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Verge 2012: Inverse


Amy Nicholls-Diver

Marie looked up at the brisk sound of the bell against the door. The woman that walked in the store was partly obscured by a spray of hydrangeas, so Marie shifted from the stool to see if she needed help. As she stood her dress swung around her dimpled knees. Can I help you? she asked. The woman peered up from the box of peonies. Oh, she said, and her forehead creased as she smiled. I am looking for something for my sister. She’s just had a baby. The woman was beautiful, in the way that pretty people denied. Her hair was chin length and reddish brown like tiger lily pollen. Freckles made constellations on her high cheekbones. She wore no make-up, but her eyes were large, and spaced just that far apart to make a girl like Marie stare. It’s a girl, she continued. Marie nodded, then cleared her throat and nodded again.

Of course! How wonderful, how absolutely wonderful! She smoothed her thick hair with both hands, a nervous habit acquired in high school. The woman looked up at Marie with her head tilted to the side. Marie blushed. She took a step back, nearly falling over the pails of fiery geraniums. The woman was both short and slim; Marie folded her arms across her breasts that appeared homely through the thin fabric of her dress.

It’s my first niece, said the redhead. I really don’t know what to get; all this is beyond me. The brief look of helplessness that flickered across her face surprised Marie.

It’s not that hard, she replied, I’ve just had more practice. She looked about the oversized room. You could go for one of the arrangements in the corner; they’re always popular, especially if you’re not sure what you’re looking for in particular. Or I could help you put something together, if you want. Do you want to go with the traditional pink, or something different? The woman’s suit was grey; she didn’t look like someone who wore a lot of pink.

I suppose pink is the done thing, isn’t it? asked the woman. Maybe I will just have a look at the arrangements. She smiled awkwardly again. I really have no idea; this is so different from what I do all day. What would a linguist know about floral arrangements?

You’re a linguist? Marie asked, letting the foreign sounding word uncurl from her tongue. What is it that you do?

I am still studying, postgraduate. It’s the scientific study of language. Applying logic to all the chaos of interaction.

Oh, Marie said softly. Is that hard?

The woman in grey tugged at the hair behind her ear. It’s challenging, sure. But I like finding order in things. It’s not for everyone though. I have to teach first years; they hate it. We had a class today on logic and the conditional. Inverse sentences. I’ve never seen two equations evoke so much anxiety. She blinked heavily. I’m sorry, I must be boring you. Prattling on about work to anyone who will listen. I’m Lucy. She reached out and took Marie’s hand. Do you think pink is right?

Pink? Marie asked. Oh, yes. I’m sure it’s perfect. I’ll just … Why don’t you look around, and I’ll see how you’re going in a few minutes? She pulled her clammy hand from Lucy’s and fled to the room behind the counter.

The back room was warmer than the shop floor. Marie ran the tap until the water was cool. She splashed her face and attempted to clear the dirt from under her short nails. The clock on the wall had been frozen at four for weeks, so she measured time by pacing up and down the floor that was littered with leaves and discarded scraps of ribbon.

When she emerged Lucy was standing with her back to the counter. She had taken off her jacket and her shirt was tailored to fit her slight frame. For the smallest moment Marie considered what it would be like to put her hands around that perfect waist. She flushed as Lucy turned and hoped her thoughts weren’t written on her face.

I thought I would just take one of the arrangements, said Lucy and she offered Marie the basket she had chosen. I didn’t want to waste any of more of your time; I’ve rambled on already.

It’s no trouble! Marie cried. She smoothed her hair again. But I am sure you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

Not especially. Lucy bit the inside of her bottom lip. I feed the cat in the morning, and I haven’t heard what time they want visitors. I’m sure they’re all focussed on the little one; it’s dreadfully nice. She shifted the jacket from one arm to the other and pushed up the sleeves of her shirt. Her hair caught the evening sun that fell though the store’s bay window and the loose wisps glistened gold.

They stood in silence again, each with lungs full of hesitation. Marie looked down at the arrangement and tweaked a few of the leaves. She was about to speak when Lucy’s phone rang. Lucy let out a laugh that was more of a gasp. Smiling apologetically, she answered and walked to the furthest corner of the room from the counter.

Marie picked up the book she had abandoned earlier, but before she finished a page, her eyes wandered back to Lucy. She looked concerned and from across the room Marie could see the skin above her collarbones turn a vivid red. She wondered if it was an ex-lover. Not wanting to appear nosey, she sat back on the stool and held the book close to her face.

A few moments later, Lucy rushed back towards the register. Her eyes were wild with tears. She picked up her bag from the floor.

I have to go. She looked around, as though seeing the room for the first time. I’m so sorry. I don’t even … Family stuff. I … She rubbed her brow with her free hand.

Marie moved around the counter but as she reached out her hand Lucy pulled away. I’m sorry, Lucy said again. Phone in hand, she left.

Just as it ushered her arrival, the bell marked her departure. The store was empty; Marie swung the sign in the window to ‘Closed’.

Verge 2012: Inverse

   by Samantha Clifford and Rosalind Mcfarlane