Flowers (Part Two of Two) (IP)
‘They don’t ask for reports from other schools here, do they?’ Poppy Davenport mimicked Dr Lewis’s precise enunciation. ‘A new start when you come here. You bring your own experience, and your own perceptions, and that’s what informs your learning environment.’ She shook back that glorious hair and laughed. ‘It’s pathetic!’
I stood up.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Prep. I’ve got a history essay due in tomorrow. I only came in for my file.’ I crossed over to my bed, and reached up to the bookshelf above it. She looked up at me, her hair still swinging from the motion of her laughter, her long, white, exposed neck curving up to her jawbone, her soft breasts pressing their shape against the tightened fabric of her dress.
The file slipped out of my fingers, on to the bed beside her.
She swung herself out of the way and up off the bed. She paused by the door. ‘I will find out, you know. I’ll get my father to get it out of your idiot of a mother. Perhaps he’ll see sense then, and we can put a stop to this farce.’ She gave a small snort of contempt. ‘For better or bloody worse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer – but not, I think, for looney daughter.’
And she was gone.
The prep room was silent, blanketed by reluctant concentration. Miss Hammond was supervising, and she raised her eyebrows at me as I slid in. Attendance at prep was not compulsory; as long as your work was in on time, you could do it where you wanted. But if you did attend, you were expected to be prompt.
‘Sorry, I was delayed…’
A dozen pairs of eyes rose from their sheets of foolscap and focused on me, each curious to see my demeanour, how I was handling my humiliation from Poppy Davenport.
‘Sit down quietly,’ said Miss Hammond.
The pairs of eyes followed my progress to a corner desk, and one by one lost interest and dropped away.
The afternoon continued into a fine early evening, and when prep was over most people went outside, to join others sitting on the sloping lawn in front of the house, or on the benches on the East Wing terrace, or to play rambling games of tennis on the hard courts by the shrubbery. Those girls who rode strolled to the stables to say hello to the horses. The window of the music room was open, and I could hear Maud Cooper having a breathy, faltering flute lesson.
Poppy Davenport was with her room-mates, and mine, right at the far end of the lawn, by the round beds of vivid blue asters that gave the house its name.
The East Wing was the newest part of the house, a long single storey annexe reaching across what had been the back lawn, parallel with the greenhouses so zealously monitored by Mr Abbott, the gardener. There were no locked doors in the student areas of Aster Hall; trust and responsibility were part of our experiential environment. Except when it came to the greenhouses. Mr Abbott was of the view that there were limits to trust.
The upper half of the East Wing corridor was given over to large picture windows looking out over the terrace. I dropped down on my hands and knees and crawled past them. I had a story ready if anyone came out of one of the rooms; everyone knew I had a single false tooth, beside my right incisor, though no-one knew why. I would say my stepsister had left something in my room when she was there, and I had come to return it, and the tooth had dropped out so I was looking for it. They would think it was hilarious, and it would spread round the school, but they would believe it. Poppy Davenport would double up with laughter and shriek ‘Pathetic!’
But no-one emerged from the impassive doors, and the early evening sun was the only observer as I tapped at the last door to be sure, even though I knew the room’s occupants were down on the lawn, by the asters.
The room was silent, the four beds neatly made and waiting, the chirp of birds coming in through the window’s open upper light.
It didn’t take long. The little forget-me-not brooch was in a box in her bureau. I wrenched the pin off and used the point to scratch the enamel on the delicate blue petals. There was a small album with photographs of her mother in the same drawer; I raked the pin across the beautiful, smiling face in several of them, but I felt bad about that so I stopped after the first two pages.
It was only a warning. In the other school, they said I should tell someone, when I felt overwhelmed. Next time I should tell someone before there was an accident. My mother made me promise.
I suppose I could have left a note in Miss Trent’s pigeon-hole. But finding the brooch seemed more sensible. It was Poppy Davenport who needed the warning, not Miss Trent. It was Poppy Davenport who needed to understand.
I didn’t know she’d come back. With only the one window light open, I didn’t know it was getting colder and she would come back for her cardigan. Although I should have known the evening was drawing on and the sun was beginning to fade, because by the window the scent of honeysuckle was getting stronger.
She came back with Christine, my room-mate, with her lily-of-the-valley scent.
Afterwards, when other sickly perfumes hung in the air, drenching the cloying honeysuckle and innocent lily-of-the-valley, I looked at Poppy Davenport and Christine my room-mate, covered and surrounded by roundels of red like the berries on the stem after lily-of-the-valley has bloomed.
Why would you want to smell like the dead? Why would anyone want to smell like the dead?