Flowers for the Living, Flowers for the Dead

Strange how even in the dark, the eyes find shape.

“The walls are made of flowers,” Amelie says, nestled against me. “White flowers, bigger than I can hold.”

“White as clouds,” I say. “Bright and soft.” Our voices are muted. Collapsed into the space we occupy, just as the space has collapsed into us.

“They smell . . . they smell like butter.”

I try to remember the smell of flowers. Of petals. Of wind. “Yes,” I say, finally giving up. “Like butter. Like butter and rain.”

A minute passes. An hour. A month. A day. Time has little meaning in the land of the dead.

Amelie shifts beside me. But not too much. There’s so little space, so much of it filled.

“Mama, I feel rain. It must be pouring outside.”

There is no outside. Not anymore. “Yes, pouring like a molten kettle.”

“It’s hot. So hot it sizzles when it strikes the mud.”

“So hot when it strikes, the mud turns to stone.”

“So hot,” she says, whispering, “it makes the world turn.”

I pause. “So hot, it makes the world burn.”

More silence. Hours. Seconds. Millennia.

“The flowers are gone,” Amelie says. Somber now. “They’ve burned with everything else, haven’t they?”

I find her hand in the darkness. Squeeze. “It’s okay, baby. We’ll just plant more.”

The world outside is burning. But here in the land of the dead nothing burns.

“I’m hungry,” Amelie says.

My abdomen is a creaking hollow. My chest, my skull. “The dead can’t be hungry, baby.”

Shapes flicker in the darkness. Rabbits. Dogs. The flamingo I saw once when I was nine.

“But I am hungry,” Amelie says.

“Shh.” I pull her against me.

She’s cold—but I suppose you can’t be dead and not be cold as well. Still. I didn’t expect her to be this cold.

“Here,” I say, setting my hand in hers, “have some bread.”

Even dead, it’s hard not to feel when she begins to chew.

In the dark, the shapes are always changing. They are also always the same.

“Do you think it’s over?” Amelie asks. “Do you think it’s safe again?”

How long has it been? Time dances in the land of the dead, like angels on the head of a pin. But however long it’s been, it will never be enough. The world can’t burn forever, but it can burn longer than us.

“Come here,” I say, and take Amelie into my arms. I curl around her in the dark, like the shell of an egg. I should hurt, but here in the land of the dead there is no pain. Or hunger.

Or sorrow.

Amelie’s hand grazes my cheek. “It’s raining again,” she says. Wipes a droplet free.

“Yes,” I say, and squeeze her tight. Like I’ll never let her go. “It’s always raining here, in the land of the dead.”

And on the walls, again, the flowers grow.