DAISY CHAINS by BLUE COUTELL an episodic novelette
episode one: i am going to need more bananas
The crown of daisies hangs lightly in her fingertips. Ivy is careful not to crush the petals nor stems. She had made the piece before she walked here. She can see the gathering ahead. The grass is a brilliant green, with a blunt cut that makes way for headstones and grave markers. The turf of this cemetery had a lot of respect for the day, the way it stayed an inch or two away just to give the dead some space. The smell of spring itches the inside of her nose. At a respectable distance away, the gathering is very small. Everyone wears the traditional all black, though it makes her bristle. They waited until death to deal with the consequence of respect and tradition. She can make out the mother and the father. If you could call them that. The other three were only a guess. She suspects they were simply witnessing the false image that Astrid’s parents had done the right thing. Witnesses always seem like a good idea at the time. Liabilities really—at least that’s what they’d call her. She can hear a sharp sob explode from Astrid’s mother. It sounds like genuine pain and Ivy can feel it in her chest. It smashed up against her organs and her own suffocating brand of trying to breathe instead of cry. Her father had his head bowed and a hand massaging his forehead, as if to say to the witnesses, How could this happen? His hand drapes around his wife’s back. From this distance, the couple is painted the way they should be. She takes an abrupt inhale of the perfume of fresh-cut grass and crosses the gap from the sidewalk to the green. As she stands on the periphery, Astrid’s father twists to look at her, releasing the hold on his wife. Now all of them look in her direction with their tear-shined cheeks turned red in the sorrow and spring wind. Astrid’s father has a grimace sitting on top of his hard features. He steps toward her and she shrinks, both in feeling and backward. “You did this. You sent her to the flames of hell.” She wants the shaking in her chin to stop, because she cannot cry in a place where grieving is socially acceptable. Screw the grass: all she can smell is the dog food. She casts a glance at Astrid’s mother, who no longer has tears or wet cheeks, just a look of being far away. “Can I approach?” she asks timidly. The hand that holds the daisies has a slight tremor; one she hopes is imperceptible. “Go home,” he says gruffly. Defeat burns her cheeks with embarrassment. She turns around and vows to give Astrid a daisy crown, even better than the one crafted today. Astrid would be forever a queen.
She takes the train to Astrid’s house. She rounds the house and climbs in through the window. It’s the one Astrid kept open because she had a hard time breathing at night without cold air. Ivy looks around the walls, looking to pluck the photos of them together to keep for herself, but they are already gone. Judging by the ash and soot in the garbage can, they probably existed there at an atomic level, but little else. She bends down on one knee to the scarred wooden floor and looks beneath the bed. It’s masked with a bedspread of fading leopard print. She sees a cup and grasps it. It is a disposable coffee cup from the café they frequented. Ivy’s ‘dusky rose’ lipstick lined the rim of the cup, and on the top of the lid, “the first day” is written in a pretty scrawl of permanent marker. The inside of the cup is still stained with the dark brown tint of chocolate syrup. Above the bed she spots a drooping circle of a dried daisy crown. She strokes a hardened lifeless daisy, hoping that maybe her touch could bring Astrid back to life. Because that’s how things work. Beside the bed is Astrid’s large stack of textbooks. Oddly, one of them is significantly thinner than the rest. She pries it from the middle to reveal a journal with no external markings. She opens it and a letter falls out: Ivy. She juts her finger into the envelope and carefully extracts the piece of paper within. If you’re reading this, it means I got stuck. At least now, you’ll know what that means. As she pockets the letter, she flips through the pages of Astrid’s scrawl. Mentions of her parents litter the pages. A large tear that had been threatening to escape finally breaks free. It lands hard on the page, thick and heavy with its salt. The weight of it blurs the ink downward to the floor. On the last page filled all it says is: I am going to need more bananas. Ivy tucks the journal back where she found it and reaches for the dead daisy chain. She crowns herself in solidarity. In Astrid’s bed stand, Ivy locates a pretty blue chromatic knife, the one she had gifted her a couple of weeks ago. Triggered by sounds coming from the other side of the house, she climbs back out of the window carefully. She escapes the house into the dead grass of the yard, where it complains by crunching loudly beneath her feet as she gets as far away from the house as possible. A few blocks down, she releases her stranglehold on Astrid’s knife. She lifts her forearm, tanned from the sun; she slices into the meat of it. Blood drips faster than she anticipated. She saturates her hands in blood and marks her face like war paint, refusing to cry. She lets the discomfort in her chest keep expanding. She is not going to grieve. She is going to war. She crosses the distance to the train station, ignoring the sun in her eyes and the blatant stares at her skin. Their mouths are open. They don’t understand that she isn’t crying for Astrid. She’s bleeding for Astrid. The sign says one minute until the arrival of the train. Someone approaches her and speaks, probably in relation to whether she was okay, but she couldn’t hear beyond the sound of blood pounding in her ears. She can hear the train though, like her favorite song coming onto the radio. Ivy walks toward the edge to lay eyes on the train. Just wait for it. “I love you, Naomi. I love you, Astrid.” All it takes is one foot extended and a gentle tip forward. Ivy finally understands. It was a perfect day.