by Leonie Rowland
I started visiting the cinema alone in preparation for death. I used to say to my grandfather, ‘If I can’t sit in the dark and watch other people living, then how am I going to cope when the dark is all I have?’ He replied that, as someone close to death, it is not the same. I don’t see how he could have known because he wasn’t dead yet, and I can’t ask him now.
‘Death comes to us all,’ says a young man on the screen. He is sitting with his girlfriend in KFC, and they are sharing a box of chicken. I am just beginning to cry the way you do in films when I notice the woman in front of me shaking her head.
She shakes it as if she is saying, ‘no, thank you, I don’t want any more tea,’ but I know really she is saying, ‘no, thank you, I don’t want to go.’
When my grandfather was sick, I planted flowers every day until my garden was a living thing. It rained wonderfully on the day he died, and I could feel them reaching for it while his body starved. I walked home from the hospital and carefully snapped their stems. That night, I decorated my salad with daisies.
The girlfriend is holding a piece of fried chicken in one hand and a rose in the other. She tries to eat, but she brings the flower to her lips by accident. The man laughs. The woman continues to shake her head. Her white hair gathers like a small cloud.
I realise, watching her, that the man in the film knows nothing of what it means to wake up in the middle of the night, afraid his body has already returned to the earth.
I collected my decimated garden into a large wicker basket. At the funeral, my mother was horrified. It was obvious from my complexion that I was living on flowers and leaves, but it was the muddy clumps that made her cry as I perfumed her father’s grave.
‘This is dead,’ the girlfriend says, nibbling a piece of chicken. ‘And this is dying,’ she says, holding the rose. ‘I will remember them. They are beautiful.’
The woman’s head stops shaking. My garden is full again now, and her stillness is like an oak tree. Her hair looks like a nest of doves.
Leonie Rowland lives in Manchester and has an MA in Gothic Literature. Her most recent work has been published by Ad Hoc Fiction, Reflex Press and The Cabinet of Heed. Leonie’s debut prose chapbook, In Bed with Melon Bread, is forthcoming from Dreich in 2021. You can find her on Twitter or visit her website at http://leonierowland.com.