‘The Orange Foxglove’ – A Short Story
So I don’t want to fail the Post A Day 2014 challenge thing, but I am flat out of ideas. Today has not been a good day for anything productive. I pretty much woke up, stared at Facebook, got swiped at by the cat, had two hours of Shakespeare and came home to stare at Facebook again. So I don’t have any ideas for originality. But points for still posting, right? In relation to my earlier posts about my old writing I went looking through my folders for something else I could share, and came across this piece. I’ve mentioned it before but very briefly. It wasn’t written that long ago. Last year in fact for my creative writing module. But I liked it, my Mum liked it, and it got me a half-decent grade so for today I’m going to be a loser and post it. I swear I’ll try harder tomorrow.
Soft and pale, the white sky was endless. If the clouds were moving, it was impossible to tell; they drifted together, a single entity of cotton. The sun would not reach the field today. The glass beneath the young man’s forehead chilled his skin. Finn Tow’s jaw hung open, head up-tilted, grey eyes fixed on a point in the alabaster sky. He tore his eyes away. Finn dragged his frame from the window ledge and looked about the room; walls of ivory, a single chair, a painting: Van Gogh’s ‘The Crows’. This was Finn’s favourite possession. By force of habit, he found he recited the frame’s inscription in a whisper: ‘La tristesse durera toujours’: the sadness will last forever.
Before long, he found his sight yearned once again for a glimpse of life. Outside the window of his solitude, beauty reigned. The starkness of the monochrome expanse above embraced the silver birches of the frontline. Together, they enveloped the violet of the foxglove field, producing a melancholy fog that clung to everything in sight. Finn eyed the flowers with unease. They seemed to mock him; one day presenting to him the image of a better life, that same night drowning him in endless, raging seas of mauve. They hid their faces, heads downturned to shield their secrets. What did they keep from him?
He had been told upon arrival that surrounding himself with purple would give him peace of mind. At the time, he had believed them. Now, to him, it symbolised a life of perpetual Thursday. He was a Celie without a Shug to teach him God’s lavender intention. One thing Finn had been taught was the real meaning behind the foxglove. Said to sometimes hurt, and sometimes heal, this treacherous beauty was nature’s symbol of insincerity. Their violet bells refused to look at him, as if to do so would let slip something that he wasn’t meant to know. He looked from face to face, willing just one to gaze into his eyes for long enough to let him in. Their scornful ignorance enraged him. In earnest he searched for one, just one, who would tell him the truth, and as his lungs filled almost to the brim with purple seas, he found it. He breathed out the ocean, and once more drank in the purity of air.
A single bell chimed high and clear. There, treading water at the far edge of the violet field, was a solitary orange foxglove. Unlike its fellows, this spectacle of glory pointed every face toward the sky. As he stared, his senses prickled with its welcoming fragrance. It burned his throat. In an instant of clarity, he knew this flame would be his saviour. It would tell him what the other ones would not. Finn found himself drawn toward this new-found friend. His face touched the glass once more, but in three breaths his vision was engulfed in white. As he was pulled away from the fire, he felt his every fibre tingle with dread. He couldn’t leave it so soon. A frantic arm swiped across the window, and the flame once more engulfed his being. He ached to get closer.
Finn’s fingers fumbled over the latch on the window, but when he finally succeeded the window opened but three inches. Panic blinded him. He refused to give up that easy. His feet staggered to the door and he threw it open. No-one around. Now was his chance. His body shuddered as he felt the frost of separation still his heart. Down the corridor, through the gate, toward the path that seemed to lead to nowhere. Rounding the corner, his body went cold. Before him were ten thousand purple soldiers laying in wait, prepared to strike upon command and end his quest. He felt his fingertips go numb.
Finn flicked his gaze from bell to violet bell. They told him to turn back. They wouldn’t tell him why. Their forceful tone frightened him, but he knew they lied: it was in their nature. There was no danger here but them. Onward he went, dipping his toe into the field. His body grew heavy with fear but he knew he had to go on. He had to know the truth. As a breeze rippled through the field, the bells jingled a warning. Finn blocked it out, extended his arms and dove headlong into the ocean.
The foxgloves were in uproar. In full bloom, these five foot soldiers screamed their protest. Finn had turned down their words of warning and disturbed their slumber. They wrapped around his neck and tried to drag him under. He felt them grasping at his clothes. They caught at his feet, yet on he waded. He knew his flame was out there, waiting for him. He heard it calling from afar, like the ocean calls sweetly from its shell. He fought against the tide, refusing to let them deny him the truth his orange foxglove held.
Finn’s vision swam before him. He knew the sea was taking him. In all his dreams of late, he’d seen crows hovering above the wheat-fields, unsure whether they were coming in to land, or leaving to search for the sun. He always tried to cross these fields to discover what the crows may have been striving for, and every time he conquered the crest of the hill, he caught a glimpse of the dying sun, burning umber on his skin. This brilliant orange dazzled him and made him cast down his eyes. Then, he would notice them clawing at his feet: the foxgloves. In fear he drew in one last breath and fell helpless to the sea. In all his dreams he drowned. He felt a hollow sense of irony. He knew what orange meant: the colour of insanity. Van Gogh had said it once. It seemed a little cruel to him that it should be the colour of the sunset that sent him tumbling to his death.
How far had he come? The stalks were taller here. The downturned bells of lavender clung to his face. A wave crashed over him and in his haste to reach the flame he lost his footing and almost succumbed to the rage of the sea. He knew he must be closing the distance between himself and his flame, but in his very frame he felt his heart begin to crystallise. He couldn’t let his venture be in vain. The foxgloves went on screaming.
Finn could no longer see. All around him purple faces spat their rage then turned away, still failing to reveal to him the secrets locked beneath their hoods. Whatever they may be, it was too late to tell, even if they wanted to. He was almost there. It seemed impossible that he should swim this far from shore. He tried to keep his head above the surface of the field: God help him should he lose both breath and bearing. Yet somewhere in his ever-freezing heart, he knew he would not make it home. This would be his final journey. Like the crows, he had accepted his fate.
Then, he arrived.
As if the Earth itself had held its breath, all the world was hushed. Even the cries of the foxgloves gave way to whimpering, and then no sound remained. The orange foxglove was nowhere to be seen. It was a lie. The secret that the violet bells concealed was the very thing that sent him to his doom. There was no orange foxglove. He had only seen it in his mind. It all made sense now. Finn craned his neck until his whole vision was white. No, the sun would not reach the field today.
He closed his eyes. Behind his lids he saw the tool of his misfortune. The foxglove smirked at him, each upturned flower curling back its lips to cough its maniacal laughter in his face. Van Gogh was right: orange really was the colour of insanity. And Finn had seen it. As clear as anything he saw the orange foxglove and it had called to him. The field had tried to stop him but it was too late. His eyes opened. The sky was quiet. Quiet, unmoving and ever so painfully white.
He had known from the start that he would not make it home, and even now he did not have the heart to try. He cast an aching stare back to shore. Then, he let the sea take him. His legs folded beneath him and he sank to the floor, the ocean parting in his wake. Mauve waters spilled into his lungs as the ice within his body, mind and soul cracked and disappeared.
It began to snow.
The violet bells that had once made him tremble now became his shroud. He was blind now. He could no longer breathe. As his eyes fluttered to a close, and he drowned beneath the purple sea, he heard the foxgloves whisper in his ear. They told him their secret. All that now remained was the sound of the ocean calling to him from its shell.