Welcome to Hot Potato!
6 writers over 12 weeks, writing 1 short story
Today’s instalment is the last section in our Hot Potato story featuring writer Jessica Cooke who has had the hard job of tying up all the the threads of our collaborative short story. You can find all of the other sections of our short story here
Sara stood facing him at the end of the corridor. He walked towards her, stepping lightly and slowly, as though she was a tiny animal and as if so much as a breath less delicate than hers could cause her to break away.
Her hair was twisted high on top of her head in work-mode, and she wore a white surgeon’s coat complete with rubber gloves. A tiny badge pinned to her left breast read, “Sarah, Florist.” Little spots of color flecked her gloves and coat. She’d been painting.
“I knew you’d hate me having this job,” she said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t in touch. This was just something I had to do. Something… Without you.”
It had been like travelling a hundred years in the dark. Looking in abandoned places for numbers that might not be there, going into bars asking favours from people that didn’t even want to see you. A hundred years in the dark till now but instead of one light, he felt a thousand burning between the place where his bones meet his skin, and under their glare he felt more lost. He wanted to undo the pin that held her hair, letting it all fall across her shoulders and tell her how pretty she looked. How much he’d missed her. A decade ago, he wouldn’t have thought twice, but right now one more step and he’d feel like he was breaking the law.
“Do you want to see the lab?” she asked him.
He followed her into a crisp, white room where jars holding pickled flowers lined the rooms. He stared. Roses, tulips, lilacs; each jar held one single flower of a different breed to the last. Real flowers hadn’t existed like this in years, yet here they were, blurring the line between past and present. The long white petals of a daisy unfurled in the dappled liquid, its base gleaming like a yellow eye, its stem curved, suspended in the jelly.
She brought him to a table just in front of them, and opened the lid of a metal box.
There, inside, a miniature blue flower dipped its head towards its stem, curling into itself. Its leaves fanned out like ghosts in the water.
“Prototype, “Sara said, “Bluebell. Wild flowers are harder to recreate, because they weren’t as artificially engineered as the more popular ones. Rose was the first one, obviously.”
“Obviously,” he repeated, dumbfounded.
“I don’t know. You always seemed so obsessed with the moon, with the past. It was like you blamed it for everything. I needed to get out of LA. I mean, we haven’t had weather like the ancestors did since before we were born. So, I never understood why everybody mourned it so much. It was a terrible thing to happen, sure, but don’t you feel like the more we’re mourning one kind of light, we’re missing out on another?”
“Your flowers are beautiful,” he told her, “but fake.”
She looked down, sighing.
“I thought you’d say that. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you what I was doing. Can’t you see the benefits of the work we’ve done here? It’s only one small thing, but it’s a step towards recreation. Towards life. Through art.”
He shoved his hands into the pockets of the white coat she’d given him to hide their trembling.
“This isn’t Art. This is synthetic. Like, most of outside, what’s natural, what’s life is not synthetic flowers. I’d rather give my girlfriend a bouquet of moon! Because that’s what’s real. At least when she smelled she’d smell a piece of something that did exist, that was blown up, and that hurt everybody. It wasn’t nice that it happened, but I’m not about to forget that it did happen. This world has been changed, and no amount of chemical flowers is going to make me forget that life doesn’t exist any more.”
“What is the difference? Yes, they’re chemical, yes we made them and we painted them! But they’re here! They’re something! A step towards rebuilding! A step towards finally being happy!”
“It’s not about being happy. It’s about truth. Denial of the truth is the worst thing anyone can do to another person.”
“Is that why you came here? Hoping that I could be your truth, hoping that I’d want to go off with you and wander around, picking up bits of broken moon and imagining what life could have been like? We’re not kids any more, Wints.”
“I just wanted to see you. I had to see you,” he paused, “I still want you, even… even if this is what you want.”
“This is what I want.”
“I know. When I called you I just had to see it for myself.”
“I’m moving to New York,” she said suddenly.
“Tomorrow, they have a new lab opening. They have a project opening; they’re planning to recreate the whole of Central park, but with lots of flowers ahead,” her voice speed up, excited, “We think we can manipulate the roses to grow right out of the bark in the trees, can you imagine how beautiful that would be?”
“When do you leave?”
“In 2 days.”
Winston could see it now. The stuff of dreams. But how real was it dream when it hadn’t come from within? When it had come from someone placing it there, someone constructing it. He would never be able to visit the park without feeling like he was a trespasser in someone else’s garden.
“I should go,” he told her.
She didn’t blink.
A hundred years in the dark, for only a flash of light.
He left the building into the dust swirling street. Charcoal grey shimmied in the thick air around the emaciated branches of a tree. There was something beautiful in its wasteful figure. The way it held itself, proud of its bareness, unashamed.
He bent down, scooping a piece of moon up from the gravel and placed it in his pocket.
What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards the Earth to be born?
Sara could have her garden, they all could. The moon felt coarse and hard in its pocket, its jagged edges scratched his legs through the thin fabric of his pants but he did not remove it. It would remain there all day, every day, a rough beast in his shallow life.
Sara and her friends would create a garden, inventing Nature in a way that no one had intended, and in decades no one would know the difference.
He put his hand in his pocket, holding the piece of moon. A hundred years in the dark with only a reminder of light.
You can find more out about Jessica here:
Thanks to Jessica the final section of our story is now in place. The entire piece is complete. I will now go away and do a bit of light editing to draw the sections together into a cohesive whole. The next stage will then be to find an artist to provide illustrations and to create an interactive pdf of the story. This will be given to the writers. The story will then be the 2nd piece in a collection of stories we hope to publish when we have accumulated enough for an entire book.
Tomorrow ArtiPeeps will be featuring the third FreeSpace of poet Kate Garrett and her collection of poems on pregnancy and the experience of women through the decades. Do take a look.
As ever, thank you for your interest.
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