The Waltz of the Flowers
Whenever she told the story later, Kalini added in all things she should have noticed at the time.
The first warning was tapping when she played her muse-music. It was louder during The Waltz of the Flowers than Ravi Shankar, but Tchaikovsky wasn’t for everyone. When the muse took her, and she jotted down images before they floated away, the tapping sounded like the beating of tiny wings. There would have to be thousands, and what would be that small and that active in Sussex in the autumn? The butterflies had gone, hummingbirds were absurd. It was possible that her enforced solitude in her hard-won cottage had caused her to imagine fairies. But her book deadline was encroaching and the hummingbirds and fairies had to be captured on the blank pages. She considered mentioning it in the Hand and Flower, in case it meant problems with her new/old cottage, with the Victorian plumbing, or the Tudor beams or the possibly Renaissance wiring. But she hadn’t lived down the ‘Cosmopolitan Incident’ yet. Larry-the-landlord still said there, so much better than that flowery muck” every time he handed over her glass of cider. Nine weeks later.
The second sign was a murmur when she watched TV, almost like someone was repeating the dialogue. It was loudest during Gardener’s World, and non-existent during Question Time. But her closest neighbour was 500m away and Mr Post only listened to The Archers. This time, she called in Ethel-the-electrician, who drank two cups of strong black tea and stared at a samosa, then poked at the TV and talked about echoes in an old house and people from the city who might not be used to that. As a parting shot, she peered at the green shoots of crocus that were pushing their way up along the freshly scrubbed path, and said “they won’t last long, soil’s too acid. Most people don’t bother, tidier that way.”
Kalini took her camera for a proper explore around Lower Seedscombe that weekend. She’d fallen in love four months before with the polished pump outside the grocers, the thatched roofs and the immaculate rows of window-boxes. Swathes of colour and almost total quiet, perfect writing atmosphere. Kalini hoped Ethel had meant she was growing the wrong type of flower, as she zoomed in on a tub of daffodils. The light glanced off a very green leaf, she poked at petals and pinched leaves. All the flowers were artifical. Not an insect to be seen or a bird to be heard, and not what she’d expected from the countryside.
When golden sticky fluid started dripping down the walls, Kalini went by herself into the attic to investigate. As she opened the hatch, the buzzing boomed over her like a helicopter. She poked her head through, afraid the plumbing was about to explode, and wondering how she would explain that in the post-office. The floor and beams were coated in sticky white and yellow gunk, and the air was thick with stripy, fuzzy, possessive pollinators. She slammed the hatch shut, rested her head against the cool wooden surface for a few minutes, then edged the corner down. Still bee-infested.
Kalini thought of all her acquaintances in the village and what they would do, breathed in slowly and fetched her stereo and Tchaikovsky CD and a sun-faded Encyclopedia Brittanica.
“Right, ” she said, because the insects were listening and she had to start confidently. “There are 900 cells in a bee’s brain.” She had wanted to experience nature.
The village got used to Kalini wandering around with a bee escort. Larry learnt to make beehives, Mr Post listened to Gardener’s Question Time, Ethel planted lavender. Kalini’s honey was sweet and moreish and won awards. And everywhere she went, the villager’s newly-planted flowers bloomed.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Flashback Fiction, Mojave Heart review, The Brown Orient, formercactus and Spelk. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer