By Laura Schmidt
There’s a kind of flower that grows by the roadsides in the place we once called home. My old neighbor had a story about them. He said that a young woman planted them after the war, when the young man she loved didn’t come home. And they have been endemic ever since.
There’s another story about these flowers. An older story, but I learned it later, while I was in university studying classics, pining after an older man. I learned it, I think, to impress him. Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid, the voice of exile. Perhaps I liked it because I was in an exile of my own, a self-imposed exile, an exile from you.
The funny thing is, the two stories are the same. A woman, a goddess in this case, lost her lover and caused anenomes to spring up out of his blood.
The other name is better, I think. Windflower. Anemone is too hard to pronounce, and it reminds everyone of that movie about the clownfish. But who knows, maybe it’s all for the better. When I walk the long dusty roads with anemones growing in the ditches beside me and dotting all the fields, I think about finding you. Not finding you, reviving you. But now do you find someone — how do you revive someone who’s gone out like the blink of an eye, as if he never existed? You’re lost in the glow of childhood innocence and adult impetuousness and I’m left, left like Aphrodite, Aphrodite seeking Adonis, Aphrodite finding, finding too late, finding Adonis, finding you…
Your father was mad. Crazy. Touched in the head. Lunatic. He read you Greek myths as bedtime stories. His favorite was Icarus and Daedalus, but once he read you Ganymede. You told me this.
“Am I as beautiful as Ganymede?” you asked him.
He beat you for that. And I? I licked your wounds and called you Endymion, Endymion undying, Endymion ever-dying.
Remember the woods? Remember that night? In the morning we woke and you said, “Here comes the birdsong.”
And at once, as if they had heard you and resolved themselves to obey, they sang, bore us up on a torrent of song, lifted us away, and it was as if Orpheo himself stood in that clearing, calling the birds and the trees to hear his grief. And I told you that you looked like Jesus Christ, risen Savior, like Poseidon, lord of the deep, like a god, and if you were a god, then I was your —
I was going to say cupbearer, but you stopped me. You said you didn’t want to hear it. You said you would’ve hated yourself for it. Maybe it was your mad father who turned the tides against us with the sting of the strap, the words of God Almighty. I said, “We should have been a pair that never left each other’s sides.”
But you scoffed and told me, “We will never stand on the shores of Pergamum. We will never see the citadel of Ilium nor the sunrise-entangled peaks between the passes of the Hindu Kush.”
By that you meant to say that I too was not Alexander.
Still we swam together in the orchard pond, morning by morning, new glories appearing. You were faster than me. You caught me every time. Once you caught me by the foot and you dragged me down into the muddy depths and there you released me. We came up spluttering and straining for air and apart. I should have known then.
The night you left, you told me you were saving us from a grave fate. “I’m not Lord Hamlet, nor was meant to be,” you said.
But you were looking straight at me.
The worst of it is this, dear love, my heart, my life, my breath: I do not know which of us got it wrong. At night when I cannot sleep I hope we both got it right. That we stayed within the bounds of predestined fate, within the circles of our lives. How do you say love? How do you say love? How can you write it down?
You sent a postcard from Paris. That was where you turned up first. With love, it read. With amour, with amor, with amore, con amor, con amore, avec amour, cum amore, what did it say? When your mad father died, I sent a card to your Parisian address. It bounced.
So I pressed, only to find —
that we have lived our lives in slant rhyme.
In what is almost meant to be.
At the place where dream meets reality.
You died in Paris, they said, of HIV.
In failing to save yourself, you saved me.
I am an elegist.
Yes, they still exist.
You outstripped me.
You still do.
Sometimes I wonder if I planted the windflowers, for you.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this short story, you might enjoy another. Check out “Labor of Love.”