The manor stands still and beautiful. The only movement within it is from the trees swaying with the wind, and the ducks swimming quietly in the pond. There is a faint dirt road in front of it that extends for miles… before abruptly stopping. Violet's forest continues on in a confusing nature from there. There is danger in those woods. Thorns like hands reach out to grab you and leave bloody marks, which then get swept away by the footprints of many wolves. At night there is a loud howling, which can never be heard by the manor. Sometimes a faint whistling can be heard if you press your head against the walls and listen closely. But when you lean out of the balcony or out of the window, pressing the full weight of your body against the wind... you hear nothing but the wind and the quiet, peaceful sounds of nature.
If you can walk through the forest unscathed, and look closely at the ground, you’d end up following the path that used to be the bloody footprints of the ancestors. You’d eventually find yourself in the city and find a job and forget about the quiet manor with its peaceful nature and a quiet pond. Its ducks and its solitude. You’d forget about the maids there, about the dances and the food. You’d forget about the maids who packed away your suitcase. You’d forget about the butlers who opened the doors. You’d forget about Mr. and Mrs. Grimware with whom you had fascinating conversations. And you’d forget about the daughter who you could only admire for her beauty and intelligence. For her quietness and sophistication. To her dedication to her parents and to her studies.
And you’d forget the reason why you left, or ever wanted to go to that manor in the first place. A treasure stuck in time. A getaway from life. But you’d have this feeling of remorse. An uncontrollable feeling of regret. Eating away at yourself. What was it that you had forgotten? What was it that you wanted to return to? Was it some lover whose name you had lost? Is it some item worth a thousand pounds? A caring mother or father? A good friend? A faithful servant? No, these can’t be it!
But I just can’t put my finger on it! You sigh, blowing out the lamp and closing the book. You think your brain is too muddled from work and finances. The room is dark as you sludge your way across the room to bed. You sink into the stale bed, groaning as it creaks. You worry about your back. But then you close your eyes and let the city noises fade away. And then, in the darkness, is when you remember…
The soft clicks of the pencil on paper as I carefully watch time escape from the grandfather clock, only to be caught again by the next tick. I gaze outside and look at the sky to see any change in color. Only slightly. It is etched like little creases in the sky. I look to the walls and watch the shadows move, before turning back to my page.
I stand on a boat, the ocean at my feet. The boat bobs up and down as I stare into the crystal blue water. I lower my arm, letting the cool water stroke it, while fish swim gayly around. Captain looks ahead with a spyglass and he points forward. He points my gaze upwards into the salty wind and up ahead I see a tiny speck of sand. He calls it an island.
“How long will it take to get there?” I ask as the dolphins float past.
He stares at it again, as if inspecting it, “Not sure, but with the power of ye’ old sail we shall get there in time.”
I wanted to ask him, “In time for what?”.
“Melindra.” Someone says softly.
I look up, back at my desk. The light of the lamp is heavier, the room more dark and yellow.
“It seems you’ve finished your work,” Bertha says, grabbing the pages.
She grabs them as if they were an object of hers that I had stolen. She looks over them carefully, her lips curled in a strange upside-down smile and her purple rimmed glasses down to her nose. I contemplate how such glasses are made so thin like that. Can she even see out of them?
“Good. Although you spent about a paragraph too long on the pirate bit. Your essay was only supposed to be about the habitation of coral islands….”
I take a look, a glance, a quick movement with my eyes towards the curtains that hide the outside world. The sky is black.
“… making foolish mistakes like that will stop you from going anywhere…”
She finishes her sentence but I don’t hear it. What is the importance of coral islands if I’m never going to go there in the first place? I lean back in my chair, letting the front legs go up in the air. I imagine the thrill of falling over. The crash. Maids rushing towards my room. And they’d find me dead.
It is dinner now and the sky only seems to be getting darker and darker. Mother and father sit with blank faces at the table, dabbing their nonexistent mouths with napkins and drinking wine that seems to disappear. There is a small conversation, but I can hardly pay attention to the ever apparent noises of forks crashing against spoons. Knives haven’t seemed to be used.
I start to wonder if I really am my mother’s daughter, or if I’m my father’s child. My eyes are big and blue- just like my mother’s. My hair is as black as night, like my father’s. But someone could have dropped me off here. They could have dyed my hair until the color stuck, and taken out my eyes, and put blue ones in. Blue, like the sea. I’d like to inspect my eyes with a spoon, to see where the scars are, but it would get taken away. They take all the shiny things away. All the good shiny things.
They jerk their heads towards me. Eyes like vultures.
“How are your studies going, dear?”
I wonder how many times they will forget my name. I am not a “dear”. They should give me a beautiful fake name. Like Shelly or Arro. That’s the least they could do for turning me into a doll.
“Splendid. I just wrote a paper on the coral reefs.” Sweet as a doe.
Their lips appear again as they smile mechanical smiles. It seems to be the same conversation. I could be telling them that my quill was magical, that the ink transported me between worlds, and that I suddenly found myself on a boat in the sea. There was a captain with a big scruffy beard- and I’d hold my arms out like a child showing them how big it was- I’d describe the dolphins and the cool water and the salty breeze. The joyous freeing feeling of not having to wear a dress. Then I’d tell them that I never got there in time. Then they’d say what a beautiful daydream that was and that we’d get to go to an island this Sunday. I’d smile and laugh and even scream.
But I don’t. Instead, I walk with the maids back to my bedroom as my parents crank their heads, making sure I’m getting there on time.
I stare up into the ceiling as a maid tucks me in, the others watching at the door. The blankets are sturdy, good for warmth but not good for moving. In the corner of my eyes, I watch as the candle on the dresser flickers.
The maid looms over me, smiling with teeth, “Good night miss” she whispers.
She takes the candle away and doesn’t make a sound as she walks off with the other maids. Even as they go I can still feel their eyes on my back. I don’t know any of their names. The mother said that they never wanted it. I’ve thought of making up names for them, but every time I’ve forgotten them. It’s strange. I memorize things quite easily. For instance, I know that there are 563 flowers on the ceiling. Even Miss Berth doesn’t know how many flowers there are on the ceiling!
I look around my room, my eyes getting heavy. Everything seems to blur together until I close them and open them again. I hate this. I hate the night. I don’t like the darkness that comes with it. There is a stillness to the manor that creeps into the walls and sends chills. The clock, looming grand in the corner of my rooms, gets louder and louder. There are no sounds, no laughter, no footsteps outside my door. It is as if I am the only one here - the only one that exists in this entire world.
I stare up into the ceiling. There are shadows over the fields of flowers painted there but I can still see it. I reach my hands above and close my eyes and awaken in the great big field of flowers.
I look around, the sky big and flowing, then I realize that it is actually a great big sea of water. The wind gushes in my ears. I look all around me, only ever seeing the same field of flowers, and wonder what is beyond it. I sit down close to the dirt, my face level with the ground, searching for bugs. There are none. Well, this is a dream after all.
The sound of the wind gets louder and heavier. As I run through the flowers I feel as though I could fly. The flowers I see are growing more and more expansive. Growing to incomprehensible sizes until I am just the size of a small duck, the flowers taller than me. I wave my arms and they wave with me. All the great big flowers that look like trees with leaves big and green.
I grab ahold of one of the stems and begin to climb. The flowers still endlessly flowing, the ground getting farther and farther away. I climb and sit on a pink leaf. Smiling softly as the sweet smell of nectar infects my nostrils. I stand, almost losing my balance as the wind sways the huge flower leaf. I look up at the sky in all its glory. The clouds look almost like Greek gods painted oddly in my memory. They almost look like carved marble statues. I reach my hand up. As I inch closer the details of Zeus’s face get more and more refined. But I forget that the sky is a sea and my hand reaches the water. I jump back but it is too late. A cold and icy shock seeps through me.
I watch as the sky starts to rot. The greek gods are gone and I am left of the petal, writhing in pain. I look up only to see raindrops heading for me. The petal beneath me starts to rot. I feel it seeping through my clothes, rotting me as well. My hands are sickly white with darkened fingers and big purple splotches. My stomach starts sinking before I realize that I am falling. Falling from the earth and everything that holds me here. Upside down in a field of flowers. Arms aching to hold the brain that carries me through the days of endless work and bore and chore. But never truly thinking, living, only acting.
I hit the ground and I go numb. My body contorts like a crumpled paper bag. My eyes wide, losing their bright blueness. That color I’ve always loved on my father. Now changing to a bitter pale blue. They roll back and now are only white. My jaw unhinges. I am a doll now, completely white. I look like a scared puppet - staring up at the hands that crafted me, waiting to be moved. But I won’t move. My strings have been cut.
I’m stuck here. Staring. I can’t move my gaze. I start to wonder who I am. Who is staring if I’m there dead? Watching myself slowly rot. I watch until I am a pile of mush, then a skeleton. I must have been watching for years. Archeologists would find me fascinating. They would dig up my bones and wonder what would happen to me. Someone- not me this time, would tell them that the girl just wanted to touch the greek gods up in the sky and they’d call her crazy. That she died due to insanity. Nobody would find the true cause of her death. How can someone die from everything rotting around them?
I realize that the play has ended. The story is done. It is just… black. As though someone didn’t want to know the ending so they scribbled the last page out.
“But I want to know the ending!” I say to myself.
But maybe I don’t. Maybe I don’t want to know why things happen. The story was never properly explained why that poor girl who wanted to see the greek gods became a pile of bones. Maybe I never want to find out. I just want this nightmare to end.
I pull the covers off me, panting. I look out the window and see that it is still nighttime. I close my eyes, open them again. Yes. I’m awake. I’m in my room. The nightmare is over. I’ve never woken up like this before. I fall onto my bed again, staring up at the ceiling for a brief moment before shutting my eyes. I should go straight back to sleep. Mother wants me to get exactly 8 hours. This improves my mental ability with the right hours and repetition of it all. But there is itching inside of me. A dozen hands scratching at the walls. A sound in my ears alone. I open my eyes and it is gone.
But there is a new sensation. This isn’t my room. It’s a stranger’s. It’s the room I’ve used all these years, yes, but it isn’t mine. I never picked the wallpaper. I look down at the bedsheets. Who picked these? Light blue bed sheets, thick… When was I there? I get out of bed and stare at the bed itself. When was I there when they gave me this? Why don’t I have any memories of when I was younger? I must’ve had a smaller bed then. Nothing in my room I can remember getting here. My books have always been where they’ve been placed. My desk and lamp and pens, never can I remember ever getting them for the first time.
I walk tentatively over to my desk. I pick up a pencil. It looks shiny, brand new. Open the drawers, pull out books. All books I use now. I’ve never looked closely at the pages. They’re all crisply white. No yellow or age or creases. I put them back and shut the drawers. They used to be familiar and now… now they only seem like set pieces for a play. My hands shake against the wooden desk. No. Stay calm. You’re no longer in a nightmare… right?
But in the corner, there is something I have never seen before. The closet. Well, it’s not as though I’ve never seen a closet before. It’s the kind of thing where I’ve always known it was there, but never even thought about it. For the first time, I put my hand on its cool silver handle.
Something must be hiding in there, waiting.
I suck in a breath, counting to four, then push open the door, falling forwards into darkness.
I find myself at least 5 feet from where I was before. I turn around and look up, and see the door open wide. I can peer through it and see my room, but no matter how much I jump and waste my breath, it’s no use. I can’t get up and can’t go through the door again. It seems it wants me to find another route. I’m not sure of its intentions. Resting my head on the wall beneath the door, I question if I should just stay here forever. But I’d probably die. I have no food.
Clenching my jaw, I turn around. A chill sweeps through me. Perhaps even through my mind as well. The hallway isn’t a hallway like I thought. It’s just darkness… with some semblance of walls. A long never-ending dark box, if you will.
My hand finds its way to the right sidewall. It’s the only thing I do to continue walking without shaking. My other hand hangs as close as it possibly can get to my heart without going in through my mouth or some other unmentionable place. Clinging at that stupid frilly nightgown that has suffered through my dreams, and my nightmares.
I begin to think about them, in this darkness. I’m really only left to my thoughts and my ever so wandering mind. Here, dreams turn to nightmares. Even the good ones. With me on boats and swimming in the ocean… The salty mist stinging and the wait to get to the island seems like torture. Running away from something that never existed, hoping to find something real to hold onto. But the only real thing that you can even grasp is the bed sheets you grasp as you awaken.
I blink suddenly, shielding my eyes as a blinding bright light appears. I shrink cowardly against the wall, hoping to escape the brightness and go back into the darkness once more…. Such a funny thing that is.
“Are you alright, May?”
I look up, opening my eyes. I discover that the bright lights still shine, but shine to fill a ballroom. Soft gloved hands help me to rise from the floor, and I notice, finally, that I seem to have been invited to a ball.
I blink a few times, taking in the room. Shining golden walls and fancy glossy floors; so glossy, in fact, that you can almost see your face in them. I look into the face of the glove handed woman and she smiles. Brown locks float gracefully around her lilac mask and deep pits of blue stare into my own. And with a tug, she takes me spinning across the ballroom.
Everything spins and everything is the same again. The blinding lights, and the flowers held in glass jars on the walls all blend into one. And I could have almost sworn that the ceiling was no other than my bedroom ceiling, covered in muddiness.
I look at the woman in front of me and the light is so blinding that I can only really see her mask. Her delicate mask. The strings float as we twirl, and I reach for them. I could discover who she is, what this is- and where am I… Where exactly have I always been?
But she grabs my hand and everything stops. Everyone stares at me. They all look the same. They tilt their heads, every single one of them. Masks clattering to the floor. I whisk my head to the gloved woman.
“May,” I say.
A whisper in my ear as she leans in, “On the edge of the forest, there is a flower field.”
She disappears with the darkness, and I am in the cold once again.
Upon opening my eyes I see the faint flower field of my room, etched in shadow- I sit up straight, a gagging sensation at my throat and I pull at the green perfect bed sheets as my hands shake profusely, everything blurring, tremors slowly causing my body to shake but looking around the room again - everything is the same, with that I let myself collapse into my hands and let the black of my vision remain in my own control, but, was it really in my control in the first place? I look up again at the ceiling etched in shadow, the flowers’ colors are dull and muted but they are there; no muddiness or blood to be found- they are the way they always were.
For a second, everything blurs.
Close my eyes.
Looking up again.
Everything is the same.
I release myself into my hands, sighing…
But there is something wrong.
No doubt about it.
Something off about the clock in my mind.
“Maybe it’s the clock!” She thinks.
But she doesn’t want to open her eyes to check.
Instead, she listens.
But the sound of the clock is louder than even her own head.
Or inside her own head.
It must be nothing then.
Her feeling is wrong.
Opening her eyes, she finds herself staring directly at her closet door.
There, a silver key in the lock.
She never locked it.
Nor had a key.
Shining, glinting in the moonlight.
She doesn’t want to think about who had that key.
Just like her mother’s eyes, staring into hers.
Who could have possibly opened the door?
Someone was here.
She lays back against the bedsheets, the perfect bed sheets, and closes her eyes. She tries not to think about that key. That glinting, glinting key. It’s dizziness in her brain. Stuck there, not moving. Never moving. The clock ticks softly in the room. Back and forth and forward the arms dance, hands moving time, time moving hands. The wind rustles leaves against the window. Something important gnaws at her. Something dark and dangerous.
She opens her eyes, staring at the ceiling once more.
“What do I do?” She asks.
She’s asking the one girl in that mural. The one girl in the center of sheep. She’s there now, in the fields with the girl. Rows and rows of dry grass dance in the wind. Soft sheep baw and cry, and she pets one softly. The girl with sand yellow hair. Melindra looks up at the sky, it’s dark, something is on the horizon. She looks back at the girl. Back at the sheep. The girl’s eyes are wide, pupils red and instead of her hand grazing the sheep, it points. Her whole arm points right, her eyes trained on Melindra. Never moving. Never blinking.
“I should look right?” She asks.
The girl just stares.
She looks right and sees the dark forest beyond the field of flowers. Beyond safety. There is a rumble in the sky and it turns darker. Purple lightning thundering. She looks at the girl again, the blue-eyed girl. She’s smiling, peacefully gathering up her sheep. They begin walking right, keep walking right until they can no longer be seen in the distance. To the dark forest. The wind picks up and blows Melindra’s hair.
She opens her eyes. She expects the sheep from the mural to be gone, but they are there like they always were. But she can’t find the girl. She must have never been there after all. The wind is louder than it normally is and she looks right. The window is open wide, curtains blowing in the wind. A storm is coming. She bolts out of the safety of her bed and goes to close the shutters. It is still pitch black. The moon hasn’t moved. It smiles at her before the clouds completely cover it. It had hung above the dark forest. A forest of nightmares, a forest of hope. She must go.
She looks at the key. It is still in the closet. Taking a deep breath, she walks over to it slowly. Putting her hand on the key. It is as cold as ice, looks like it too. She turns it or tries to, but it is stuck. She pushes harder against it until she finally decides to pull it out of the door. The force of the thing sends her flying across the room. She looks up, the room spinning, to the key on the floor. The keyhole is covered in scratch marks as if someone tried to use the key to get in. She looks at the key in her hand, weak now, not as scary as it was before.
But upon closer inspection of the keyhole, a realization hits her. There was no keyhole there in the first place, this closet was never locked. Yet there is a hole there now. A jagged hole only made from the ramming of a key into the door handle over and over again. Over and over again.
Shaking, she backs away from the closet door and rushes out of her room. Slamming the door behind her, she falls into the hallway. Fear constricts her like a chain, shackling her to the ground. But she doesn’t have time for fear now. She looks up and sees three maids in the hallway. She races to her feet, before realizing that they are asleep. They stand against the wall, eyes closed, moving ever so slightly back and forth. In a trance.
She stands there, staring at them, before hearing muffled voices coming from the tea room. She looks back at them, to the glinting door handle of her room, then to the end of the hallway. Bracing herself, she walks forward. Towards the muffled voices as they become less muffled. Her feet are silent against the carpet as she walks towards the light. It seems it’s the only light in the house… Everything else is encased in darkness. She stops just before the door, to not be seen. But she can see the room quite clearly.
Her parents sit at a small tea table, a pile of red letters sitting on the table. They open them with knives that glint against the chandelier-lit above them. It is shining so bright, almost blinding. Her parents yet again don’t have eyes… or noses, or mouths… Those parts sit in various teacups on the table. This doesn’t feel like a dream or some made-up story in her head… this feels real.
“Aurora is coming,” Mother says.
“Beatrice, too…” Father adds.
“All good candidates…” They both affirm.
They go on like this… listing names. Opening letters. A glinting knife against a thin sheet of paper…
Having seen enough, Melindra backs away.
Only to feel hands grab her shoulders.
She slowly turns.
Face to face with the pitch-black eyes of a maid.
In a moment of fear, she pushes her aside, rushing down the hallway.
Only to hear a loud THUMP!
She can still feel the hands on her shoulders.
Even though they aren’t there.
The soft carpet makes sounds, it seems.
Not hiding them.
Then why were her feet on the carpet so quiet?
She turns, eyes widening at the sight.
The maid rests on the floor, almost peacefully.
But nothing is peaceful here.
There is a pungent smell in the room.
A thick sensation at the back of Melindra’s throat.
It wasn’t tea.
Was never tea.
She turns around.
Tears piercing her eyes.
Grabbing the cold door handle.
Then going to her bed once more and putting the covers over her head.
Wondering if that maid… is dead.
She goes into a dreamless sleep and wakes up with her windows open. The cool breeze floats in through the windows and the sun shines brightly. She sits up slowly, letting the sleepiness seep from her eyes, rubbing them slightly. Her room is empty when usually there is at least one person there to wake her up and lead her down to breakfast. As if she didn’t know where it was. She slinks out of her bed, puts on her slippers, and begins the climb down the now unfamiliar hallway, down the winding staircase, and finally into the room where her parents sit. Breakfast in wait. She slides into the chair, her parents at the end of the table. She looks down at the smiley plate of food: two eggs and a lopsided piece of bacon. Grape juice is present in teacups on the table, with maids on standby to pour out of pitchers.
Lips are stained when her parents say, “There will be a ball tonight.”
“Why?” She asks.
A never-ending series of questions… come with why. A parent’s dismay at the never-ending inquiries of a child. Innocently asking questions, never getting innocent answers. They don’t answer, instead gaze out of the window. Heads turned sharply to the right. Where the grass rustles and stirs. Ducks vacant in the pond. Clouds grey in the sky. But the sun is still shining. Blinking. Blank. They turn back to their cups stained red. But Melindra is no longer there, she is gone. No more tea in the cups left. Yet they continue to sip. Sucking each and every last drop dry.
Melindra stands outside. At the pond. Barefeet in the grass, as close to nature as she’ll ever be. She looks ahead toward her. The water is still. It used to be filled with ducks and geese. Sometimes beautiful white swans. She’d come outside and her parents would stand with her, feeding them scraps of green speckled bread that they said that she shouldn’t eat. She didn’t. She never ate. But the water is turned red as a grey duck lies across the surface. Eyes rolled back white. Its orange bill hanging open. Everything seems dead now. The once well-maintained grass is grey and gone. Revealing the course dry dirt underneath it. Earthworms rise above the earth, moving towards the pond, looking for water. Only to drown themselves under the cool waves which will eventually dry out once and for all. Until it rains.
She raises her hand to the clouds. Eyes focused on the distorted bunny that her mother once pointed out. A foggy forgotten memory. Why must she think of it now, when she couldn’t remember it before? Her hand looks for moisture, for rain. She knows it will come. But when? She doesn’t know how long she stands there. But eventually, she is leaning towards the earth, hands in the water. Feeding the ducks.
When she looks up the sky is red. She slowly gets up, brushing dead grass off her dress. Walking towards the door, and stealing one last glance at the pond. Before shutting the door and walking to her bedroom to change into some sort of ball gown.
There is a buzzing in the walls as she shifts through her closet. The wind rustles in the trees, calling her by name. But she doesn’t know what name. She just knows it’s hers. She ignores it and pulls out a dress. Pink and ugly. Perfect. She dresses in the darkness, forgetting a light. An orchestra plays melodies below her. A forgotten lullaby she’s perhaps heard before.
She walks down the stairs. Into the glowing ballroom filled with girls. Perfect in their pink ugly dresses. She can’t see their faces. Only the smudges of color on them. She dances among them. They’re all singing to the same dance. Over and over again. All with flowers. It is certainly ladylike to have flowers.
Her parents watching, sat in gold above them all… Their faces are gone. Teacups at the table. The only area with food, the area right in front of them. Empty platters and empty teacups. Stained red with cobwebs. But there are no spiders in the corners. The maids would not let any insects get in the mansion.
She swings, her head spins. Eyes glistening. Hands cold. Body numb. The necklace at her throat glistened, tighter and tighter like a rope. There is hope. A back door. It leads to the forest. She stops dancing. Everyone goes on. Not seeing. Never seeing. Never noticing. She runs for the door. A maid stands there. Her smile wide, but slipping off her face. Her eyes aren’t in her sockets. They are dark and empty. Red. She stares at her, the maid. She watches Melindra turn the handle. Never doing anything. But she watches. She watches her through the window. Hand there on the glass. Watching Melindra run to the forest as the sky turns the forest grey.
I run. I run as fast as I can. Thorns tear my dress apart. I rip off torn sleeves. But I run. The moon looms over me behind the clouds. The patter of rainfall is chasing me. I can hear things in the woods. Things that make my skin crawl. Things that should stay in the ground, out again. The trees are turning darker and darker. I don’t know how long I have been running. The clock in my room is broken.
But something is in front of me. Gaining speed. Jaws set for a kill. A vacant forest, with no prey to eat. A forest where dead things come alive once more.
Lightning strikes bright and it is in front of me. Its fur glistening white, growls escaping. Eyes glowing red in the moonlight. The rain hasn’t stopped it. It has the strength to go on, to get food that it so longs for. But it stops. Eyes turning crystal blue. Almost sighing, it turns back, jumping back into the bushes. Disappearing. I look behind me, thinking that maybe it saw something frightening. But there only is me. Only ever was me.
I continue again, hiking up the hill only found in my nightmares. But I know there is more here. A light at the end of the tunnel. After the storm, there is salvation. Water for the parched lips of humanity. Thorns snag me but I trudge onwards. Through the building mud. And then I reach the top of the hill.
The wolf must’ve pitied me. Must’ve known I was escaping. So it pardoned me from being its feast. I thank her for it in my mind. A smile creeping my face, never slipping, and with a spring in my step, I walk forwards beyond the trees.
Here is the end of the hill. Beneath it, a beautiful field of flowers. Filled with pink and purple flowers. The sun shines like a glorious Mayday. I soak in the summer sun. My beautiful spring dress is dry. Not clinging to me any longer. Beyond here, who knows what there is? Perhaps there is a stream beyond the field with a boat to lead me away on a great expedition. Or a mysterious man in a carriage claiming me to be a royal. Whatever it is, I must go out.
And with that, she falls, plunging into the field of flowers.