MADE TO DECAY
by Tom O’Brien
Hugh sat on a bench in Cavendish Square Park, hearing a police siren wail along nearby Oxford St. The crumbling statue of the Duke of Cumberland that shaded him looked old, but it was a soapstone replica of the long gone original; designed and built to last a year, an artwork of an artwork. That was three years ago.
Hugh chose this bench not to be closer to the Duke but to be further from the flower he’d grown here illicitly. One autumn morning almost a year ago, he’d dug with his bare hands, scraping them on the hard ground, sweating with confusion, exertion and the fear of being caught, then planted the bulb in a spot he could see from his desk in the office tower high above.
The flower, whose strain he couldn’t identify even online, grew from her last gift to him; a bulb she squeezed into his hands, her lungs too far gone for speaking but her wet eyes willing him to understand.
Each day, before and after work, on his breaks and on weekends, he tended the soil, fussed over stray leaves, shooed curious pigeons.
Hugh believed these efforts allowed the plant to survive, to thrive. He needed the living thing to need him. It lived but didn’’t need him. The plant stayed strong in winter, even through snow. It closed in those months but the stem stood, self-contained.
The flower bloomed in spring, which he told himself was what he wanted, what he’d worked for; but the stronger and more beautiful it grew, with its blush of red petals, so like her hair, the harder it was to sit near it, ignored.
So he sat near the broken statue more often, looking up at the man they had called The Butcher. A statue made to fall apart fascinated Hugh. The Duke was missing an arm, a leg, a hand. His horse had a wide crack running along its body but it was whole.
Why did some things last when others couldn’t? All he knew was the time they’d dreamed would last forever was over.
With a cry he didn’t care who heard, he strode from the cruel Duke’s feet. He kicked the flower, his treasured flower, splashing tormenting red petals into the air, then fled the park before his misery could land.
Hugh came back the next day; as he’d known he would. Suffering knew where he lived and had been waiting for him, to keep him company through the sleepless night.
‘Locked,’ said an irritated man in a suit as Hugh approached the gate. The park was a cut through for many people who never glanced at the statues, trees or flowers. ‘You’ll need to go round,’ he continued, exasperated.
Hugh was surprised the park was locked this late in the morning, but then he reached the low wall. From there he saw blooms that covered every inch where life could grow.
His tears turned the hundreds of blossoms into thousands. A blur of red and joy. She hadn’t forgotten him. She just couldn’t be with him right now.
With a shout of sudden understanding Hugh jumped the unopened gate. He knelt and cupped a blossom in his hand, kissing it. They would be together again, in time.
Through his elation, he heard something behind him. A crack, then a soft thud. The tip of the Duke’s sword had fallen, slapping against the pillar before landing with a sigh amongst the waiting flowers.
About the Author:
Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He’s been published in numerous places across the web and has short stories printed in Blood & Bourbon, Blink-Ink and DEFY! Anthologies. His novella Straw Gods will be published by Reflex Press in 2020. He’s on twitter @tomwrote and his website is www.tomobrien.co.uk.