Flower – [Short Story] [Write Club]
I wrote Flower for September’s Write Club session. The prompt was to write something that was about what happened either before or just after the passage in Tess of the d’Urbevilles where Mrs Brooks (their landlady) spots a red spot flowering on the ceiling, and is suspicious about what has gone on upstairs. This is towards the end of the book, and marks the point where the narrative viewpoint changes from Tess to Mrs Brooks.
The crimson red spot on the ceiling had grown and darkened into a burgundy flower in the silence of the morning. No sound came from the apartment above, not since the shouting had ended half an hour after the mysterious visitor had left late yesterday evening.
The silence was so unnatural that I dared not break it. It felt sacred, like the silence of an empty church, after the service has finished and the choir and congregation gone home. I hoped for Tess to shout for assistance, or her husband to wake and seek his breakfast.
By eleven I gave up hope, and quietly ascended the stairs. The door to their rooms was closed. I listened carefully, expecting evidence of awakening. Nothing. I could smell the polish from where I’d cleaned the banister yesterday afternoon. As strong and strident on my nostrils as the silence was to my ears. Then I heard the dripping, coming from within. Soft but steady. Drop, drip, drip.
The doorknob shone, the brass reflecting back my shape, distorted by its roundness. It mocked me. Who was I to disturb my betters? Why should I be permitted to break their slumber?
My hand drew back.
The burgundy flower on my ceiling. A blood red ace of hearts.
What did that signify?
Maybe they’d dropped a bottle of wine. It could have soaked through the carpet and dripped onto the plaster below. That would explain the soft sound of drips.
But it was bright crimson when I first saw it. Wine isn’t that colour.
Maybe I just imagined the colour?
What if he’s done her a mischief? Men get drunk and beat their wives all the time.
Don’t be silly. It would take a lot of blood to soak through a floor onto a ceiling.
Maybe I should come back later, give them more time to rest?
I could knock quietly. If they’re awake they’ll open, but not so loud as would wake them up.
I touch the door gently at eye level with my knuckles. The sound is imperceptible, even when I’m standing close. I can’t bring myself to draw back and knock the door. So I go back downstairs and out to the front of the house.
The windows are very firmly closed upstairs, and the curtains drawn. If anyone was awake they’d have opened them for daylight. It’s late in the day for anyone that wasn’t sick to still be abed. Even Mr d’Urberville known for sleeping late has never lain in this long.
Something bad must have happened. Or maybe they went out. Could they have gone out in the middle of the night without waking me?
I need some help with this.
Leaving the house behind I walk down the path towards the village church. The gate is open, and I left it closed. Although it could have been their late night visitor that left it that way. I closed the gate behind me.
Before I get to the church gate I meet Mr Howard, the churchwarden.
‘Good morning, Mr Howard.’
‘Morning Mrs Brooks’
‘How are you?’
‘Can’t complain, can’t complain. How about you?’
‘I am most perturbed Mr Howard. The d’Urberville’s are not yet abroad, and there’s a strange stain on my ceiling.’
‘Are you sure they perhaps didn’t go out before you noticed?’
‘No, Mr Howard, I cannot say that they did.’
‘I shouldn’t fret about it Mrs Brooks, I’m sure they’ll be around presently.’
‘I worry that there’s been some mischief. They had a stranger call last night, and then there was shouting.’
‘Did you hear what was said?’
‘No, but it was most peculiar behaviour.’
‘What goes on between a man and his wife is their private business. We ought not to get involved. However peculiar it may seem to us.’
‘That may be so, but I have a red spot on my ceiling the colour of dried blood.’
‘Perhaps you should go talk to old Mrs Gamage. She might have something to help you?’
‘I am not hysterical, nor am I imagining something.’
‘That’s as may be. However I’ve got business to attend to Mrs Brooks. So I’ll take my leave if you please.’ Mr Howard lifted his hat and the turned and left.
I walked back to the house. My mind wandering.
Maybe old Mrs Gamage was the right person to speak to. She’d certainly listen properly. Goody Gamage helped people, it was what she did. She might even come back to the house with me. Although that depended on whether anyone else needed her for something urgent. She was the one that opened and closed the doors to life for the folk in the village. If it wasn’t that she’d be helping Perkin brew his ale for the White Hart while he saw to his duties as the parish constable.
Goody Gamage always appreciated a gift, she was too old to work regularly, but always able to give good advice to those that needed it. I hurried back to the house, we had some extra vegetables we could share, and the sage in the herb garden had overgrown.
The gate was still closed, and the windows upstairs still had tightly drawn curtains.
In my back room I checked the stain on the ceiling again. It didn’t appear to have grown any more, and even standing on a chair I couldn’t hear the drip, drip, drip that I’d heard from outside the door.
I gave in.
Before long Goody Gamage stood with me in the back room. The spot on the ceiling had dried.
It had gone noon, and old Mrs Gamage suggested we eat luncheon before anything else.
While I bustled in the kitchen, slicing some bread, cutting slices from yesterday’s joint, and arranging butter, cheese, salt and preserves on the table she went outside to cut some sage.
We ate with minimal chatter. Mrs Gamage complimented my preserves, and I gave her the remainder of the jar to take home with her along with some of the loaf.
When we’d finished eating she tucked her gifts under a linen cloth in the basket she’d brought with her.
‘Don’t go upstairs yet, I’ll get Perkin to come round.’ she said.
‘Yes. He needs to be the one to deal with this.’
‘Of course. Whatever you do, don’t go upstairs. It’s not nice, dear.’ She patted my hand. ‘Go cut some flowers, they’ll help the place smell nice.’