On Speaking Terms
“Not that flower.”
“OK… well then what about this one?”
James was being stubborn.
“And these petals? They don’t sing to you?”
Flowers ‘don’t sing’, thought James, but instead he answered Felecia with a grunt.
“Look here, in the centre of this thing, it has a pattern like a butterfly wing. Isn’t that unique?”
Another grunt. He thought something derisive, that he was reluctant to share, but then he said it anyways.
“I don’t like butterflies.”
“Jesus. Why did you even come outside with me?”
“Because I was following your lead.”
Felecia looked him in the eyes, and with a nod of her head, she expressively asked him to take her — in his direction. James took this as an opportunity to speed up. Before that, he had spent the entire hike dragging his feet. He was attempting to give off the impression that ‘he didn’t want to be here’.
He didn’t want to have to say it to her though.
James didn’t like nature, because people expected him to ‘not like nature’. The ordeal he had to go through each time, tended to prevent him from enjoying it. Based on this incorrect evaluation, James had undergone hundreds of accumulative hours — ‘being convinced’ — to like nature.
Friends and family would repetitively jump around & at him like an internet pop up ad: constantly changing pace & direction, yet the motivation always appeared one-dimensional.
They would try to communicate to him every little-loud and excruciating detail. But the only thing James liked about nature ‘the most nature like thing’ he thought — was quiet. And all quiet was — was one large silent statement — it’s only detail being: shapelessness.
Now, perhaps he could communicate — wordlessly — the merits of nature from his perspective.
Felecia followed James’s path and attempted conversation throughout. James gave his usual monosyllabic responses. He feigned focus and concentration until eventually she gave up and they were both silent, serene and single-task-orientated. He hoped nature’s sublime message was now being transmitted properly: discreetly.
Half an hour later, they had arrived. They stopped and let out a few quiet pants. The heavy sweat drenching both their clothes served as a trophy for all their climbing and fast pace. Not missing a beat, James grabbed the 2 litre water bottle from the side of his backpack. He greedily glugged most of it down , wiped his mouth, and handed the remaining contents to his fiancée. ‘Wow thanks’ she thought caustically.
She didn’t dare speak though, because she was waiting for him to initiate. She drank the water to occupy her mouth, because otherwise — she might just be tempted. Meanwhile, James was staring at her intently. She frowned her face, as if to say, “What?” He pointed at an object behind her in reply. She turned around, and then looked back at him. Again, she attempted to bend her face as if to replicate speech,“I don’t see anything.” James raised his eyebrows, challenging her to look more carefully. After a while, he gave up — and broke the silence.
“What about it?”
“You wanted to know what I like. I like the aloe. The small one over there, with the red bit coming out.”
“Why do you like the aloe so much”
“I don’t like it ‘sooo much’, I just like it, it’s one of those things that I ‘just like’. ”
“OK, but why do you think these things are better than traditional flowers?”
“I don’t think they are ‘better than traditional flowers’. What are ‘traditional flowers’ anyways?”
“Well traditional flowers are what everybody else likes.”
“Oh. Well. I just don’t think…”
James scratched his head. This particular thought had been sitting underneath the surface of his subconscious for a long time. Because he had never spoken it to anybody nor challenged it himself with any other notion or idea, it was hard to access. It’s ambiguity(and the cobwebs forming on it) made it difficult for him to articulate. He spent the next few minutes dusting off old ideas, as if they were books — never opened. He started and stopped a couple times, balancing out what he was thinking with how he would say it. Finally, he found the correct road through to his destination — and then without hesitation he raced into it, ripping off all of the sticky cobwebs — but also taking passenger thoughts with him, things he hadn’t necessarily intended to say, the past few times he had thought about bringing it up.
“It’s not the same thing, for everyone, nothing is ever the same thing for everyone, but beauty especially, and I have no problem with everybody having a different taste, and I have no problem with people thinking certain things are beautiful when I or others don’t , what I dislike however, what I dislike very much, is when people decide that there is a ‘traditional’ idea of beauty or kind of beauty, which is nonsense, and then force it on others and condescend if they don’t subscribe to it. I don’t mind flowers, I do appreciate their petals and their centers and their symmetry , but just because I don’t worship them or revel in them, doesn’t mean that I don’t like plants, or beautiful things, and I get uncomfortable then when I am made to feel guilty for something that I like, especially when I have to justify it , because it’s like I have to say: ‘ my departure from what is normally beautiful is justified because of…’, or when I constantly have to state my awe, and that I think something is beautiful , which kind of steals away the opportunity for me or anybody else, to just appreciate something for what it is, without having to scream it at the top of ones lungs.”
James struggled to listen to his wife’s failing lungs. He could hear them perfectly, it just punished his senses. It was all ‘fine’ months ago, when it was just a cough or two. Even the few times when blood started coming out, he still managed to keep his wits about him, despite being slightly afraid . Only when he was officially told the verdict by doctors; that every little tic ever mutter — once innocuous or ‘not such a big deal’ — transformed in front of his eyes to symbolize only, ‘impending death’.
Now, instead of being hopeful, or putting everything under the carpet, as he had done right up until the first hospital visit, James looked at his wife — every movement and sound she made — in an exaggeratedly haggard way.
“I brought you flowers.”
James imitated his best smile. Unfortunately the rest of his face had forgotten that it was still wearing a frown.
“Well, actually, it’s a few aloes, the kind we had at our wedding.”
James assumed his wife was awake. She had her eyes open, and was looking at him(or in his direction). But now it appeared that she wasn’t really conscious. A few minutes later the nurse came in, and noticing James’s dilemma she stated:
“Sorry dear, she is well under, on a lot of pain stuff today you see. I really don’t think you are going to get a word in there. Let her sleep some, and come back tomorrow OK?”
“I wont talk to her anymore, but is it alright if I stay?”
“I think you should leave her be. Just come back tomorrow”
“I brought you flowers…,”
“I know you can’t hear me right now…,”
“And I know that maybe you don’t want to hear this, maybe you just want to rest at at this moment…,”
“But I feel like I need to say it.”
“ I know I didn’t speak much in our past, I mean, I’ve always known that I didn’t speak much…,”
“But ever since your throat gave out, I’ve had to do most of the talking between us, all the talking, and I have realized just how painful that is, not hearing responses.”
“I think back to all the times you dragged me places, all the times you tried to get me out of my skin or to get me to talk, I know that feeling now, I know that feeling too well, and I would do anything under the sun to hear you speak.”
“But it’s OK that you don’t, it’s OK because you’ve given me everything I ever wanted and never asked for, you went above and beyond what I expected of you or deserved. All that stuff I said about aloes, it was only half true, because mostly I just wanted an excuse to be able to not find things beautiful, to not find life beautiful — love beautiful, I was afraid of openly cherishing things — I didn’t cherish you enough, I know that now. I didn’t tell you, that you were the most beautiful thing in the world to me — enough. If I could kiss you right now, I would, but hopefully this flower counts as a second best prize. It’s a real flower, the interesting kind with the butterfly pattern, the one you pointed out to me that one day on our hike, the kind you wanted to have at our wedding, instead of my weird aloes. I still can’t believe you let me do that.”
And with those words, James put the single flower (with the butterfly pattern on it), by his wife’s grave, and walked away.
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