Friday, January 01, 2010

Blue Hydrangea

With the view sweeping down to Long Island Sound, Mother had a fine resting spot. Veneered in ice, weeping beeches dotted the hillside, never to grow high enough to block the views of the dead. Only the yellow backhoe, snow-dusted from last night, marred the expanse of white.

Prime real estate in Larchmont, New York.

Wind blew off the water. Behind me, the soft slaps of car doors echoed. Bundled under my right arm, I pulled my sister closer. Most people thought Izzy and I were twins, but they never looked close enough; they only saw the same slight build, the same green eyes, but her father’s blue blood pulsed under her skin while I possessed our Mother’s more feral darkness and, perhaps, my father’s. But only Mother knew those details and she was dead, felled by a final cataclysmic stroke.

Her casket stood between the freshly dug ten by six hole and her husband’s white marble headstone. His memorial reached my shoulders, engraved for posterity: Benjamin Michael Taylor, III. 1956 – 2001. Husband, Father, Provider, Friend. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Right. Then my namesake sure wasn’t shaking hands with Peter at the pearly gate.
Izzy’s eyes narrowed at my snort. I turned my gaze to the gathering. Neighbors, her artist friends, his former business acquaintances – familiar faces though I didn’t remember names - murmured to each other behind polarized lenses.

“Ben.” Izzy tugged at my sleeve. “Who is that?”

I followed her eyes. A man stood behind the covey of mourners. Unhatted, ungloved, he leaned on a cane. His eyes had the tired look of someone who has lived life too hard. Even under cold-reddened cheeks, his skin looked yellow. He stared at me. I looked to the still water and imagined flying away.

The circle parted for the priest, black vestments flapping in the breeze. There was a sudden hush, broken by a seagull’s cry high above. A jet flume trailed across the indigo sky.

The priest cleared his throat and stepped before the casket, obscuring the jaundiced stranger. His voice shook through the homily. His hands trembled, too, reminding me of my own when the lithium went too high, but his tremor was a courser one. Parkinson’s disease, I finally deduced. Droplets of spittle crystallized on his beard. While he droned on, I contemplated other deaths, my cannibalized mice, the tedium associated with the business of dying.

Believe me, I wanted I could mourn my mother – she’d brought me into the world, after all - but she’d been dead to me for so long the burial felt parenthetical, an unread epilogue. I wanted to feel – sadness, hurt, some sputter of grief. Anything. But I didn’t. I blamed the antipsychotic for my reluctant apathy. A small price for a functional life.

The priest folded his palsied hands over his leather-bound Bible and looked at me expectantly. “Does the family have any final words to share in remembrance of Ariana Carandini Taylor?”

I was the son, the oldest, expected to say something. The prepared notes lay folded in my jacket. Izzy squeezed my fingertips. I withdrew my hand from hers, fumbled for the papers, then let my hand drop; from me, the words would sound false.

The priest nodded and four workers grasped the casket’s handles. Smooth straps slipped between eight hands that lowered five hundred pounds with synchronous precision. The casket disappeared, carrying her cells, blood, and bones.

The gathering circled closer. Isabel knelt beside me, fingers curled around a clump of earth. I screwed my eyes tight. Cry. Cry. Just cry. But I couldn’t. All I saw were my mice, their bloody body parts poking out of shavings.

I turned away, to the waiting limousine. Behind me, clods of frozen earth shattered against the casket like the sound of paint smacking newly-stretched canvas. I leaned against the passenger door, the engine idling under me faster than my pulse. Shivering in the bitter air felt cleansing, like penance.

The small throng dispersed. The priest escorted Izzy to the car. I slipped beside my sister. When we pulled away, I stared back at the gravesite. Only the man without a hat remained, clutching a hydrangea, lush and top-heavy. Where did he find that beauty in December? He dropped the flower into the silence of the hole, consummating her life and death.

My head sank against the leather. The image of the blue lace-cap teased of summers impossibly distant, of Mother arranging pink and purple stems in cut-glass vases. I wondered how he knew hydrangeas were her favorite flower.


Happy New Year! The above is excerpted from PURE, a novel under reconstruction. For the next few months, PURE is where I will devote my writing energies, and hence my flashes will largely follow the adventures of Ben, my ethically-challenged, lithium-dropping post-doc, Kevin, my pill-popping anesthesiologist, and Phoebe, the medical fellow torn between the two of them. To 'catch up' on Ben, the primary protagonist, read here: In The Name of Science

Other PURE fridayflashes here:

Break Time

End of the Line

Happy reading! Peace, Linda


  1. I love your writing, Linda. I'll be buying your book.

  2. Another wonderful excerpt, Linda. This will be a fabulous book! I'll be buying it as well.

  3. Wonderful, moving piece. Enjoyed it very much. You have a firm grasp of first-person perspective that flows well with your style.
    -David G Shrock

  4. Ooh, very nice! You can put me down for a copy of your book too. :)

  5. Sold! The words "the tedium associated with the business of dying." got me. This story held me to th every end. Then again I have a weird quirk for ghastly, yet realistic tales of life.


  6. You really can describe atmosphere so it's palpable.

    While, in the novel the reader may find out about the mysterious stranger, I'm quite happy for him to remain mysterious in this piece. It adds to the atmosphere.

    And Ben's pain comes through his medicated state very well.

    And I love the "...our Mother’s more feral darkness...". It leaves me wanting to know more about this character and his family.

    Nicely done.

  7. Your prose is very poetic, Linda. I love your use of language to describe emotion and your characters' inner voice, the empathy it creates is wonderful.

  8. Very engaging. I want to know more about the mice (though I haven't back-tracked yet to the other flashes... are the mice in those?).

    You put the reader at the gravesite. Great sensory details.

  9. So wonderful to be reading your elegant prose again! Happy New Year and happy writing, Linda! ~Liane

  10. Loving it as always!

    I have a suspicion about who this man might be...

    So glad to be reading PURE :) Keep it coming.


  11. Very beautiful, Linda - your attention to detail with quirky insights is lovely. I look forward to reading more!

  12. Wonderful, Wonderful. (Buy you already knew I thought that). You are one of my writing heroes. I so admire your work, girl.

  13. Linda, this was as bleak as they come. I thought the effect of the antipsychotics in preventing the pain of grief was a nice touch. However, the sound of the clods hitting the casket was the sharpest image for me.

    This is some good writing here.

  14. Linda, very sad, not to be able to find any emotion for a loved one at their passing. I want to find out more of mother & son relationship.
    Love the progression of the scene. And, who is that man???

  15. Lovely prose as usual, Linda
    "the burial felt parenthetical, an unread epilogue" -> this was absolutely wonderful.

  16. I too will be buying this book Linda. As always, your prose is beautiful. I've a feeling I know who the mysterious man is too, though it didnt' hit me until the end. Great work!

  17. I can't wait to read more...or should I just wait for the book to come out? You captured the gravesite experience totally...the awkwardness of saying --or not saying something. I want more.

  18. Linda, I loved this flash piece of yours. You hooked me right into it and even if I tried, I wouldn't have been able to shake loose. And I didn't want to. A great story.


  19. Thank you all for reading! Yes, who IS that man dropping hydrangeas into holes... hmmm...

    I would love for all of you to read the entire book, but no one more than I - still a lot of writing and rewriting before 'The End'.

    Tony, I was super-pleased you sensed the meds blunting his emotion -- that was my intent, and it is SOOOOOO hard to write a voice numbed by drugs or addled by disease.

    Liane... smile...

    And Melinda, thank you so much for reading my words! Melinda is an artist (in so many ways) and her Three Crows print sits by my laptop spurring me on.

    Carrie, the tedium associated with the business of dying is one of my favorite lines... and so true.

    Thank you, and peace... Linda

  20. That was great Linda, shut a moving piece.
    Is the line 'Believe me, I wanted I could mourn my mother' meant to read 'Believe me , if I wanted'?
    I want to know who the stranger is - when do we find out?

  21. Look forward to seeing more snippets

    Good stuff

  22. Hello Linda,

    I felt a little distant from this piece to begin with, simply as I wasn't sure whereabouts in the book this extract came from, or what sort of book it is. Are we at the start here, or has this followed from previous events? It seemed like a dark romance novel from your description.

    That aside, I thought it worked very well. Your writing is sparse and evocative, and poetic when it matters most. I had no problem getting to grips with the characters or situation, and the 'anti-psychotic' influence was there without being told. I loved the use of 'summers impossibly distant', which said so much about his yearning for simpler times. He sounds like a man with an interesting (and disturbing -- love the mice!) history...

    I look forward to finding out more.


  23. Your writing is masterful, brilliant. This line stood out to me-
    "she’d been dead to me for so long the burial felt parenthetical, an unread epilogue."

    Just loved the whole thing and I'm sure the novel will be fantastic.

  24. Fantastic and emotionally charged, which is quite an accomplishment considering you're writing (in part) about an absence of emotion. Love your writing, and can't wait for the story to unfold.

  25. Outstanding writing here, Linda. You are so skilled with phrasing and characterization.

    I loved this passage:
    'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

    Right. Then my namesake sure wasn’t shaking hands with Peter at the pearly gate.'

    Spoke volumes about Ben's relationship with his father, whom we have not even met. That's wonderful.

    Happy New Year and here's to a 2010 publication (or at least a contract!).

  26. New to your blog; so, G'day.

    I thought, "the soft slaps of car doors echoed" was very clear and fresh. I knew exactly what it was, and it's new (to me, anyway).

    On the other hand, "eyes narrowed" is almost a cliche.

    I especially like the anticipation of finding out about the old man. I hope that PURE tells us more about him.

  27. Vivid, clear and at times hard language. "I blamed the antipsychotic for my reluctant apathy. A small price for a functional life." - There must be something else going on, and I look forward to learning more.

  28. I love these pieces of Pure. I cannot wait to read it in its entirety. Good luck with the reconstruction.

    My favourite line this time:
    Shivering in the bitter air felt cleansing, like penance.