The prompt today for the Flash Fiction Project was this wonderful picture by Kimberley Blazon. Look at those lovely flowers! I enjoyed getting to work with this one, especially considering how terrifying some of the Nightmare Fuel prompts have been.
As a little Easter egg, the people in the story have the names of my grandparents, both of whom are still living. They recently celebrated 60 years of marriage together, so I suppose a little of this is inspired by them.
In the town where I grew up, there lived an extraordinary couple. It wasn’t just the length of their marriage that made them different, although 77 years was a long time to be together. I’ve known other people who have been married for decades who seem to stick together out of spite. Not these two. They were together because they loved to be that way. I don’t recall ever seeing them apart from each other. If you saw Tom, even in the hardware store, then you’d see Ruth just a few steps away, picking out new decorations for her beautiful garden.
The two of them hosted a dinner every Friday night in their home. Anyone could come. Sometimes, it was just the two of them. Sometimes, the whole town would show up. There was always enough food, no matter how many people came. It was some kind of magic that happened in Ruth’s kitchen, that the food was always good and there was always plenty for seconds.
Because of their generosity and openness, the two became like celebrities in our little town. They often rode in the fourth of July parades and were the first to light the town Christmas tree. When my dad opened his little printing shop, he invited Tom and Ruth to cut the ribbon for him at his opening ceremony. They arrived, and also ordered a set of invitations for a garden party Ruth was hosting. It was Dad’s first print job there. They were just that kind of people.
Tragedy struck one night, while Tom and Ruth were sleeping peacefully in their bed. The house burnt to the ground. No one knew what had happened. By the time the firefighters arrived, there were only a few smoldering pieces of wall still standing. They could not save Tom and Ruth. The grief permeated our little town. Everyone lost a family member that day, because Tom and Ruth were everyone’s parents and grandparents, they were the people you went to when you needed your fill, not just of food but of love.
We held vigils. We brought flowers. But nothing seemed to ease our grief. No one had the heart to clean up after the fire, and so the ruins stood all through the winter as we tried to go on with our lives. Snow covered the ashes like a blanket, helping us bury our grief and begin to live our lives again. Soon, other families were inviting people over for meals and parties and we were able to enjoy ourselves again.
Spring came, melting away the snow, but still the ruins stood. They were not as bleak as they had been at first. Now they were a kind of monument, and no one would touch the place out of reverence for Tom and Ruth. We would just visit, sometimes, usually on a Friday night, in memory of the people who had loved each other and the people in their town so much.
Spring blossomed into summer, and that’s when the most amazing thing happened. From everywhere in the ruins, flowers grew and bloomed. There were all types: dahlias and snapdragons and sunflowers and petunias, all thrown together in a brilliant display. As the garden grew, people began to walk inside the ruins of the house, enjoying the colors and the smells and the quiet hum of bees working. It was then that we discovered the most magnificent part of all.
In the back bedroom, where Tom and Ruth had lost their lives in that dreadful fire, was a breathtaking sight. Covering their bed was a carpet of thousands of tiny forget-me-nots, smiling up at the blue sky overhead.
You can still see it there today, if you go in the summer. The city has set the place apart as an historical landmark. People come from miles around to see the flowers in Tom and Ruth’s garden. Some people think it was a trick, that someone else planted all those flowers, but I don’t think it was a trick at all. I think the flowers came because they knew it was safe there. Flowers only grow where love is.