Vicky – Year 13 Student
Editor’s Note: This essay forms part of a collection of student works published in the 2020 edition of Salutaris, the GSAL Sixth Form academic journal. It was originally published here in The GSAL Journal. References are available upon request. CPD
Lavender: A Flashback
‘I was unsettled when I was little, and spent a great deal of my time in the garden with my mother. I’d lay there, tired after we’d played a game: green eyed in a grass stained dress, listening as mum spoke about the lavender. She’d say how on one’s own, there was nothing striking about a lavender. Yet, in its thousands the impact was extraordinary. But the rose, she’d go on to say, loses all impact in its thousands. A field of roses makes roses look ordinary, but a rose all by itself is beautiful.’
I sighed and adjusted my position in the unduly large chair, trying to appear relaxed despite my immense discomfort in speaking about mum. I continued to escape the silence, ‘I’ve thought a lot about what flowers ought to be at her funeral, and I decided that there should be none in the end… but I think I’ll bring just one along.’
I look up at Doc. Grey, pale, sardonically impersonating death. He took a breath from frantically taking notes and looked at me with some genuine interest – a rarity. I shook my head, smiling slightly at the realisation Doc had spilt ink on his hand and proceeded to scratch his chin.
‘A single lavender. Because, although to look at it’s nothing out of the ordinary – in a world without sight you’d always be aware of a lavender’s presence. And that’s what she feels like. You always know she’s with you, even if no one else can see it.’
I could smell it then, blue and in flakes being carried by the wind. The air was thick with scent and the heat from the sun made the left side of my face burn up and I was giddy at the thought of six more weeks of summer. I remembered the low tones of my mother’s voice, deep but gentle: bouncing above the air as she hummed her words. The reason, I have since concluded, that I was only telling Doc this now is because I had forgotten all the best bits. The positive feelings I had when around her, the happier times, and those short moments where I enjoyed her company or comfort.
‘It’s um, hey it’s alright…’ He cautiously handed me a tissue from the box beside his chair, ‘this is good this is er… different for you. It’s nice to see a softer side, not so um – bitter. This is good.’
Was it? I excused myself and left abruptly in the hope that I would leave the memories in that little white room, but they walked me home. On my left, they held my hand and pulled at my arm every few minutes as I tended to get distracted and slow down which would annoy them. They pushed me back gently when we approached a break in the pavement so that I didn’t stumble mindlessly into the road, all the while frowning at me for being so dangerously unobservant. They undid my laces as I got home, poured me a glass of milk and sat me in front of the telly whilst they went out in the garden for a cigarette. That ugly smell.
Slowly, it suffocated the lavender.
I remembered the nights when I would argue with mum about the cigarettes. She was smoking well over a pack a day by that point, and I would burn up as she put one out and immediately lit another. I asked her how much it cost and how much it was costing me. I just stood there. Starving. Asking how much her dam cigarettes cost.
The following morning, I found myself again in desolate nostalgia. I drove past the overhanging cliff that looked out on the coast and remembered our picnic sandwiches on Sundays that always ended up tasting of salt. On sunny days that rock was packed: families and couples and groups of friends would assemble with food and blankets and the sharp coast winds would be swallowed by the abrupt and lively atmosphere of laughing faces and chaotic glee. I felt a sort of peace in all that disarray and disorder. I often panicked in large crowds, but in that solitary moment I felt secure: confident in my mother’s presence. I wasn’t fazed at all by the unruliness of seagulls amongst hurled beach balls and spilt drinks. I remember trying to throw pebbles into the sea from the cliff, making ‘tennis player’ noises as I hurled stones with all my might and looked excitedly upon my mother for bewilderment and commendation afterwards. Though I had no way of proving it, I’m certain to this day that they were getting closer and closer each time. I was happy, and mum was happy too – smiling at the sea as she rooted about the picnic basket for a cigarette. She’d packed them beneath the wrapped sandwiches and she turned from me as she lit one, tested by the strong winds. But it was quiet now, that overhanging cliff. Abandoned despite the sun.
One moment, however, attaches itself to all of those short and sweet instances. It hangs on like a shadow and no matter how bright the happy moments were the shadow is bigger behind it. That one walk home from school where I was unaccompanied, where my hand was not held and my eyes were wide open, watching for breaks in the pavement. The door was open as I arrived home and struggled with my shoes, before sitting by the largest downstairs window that overlooked the garden. I waited for her, wherever she was, for hours that night. Eventually the sound of wet high heels stumbled through the door and curly smoke peered through the cracks in the door frame – an occurrence that became a ritual. Only, the hour she returned got later and later each night. I remember waiting the longest when I was about fifteen.
That waiting felt more like dissolving.
I sat by the window in an absent panic, fraying slowly as the clock ticked on and I wore away like a cigarette burning out. I noticed the lavender as I waited, for the first time in a long time. It hadn’t died yet, but it was tired and going a funny sort of brown. It looked back at me and we waited together.
I tried to settle in the hallway armchair so that when mum came home I’d know right away, but I couldn’t rest. I felt the panic growing within me, reaching up from my gut and through my neck before sitting in my throat like a barricade to my breath.
But still I waited.
And when I simply couldn’t do that anymore, I went to our neighbour’s house. There was some talking I’ve forgotten before they tried her phone. Then they dialled another number, and the phone rang, and I waited. I stayed with my neighbour for a very long time after that. It went on and on: the ringing phones, the waiting. In fact, I waited with them from that night onwards. For two years, my questions were avoided or shunned without exception. I waited on Sundays with a picnic on the cliff, and on sunny afternoons in the garden.
She never came. Really, all I was allowed to know was that she was okay, and that she’d moved away. I waited the longest, it seemed, that I had ever waited to find out why she didn’t take me with her.
I returned to that little white room a week or so later, and Doc was full of questions. Up until very recently I had decided I would not attend mum’s funeral at all. I had only changed my mind when I began to feel the peace she used to make me feel, and not the panic I’d associated with her ever since she left. My youngest, she has mum’s eyes. She’s like I was at her age too, demanding to be out in the garden each and every day it doesn’t tip it down. I watch her fondly as she picks the lavender. Her little legs, always grass stained, carry her proudly when she walks and her presence is notable wherever she goes by her infectious beam and the undemanding ease she puts you at by being nearby. I thought of what I would do if I couldn’t look after her anymore. I thought of what I’d do if I knew her life would be better without me, and if the hurt I’d cause by leaving would be less than the hurt I’d cause by staying. It took a long time for me to try and see what mum had done as an act of kindness. After all, she taught patience. She taught me to find peace in simple moments, and in times of chaos to stop and smell the lavender.
My style model is in the genre of a short story. The story is a first person reflection, where the main character ‘Elle’ recalls a series of emotional memories and flashbacks. ‘Elle’, prior to these flashbacks, harboured a lot of resentment towards her mother who abandoned her when she was a teenager. I have tried to create a consistent voice to ensure my character has an individual and distinctive idiolect. My short story is similar to my style model in many ways, whilst also having differences. I have used techniques such as digression, extended metaphors and discourse markers, all seen in ‘flashback: a very short short-story.’ Although my character reflects on a past relationship with some sadness, the relationship came to a very different end to the one depicted in my style model and has made much more of an impact on Elle’s life since as it has negatively influenced her mental health. Elle was abandoned by her mother unexpectedly and is struggling with bitterness and buried hurt. I have chosen a female character who struggles with depression and thus sees a therapist regularly, in order to depict a different perspective and situation in my original piece. It explores how the bitterness Elle feels towards her mother and the situation has led her to change all happy memories of her mother into negative ones, or forgotten them completely. However, Elle’s attitude alters as the story progresses, notable through the shift in tone and increasing use of emotive language, perhaps due to the grief Elle has experienced in finding out her mother has passed or perhaps because she has grown up and can understand the potential reasoning behind what happened to her. As the flashbacks are very personal, I felt it was important to use emotive language. In my style model, the characters sensory experiences are described in depth and detail, and the character’s inner feelings towards his ex-girlfriend are explored using similes and extended metaphors, for example ‘we had been fixating dynamite at the base of our structure’, and then subsequently ‘never needing to even set off the dynamite.’ Although my piece also includes extended metaphors such as dying lavender which represents the relationship between Elle and her mother, my metaphor spans throughout the entire piece rather than to describe one aspect of the relationship. I did this in order to clearly explore the gradual deterioration of the relationship and how extensively it has impacted Elle’s outlook. Like my style model, I include spoken dialogue in mu piece, and felt it was important to represent natural and cohesive speech in order to make the characters authentic, genuine and thus somewhat relatable. I have done this through the inclusion of colloquial spoken language and fillers such as ellipsis in the line ‘this is good this is er… different for you. It’s nice to see a softer side, not so um – bitter.’ In my style model, these features are evident through the line ‘How long was that; six…umm..no, wait!’ Both my original piece and my style model also feature reported speech within the flashbacks, adding context and potentially evoking emotion in the reader. Discourse markers such as ‘It all started with’ and ‘the next morning’ are included in my style model and make the piece coherent and chronological. I have mimicked this in my style model, using syntactically similar phrases such as ‘the following morning’ and ‘a week or so later.’ My style model is structured in the following pattern: exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. I have followed this structure, however I have condensed my writing into fewer sections which means there is less text on the rising and falling actions. This has meant that my monologue will seem more to the point with an ‘Introduction, Climax and Resolution’ plot. Both short stories use linear, chronological time, meaning that the stories are easy to follow. My style model makes it very clear that the relationship doesn’t end well, as made evident through the declarative in the orientation: ‘It had ended off so terribly.’ Although coherently representing a bitter tone through ‘Elle’s’ narrative throughout my piece, she does not deliver any outright statements summarizing her feelings towards her mother or the situation, and does not make it clear why she feels so bitter until much later in the piece.