The Flower Queen
Today and yesterday melded together as one memory. Regina was tipping her head back in laughter as Franco leaned over her, a wide grin on his sunken face. Nora was sifting through the volumes on the wall while Gina lay on a settee. The waves of a softly crashing shore outside were barely audible over Murphy banging the keys of the piano by the window. Here was a room full of youthful Acaras who lived to dance in pools of moonlight.
And there I sat, my eyes settling on that window. My own Acara face did not fit in here with these grinning social creatures. Mother had always said it was good to be around friends. I felt a burst of air under me as I walked out of the room. I heard my named called twice, but I was already passing the doors and bounding up the stairs. My room was at the end of a narrow corridor. It overlooked the Altadorian hills but I hadn't had time to admire them from the bay windows. They were excessively arranged with silk pillows, and this excess was suffocating.
I could hear faint footsteps. Regina stood in the door frame, her blonde curls tucked behind her ears. Regina's condescending gaze was one I had grown used to. She would stand for hours, watching Murphy play, her eyes never falling from his rapidly moving paws. She would sit at dinner and stare at those that chose to set their napkins aside. It was always sharp and grimacing. It distorted her beautifully set jaw, but no one ever corrected Regina the princess pink Acara.
Her voice sounded far away. I didn't even have to look at her to know her gaze had grown even more sharp. She expected an answer to contradict her, but what was I to say? I saw Gina's thin black robe sway into the room. Gina always moved gracefully and sat elegantly. It was overbearing, but no one ever corrected an Gina the elegant fire Acara.
Gina laid her body on the couch I was lying on. Her forehead was touching mine and her green eyes were looking out to Regina.
Gina gently touched her face with her red paw to pull a black strand of hair out of her eyes. I could smell her hair as she put her paw on mine. It was the scent of the ocean. It was reeking.
I sat up and touched my own face. It was growing hot. I grabbed my coat and felt my taffeta dress sway past Regina. The stair railing felt smooth against my fur.
A Skeith sat by the front double doors of the mansion. As I passed, he looked up briefly. I felt his eyes watching me walk out. Those eyes would look down and wait for Mother to return and tell her I was gone. Mother would press her lips together and smile again, calling tea to the front room. It was a dance she had with herself: no one was watching and no one ever joined.
Outside, the ocean breeze hit me. It was stronger than the light scent of Gina's thick hair. I looked behind me. The mansion seemed bigger from the inside. I looked acutely at my apartment window and saw no movement. Before me lay the Altadorian sea. It expanded far beyond the eye and nothing could be seen beyond it. I could feel the sod beneath my feet as I walked up to the edge of the water.
I stopped just before I could see nothing but green and blue before me. Where was I to turn? The only scene of life ahead was a small hut. My whole body turned back to the mansion. But I could not go back. As I walked up to the hut, I could see it had not been inhabited. The sun was midway to setting as I entered it. There was nothing interesting about it: two chairs, a light brown table. As I moved closer to the chair, I saw a flicker of a candle between an opening in the hut. It was behind it that I saw the shrine.
It was an image unlike anything I had seen before. A large white candle was placed on the center of a white table. A small aurora lily bushel was on the right side of the candle. On the left lay a wreath of thick purple flowers. A small hand drawn image of a purple Peophin was placed behind the candle. I touched the frame and my paw rested on its face.
I heard a sigh behind me and turned. A dark haired Zafara was leaning on the hut. His pants were paint stained but his shirt was snow white. I could see his large black spots under his thin shirt. I pulled my coat closer around me. Had I just been snooping?
"Do you know her?" he asked, his face twitching into a small smile.
"Who?" I replied, my voice sounding shrunken.
"The Flower Queen," he said. He moved closer to the image and pulled a lily from the bushel.
"No, I have to go," I said quickly, turning on my heels.
"Wait," he called, "take this."
He walked up behind me and stuck the lily behind my ear. I turned to face him. His green eyes bored into mine. I could not think of anything to say but stood frozen. The Zafara pulled my wrists and placed me before the white table. I wanted to run but the scene was intoxicating. I could hear the Zafara talking again but all I was listening to was the ocean. The waves pushing and pulling along the shore, the vibration of the crash.
"So, she appears once a month."
His voice pulled me back to the shore I was standing near.
The Zafara's face twisted for a moment. He let go of my wrists and pointed to the image but smiled again.
"She, the Peophin," he said.
"Oh, I must go," I turned around again but didn't hear his move behind me.
"Tonight, she returns," he said. "Wait with me."
I don't know what it was but the pull at my belly was strong. I turned again. The Zafara was already walking away toward the shore. I followed him slowly and saw him sit on the hard ground. As I approached him, I pulled off my coat and laid it down and sat on it. I could hear him breathing heavily. The sun was falling faster now. Had Mother arrived? Was Franco tying on his cloak? Had Murphy finally finish his music sheet?
"You wear your trouble on your face," the Zafara said, pulling back his white sleeves.
"Oh?" It was the only word I could say. It was the only word that felt right. Who was I to divulge my troubles?
The sun was gone now. The Zafara hadn't said much else. He'd gotten up a few times and entered the hut. When he did, I looked to the mansion. It was bright inside, calling for me endlessly over the waves. I ignored it. But I couldn't ignore it for much longer. As I got up to run, the Zafara held on to my paw.
"She will arrive," he said, pulling his own away again.
So I waited. As my eyes fell, I felt the Zafara push on my shoulder. When my eyes fluttered open, I saw a figure out in the waves. It was white. It came closer to the shore before it stopped. I could see the wreath on its head and the outline of a Peophin braving the water. I stood now, holding on to the Zafara's shoulder. A bouquet floated to the shore. The Zafara led me to it. I picked it up with both of my paws. The flowers were delicate and soft, almost too much to bear. I looked up again and there she was before me. Her dark eyes pierced mine.
She turned again into the water and disappeared before us. The Zafara gazed at me before opening his mouth to speak. But he closed it again as he exhaled.
My head snapped back to look at the mansion. When I turned, he stood there smiling at me. The flowers still lay in my paws, their scent filling me with hope.
As I walked toward the mansion, I felt my body rise in rebellion. I wanted this moment to myself to last forever, but it couldn't. I had to face them, all of them.
The Skeith stood outside and pulled the double doors open at my arrival. I heard the soft notes of the piano flowing from the great room. As I entered, Mother sat with Regina and some others whose floated around the mansion like ghosts at night. Mother looked at me, through me, then at the flowers. Her hair was pulled back in a severe chignon and her red Acara face was pointed.
"Ari, sit with us," Mother called, her voice clear and false.
But there was nothing to be had with them now. I pulled the lily from behind my ear and stared into it. I saw the world in it. I saw my future in it. I could hear Mother calling and laughing again, but no more. This was my gift from the Flower Queen.