Having been without internet for most of last year, this is first chance I’ve had to submit to Friday Frights for some time. This month’s topic of Psychological Horror intrigues me. This is a two-part story. Part 2 next week.
Word count part 1 – 2300
The Delicate Fragrance of Violets.
By Robert A. Read
Who am I? What have I become? If only I could remember.
Memories are so important when we have nothing else. And yet, my memories seem nothing more than ghostly apparitions that haunt me through the moonlit hours before fading away like damp mist with the rising sun. Has it always been this way? How often have I been on the point of remembering something, but then it fails to come? Taste and smell tantalize. The scent of a hedgerow plant beckons me toward a garden that I cannot quite visualize, the taste of an apple or plum transports me to a small orchard where discarded fruits lie hidden in long grass. Sounds tease me; the faint cry of a baby, the far off bark of a dog, or the distant laughter of children at play and I could be lying on a grassy knoll, beneath a clear, blue afternoon sky. But are these memories or just my imagination?
Those sounds of children—today, I hear them against the background murmur of city traffic—remind me I was once in love. I was ten years of age, or was it five? With the passage of time, those years lost their significance. I try to remember from where I knew her, but the memory is vague. I think it must have been from school, but I cannot be certain.
Half a mile from the small village in which I grew up, stands a small coppice of trees. Deciduous leaved branches of beech, ash and elm intertwine with the evergreens of laurel and yew. I close my eyes and, in my mind, touch again the cool, green, moss-covered bark. I loved to walk alone among those trees, safe, protected.
A Sunday in May. Shafts of golden light, like arrows, pierced the foliage to strike the carpet of the previous year’s fallen leaves, through which, the first shoots of new grass thrust tiny blades, like green needles. Among the fresh, new growth rose many delicate, trumpet-shaped, purple flowers, so petite, so fragile, a kitten could crush them beneath its paws.
I see her now as I close my eyes, sitting cross-legged on the floral carpet, with her back towards the smooth trunk of a massive beech. Her hair shimmered, falling around her shoulders, like water dancing over pebbles in a stream. One by one, she plucked the tiny, mauve flowers, weaving and plaiting them lovingly into long strings which she draped over her knees.
Hidden in the shadows cast by a clump of glossy, large-leaved laurel bushes, I watched for many minutes, making no sound, hardly daring to breathe. My eye, my heart, my sanity she snatched and held captive in those minutes, with her demure, angelic beauty.
Perhaps I moved. She looked up. Her eyes opened wide in a stare like a rabbit caught in the headlights from a car. Scrambling to her feet, the chains of flowers slithered to the ground. Her hands fumbled for the hem of her blue frock, tugging at the fabric and pulling it down to cover her knees before brushing at minute twigs and leaf-mould.
Stepping out from the shade, I moved toward her.
“Please don’t step on the flowers.” Her voice was high-pitched, trembling, anxious.
As if about to tread, barefooted, on broken glass, I froze. “Sorry,” I muttered. Then slowly placing the balls of my feet between the fragile blooms, I moved closer. As I did so, she took several steps backward until her back was against the trunk of the tree. At the sudden jolt arresting her momentum, one hand shot to her mouth, as if to stifle a scream.
I too paused. Stooping, I retrieved several chains of flowers from where they had fallen. The perfume drifted upward around my bowed head, as delicate as the blooms themselves. Closing my eyes, I inhaled a slow deep breath to appreciate the tantalizing allure. The scent of those flowers comes to me, even now, as I lay here in darkness.
Extending the hand that held the chains toward her, I said, “Don’t these flowers have a wonderful smell?”
“Yes. They’re violets.” Although not taking them from me the pitch of her voice dropped by several semitones.
“I think they would look even lovelier if you wore them round your neck or in your hair.” A small shake of my hand I intended for her to realize I wanted her to take them from me.
In silence, we held eye contact for several moments before she took two small steps toward me. “That’s why I’m making them into chains,” she said, “cos my name too is Violet, and tomorrow is my birthday.” She took the flowers from me.
“Oh! I didn’t know. I wish I had. I would have brought you a present.” A lack of money made such an act impossible at that time, but it felt the right thing to say.
“That’s all right. How could you know?” The smile on her face as she said those words remains with me even as all other memories fade into dark forgetfulness.
“Can I help you to pick more? There must be hundreds around here.” I indicated with my hand to the ground around us.
We knelt side by side, picking the tiny mauve flowers. I did most of the picking, while she wove them into the chains. Embarrassment at being in such close company to a girl tied my tongue in knots, creating an uncomfortable silence between us. Several times we both began speaking at once causing more embarrassment as we each insisted the other speak first. Many times I caught her looking at me with furtive glances from her grey eyes. She looked away the moment our eyes met.
The sun sinking almost to the horizon reminded me of the unusually rapid passing of time. Mother served the meal promptly at 6:00 every evening. The position of the sun showed that I would be more than an hour late. Trouble awaited if past experience had taught me anything.
“I didn’t realize the time has passed so quickly,” I said struggling to my feet. My legs felt stiff from where the moist soil had left cold, damp patches on my knees. “I must get home straight away or I shall be late for dinner.”
She sighed. “Okay. Thank you.” The words seemed to be spoken with such sadness as if she mourned the death of a cherished pet.
With an uncomfortable feeling in my chest as my heart jumped and fluttered, I asked, “Don’t you have to be home yet, too?”
“I don’t have far to go. I’ll be all right for a while longer.”
“Well, if you’re sure.” I still felt awkward at leaving her. “Bye then.”
* * *
With parents, I shared a difficult relationship. Frequent punishment for the smallest misdemeanour led to me spending many hours, often the entire night, locked in the cellar. The rattle from the iron bolt on the outside of the door, as it closed is another memory that will never leave. A switch on the wall of the kitchen outside this door operated a single, dim electric light bulb set in the ceiling of the cellar, and always turned off the moment I was inside. Many nights I spent, whimpering and shivering with pain and cold, in the terrifying darkness.
That evening, my late return resulted in a night incarcerated without food or drink. After the heavy wooden door closed with its solid thud, and the grating of the bolt sliding metal against metal into its recess, I groped about in darkness for the damp mattress in the corner. Still fully dressed, I lay down, curling myself against the wall while trying not to breathe the pungent, dank odour. That night I did not cry. That night I dreamed of Violet. In my imagination, she shared the stinking mattress with me. As we huddled together for warmth, the scent of violets in her hair comforted me. I regretted not having waited a little longer so we could walk back to the village together. My punishment would have been no different. As it was, I had no knowledge of where she lived, or even of her family name. I wished I had been given the foresight to arrange another rendezvous with her.
The following Sunday afternoon, again, drew me to the location of our first meeting. Of the violets, there remained nothing more than a few straggling survivors. They only bloom for about ten days in spring. Of my Violet, there also was no sign.
At the edge of the coppice, a barrow mound rises forty or fifty feet above the ground, the top of which makes a vantage point to oversee, in the distance, the first houses of the village. Around eighty feet in diameter, they were tombs for the leaders of the ancient Celtic tribes that inhabited the chalk plains of Southern England three millennium ago.
Too young to have any fear of tombs or the bones interred within, I began to climb in the hope I might see Violet heading towards me. Mid-afternoon sunshine glared like a search-light from a clear sky into my face. With my eyes watering from the brightness, I climbed almost blind.
Before reaching the summit, a child’s voice hushed me into motionless silence. I closed my eyes to clear the blindness. My sight returned, bringing her into focus. Kneeling beside a small bush of yellow flowering gorse, she pointed to a spot ten paces in front of her, where four young rabbits chased each other among the tussocks of grass. We watched their antics in silence until, at the shriek of a buzzard circling in the sky overhead, they fled into holes in the side of the hill.
My memories after this point become more vague. We talked of many things, although topics remain vague. Time flashed by, with hours seeming to last no more than minutes. Violet gave no indication that she was expected to be home at a certain time. With the sun setting, she laughed when I voiced my concern that she should be out so long. I bade her goodbye knowing that the sky would be almost dark by the time I got to the front door of my home.
My punishment, that night, included a severe beating from my father’s buckled, leather belt before I was locked in the cellar. In agony, I cowered on the damp mattress until Violet came to me, soothing my injuries with her violet scented fingers. I would not let her see, but I think she knew I had been crying. She kissed me until I fell into uneasy sleep.
We played out the same scenario many times through that long hot summer. Although we made no definite plans to meet from one week to the next, at certain times I was drawn to the coppice of trees and the barrow mound. Violet was always there before me, and always stayed when I had to leave. I bore my punishments with dignity, even looking forward to them, knowing that she would come to my bed to comfort me.
Knowledge of my relationship with Violet remained with me alone. If I ever showed signs of happiness, smiled or laughed with enjoyment, I suffered beatings far more painful than if I wore a sombre mask of enmity. As an only child, I bore the blame for any untoward occurrence in the home, from a broken cup to my father losing his job, or my difficult and painful birth causing mother’s continual state of depressed anxiety.
And then I became ill!
Of the cause or the manner of my illness, or the events leading up to it, I have no memory. Neither can I remember how long it lasted. Perhaps it was a month, perhaps a year or two, or even a decade. The time merges into one brief instant that lasts for an eternity. One moment I recollect my life of near normality, with school, home, the punishments and yet the joy of being with Violet. The next, I woke in hospital; they told me it was a hospital.
My psyche seemed to hover in a shroud of mist or smoke outside of my body where I could only dimly perceive the events taking place. Apparitions, ghost-like images, of men and women dressed in white coats while moving in never ending procession around my bed, drifted like bubbles in and out my consciousness. I remember low, mumbling voices making sounds that had no meaning. Had they a language of their own that was alien to my ears, talking amongst themselves, as if I did not exist? These memories are even less substantial, those brief, surreal recollections one retains after waking from a dream.
After some length of time unmeasurable to my awareness, the memories did become more real. None of the hospital staff were friendly towards me. They treated me with contempt as if I were a prisoner rather than a patient. I had no visitors. That my parents stayed away did not surprise me, but I yearned for news of Violet. I spent entire days watching for her to walk through the door. She never did and I could not understand why. We had been so close.
Intense moments of melancholic loneliness drove me to contemplate suicide, by jumping from a window. My room was situated several stories above a concrete plaza. I remember two nurses clinging to me, as I attempted to force open the glass panels.
Eventually, a day came when the doctors told me I was well enough to leave. The thought of returning home filled me with dread. I said as much to the one who gave me the news. He told me not to be concerned as I would be convalescing in a rehabilitation hostel.