Excerpt from ‘The Flowers of Dawn’ — Isolation and Other Stories
The Flowers of Dawn is one of the five stories in the Isolation and Other Stories collection. See blurbs for all of the stories and where to find Isolation by clicking here.
In this excerpt, the main character Elaina Hirschbaum, a diplomat, brings an alien friend along on a very personal errand:
The car turned off of the two-lane state highway and maneuvered between two minimalist stone guardians, sketches of swords grounded at the sketches of their stone feet. Stone markers and silk bouquets in sober and subdued colors marched past as the car kept a slow pace through the manicured grounds.
“This is a… memorial place?” Eschavel asked.
“A cemetery. Yes,” I answered quietly. I could see Coral’s final resting place coming up on the right, and the car slowed gently. I could still see the black rectangle marking the slab of new sod that lay over her. “This is where my spouse is buried,” I said. I kept a sob out of my voice but my vision went blurry. I didn’t fight it, but let the tears roll down my cheeks.
“This is your Private Sphere,” Eschavel said quietly. “My presence here is a mistake.”
“No,” I said, surprised to realize that I meant it. “That you chose today to offer friendship… my friends and family have been great. But they all knew her, too. It feels right to… to…” words failed and I sat for a moment looking down at my shoes, just breathing. I felt a tentative hand on my shoulder, gently patting. The Helf Wanas, in general, do not touch as adults outside of sex, medicine, and combat. But Eschavel was an excellent diplomat.
Appropriate use of haptics is a difficult call even within a single human culture, a phrase from a xenodiplomacy text I still kept as a relic of my grad school days, passed through my mind. Considering the so-called ‘double baffle’ of culture and species differences, he wasn’t doing badly at all.
“It feels right to introduce her to a stranger today,” he said, not questioning, but making a statement.
“I’m surprised…” my training stilled my tongue. I’m surprised you understand, I had nearly said. A statement far too easy to misunderstand as an accusation of ignorance. “…to feel this way,” I finished. It had the advantage of being as true as what I had left unsaid.
“It is a minor custom, irregularly observed among us,” Eschavel said. I keyed the doors and they opened. We exited the car and began walking across the grass at a somber pace.
“To explain a loved one to a stranger,” he continued as we walked, “you must say the obvious things. You remember to see the things you have known so long that you’ve forgotten them. It is an extension of the creed of our Teachers’ Guild: To teach is to learn.”
We reached her marker, and we stood there together for a moment, just looking at it. One of thousands, I supposed, standing in ranks, polished stone with rough edges to remind us that these things had been torn up out of the earth to mark the place where we lay our own to rest inside the earth. I knelt down in the spongy turf and touched the letters. Coral Hirschbaum.
“She was a teacher,” I said softly to nobody; I knew Eschavel was listening and I didn’t mind that, but these words were from me and for me. “She taught art and music and Canadian French. Her students adored her. Her favorite breakfast was blueberry French toast with an over-easy egg on top and I loved cooking it for her. She always apologized to me when she came to bed because she thought she smelled like sweat. I loved her smell. It was gentle and earthy and a little sharp, just like she was. It suited her. I miss it. Her pillows smell a little less like her every night and it’s like I’m losing her again. Only this time I’m losing her slowly, not all at once like the plane crash. She loved roses. She hated cut flowers. She said they were just dead things without their roots. She was so gentle. And she loved roses. She kept a miniature potted rose on the windowsill beside her desk. It’s dying too. I don’t know how to take care of it. She’s gone and I’m losing all the pieces of her that were left. What if I wake up one morning and I can’t remember her voice or her smell or her face?”
Tears were dripping steadily from the end of my nose onto the too-green grass. “I love her,” I whispered. “Why is she dead? Why wasn’t I with her?”