The Smell of Daisies at Equinox

In the morning of the equinox, when the sun rose and bathed the horror of what had happened in perfect pink light, I ran.

Clutching a handful of the fabric of my nightgown with one hand to keep it from catching underfoot, I left the front door open and fled down the rough road away from the twisted limbs, sweat soaked sheets and blue lips of my parents.

Past the empty church where every priest was dead, past Michael Baker grinding the smithy boy's flour.

Out of the village and down the single lonely road toward Lingfield.

It was not until I was away from the narrow claustrophobic streets of the village and running between fields filled with men threshing barley, that I realised that the screams that echoed off the lonely windows of the church, off the stone houses, all the way up to Lord's castle, high behind hedgerows and the stone wall, were my own.

Since that first morning, when the desperate refugees trickled into our village from Dunford, thirty furlongs away to the east, clutching screaming children, I had felt the vice of the pestilence close around me.

Many already had the black bulges forming under their jaws.

Some had skin bruising as they bled internally, blood spraying when they coughed. They brought the bad air with them and it stole into every crack, every cupboard.

I would wrap my bed covers around my head and still catch a sniff of the death.

I knew deep in my soul that no bundle of rosemary or posy of flowers could check it.

Some said the equinox would stop it. Some said it would bring it.

It didn't matter anymore.

Within days, those people filled the ground in the barrows, dying in dozens, unknown, uncared for.

The sexton was dead, vagrants dug the graves for a farthing.

They did not care, for the people who filled the death-carts, lay in their trenches.

Then our neighbours were ill, dying, dead.

We were trapped in a hell of a rotting cage. Any fiery inferno could not be worse.

The spring warmth made the bodies bloat and rot. The whole village smelled of death, a sweet, foetid reek.

We closed our windows, said our prayers into clasped hands, but we could do nothing.

You cannot run from the pestilence. Not even Lord Cobham or surely even the King himself could hide.

A man could have everything - a family, a herd, a good crop.

The next day his wife and six children would be buried in a single grave.

No crosses, no bells, no priest's blessing to light their path.

Perhaps this man would die too. Perhaps he would be spared for some unknown reason.

I could not think which would be worse. This is how our world will end, and it is ending.

I left the road to run through a field filled with Hereford cattle, and grass studded with beautiful daisies.

The earthy odour of cattle, their droppings, mixing oddly with the flowery scent was welcome.

It was the smell of life, quite different from the one that clung to my gown, my hair.

The cattle were quiet, peaceful. They were healthy, their coats shone over fat and muscle.

I longed to run into the hills and leave it all - the coughing, the buboes, the screaming of children, the sobbing.

I longed for an Eden, but not an Adam or an Eve or even a God. Just the creatures and the fruit and the smell of daisies.

I did not long for my parents. They had become something alien in my mind, terrible stiff creatures with parchment skin and china limbs.

Curled up at the foot of an emerald hill, I was in perfect peace.

The air smelled clean for the first time since the year turned.

No rats, no prayers or crosses painted on doors.

I sank into the cool ground and it filled me with calm.

Maybe this isn't the end of the world. Maybe things would get better. Not now. But one day.

I gazed up at the sparkling night sky.

Cold navy and sharp white points with the scent of flowers. Daisies.

I was blessed. I saw my parents once more, dead where they lay and they were blessed too.

I saw myself, not tossed in a hole with two dozen strangers; but sinking cleanly into the earth in this spot, becoming minerals and nutrients and springing up in four seasons as a memory of a time the world would rather forget.

I saw myself as a clean white shape, a peaceful figure of smooth sloping framework.

My bones would lie here as flowers intertwined them, and I would be the world's warning: This is what will happen if you forget. It will come back for you.

I saw myself die in the same way as my mother and father - yet so differently - them in a cage of stone, and me, a lone, free figure, breathing in the scent of life, however neglected and tenuous, as crows picked me clean and left only a shroud, a whisper of cotton, a tattered nightgown patterned with daisies.


• By Rose McCulloch, Year 13, Kaikorai Valley College


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