FICTION | Winter Flowers
San Francisco, July 1967
I see Persephone coming out of a psychedelic crowd of red and yellows melting together like flames coming to life.
“You really outdid yourself this time,” she laughs, grabbing my hands and making me swirl around. “I hadn’t seen anything like this since the Eleusinian Mysteries.”
“They’re not here for us this time, I’m afraid.”
“Oh no, that’s the best part.”
And like that she’s back into the crowd, dancing in different arms. With her long purple skirt and the flowers all tangled in her messy braid, she could easily pass off as one of these hippies. She shrugs off the centuries on her shoulders as if they were pollen. My daughter, my sweetest beloved daughter.
She shrugs off the centuries on her shoulders as if they were pollen.
Come away with me, I want to tell her. Stay. It could be like this, always. But it’s July already and every day when the sun is born hotter is a day closer to a cold, cold winter.
She’s back with a crown covered in daises. She puts it on my head.
“If you’re going to San Francisco,” she hums.
“Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” I finish for her.
“All across the nation such a strange vibration,” she sings louder.
“There’s a whole generation with a new explanation!”
People around us join in.
For a moment, I wonder if maybe this is enough to convince her.
“I told you they would learn, didn’t I?” I say. “They want peace now.”
“Yes, now. Mother, we’ve known them for thousands of years. It never sticks.”
“But maybe if you’d help me we could-”
“I am helping you. Where do you think Hades is right now?”
I bite my cheek. We had gone long enough without mentioning Hades.
“Somebody has to take care of those bodies in Vietnam.”
“They want to make that better!” I point to the people surrounding us. “They’re trying.”
She pulls me into a hug and I’m almost scared to hold her back. Her skin is always cold ever since she left me. She buries her face in the crook of my neck. She was born in summer too, although every day was summer back then. Her little hands reached for my neck in the same way. My summer child, my flower child.
She was born in summer too, although every day was summer back then.
“When I’m with you, Mother,” she whispers. “I stop looking for a little while, but I can’t pretend forever.”
I nod in false understanding.
“But it’s still early,” she adds. “And we can rejoice with these rebel kids. We can love and we can cast away the shame in choosing who to love.”
I pick up the implied cutting remark towards Hades.
“We can sing and we can dream of a better world until summer fades away and dreams will go back home. What do you say?”
“I like the sound of that,” I admit, letting her drag me across the busy city’s streets, each house growing brighter in color as we pass them by.
Rome, November 1929
They’re calling it a depression. It’s finally hit here too. The song of the birds is getting quieter by now. I see the starlings flying against the twilight, in large dark flocks. I can’t help but think them slightly ominous. The Queen of Hades, worried about birds. Funny.
Autumn is the season of pomegranates. My mother doesn’t know I still come to the ground sometimes, even this season. Pomegranates always taste better if you pluck them from the tree.
The best thing about progress is the irony of it. Apparently pomegranate is one of the best anti-ageing remedies. And we called it the fruit of the dead. See, irony.
The worst thing about progress is that it’s blinding. It’s like a sugar rush. Once you taste it, it’s hard to go back. To slow down. To question it. Sometimes you have to be stopped. Sometimes you just throw yourself off a building. Who am I to judge?
But something about this place just doesn’t add up. Death is mourned, death is despised. Here, they’re shoving it under the rug. They’re pretending it isn’t really happening. The people dying aren’t the ones that are being seen. I talked to them. They all said how much they trusted the system.
But something about this place just doesn’t add up. Death is mourned, death is despised. Here, they’re shoving it under the rug.
A stray cat starts eating a dead starling near my feet.
I used to think my mother had all the answers. That was until I asked her about the withering flowers and she told me not to look at those. I slowly realized she not only lacked answers – she was creating most of my questions.
We are drawn to the people with answers. It doesn’t really matter if the answers are true, as long as they put our hearts at rest. I overlooked the dead flowers for a very long time because of that.
I remember when I ran away and we spent out first autumn apart. I could hear her calling my name, all day and all night. But I was angry, for how much she had lied to me. For not wanting to explain why I had to be exactly who she was. Hades showed me the other side of the coin. Yet even those answers weren’t enough. I had to find my own. I knew she was hurting, but I was hurting too. I cursed myself and ate the pomegranate seeds because I was scared of being stuck with her forever. I never told her. She still thinks I was tricked.
I no longer despise my time with her. I can see how it fits into what I’ve made of myself. She doesn’t see that. She has her own answers, which make her overlook my choices. It’s just the way the song goes.
The cat leaves behind a few remains. They’ll be gone tomorrow, before anyone can see them. I wonder if the other starlings have noticed this one’s missing, but they keep swirling as the horizon grows darker. I have a bad feeling about the future.
Auschwitz, January 1943
It is impossible to walk without stepping on dead bodies.
Some of them are still twitching, like crumpled leaves with a breath of wind.
This isn’t just death. This isn’t balance.
Which god would ever demand this?
“Are you happy now?”
I haven’t heard her voice in months but it stands clear against the stillness of the snow-filled field.
We shouldn’t be talking. Not in winter.
“Can’t you see what you’ve done?”
A laugh escapes my lips. It’s bitter. It tastes rotten.
“Tell me, Mother,” I say, pointing to a corpse just next to my feet. His ribcage is almost bursting through the thin layer of skin. “What’s this good man’s story?”
She leans down and touches him.
“He was a barber,” she says, her tone dubious.
“He grew up in a two-floor house. He loved to collect insects. He-”
She finally pauses. I think she understands now.
“He was born.” Her tone is defiant, unapologetic.
“So what exactly is it that I have done?”
The silence lingers.
The snow keeps falling over the pale bodies as if it knows it is the only burial they’re ever going to get.
“Even right now, the ground is sucking on this water, desperately clinging to life,” I say. “Growth hardly knows end. Maybe a flower that will bloom from this ground will be ripped off and offered in gift. Maybe that gift will lead to love and that love will lead to life and weren’t we right all along to water a flower bound to be ripped off?”
“Maybe a flower that will bloom from this ground will be ripped off and offered in gift. Maybe that gift will lead to love and that love will lead to life and weren’t we right all along to water a flower bound to be ripped off?”
My mother isn’t looking at me. She’s still reclined over the dead man, crying.
“Weren’t we?” I scream. “Answer me.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I want you to tell me how there can still be life after this and expect me to help you with it.”
“Don’t you always say that it’s a cycle?”
“Yes. My part in it is that I put them out of the misery you cause them. You hate my choice because it makes you face the fact that the world would be better off without you.”
“So what? We should just erase life?”
“They’re doing a pretty good job at it themselves.”
“You used to understand the beauty of birth. I remember it. You would lay in the grass for hours, listening to all the life that was happening just underneath the surface. You were a flower yourself.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I was always meant to be a winter flower. You never liked those either.”
I start walking away. The snow cracks under my feet like bones being fractured. Like stories being ripped to shreds.
The snow cracks under my feet like bones being fractured.
“I never wanted this for you,” she screams after me.
“You made me to want this,” I scream back. “You made winter flowers. You made all of this.”
All this darkness, Mother, it’s on you.
I don’t say it, but it hits her just the same.
She doesn’t stop me from going this time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.
Athens, April 1999
I hadn’t been up here in centuries.
The pillars have cracks in them and the bronze and blue linings have faded from the roofs of the temples. But it’s not that different. Our acropolis is not gone. Who would have thought?
Persephone stands by the Parthenon, stroking a cat. She wears a yellow raincoat but the hood is down and her hair is soaked by the light spring drizzle.
“You’re not using that jacket properly,” I mention.
She shrugs. The cat shakes the water off itself and walks away.
“Don’t you think it’s weird how cats always hang around ancient sites?” she asks. “The Colosseum in Rome is just bursting with them.”
“Maybe they can sense something.”
She seems serene.
“How was your winter?” I ask.
“Relatively calm compared to past years. Then again, if the world is really ending I’m sure I’ll be making up for it…”
“Something tells me it won’t.”
I sit down next to her. We probably sat just like this, once upon a time when these buildings were brighter. I try to remember how it felt. The once upon a time that was us.
“Then again, they’ve gone as up and as low as they could. If there was ever a proper moment to end it…” I offer.
“But it won’t,” she confirms. We’ll just keep going. Round and round. I’ll keep losing her and getting her back and she will never truly be mine. Maybe this is how the world ends. I let her go.
I’ll keep losing her and getting her back and she will never truly be mine. Maybe this is how the world ends. I let her go.
“Persephone…” The words are stuck somewhere inside. She’s probably been longing to hear them. “You don’t have to keep coming back. If that’s not what you want.”
“I stopped coming back for you a long time ago,” she says then. I don’t know whether this should reassure me or not. She takes my hand and leads me to the edge of the hill. Countless buildings spread towards the horizon.
“Look at what you’ve done. I’m proud of you!” She squeezes my hand. “Yes, Hades is my home. I love listening to souls telling me their stories. I love giving them peace. I couldn’t stand to do what you do: just create and turn my back. That’s not me. But when it gets hard down there, and it has gotten difficult over the years – it helps me to see what those souls have left behind. It helps me remember we exist because of each other.”
“Stupid me to think you were coming back for your old mum.”
The drizzle washes the ground anew. Staring at the world from the ruins of our old empire, we are back to the gods we once were.
Maybe I’ll forgive her one day. Maybe she’ll forgive me. And when I miss her, I’ll still meet her on the leaves about to fall. At the rivers’ estuary. On the hills that swallow the sun. At the end of every story.