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Blood and Flowers

by Kaydee 

Posted: 31 August 2012
Word Count: 2468
Summary: Two women meet on the way to a memorial service

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

WHEN I saw the blood my knees crumbled, taking weeks of carefully constructed emotional walls with them.

Weeks of questions and sympathy and consoling other people while running the gauntlet of gutter press who had set up a shanty town of cameras and caravans at the end of the road. Weeks of telling neighbour after neighbour, friend after friend that I was coping, that I didn't need company, that I didn't need another chicken casserole carefully covered with a cotton cloth.

I was surprised to learn how many ways there were of telling people that I was fine - and every one of them was a lie. But I had made it this far, barriers firmly in place, arriving early to avoid the smiles of sadness, understanding and unashamed curiosity, to take in this beautiful, hateful place of blood and flowers before the circus began.

The sight of the scarlet stain soaking from the tarmac to the grass was too much and I was suddenly on my knees, eyes red with grief and weariness blurring behind a mist of anger as the carnations I had been holding exploded in a shower of petals as they hit the ground.

I felt a hand grasp my shoulder and, somewhere far away, some one spoke. But the idea that no one had cleared away the blood and that some of it could be Ryan's had stolen my voice.

The hand gave a gentle squeeze, ‘Let me help you.’

I looked up into the kindest, saddest blue eyes I have ever seen. She was about my age and dressed in what my dad would call Hippy chic, though on her it didn't look like a desperate attempt to recapture her youth. She was holding a bunch of daffodils and had the gaunt, exhausted look of some one who has spent too much time crying. I held out my hand and felt like a traumatised child when all I could manage was a tear-sodden, ‘There's blood.’

A frown knit her brow for just a moment before she knelt in front of me, putting herself between me and the offending stain. She took my hand and smiled gently, ‘It's juice, sweetie. It's only spilled juice. There's no blood here. Let me help you.’

She coaxed me back to my feet and guided me to one of the benches that line the park like sentries.

‘We'll sit here a while,’ she said, ‘We can join the others in a bit.’

I gave a wet sniffle and fumbled in my pocket for a handkerchief, ‘You're here for the memorial service?’

She smiled, ‘I needed to come.’

I nodded and blew my nose, ‘I didn't want to be here.’

‘Why not?’

‘I'm not sure I can cope with the attention. There have been reporters at the door every day since it happened and every time I go out people want to talk to me and cuddle me and I know they mean well, I really do, but it's too much.’

A spring breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and took the fallen carnation petals on a dance along the path like so much confetti. She brushed a wayward strand of long, blonde hair from her eyes. ‘I haven't had much of that,’ she said.

I tried to laugh, ‘You're lucky. You'll have to tell me your secret.’

She smiled and offered her hand, ‘I'm Caroline.’


‘Pleased to meet you.’

The park was starting to fill up, one sombre face after another walking past, every other one armed with flowers or a Union Flag or a picture of one of the twelve. I looked for familiar faces and returned the occasional nod of greeting. We were all here for the same thing, all heading towards the remains of the bandstand, where police tape was still strung from tree to tree, a fluttering barrier against souvenir-hunting ghouls.

The jazzmen were warming up on the grass, the occasional mournful note carrying on the breeze, but no one was in the mood to be sociable today.

I stuffed my handkerchief away, ‘I used to bring him here when he was a toddler. He used to love playing on the swings but I was so scared he would hurt himself.’

Caroline chuckled, ‘And the way they would go headfirst down that slide. I could never watch.’

‘Ah, but that's what dads are for. Dads do the watching and coaxing and encouraging them to get in over their heads. Mums do the antiseptic wipes and plasters and kissing things better.’

‘And bollocking the dads for being so bloody stupid.’

I laughed, the first real laugh since Ryan died, ‘Yeah, that too. He was so fearless, I should have known he would end up joining the Army.’

A frown from a passing mourner sent that light-hearted moment scurrying for cover and it was only when Caroline placed her warm hand over mine that I realised I had been agitating the hem of my jacket.

‘There's nothing wrong with laughing,’ she said, ‘If we forget how to laugh, we forget how to live and I'm sure your son wouldn't want that.’

‘I know.’ I took a deep breath and nodded, shutting out the passing stream of grieving, angry humanity and concentrating on Caroline and her kind, sad eyes. ‘The day after I was told, I took all the medicines out of the kitchen cupboard and tried to work out what I needed to take to end it all.’

She gazed at me, encouraging me to go on.

‘When I worked out that three aspirin, a packet of antihistamines and a tube of throat sweets weren't going to do the job, I called the family liaison bod and asked her to go to Boots for me.’

‘What did she do?’

I smiled, ‘She asked me what I needed and when I told her to get me a few packs of sleeping pills and a bottle of Scotch, she came round to the house and kept making me cups of tea. It took three days to convince her that I wasn't going to do anything silly. But there are still moments…’

‘I know.’

I nodded towards the juice stain, ‘When I saw that, all I could think was that it was blood and it could have been his blood and I wondered whether he suffered or whether it was quick and what the hell would make some one do something like that.’

Caroline stiffened and I suddenly remembered that I wasn't the only mother here with a hole in her life, ‘You lost a son, too?’

Her eyes sparkled with tears, ‘Yes.’

I gripped her hand tightly, ‘Tell me about him.’

‘I can't. Not yet. There’s still too much to take in.’ She sniffed and wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her coat, ‘I saw your picture in the paper last week. I felt awful for you.’

‘The only person who should feel awful is the selfish, bastard, son-of-a-bitch who murdered them. If he hadn’t blown himself to pieces, I’d kill him. ’

I hadn’t intended to sound so bitter but the anger, the fury, the feeling that life was just so damned unfair had been building and building these past two weeks, and if it was going to come out it was only right it did so in front of one of the 11 other women in the world who felt the same. Caroline’s hand gripped mine even tighter, almost to the point of pain, and when I looked at her, her face was grey.

‘Don’t,’ she whispered, ‘Please.’


Those sad, kind eyes filled up once more and I held her as she sobbed, wishing I could do the same but knowing that to do so would mean letting go of my anger - and that was not something I was ready to do. So I held the woman who had held me and stroked her hair as she buried her face in her hands and sobbed, her shoulders trembling as the weight of the world forced itself down onto them.

‘He was such a good boy.’ Her voice was muffled, ‘Such a good boy, all those poor people, I’m so sorry.’

My blood ran cold and I pulled away from her, watching her sob, ‘What did you say?’

Caroline looked at me, a picture of misery, ‘I wanted to come to say sorry for what he did. He was a good boy, really he was. We had no idea that he was…no idea what he was going to do.’

I stood and backed away from the bench, shaking my head, ‘How dare you…’

She turned her face away, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

For weeks I had been stoking my anger but didn’t know why - the very least the world owed me was the right to rage and scream and insult every single person who dared to tell me that they were “thinking of me” or “sorry for my loss” or who brought me another damned chicken casserole.

No one would have blamed me. But I had kept it inside. I was Ryan’s mum - I was Marmite sandwiches and orange juice, I was trips to the beach and lifts to Cubs and Scouts and more football matches than I could count. I was the one the boys could share their worries with, knowing I wouldn’t go running to their parents, I was the teller of tales and the writer of stories and I would whisper the answers to whispered questions about the new wonder that was girls.

I was Ryan’s mum and I didn’t shout or scream or swear. I was Ryan’s mum and I was “the best damn mother in the world” to quote his best friend Danny. But now Danny was in the ground next to Ryan and I was nobody’s mum any more.

I glared at Caroline as she trembled, her Hippy chic jacket suddenly looking far too big for her, her hair a mess, her eyes streaming and snot dripping onto her top lip. She was pathetic and I hated her and the devil she had spawned, and my rage found its target.

‘You bitch!’

I slapped her and she fell back against the bench, bloodshot eyes wide with shock, splinters scraping into her palm as she tried not to fall. A bead of blood threatened to drip from her nose but she made no attempt to wipe it away, just clutched her flowers to her chest and gaped at me.

‘Nicola…’ she said, so I hit her again.

‘Don’t you dare speak to me! How dare you speak to me!’

Some one grabbed my arm and I span round to face Jackie from up the road. We had barely spoken in the 15 years since she moved in but according to the local paper she was my “close friend” and used to baby-sit Ryan when he was little - a revelation that would have made her an early target for my anger if I had been able to able to muster the strength to speak to her at the time.

‘Nic,’ she said, ’Is everything okay?’

‘She’s his mother,’ I screamed as more people stopped to watch the spectacle, ’The bomber! She’s his fucking mother!’

A murmur of dangerous anger rumbled through the gathering crowd and Jackie’s over-dramatic “Oh my God” was muffled as she covered her mouth with her hands.

Caroline edged along the bench as if desperately seeking a place to hide, the daffodils clutched to her chest as a drop of scarlet splashed onto their yellow petals.

‘I’m sorry,’ she sobbed, ‘I didn’t know what else to do.’

‘You could have ruddy well stayed away,’ bellowed a man I didn’t know.

‘Coming here insulting the memory of decent men,’ raged another.

Before I knew it, I had been brushed aside, forgotten as the mob mentality took over and my friends and neighbours and people who had never met me surged forward, prepared to lynch some one else they had never met for something she didn’t do. And part of me was convinced she deserved everything that was coming to her. What kind of parent raises a son capable of murder? What kind of parent doesn’t spot the warning signs that something was wrong?

What kind of parent weeps for a son who had hurt so many people? And then I remembered Ryan and the stolen car, Ryan and the night club fights, Ryan and the missing £50, the times I had said “he’s no angel, but…” and the nights I had cried myself to sleep knowing he would be in court the next day - and I recognised for the first time how death washes away our sins in the eyes of those we leave behind.

I heard Caroline’s desperate scream and a pulse of guilt tightened in my chest. With a strength I didn’t know I possessed, I pushed my way past mourners and hangers-on and ghouls, ‘That’s enough! Leave her alone!’

‘But she as good as killed Ryan,’ whined Jackie from the safety of the sidelines, reminding me why I had never made the effort to befriend her.

I glared at her and pushed aside a man twice my size and saw Caroline huddled on the ground, terrified eyes darting back and forth between her attackers. Her eyes were thick with tears and her hair was dishevelled, as if some one had pulled it. She was still holding the daffodils, crushed, stems broken and the petals stained with the blood from her nose. I held out my hand to her, my eyes begging for forgiveness, ‘Let me help you.’

‘You ain’t welcome here,’ screeched Jackie but the mob spell was broken and people were hurrying away through the park towards the sound of jazz and hymns and a quick and easy way to feel good about themselves. I could tell the one’s who would boast “I was there” with a crocodile tear on their cheek and I wanted nothing to do with any of them.

Caroline rose unsteadily to her feet, regarding me with the sort of caution a mouse gives a cat.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said again but I cut her off with a shake of my head.

‘I’m the one who should be sorry,’ I said.

She smiled cautiously, ‘Then we can be sorry together.’

She looked at the ruined daffodils and sighed, laying them tenderly on the bench, ‘I should go.’

She turned away but stopped when I laid my hand on her shoulder. ‘What was his name?’ I asked quietly.

Caroline took a deep, shuddering breath and sank onto the bench, ‘Nathan.’

We sat together as the jazz band’s bugler wavered through the opening bars of The Last Post.

‘Tell me about him,’ I said.

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Comments by other Members

euclid at 19:31 on 31 August 2012  Report this post
Wonderful story, Kaydee.

Just a couple of grammatical quibbles:

Someone is one word. You have it as 2 in several places.

This sentence needs attention (too many occurences of the word "as")

The sight of the scarlet stain soaking from the tarmac to the grass was too much and I was suddenly on my knees, eyes red with grief and weariness blurring behind a mist of anger as the carnations I had been holding exploded in a shower of petals as they hit the ground.

I think mentioning chicken casseroles twice doesn't work. Once is enough. Maybe substitute something else in for one of these?

Great story.

I like the way the full circumstances of the atrocity are not specified.


Becca at 19:51 on 31 August 2012  Report this post
If you were to get rid of the cliches in this story, it would be ten times more powerful, and it is a powerful story idea already. These are the cliches that made me have negative feelings about this good story:-
mist of anger
had stolen my voice
a frown knit her brow
that light hearted moment scurrying for cover
the weight of the world
with a strength I didn't know I possessed
crocodile tears

Having said that, these are the other moments that I am sure you can improve:-
'The hand gave a gentle squeeze, 'let me help you.' [that sounds like the hand is talking. Can I suggest:- The hand gave a gentle squeeze and I heard someone say 'Let me help you.' (only I have to ask if you really think, considering who the speaker is, if she would say something so... well neutral and without much weight.)
This is a sentence I didn't understand the meaning of at all:- 'how death washes away our sins in the eyes of those we leave behind.' What does it mean?

The other sentence that caused me to draw back was:- 'I held my hand out to her, my eyes begging for forgiveness 'let me help you.' How would the MC know what her eyes were doing, and in such a situation how on earth would she be so self-concious? Another character might have seen her eyes and had that thought, but she hasn't got a mirror held up to her face at this moment in time. [This is a first person story trap thing that you have to watch out for, that is to say, slipping a little bit into third person observation. We all do it though from time to time!]

I hope some of my thoughts and reactions are good for you. Strong stories are few and far between, and it's good to read them when they come, and I think this one is worth working on and making stronger by even perhaps making it rawer, and making the language less controlled, more hesitant and wild. what do you reckon?

Ian02Smith at 18:57 on 04 September 2012  Report this post

I love the idea and the way you've told the story. Yes, it could be tightened up, as I'm sure you'll spot if you leave it for a couple of weeks and look at it again. I won't echo the comments and suggestions already made.

The very first sentence seems a bit clumsy to me. It's nearly there, but with a few tweaks, it will grab the reader by the throat

[WHEN I saw the blood my knees crumbled, taking weeks of carefully constructed emotional walls with them.]

Comma after "blood"? How about a full stop after "crumbled"? Something like "Emotional barriers which had taken painful weeks to build..."? Maybe a bit snappier and punchier?

The name of the bomber... assuming it's a radicalised recent convert to Islam, he'd have changed his name, part of signing up to the faith. Caroline should refer to this, maybe even be bitter about it as a rejection of her. At the risk of generalising, Nathan is a name I'd typically associate with someone from a jewish background.

As I said at the start, wow. Thank you for posting it.

Catkin at 01:05 on 06 September 2012  Report this post
A strong and well written story, and I can’t find much to pick at.

I totally agree with Becca that it would be even stronger if you removed the cliches and everyday phrases - things like ‘running the gauntlet’ and ‘gutter press’.

a shanty town of cameras and caravans

- caravans yes, but I don’t think you can have a shanty town of cameras.

chicken casserole carefully covered with a cotton cloth.

- it’s always a tea-towel, isn’t it, that cotton cloth? If it isn’t cling film.

The sight of the scarlet stain soaking from the tarmac to the grass was too much and I was suddenly on my knees, eyes red with grief and weariness blurring behind a mist of anger as the carnations I had been holding exploded in a shower of petals as they hit the ground.

- I feel that there are too many elements in this sentence, and it would work better if the carnations had their own sentence, or if the sentence were re-structured to create a pause. It’s a bit much to take in all at once. Also, the two uses of ‘as’ are slightly awkward.

Hippy chic

- I’m not totally sure what kind of style is meant by this, so I’m not getting an image, except perhaps a vague one of rather droopy, floaty clothes. There are various looks that could be called hippy chic (and I don’t think it needs a capital H).

one sombre face after another walking past

- gives me an image of faces on legs

I laughed, the first real laugh since Ryan died

- I’m being really, really picky, but this strikes me a bit of a cliché. I feel that it’s a touch womaggy; rather too easy. I don’t really think that what was said was funny enough to cause ‘the first real laugh’, and I don’t believe that the relationship between them is strong enough yet to make Nicola laugh for other reasons (because she is happy to have found a new friend who understands, etc)

‘The only person who should feel awful is the selfish, bastard, son-of-a-bitch who murdered them. If he hadn’t blown himself to pieces, I’d kill him. ’

- at this point, I thought, “Ah, so the selfish bastard s o a b is Caroline’s son.” I’m not making any criticism in saying that, just pointing it out in case you didn’t want it to be quite so obvious

I recognised for the first time how death washes away our sins in the eyes of those we leave behind.

- I understand this. It means that after death, none of the bad things that a person did seem so important. I think it’s a really good line, and I think you should keep it.

the one’s who would

- typo.

‘Tell me about him,’ I said.

- excellent last line!

I can see this story doing well somewhere. What are you going to with it? A competition?

Kaydee at 21:33 on 06 September 2012  Report this post
Wow! Thank you all for some very useful feedback. I've had a look at your suggestions and will refer to them for my second draft. Some I didn't agree with but that's the great thing about writing - we all like different things.

I'm not sure what to do with the story. I've not written anything for several years and this was very much an exercise in remembering how words work!

Omce again, thank you for all your suggestions.

lang-lad at 17:51 on 22 September 2012  Report this post
Hello, Kaydee. Some good feedback above. Won't compound it but can endorse it. What can I add that's different? Weel first things first, very strong. Very good. I often find myself re-reading from a different opening line to see if it would still work. Have a look at opening it on "I looked up into the kindest, saddest blue eyes I have ever seen. She was about my age and..." There's enough in that paragraph to draw the reader into the story, I think. Might be wrong but what's in the opening as you have it comes out later so .... for what it's worth, that's my suggestion.
All the best with the next draft.
Eliza x

LizLogan at 17:54 on 17 October 2012  Report this post
A wonderful story Kaydee. I agree with most of the comments above, and think it will be an exceptional story with a bit of tidying up.

"I recognised for the first time how death washes away our sins in the eyes of those we leave behind". Yes, in our local newspaper everyone, especially a son or daughter, who dies, is "a bubbly bright girl" or "the best son anyone could have", and similar sentiments. They may or may not be true, but I think the comment in your story says it all.

'Hippy chic' will be recognised by those who lived through the era and tried to dress in that way with the help of second-hand clothes shops! I did, and remember what fun it was!
regards Liz

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