Chapter I : The Original Protagonist

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Chapter 1: The Original Protagonist

Chapter 1: The Original Protagonist

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#LULLABY

 

She cried, and God cried with her.

‘Why are you crying?’ she asked.

‘Why are you crying?’ asked God.

‘As if there were not enough reasons to cry. Why am I here? This place is not for me,’ she said.

‘Yet here you are,’ said God, ‘Anything you’d like to do about it?’

‘So why are you crying?’ she asked again, after a pause.

‘I’m crying, because you are,’ answered God.

‘How is that?’ she asked.

‘You cry, so I cry. I’m a god in your world, so I cry with you. In the next best laughing, cheerful person’s world I’m a laughing, cheerful god. See what I’m getting at here? Easy-peasy,’ answered God.

‘You’re somewhat a Buddhist, I see,’ she said.

‘I’m just god,’ shrugged God. ‘What made you cry?’

‘It’s kind of difficult to explain, you know,’ she said. ‘All these bits and pieces in my mind, even though a mess, they make me see all those lives I could have lived but didn’t, and all the things I could have had but hadn’t, and everything I could have been but never had a chance to... And it’s all so real, much more than what I get here. You know what I mean? It’s just… am I in the wrong place?’

‘Why?’ asked God.

‘Because how I am now is not quite right,’ she replied.

‘But why?’ asked God.

‘Because I want to sparkle like millions of stardust butterflies, and wind beneath my wings, and…’ she searched for words, but couldn’t find the right ones.

‘So, you’re bored,’ said God.

She cried some more.

‘I’m cold,’ she said.

‘M’Kay,’ said God. ‘How about this?’

All of a sudden, she was warm. Thick, weighty wool was covering her shoulders, its butter-soft pleats falling down to her knees; intricate ornaments blossoming on the sleeves of what could possibly be the most emotionally protective armour of a coat, its edges raw like love’s first chords, its folds magnificent and soothing like ancient tomes in a hideaway library room.

A tear fell down, sparkling, and found its woolly embrace. She smiled, for the first time today.

‘How did you do it?’ she asked.

‘I’m god, duh,’ smirked God.

Rain was jotting down symphonies on her window. Blurry patches of blue and green with an occasional random flash of red, all instantly swallowed by general greyness. She ran her palm across steamy glass, relishing its coldness, rubbed a drop of water between her fingertips, and struck a line on each cheek. ‘Now I’m a rain warrior,’ she thought, walking away from the window in her fluffy knit pyjamas.

Maybe the rain will wash the dust off her life. Just how wonderful would that be. What would God say to that?

 

She closed her eyes. As always, they were there. Burning stars of an unknown system, right in front of her. So close, and so many; the blossoming flowers of an eternal tree, their fiery petals stretched towards her, opalescent centres calling her into their depth. And there she was, a crown princess of sorts, about to be shipped off to some safe planet in an odd dimension. Will they manage on time? This ground under her feet was about to turn into dust, perhaps the very dust that now covered her life, muting its colours. The ships, they were on their way. She raised her hands towards the sky, reaching for the blazing petals, daring them to burn her fingertips. Their brightness stung her. This sky was the deepest shade of purple, which could easily be also indigo, or, say, red.

She opened her eyes. It dawned on her that God must have been bored, too.

The rain lulled her to deep, dreamless sleep, and she woke up refreshed to an early, crisp morning; its soft hues, not yet fully illuminated by the first smug rays of sun, offering the prospect of a vibrant day. She crawled out of her warm bed, walked to the window and opened it, letting in fresh air that smelled of yesterday’s rain and just a hint of warmth—the type of smell that prompts cats to blissfully narrow their eyes and smile profusely, as cats do. For a moment, she imagined gathering this smell by hand and running it through her hair to keep in all the promises of the day, about to begin.

Before her was the garden, the field, and then the moorland, stretching all the way out towards a wall of forest in the distance. A routinely familiar sight, which had, perhaps, a peculiar glow today.

She did what she would always do when feeling daring and ambitious: climbed over the windowsill, and jumped onto the ground, landing with her bare feet in the grass, adorned with sparkles of dew. It was that precious moment just after dawn, just instants before the clear droplets are about to vanish into thin air, when they can be collected and kept forever as shiny crystals to later adorn pendants and earrings.

She squinted at the rising sun, letting through her eyelashes elusive rainbow dots, akin to those tiniest shimmering bugs with their intricately webbed wings. At moments like this, everything was perfect. And she could see exactly just how perfect everything was. Holding on to such moments was, however, nearly impossible. She would practice it vigorously, and then just as willingly give it all up, suddenly recalling that the understanding of ultimate perfection undermines the very essence of being alive as a human in a material world. She would then wonder whether other creatures didn’t concern themselves with perfection, being seamlessly woven into the fabric of life with ease, and without questioning.

As she drank her customary coffee out in the garden, she gave herself the rarely allowed permission to ponder over her life. That’s just how cocky she fancied herself today. 

#MEMORYBUBBLES

 

Her memory was most confusing. She didn’t know who she was, why or how she appeared here. All she knew was that one day she just walked up through thigh-high weeds to this house on the edge of the moorland—a simple building on the border between human land and nature.

Yet, there were all those fragments and images overflowing her mind. Parallel lives. Ones that could have happened but never did. Snapshots of relationships growing and falling apart. Bits of reality, forever lost in that head of hers—meaningless signals with no destinations.

At first, the noise was baffling. By now, however, she could easily make a distinction between her own thoughts and these superfluent bits, even though it was not always straightforward. Often, meandering memory bubbles floated up to the top of her consciousness, and keeping them in check could be hard work.

She worked out a mental system, a set of exercises that helped her stay sane. It wasn’t a perfect system by any stretch, and failed every once in a while, but it worked somehow, and that had to be good enough.

In broad terms, she made it a rule not to focus on any of the fragments, or go into any detail, in order to keep any of them from sticking atop of her consciousness. To do that, each bubble she categorised, colour-coded and directed to its own neat little spot in an endless library at the back of her mind. Sometimes, the bubbling fragments were terribly curious. Those she wrote down in a squared notebook she carried around, or, if the notebook was too far, on her hands. It looked quite suave, as far as she was concerned. In general, though, she made sure to stay as disengaged as possible, and keep clear the space at the forefront of her mind, where she placed the library entrance. Truth be told, she never managed to shut the entrance door fully. But maybe one day? If she were ever to succeed, she needed all the discipline she could muster.

Which was why she cherished the simplicity and reliability of the routine she had created for herself. Waking up at the dawn or shortly after. Brewing and slowly drinking hot coffee; taking a brisk stroll through dewy grass; tending to the flowers in her small but lively garden, exchanging with them compliments and jokes. Eating a simple breakfast, mainly fruit she grew herself. Then—stretches of identical minutes, filled with reading, drawing, meditations, and long walks through the moors. She didn’t own any complex appliances, did not have a phone, a TV or a computer. She felt safer without. There was far too much noise in her mind already.

Every now and again a small sum, just enough to sustain her, appeared on the modest bank account, which she had instinctively set up to buy magazine subscriptions and obtain some kind of superficial identity in the town. She didn’t know where the funds, transferred anonymously, came from, and was fine with that. ‘This monetary tribute to normality is the least I can expect from life, considering the chaos in my head,’ she told herself, while explaining to the attorney she’d hired to manage all her legal and financial dealings, that the money was an inheritance, left to her by her Japanese grandmother, the only relative she’d ever known of, who had departed for worlds with better styles long-long time ago. This was the only story she ever used as her go-to cover-up.

And so days went by, one after another. She quickly learned how to take care of plants in the little garden, weave yarn out of random weeds, and make an occasional pot of flower dye to sell at a local market for some extra cash to be spent on a new magazine subscription or a pair of glittery rain boots.

Apart from visiting the bank and the market, she ventured into town rarely, only to do her groceries—the long-standing sort. She grew her own fruit and veg, and the town’s postwoman brought over supply of milk and cheese and other bits and pieces once a week or two, with a fresh magazine delivery.

#APRONDRESS

This house at the edge of the moor, which she just walked up to one day through thigh-high weeds, was a small, cosy affair. Its walls were white, and appeared almost pristine, until one came close enough to see the secret life of the house, gradually revealed. Tiny cracks in whitewash betrayed layers of blue, and then red paint over the stone. The walls, adorned with an ornament of poison ivy, housed a colony of ants, busily trotting up and down. An abandoned sparrow’s nest underneath the grey thatched straw roof was a reminder that the house had had a history before her—the history she could have probably learned if she asked, but she preferred not to, wishing to keep her modest abode a perfect objet trouvé, belonging now to her only.

Inside, past a small hallway, the house constituted of just one room with large, square windows overlooking the garden, and broad windowsills, ideal for drinking tea, reading, or just staring at the moors. The floor of lightened wood, worn by time, caught patches of sun, its warm coarse boards inviting to walk on with bare feet and take photographs of toes, roll in the sun, or throw a bunch of cushions and sit there, drawing for hours.

The house and adjacent garden faced east so that the plants got the most out of light hours. Mornings here were bright and warm. Days lingered long, yet were always snipped off suddenly, unexpectedly, without the sense of gradual fading away: as soon as the sun crossed the sky, it quickly descended to its nocturnal residence behind the town, as if in a rush not to be held back here, over this peacefully monotonous spec of human life, facing wilderness, now left on its own in the darkness.

She enjoyed working in the garden in a dress she’d found inside the single closet, when she had just arrived. The dress was one of the very few items, remaining from past inhabitants, and she liked to think of it as a welcome gift to her. Plain, roomy and breezy, with long straps to tie the simple cuts of material, softened by numerous wears in its previous life, the dress was a beautiful summer wear equation with plenty of space to move, and minimal fuss. The fabric bore marks of long faded plants, bee pollen, traces of years, weathers, and tiny mysteries of gardening, which rendered the garment even more attractive to her. There was no need to be too careful with the dress, which made the loose fabric, upgraded only with the bare necessity of pockets, an even more indispensable piece of attire. She liked it so much that she made a couple more versions for home and moorland. ‘No point in wasting a good design,’ she thought.

The fact that the dress went especially well with her glittery rain boots and a massive, bitey cable knit sweater, picked up, respectively, from a kiddy store section, and the local second-hand shop, made it all the more revered in her eyes. Wearing the dress, she could imagine how the girls in her favourite magazines or some of the nicer bubbles from her unruly mind library must feel. Those girls who smile happily, running through the fields, their hair, flying in the wind, catching glimpses of slowly setting sun; the girls awaited by others, with lives sorted out in a way completely opposite from her own, being easy, easy and non-contrived, effortless, like faded photographs or Impressionist paintings.

#MOORLAND

 

Every once in a while she ventured out into the moorland. A narrow, barely discernible path lead from the gate in the short wooden fence, decked out in flowers, right into the whirlpool of tall, assertive grasses.

Usually, she brought along a square picnic basket, picked up at the local market. The basket was sturdy and roomy, woven of seven types of wicker, and lined with hand-crochet lace—the town’s staple product—that gave the basket a charming, treasure box type of appeal. Normally she used the basket to stored art supplies, but on days when a visit to the moorland was planned, she replaced paints and paper with fruits, and bread, baked for the occasion. Along went a book or two, her current journal and to top it all off a plaid blanket, again, from the market.

To properly explore, she enjoyed setting out early, when the night chill had just subsided, but its presence was still sensible. She took a special pleasure in feeling the air gradually getting warmer, filling up with baffling sonic variety of awakening land.

Just like her house, the moorland could appear empty to an untrained eye. It contained secrets soft and cosy, like old charades. All kinds of insects with immaculately designed shiny covers, bending minuscule blades of grass under their weight—an image, which she was to translate about into an intricate piece of jewellery. Preoccupied groups of field mice, hurriedly running important errands. Mole holes, leading to underground tunnels of homes, storage and entertainment spaces for resident and travelling rodents. Her favourite bit was to stretch out in the weeds on the blanket and watch these miniature lives unfold. The little creatures seemed to be exactly where they belonged, doing what they were meant to. That was quite reassuring.

No matter what, she never stayed out in the moorland after dusk. It was clear that she must be back in her garden before the last golden glow of day had faded away. A whole different life began in the moors after dark. Stories were told that as night fell, the grasses rustled under white shadows, rising above the wolds. The shadows were said to have their own songs, too—if it was possible to call them such, with only a few hollow, prolonged, unfinished notes; the songs of longing and loss, meditation on despair. More than once late-night travellers came to town shaking with fear, with a few extra grey hairs on their heads. What those white apparitions were—ghosts, phantoms, or lost souls—and how they appeared in the moorland, no one knew. It was even more surprising that this type of phenomenon could occur so close to the peaceful and quiet town, with no history of wars, diseases or disturbing incidents of any kind to speak of.

Probably the proximity to the moorland was the reason why the house she now occupied had been abandoned. Nobody from the town was foolish enough to settle down so close to the wild grasses, with the forest rising up in the distance, always dark, dark, dark. She, however, didn’t care much for the stories. Small-town folk, what do they know of scary, she sneered silently. She had her own fears, quite far off from the terrors of this town. She herself had never seen, nor heard anything in the moors. Perhaps she, an outsider, was immune to the common experience of the townsfolk with their shared history, and safe in her terrors, which did not blend with theirs.

#STARPEOPLE

She usually went to bed early to avoid darkness as much as possible, and to be sure that she was awake with the first rays of sun. Sometimes, however, she could not resist the temptation of breaking her schedule to get up in the middle of the night and walk out into the garden.

There she watched the stars far up in the sky, shining down on her with their piercing, ice-cold rays. Those nights, however, were few. The stars in the sky above her, though harmless, brought back the images of those other ones, ferocious fire flowers, about to devour her, so that all to be left behind was shimmering ash, the dust of life. The stars that arose once she closed her eyelids were too alluring in their opalescent fury, a picture of disturbing beauty.

That’s why she dared to look at the faraway stars high up in the sky only in autumn, and only on those extra chilled, crisp and clear nights that smell of burnt wood; the nights, pure and calm caress of which could cool the most unbeatable of fires. Autumn was migration period, the time that some call fall, attributing it to the descending leaves. But she knew that the term referred to stars that leave their cosmic nests by dozens, hundreds, thousands, and shoot across the sky, desperately and intently. Those were tiny star people that travelled through light years and dimensions and fell into deep, dark woods on thick, colourful blankets of leaves, prepared especially for star people to safely land on. There, reverse causality for you.

Probably, it could have also been possible for her to catch star people in her palms and keep them in an empty jar to light up the hallway. But why would she? Star people could get attached and forget that they undertook perilous journeys in order to be transformed into legible occupants of their final destinations, and then polish professionally, as only bright, spotless star people could, grainy karmas of assigned planets. If happened, that would have been wrong. And, anyways, who was she to meddle with the works of things?

On some nights she spent hours at a time getting lost in shimmering darkness above, memorising combinations of stars, trying to figure out how much they see and know. Those were the nights. The mornings after were akin to hangover, her head heavy with starlight. Yet, she loved it.

#LOOPSANDWAVES

Apart from those nights and an occasional visit from the postwoman, her days always stayed the same. She supposed that she could have visited the town more regularly, supposed she could have gotten a job at a local café or lace workshop or library, but she never had. The very notion was uncomfortable.

She never felt terribly at ease with other people, those whose memories were intact, and lives connected. She knew they could sense it. What do you answer if someone asks, say, where is your family, or where do you come from, but you just don’t know? And not only that, but you also don’t care, because fishing the correct answer out of an endless sea of possibilities is a task for an Einstein of sorts.  In these matters she was hardly an Einstein.  Naturally, she could have made up stories, or picked some of those fragments buzzing in her head, or simply lied, but that would have complicated things, and complexity was way low on her list of priorities. She was unanchored, and tried her best to keep her mind untroubled, and her spirit free, like the wind over the moors.

But there was a bit more to it. She had a pet peeve: unresolved lives. Looking at people, she could in a split second identify what they were meant to be. She wondered sometimes, whether she had a talent of, like, tuning an instrument of a person to help them play the melody of their true selves. She noticed those with clearly unrecognised tunes, and those that could only master the chorus, and those with brilliant and loose sequences of chords, fading into obscurity without purpose or resolution. Sometimes it was sad to see, sometimes cringeworthy. Occasionally, she came across those who had mastered their tunes, like the post-woman. But since she made a conscious effort to limit her social circle and had never been anywhere apart from this town and the moors, such mavericks were usually out of her sight.

In her logic, those without interference (unlike herself) should have been able to perfectly perform their life-melodies, easy as a pie. Yet, the more she observed what it was like for others to be alive, even in her limited and disconnected existence, the more she realised how disproportionately high was the percentage of life-melodies never to be formalized into appropriate notes in sync with the general symphony. Some clearly had no ear for it. Others picked wrong melodies. Others tried writing their own but didn’t have the skills. In most cases it was either one of these scenarios or the lack of interest in different, possibly more appropriate genres. And so she wondered whether there was a profession she could take up, akin to a soul conductor, to give svelte and sound direction to ensure that every tune was developed to its logical conclusion, every note was hit right, and complete, effortless melodies of life would be revealed, fluttering away into the boundless space, showing off the great deed of perfection far and wide across distant galaxies.

Such occupation would have been an easy choice for her. With all those random, ridiculous, confused, fluttering, opaque fragments in her mind, she could pick and choose the already-played melodies and jot them down to apply to the characters coming her way. If she was on it, she could have become very successful. But of course, for isn’t everyone just a fuzzy projection of their initial wholesomeness, seeking to live out the memories of ideal selves? That is to say, everyone apart from her, as, obviously, her memories weren’t her own. But such lack of bias made her even better qualified for the job. She could have been very successful indeed—but she hadn’t pursued that path. She wasn’t able to answer why, exactly. Maybe the idea of orchestrating others’ lives was against her notion of freedom. Or maybe, because to her, people were weird—at least those she came across here. They lived by fictional rules, most of which came down to the following: work should be structured, relationships flowing. Or something along those lines. And she could not imagine them accepting the notion that sometimes one has to toss adopted randomness aside to follow the true path.

Adopted randomness is difficult. Once planted, it grows exponentially, becoming an integral part of one’s life, and then their very self, occupying the space, otherwise allotted for what in common language is referred to as ‘destiny’. Observing the people she met, and going through myriads of rampaging fragments in her mind, she eventually began to see it as obvious that cutting out adopted randomness for most is equally, if not more, painful than coming to terms with the acceptance of giving up on their dreams once and for all. To her, dreams were indicators, note sheets from which to play the melody of one’s life, experimenting with chords and tempo. Naturally, there was a specific set of such sheets for every singularity, and recognising the correct combination for each particular life would have been a rare and precious skill to master and share, but she rather wouldn’t, and so she didn’t. Perhaps she just could not convince herself that the method of repeated knowledge, if applied to life, would have been correct under the universally accepted limitation of obligatory uniqueness. Or perhaps, quite simply, such a job would have been a bit too much human interaction for her taste.

Her take on the whole thing was something like this:

She saw human souls as shiny, pulsating loops of energy, moving in wave-like scenarios. Coming together, they enhanced each other, increasing mutual radiance by doubles or triples, if they vibrated in the same rhythm and frequency. Yet when these loops moved in discord, their shine diminished, by the laws of wave interference. And so she often wondered what could have happened if she sought out those with similar wavelengths. The thing was, as with many theories, she found it hard to apply to practice. Mainly because she longed for unity, but as of yet, her experience with unity had been quite terrifying; and even though she could study all she wished for about human nature in her messy library of memories, she hardly knew anything about herself. Therefore, it was hard to tell whether those with similar wavelengths to hers would come along that often—or ever. ‘In the end, though, isn’t struggle supposed to make one feel?’ she thought sometimes, considering the possible hidden potential of her situation. Nonetheless, she preferred to keep her borders. She probably did not need to; she probably could have taken a different approach and be more plugged into life. But that wasn’t it. Shifting perspectives was not hard. The hard part was believing that a shifted perspective would actually bring her into the reality of which she was just an observer. She was too keenly aware that most things appeared more important than they were, and that the unimportant could all of a sudden mean too much. Yet in relation to herself she never seemed to get a grasp of the unimportant and the important, probably because of all the interference in her mind. She suspected that if vocalised, such lack of regular definition could be seen it as a defect of sorts, which could have made her life harder, and she did not care for it.  She had reasons to keep her distance, to be sure.

#POSTWOMAN

Even though she avoided society, she was hardly lonely: that would have not been a joyful existence. She had plenty of company when she needed it.

Several times a week she’d hear a klaxon, honking from afar. That was the postwoman on her spotless red bicycle, greeting the day. The postwoman brought her fresh magazines, books from the town’s library, and some foods.

She liked the postwoman’s friendly smile, neatly brushed hair, sharp white blouse, offset by a narrow tie, and stylishly sleek navy uniform with a pleated skirt, always immaculately wrinkle-free, despite long bicycle rides, heavy cross-body bag full of mail, and changeable weather conditions. Truth be told, though, it was inescapably a sunny morning whenever the postwoman visited, as if she had a talent for pushing the clouds out of her route. Otherwise it could rain, and she would not be able to deliver in a timely manner to the town residents and nearby villages their hopes, frustrations, excitement, pain, and whatever else came in those envelopes. No wonder the postwoman was most loved amongst the townsfolk.

For whichever reason, the postwoman liked her, and she liked the postwoman. They just kind of clicked right away, and enjoyed each other’s company. The postwoman knew nothing about her beyond the surface, but that mattered not. They didn’t need to go into much detail to have a certain kind of unspoken understanding. And perhaps this friendship was the reason why she, herself, was on a reasonably all right stand with the town, despite being an outsider, who never made the slightest bit of effort to become a part of its well-tempered life.

With the postwoman she shared her plans, project ideas, and homemade jam. In return she got warm conversation and latest town news. It was generally going to be a good day if it started with the visit of the postwoman. First of all, it was hardly possible for her to receive any bad-news mail; and she loved the freshly printed and snugly packaged subscription magazines from the remote capital, with their matte covers and colourful pages.  Sometimes the postwoman stayed for a cuppa tea and some biscuits, and then they talked about the moorland and the wall of forest behind it.

‘I would love to go cycling through the forest, but it’s not really for me. One must have a very good reason go all the way to that forest. There are all kinds of things in it,’ said the postwoman once.

‘What kinds of things?’ she asked.

‘I am not sure,’ answered the postwoman. ‘Dangerous kinds. When I was little, my mother used to tell me that the forest is for those brave of heart; it’s old and dark and full of monsters. Neither she nor anyone in my family had ever been to the forest, but when I was very young I always thought that I would go as soon as I grew up. And when I did grow up I couldn’t muster up the courage anymore. That’s just how it goes, I guess. It taught me not to wait too long.’

Clearly, the forest was just a metaphor.

Sometimes, the postwoman read out lost letters: the ones with wrong or indecipherable addresses, or those whose addressees had left without mail forwarding notes. It was the postwoman’s dream to arrange some of her favourites and publish them in a beautifully bound book. The letters contained a whole other world, lost in transit, composed of extracts of lives which had a very tangible realness to them, yet were nothing more than snippets of writing. She found weird fascination in how similar in concept, yet how different in content those fluttering fractions were from the disjointed, random snatches cluttering her own mind.

 

One of such undeliverables she had asked to keep. It was meant for someone who’d moved out a long while ago without any forwarding address. Neither the letter’s point of origin, nor sender’s name were mentioned on the envelope. It went like this:

“My darling,

When this letter reaches you, I will most likely be gone. There are places out there, which I have not yet explored, and I need to see each and every one of them. I wish I could have stayed with you, and wish I could come back. But you know that it’s not possible. The only remedy I know of is to keep moving, and so, this is the only thing I can do for now. But never mind, you know it all too well. I just wanted to make sure you realised that I’m as okay as I can be. Maybe one day we will meet again. I hope and prey for this. Don’t forget to check the sky every once in a while. The telescope is on the roof. The blue, flickering star will be me, watching after you, sending you my love. I’ve paid for milk delivery for a year in advance, and stocked up on warm socks for you. Check the upper left drawer. Please take care.

P.S. Guess where I am now?”

The letter was written on the back of a blurry photograph, not much more than a snapshot, taken in an apparent haste, of a platform of some sort, set amidst open blue water. Lens flares and sun flickers made it nearly impossible to make out the details of what the photo actually showed. She imagined the structure was the base of a quantum laboratory, or an airfield, or a military base. She thought she’d probably never know what it actually was. The postwoman saw no harm in her keeping the letter, and so she hung on to it, using the photograph as a bookmark.

#FLOWERS

The postwoman was not her only pal. Apart from this congenial lady and the stars on brisk autumn nights—her enchanting seasonal confidantes—she had the garden plants to talk to. She conversed with them whenever she needed advice, perspective, or a just a plain old rant. With the slow, nearly suspended pace of her life she did not need much, and meticulously avoided anything that could disrupt its rickety harmony, so plants were the perfect companions: always present for her, never forthcoming with strangers.

The time to get them at their best was in late spring or early summer, just after dawn, when the first rays of sun touched softly blushing, misty petals, not yet fully prepared for the waking hours, during their daily dew-bathing ritual. That was another reason for her early starts: she would bring a pot of hot coffee out into the garden, take a few deep breaths of sweet air, tinted with the bitter-warm scent of the freshly made beverage, and talk it out with the plants.

She enjoyed the frivolous chatter of bellflow