more diplomas on her wall than pictures of me. It followed that I should do something equally great, if not better. 

She enrolled me into every class she could think of, from the moment I could reasonably be taught (and left with strangers), to when I was eighteen, when I left for college. From sports to music, languages and art, she tried it all. But I was always just average at everything I did, and it wasn’t good enough. She wanted to find something I was great at, something I was best at. It never happened. 

My mother was cursed with a completely unremarkable daughter. It aged her considerably, as she often complained. “This here, this is your wrinkle,” she said, stretching her skin until it was white, unblemished. 

The day I opened my flower shop, she says she got her first grey hair. She came by, just to show it to me. 

The flowers and plants were always a beloved secret of mine. Mother worked a lot, so I was alone when I wasn’t at my lessons. We had a gardener, Mrs. Havisham, who at the time was already nearing retirement. But she was kind, warm in a way my mother wasn’t, and she never expected anything. 

I joined her in the garden every day, and she showed me how to tend to the plants, how to grow them, help them thrive. It was a pleasure, watching flowers bloom, ripe tomatoes weigh on the thin branches, just because I cared for them. Only in that garden did I ever feel like what I did was worth it. Only in that garden, the world made sense. 

My mother discovered it, of course. I thought she’d be angry, but she wasn’t. Instead, she devised plans, found more lessons. I’d be a biologist, a scientist – that was my destiny. For a while, she was happy. After all, I did get into the best university. But as time went on, she seemed to realize that my interest in plants didn’t go beyond getting dirt under my fingernails. 

“Whoever changed the world with flowers?” she asked. I couldn’t answer, because I knew that no one did. But I also knew that I never wanted to change the world, just live in it, just exist. 

After that, she started blaming my father, or at least his unremarkable ancestry. I never met him, naturally, as she disposed of him as soon as she got pregnant. That’s what she’d say. When I was a child, I imagined her throwing him in a large rubbish bin like a deflated box of milk. In my teenage years, I thought she murdered him. Both seemed equally likely, and my mother did like her grand stories. 

It was only in my twenties that I realized that he’s probably alive, just free. He was so eager to escape that he didn’t bother to wait for me. If he even knew I existed. My therapist said that I should try to find him, get some closure. 

But I didn’t want to bring my mother back into his life, and besides, I didn’t care that much. I didn’t miss having a father. I never had one, so what was there to miss?

Other than my mother, I didn’t have any family. The long line of extraordinary women was gone, even my grandmother whom I only met once before she died. 

It was just me and my mother, my entire life. 

So it was quite the change when she died. It’s a story, just like everything in my mother’s life was, though I’m not sure she’d like this one. 

This is how it went – my mother was alone at home, and she was going down the stairs. She was tipsy, as she usually was, and then the lightning struck. She got so scared that she tripped over a beautifully arranged vase of carnations and fell down, all the way to the bottom of her beloved staircase. Her neck broke, and she bled heavily, seeping into the expensive white rug, glass of red spilling elsewhere. 

At least that’s how I like to tell the story. 

Author’s Note

Carnations for Mother is a short story that I wrote while working on a different project. It came out of me in one go, and I kind of liked it. The style (and genre) is completely different from what I normally write, and so it’s experimental in a way. Check out my other stories and articles or follow me on Pinterest.

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