Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Otherwise, lilies are very beautiful

Shark, that oldest and boldest daughter of mine, returned home from her wandering adventures the other day bearing four tall stems of tropical lilies. Tall as she, they spread up her body, from her waist, to her head.

Excitedly, she tells us she bought these fantastic flowers from an old woman she saw squatting by the road that runs the length of the small island town. Shark thought the old woman, like her, would want to go home. It was already dusk and surely not many people would buy flowers in the dark. These were the old woman's last bundle of four lilies and they lay on the sheet by her side. One of the stems is a little wounded, and the petals of the white flowers on one side are crushed and bruised.

Shark said she offered ten dollars, and the four stems were promptly delivered into her hands. Before she gave them up, Shark said the old woman quickly took a knife and chopped off the ends of the lilies. Shark says within a minute the old woman was packed up and gone. Glad to be free of the final burden of the day, I suppose she went straight home.

These lilies, they carry a big perfume. It fills your nose and your mouth and your stomach, brimfull, and there's nowhere in this house you can escape it. You can try running up to the roof, but that doesn't work, because the deep and penetrating perfume of those lilies breathed there before you. You can throw open the windows, but that doesn't work either. The perfume is merely blown about you in every room you enter.

Me and Dig stand in front of these all powerful lilies, and stare helplessly at them. Their perfume is commanding; almost visible. If we could see it, it would be coiled around our throats. Shark says it is the best perfume ever, and she never knew flowers could be so strong.

I don't think it's the right moment to tell our bright and beautiful daughter, bursting with the excitement of her purchase, that lilies have a meaning in both the west and the east. That I think it's no accident you buy four at a time. The number four, in Cantonese, is a very powerful number. It sounds the same as death. In many buildings here, even those that proudly try to pierce the sky, there is no fourth floor. And these lilies are white. In the west, when we mourn, we wear black. In the East, it is different. Me and Dig look at each other. The autumn grave cleaning festival just passed. We don't say anything.

Shark is delighted. She says she found a story on her computer about how flowers can bring rebellions. She says messages written on little scrolls of paper can be wound up and placed among flowers, and no-one knows the messages are there. The flowers, carried by old women flower sellers whom no-one suspects, can be used for secret communications. We say, that's an interesting idea and, as she pokes about the flutes and furls in the unflowered lilies looking for spaces to take her secret messages, we say that's the kind of story that could be true.

Now the lilies are dying back. The perfume is fading. The white petals are dried and brown and curling. Their power is all but gone.

Shark says she would like to go and find the old woman, and buy some more. I say, Can we wait? Let us take our time, and lift them out the water. Then we can watch how the petals die, how the flowers drop away from their green stems, and listen how the paper heads rattle. We can pull away the final difficult dead flowers, take the empty shells, and make something new. Perhaps we can hang the heads upside down to dry them out. We could blow into their papery hollow spaces to expand them with our breath, and we'll fill the places where the flowers once stood with our brightly coloured scrolls. On those, we'll write messages, telling everyone of our rebellions, and sending out a warning. In this house, this is what you get, if you're a lily.


Kestrel said...

Oh wow.

so many stories unfurl across the world, I love that her stories and yours are so different.

Rachel M. said...

What a great story of adult and child perspectives!!

MadameSmokinGun said...

Hello I've been mesmerised by the lilies. Well - I've just caught up with your latest offerings - which are, as ever, abundant! So, now I'm exhausted but happy. And thinking - dangerous. The great meanings of things. Lilies. I think my mother associated them with funerals - we never had such opulent fragrant things in the house when I was little. Just roses and daffodils. Even tulips were a bit bold as I recall. But now she has jungles of them in her garden (in season). Great big white ones. It's a big shift in the order of things for us 'ordinary' types. Big exotic lilies. Fantastic. I still sort of think of them as quite exciting if I have lilies in the house even now - like I shouldn't really be 'allowed'.

And then I suddenly realised - oh yeah.... I had just white lilies as my wedding bouquet. Neat and manageable perhaps - but so beautiful. I wonder if anyone thought that was 'inappropriate' at the time?

I hope so.

Danae said...

You always delight my day and make my own musings stronger.

Thank you, Grit, for your extraordinary powers of observation, of philosophical thinking and of love.

Grit said...

thank you for your comments people.

i agree, mme sg. i think lilies are very beautiful in a dangerous sort of way. and if someone appears at the door with a bouquet, i'm not saying no.