Marigolds

Savoy Oslo

The crossword clue was orange flower, eight letters, beginning with M. Marigold? he asked. But they’re yellow, surely, I said. It fits, he said.

Marigolds always make me think of Carrwood Estate in Knutsford. We lived there in the late sixties, early seventies. I remember a neighbour’s garden was full of them, and nasturtiums. Yellow/orange, a burnished gold. I recall watching a caterpillar on one of the petals, twisting and turning. I picked it up. It felt cold to the touch and I dropped it, squealing.

Serendipity. The next day. The very next day Hermione Lee and Julian Barnes are on the radio talking about Rudyard Kipling in France overseeing the war graves. They read out the letters he wrote to the Commission, detailing the problems and the joys. ‘Sun on the marigolds’, he wrote.

The last part of Mrs Lirriper. She and the Major and her ‘grandson’, Jem holiday in Paris. ‘I feel as if beautiful fireworks are being let off in my head, she tells Jem before she retires, uncertain whether she will be able to sleep. If life made me rich I’d travel. Beautiful hotels are my one weakness.

I forgot to tell you that her grandmother, the one in hospital with a new hip, refuses to open her eyes. She doesn’t want to be there, she told me, so she won’t look at it, or anybody. Open your eyes, Gran, I say, but she won’t. She’ll talk alright, and eat, but she won’t open her eyes. Defiant, wilful, even in such adversity. The human spirit is potent. Jude just told me, he said as we took our shopping to the car, that she had a call from the hospital last night. Her mother is refusing to eat. She has to go in after to work to give her a good talking to.

Ychaf-fi, she kept saying Ychaf-fi. An exhalation of disgust at the floods. Spat out. A derisive noise like a West Indian woman sucking her teeth. Strewth. A mild expletive. Isn’t it Australian?

I turn the paper over, I don’t want to see him. A young boy, bare-chested. A young boy, smiling, large eyed, large-headed, starving.

The students are back. Bodies moved about in the dark as I walked this morning. A bare-legged girl in a long fur coat. Two lads in black, one lurching as he attempted to pick up a dropped coin from the road.

Is one’s sense of smell more defined in the dark? A man walks past me. A halo of white hair, sloping shoulders and a rolling gait. He leaves a miasma of body odour in his wake. A smell of dis-ease, sorrow, loneliness. His head is down, no eye-contact. Good morning, I whisper, sleep well.