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Open Features: Flowers For Dad

An elderly man's musings on life and death are dramatically interrupted in Brian Lockett's short story.

To read more of Brian's stories and articles please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Brian+Lockett

The leaves had started to shrivel and drop off the stem and the petals of the lilies were turning brown and beginning to sag, but the smell was as strong as ever. He had moved the vase out of the kitchen because of it. Lilies were associated with death, of course, so it was inevitable that their odour, as they faded, would summon up visions of decay, decomposition, rotting.

Why had she sent lilies? The card which came with them was cheerful enough: Happy Seventy-Fifth birthday, Dad. Have a lovely day. Had lilies been chosen as a kind of hint, either that he was or ought to be at death’s door?

He didn’t feel close to death and when people learnt his age - he didn’t go round boasting about it - they would say flattering things like "You must be joking'', "I don’t believe you'' or "No, seriously, how old are you really?'' Politeness, that’s what it was. He’d done it himself with every indication of sincerity. He’d sometimes thought of saying: "Is that all? You look about a hundred!'' or "And the rest!''

He tried to concentrate on the matter in hand. To bin or not to bin, that was the question. Two weeks is long enough. The powder in the packet which came with them, he supposed, could have helped. He could keep some bits for a couple more days but then it would look pretty obvious. No, the whole lot had to go.

The glass vase was certainly worth keeping, though they were probably made by the thousand and distributed free to florists in return for something or other. But he ought not to be thinking on these lines.

It was the thought that counted, wasn’t it?

What was that thought?

Was it: "Let’s try and cheer the old bugger up. He leads such a lonely, miserable life these days?'' Or "We really should go and see him, you know. Christ, is it that long?'' Or maybe "Can you remember the address, dear? I know it’s somewhere in West London. Hammersmith, perhaps?''

Unworthy thoughts. Ungracious, cynical thoughts.

Had he treated his own parents like this? He searched his conscience. Parents would always put their children first, before their own parents. This was a natural instinct. The old, the injured, the weak went to the wall. The duty of care led downwards and forward, not upwards and backwards. Care of the elderly was a political and social, not a biological, thing. A truly civilised society would arrange for people of a certain age to be put down. Painlessly, lovingly, of course. After an initial uproar lasting one or two generations, things would settle down. Religions would accept the situation and scholars would find biblical, Koranic or other persuasive justification for it. Children would be taught from an early age that the natural span of human life was X years, a figure that would be reviewed every five years or so by an international body so that it could be raised or lowered in accordance with agreed social and economic criteria.

He started. It all seemed so sensible, logical, natural. A world full of old people, people whose purpose had been achieved, burdening their children and grandchildren was contrary to natural law. Whatever wisdom or guidance the old could provide had long been available in books - probably nowadays on the internet, not that it had ever helped anyone. Mankind was incapable of learning collectively from its mistakes.

He started again. All this from looking at a smelly vase of flowers.

The front doorbell rang imperiously several times. He frowned at the interruption and was half-minded to ignore it. Probably bad news of some kind. It rang again.

As he opened the door a cheer rang out. Several small grandchildren ran past him. His two daughters and his son with their partners queued up to hug and kiss him. His started to speak but a daughter put a finger to her lips.

“I know what you’re going to say, Dad, so I’ll say it for you. What a wonderful surprise! How lovely to see you all! This has really made my day! What have I done to deserve such a wonderful family! Come in, come in!

There was a warning look on her face. Then she smiled and looked a question at him.

“Yes,” he said slowly. “Do come in.”

His children were busy divesting themselves of top clothes and hurrying into the kitchen with foodstuffs.

“It’s party time, Dad. A bit late, I’m afraid, but getting us all together at the same time takes a lot of organising. Now go upstairs, have a shave, put a suit and some shoes on and prepare to enjoy yourself.”

“The place is a bit of a mess,” he started to say, but he was cut short and waved upstairs.

The children had been pushed into the garden in the charge of the men.

He climbed the stairs more quickly than he had done for some time.

He couldn’t remember what he had been in the middle of doing when they arrived. It would probably come back to him later.

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