Lilacs: The Word Collector’s Tale
The Scent of Lilacs on the Wind. Cat and Mouse at Play. Newly birthed titles, still fresh, inscribed in crimson ink on the ivory pages of the book where she kept such things. Frost Feathering the Window. How Large the Sky.
How small the room she sat in and traced the shapes in crimson ink of all the words she heard. The world turned dark outside the room, and still she sat and wrote the colours of the universe inside her. She did not hear the rain, tiny fingers tickling the windows like the ivory keys of a piano, ivory like the paper, nor the mice inside the baseboards as they scratched out their grey yet eager lives. She’d sat inside this room for months, for years, while seasons turned and passed again. She did not see the frost flowers on the windows, the scrawny cat who prowled the room, the lilac bush whose purple buds sent out their heady welcome, whose branches tapped at the window, joining the rain in a neglected symphony. She sat and wrote.
She wrote, but only titles left their mark, like carvings on a tiny piece of ivory that hinted of things unsaid. The world’s ephmera condensed into a half a dozen words or so. She adorned the few words with curlicues and figures. As if a mediaeval monk within his cell, she reimagined them as fish and fowl, as funny folk engaged in tasks unknown to her in life. Atop each page a set of words. Below, blank space still waiting for its story.
She lived her life within the walls of wood and bricks and paper. She lived, but did not see, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste all that it offered. She saw, but only in the few words she wrote, the street, the people walking on its stones, the trees. She saw the lilac bush, the frost tracing its tales upon the window, the snow upon the roofs. She saw but did not see their truth. She heard the wind scattering the lilac petals that fell to earth, the cries of children playing in the park. She heard. The hearing did not touch her life. She smelled the lilac petals as they fell, as they were crushed by tramping feet, as they were washed by rain. The Scent of Lilacs on the Wind she wrote. The petals stirred no memories for her. Nor did they stir desire.
She sat inside, collected words, shards of a life that glued together might spell, might speak some meaning if only words would come.
How Large the Sky she wrote in crimson ink. How cold her heart. Her room was small. How vast the field of white upon the pages.
One day in spring she woke, ate her small meal, took out the book to write down there the titles that had come to her in sleep. But as she turned to a new page, The Scent of Lilacs on the Wind had no blank space below it. Instead, in crimson ink, a half-familiar hand spoke out its story. She turned the page, and there was more, another page came after that. She dropped her pen upon the desk and read.
“The scent of lilacs on the wind entered her dreams. She stood upon a bare hilltop and raised her arms to the lowering sky. Her bare feet gripped the cold green grass. Her gauzy gown blew in the breeze as if, once cloth was filled with air, she could take flight.”
She read these words and quickly closed the book. She opened it again. The words still spoke.
A mirror stood upon its legs in a long-forgotten corner of the room. It had been years and many springs since she had looked into its world. She held the book up to the mirror and saw inside the glass no words except those seven of the title. She also saw she had no face, no features, was just a shadow on the glass.
She walked toward the window and held the book into the light. The words appeared again. And in the glass she saw reflected a still young face, a puzzled face, her eyes seeking beyond the glass for answers and for stories.
Again she sat and read a tale of a young girl who fled the world of sorrows and of shadows for a universe of words. She read of blood that flowed like crimson ink through youthful veins and stirred the passions of the heart to flower like the lilacs gathered in jars upon each empty surface. The scent of lilacs filled the room as she read on.
She read on, and the world grew dark outside. There was no light inside, but still she read, crimson words glowing. A whole life was held inside them and it spoke. A simple meal appeared beside a book. She ate and read until she heard the sad yet soothing call of a mourning dove amidst the lilac branches speaking to its mate. She smiled a little then to see it there upon the pages.
The door stood open.
After having taught at an international high school in the Czech Republic for seven years, Sheelagh Russell-Brown is now a lecturer in English literature and a writing tutor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her research interests are in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and European literature, the portrayal of the Roma in art and literature, and the foregrounding of marginalized female roles in neo-Victorian literature. She has been published in The Fem e-magazine, in Abridged poetry and art magazine, and in Tales from the Forest e-magazine, and will have a short story published by TSS in November of this year. She has also won second prize in the first Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Contest, and was shortlisted for the second Irish Imbas contest, as well as for the 2016 Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition. She is a contributor to Backstory e-magazine, to Understorey e-magazine, and to Historical Honey.