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Head full of posies

Melanie Rees is an environmental consultant and spends much of her time playing outdoors. She has held jobs playing in wetlands, playing with dirt, and playing in the treetops. When she is not up a tree or stuck in the mud, she writes speculative fiction. She has published over 60 short stories and poems in markets such as Apex, Persistent Visions, Cosmos, and Daily Science Fiction. She lives online at flexirees.wordpress.com and on Twitter @FlexiRees. In the real world she lives in rural Australia in a house made of straw.
The green-eyed girl brought me talking flowers yesterday: beautiful white teardrops with a proud yellow stamen. They stand tall in the white vase. Everything here is white. Crisp white linen rubs against my skin; sterile white walls and floors surround the bed; and a white hospital gown swims on me.
"We used to grow by the creek. You called us a weed and removed us. Remember?" The flowers interrupt my thoughts with a soothing melancholic timbre. The tallest flower droops in my direction as if prompting a reply.
"Arum Lilies! I remember you." I try to sit up but my limbs creak and groan. "We used to plant native rushes in your place. We sat under an old river red gum dipping our feet in the water after weeding you and blackberries. We? There was a we. My little girl, Lori. How could I forget her?"
"Do you remember more?" the flowers ask.
"More?"
"We're hungry. By the looks of it, you are too."
I inspect my arms. Withered like old eucalypt branches, they aren't as I recall.
The flowers' melancholic voice takes on a sharp tone like blackberry thorns piercing gardening gloves. "Tell us more and let us feed."
A different woman enters the white room. Why are they always different? She tinkers with a tray of food on a trolley.
"Morning. Would you like to eat something today?" The woman brushes hair from my eyes then picks up the white vase. "These look a bit stingy."
"Where is the green-eyed girl? She needs to bring more flowers," I say.
"Lori will be back today. She comes every weekend." The woman manhandles my Arum Lilies, thrusting them into a bin.
"Lori?" The name rings a bell. I know I should remember. "The green-eyed girl was here yesterday. She can come again. Only her. She gave me lilies, and now you've killed them."
"Lori was here a week ago. The flowers are already wilting. I made toast. Please, try a few bites," the woman pleads.
"I don't want toast. Get out!"
"How about a nice cup of tea?" She moves to the end of my bed and pours hot water into a plastic cup. Plastic!
"What have you done with my china set? The one with the ducks?"
"Your china isn't here, but its perfectly good tea."
"Get out! Get out!"
She pulls a white blanket over my legs then strides out.
"Don't forget to bring back my good china." At least that isn't all white. The ducks are yellow.
The green-eyed girl knocks on the open door. She is such a polite girl, not like all the others barging into my room uninvited.
She carries a bunch of bright red flowers.
"They're not white." I feel my spirits rise at the prospect of color.
"No. Beautiful aren't they? Mitch and I picked them up from the old deli. They've expanded and have all sorts of trinkets and ornaments. You wouldn't believe how much the town's grown in the past month." She says so many words with her delicate voice, but speaks so quickly I find it hard to concentrate. "We should go for an outing one day and visit, if it's all right with the nurses."
"We should have a cup of tea and chat," I say. "Did the other lady bring my china?"
"China? Not that horrid duck set you used to own?" The green-eyed girl chuckles.
I can't help but smile, even though her words confuse me. The china is on top of the cabinet where Donald stored it. I guess plastic will suffice. "The other woman left some tea at the foot of the bed." I look to an empty trolley.
"It probably went cold. I'll get more."
"G'day Mrs. M." A brutish man barges in. "Like the flowers?"
Why does everyone insist on storming into my room as if it's a thoroughfare?
"I don't want to have tea with him."
The green-eyed girl looks to the brute and then at me. "Mum, you remember Mitch."
Mum? Do I know this green-eyed girl? My brain drowns in a sea of confusion. "I just want a pleasant uninterrupted cup of tea."
"I'll get you both something." The man kisses the girl's head and then leaves as abruptly as he entered.
She resumes talking. Never stopping. I get lost in her words and the scent of Chai and Earl Grey.
I don't remember the green-eyed girl leaving, but the bunch of red flowers stare at me from the vase, their black centers like inquisitive faces.
"Do you remember us?" they ask.
"Poppies. I remember you are called poppies." I touch the delicate petals. "I placed you on the war memorial alongside Dad's name. A name and a flower were all that I had to remember him."
"We seem an odd choice for a memorial," the poppies say. "We make you sleep. When you sleep, you forget. Why don't you sleep and let us remember for you? Why don't you let us feed?"
Their smell tantalizes. Their little black faces sing a sweet lullaby.
A new lady enters. Every day a different lady. "How are we this morning?" she asks opening the window letting the curtain billow in the breeze. "It's a beautiful day outside."
She seems nice, but she's not the green-eyed girl.
By my bedside table, a bunch of red flowers sway on slender stems. "They are lovely. Did the green-eyed girl bring them?" I ask.
"Yes, Lori said you like poppies. She said they remind you of your father."
Poppies. I should've remembered that. They spoke to me yesterday. Something tells me I should remember the name Lori; something tells me I should be remembering what happened to my father, but all I have are jumbled images.
"I'll be back with your breakfast. Maybe you can try eating something today." The lady strolls from the room.
"Poppies." I turn to the flowers. "Why didn't I remember you? Why do I feel there is something else I should remember?" It's lurking at the back of my mind, deep down. I turn to the flowers. "You stole something. A memory. Who is Lori?"
"Stole?" One of the red flowers sways in my direction. "We aren't thieves. We just need to feed. You want us to stay fresh, don't you?"
"You can't take any more of my memories or else my husband will make potpourri out of you."
"Husband?" asks the poppies with a wicked tone.
"Yes. Donald will be in to visit me soon."
Two women enter my room.
A young woman with beautiful green eyes approaches my bed with a bunch of flowers. A medley of pink petals cluster together ready to gang up on me.
I shake my head. "Take them away. They're thieves."
The green-eyed girl seems confused by my outburst. "You said you wanted more color, Mum."
"I'll get another vase," says the other woman, leaving again.
"Why do all these people come into my room? Each day a different person barges in."
"It's the same nurse. She's been here for months." The green-eyed girl sits down and rests the flowers on my bed.
"Take them away."
"You love Chrysanthemums. Remember, Dad planted bushes out the front and we picked them to go on his casket." She rubs my hand.
"Was he a good man? Your father?" I ask.
She kisses my forehead. "We all loved him. None more than you. You remember Donald?"
It hurts so much, probing into the dark recesses of my memory and finding nothing, except yellow ducks.
"My china! Did you find it?"
"No. You don't have it. anymore."
"They stole them, too!" I grab the bunch of flowers and thrust them on the floor. "They are thieves! They took him away."
"Took who?" The girl sits on the edge of my bed.
I don't know. I should know.
"Why don't you sleep. I'll just sit here."
"That's what they want. That's when they steal whatever's left. Is there anything left?" I look up at those green eyes hoping she will understand what I do not.
She pulls my hair behind my ear with tender hands. "I promise I won't let anyone steal anything, Mum."
Why does she keep calling me that? "Who are you?"
"Mum, it's me. Lori." She cradles my hand in hers. "Sleep. It'll help you get better. I'll bring one of your old china sets tomorrow."
"Good. I'd like to have a nice cup of tea with you." I rest back on the white pillow and stare at the white lights above.
The green-eyed girl leaves; the talking flowers stay.
"Go away!"
"But we're hungry. Do you not have any more memories? Your memories of your family have kept us fresh."
"Family?" I search for images and feelings, but find nothing. "You have nothing left to take."
The flowers bow in my direction. "We have you. One last meal before we wilt."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 22nd, 2017

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