Each spring she came as sure as the rain, the cold sunshine and the sweet aromas of cut grass and new flowers blossoming on fruit trees.
There was something otherworldly about the girl – no one in the town knew her name, or, if they did, they called her ‘the Daffodil Girl’ nonetheless. And that was fitting enough, for each year, on the first day of spring, she would come floating through the dirty streets, bringing with her the vernal breeze and all the freshness and irrepressible life of the country, with a splendid mound of bright yellow daffodils bundled in a wicker basket, and balanced on her hip. Her wind-tangled tawny curls were pinned and twined and braided around her head with the same wilderness that she carried in her step, in the keen, roaming gaze of her dark doe eyes. Her dress was out of place in the town – she wore no starched lace or whalebone, no constricting silk squeezed her swaying waist and there were no intricate arrangements of buttons or beads. She was like a milkmaid of a lost age, as though she had wandered from a glorious alpine painting, somehow, into this hard and smoky English town.
The burst of yellow as she wound through the streets, the subtle scent of fine pollen the colour of sunshine, it turned the head of every fine lady, every stiff gentleman and gabbling fishwife, every merchant, beggar and drunk. And one man amongst them all was particularly drawn to her. For him, the entire season had but one purpose, one value: he could watch the Daffodil Girl in her strange, slow progress, her pilgrimage of spring, and let her soft shape and sweet scent, the mild hum of ancient songs, sooth the turmoil in his soul.
This morning, the first of march, he had woken late. He punished himself, positively flagellated himself for the error. He had not slept a full night, he felt, for many a year. Yet it was no excuse.
Disheveled and out of sorts, he left the room without his stick, half tumbling down the decaying staircase of the boarding house and limping up the street as fast as his tortured frame would carry him. Passersby muttered their judgements, scowling at the frightful sight of the crippled lunatic lurching along the cobbles, asking themselves and each other why such a creature could ever have need to hurry. Who could be waiting for a wretch like him?
He persevered, even as his whole left side began to ache, to scream for rest. And then, as he crested the top of the hill, he saw her – a spot of sunshine in his bleak world of winter. The sight gave him a second wind. He clutched his thigh, defying the pain, and ran. He had not run for seven years, not since the days he has laughed at death as bullets tore the air and mud and pitch flew up around his nimble feet like showers of confetti…
The yellow bloom grew closer and closer, until he could see the white flash of her stockings above the sturdy boots, the mud and dust on the fringe of her skirts, the infant daffodil she had wound into her hair…
“Miss!” He cried, but his voice was a thin rasp, a shriek of rusted metal on stone. “Miss!”
She turned, and he saw fear on her freckled face. The shock, the disgust was heartbreaking in the eyes of this angel. Surely that face could show nothing but heavenly benevolence, infinite, divine calm…
“Miss, please!” He gasped, reaching out to her, stumbling like a drunkard, clutching blindly. His hand closed around the handle of her basket.
“Leave off me!” She cried, her cheeks flushed with anger and fear. “Help! Won’t someone help me?”
“No, miss, no, wait!”
She tore away from him, running, skipping like a dryad in flight. He half thought she would vanish, explode into a shower of golden petals and float away on the rising wind. The thought struck him with an all-consuming fear, and he made a last attempt to seize the girl, to hold her close and tell her that she, she was his saviour!
She turned, her eyes wide, and fell, flying backwards, away from him forever. It seemed she would fall into the ground and into hell itself. There was a deafening roar, hooves and voices. A huge black horse thundered toward them…the black horse and black chariot that haunted his dreams! Doom! Doom!
Silence, screams. The crowd of the street parted; women sobbed, men shouted their useless outrage, taking off hats and shuffling feet. Someone with sense called for a doctor.
There she lay: white, broken. Her hair was splayed around her like a glorious pagan crown, her hand lay gently on her waist. And all around were yellow daffodils, scattered like funeral flowers, like tiny mourners falling at her feet, heads bent with heavy grief.
The crowd cried tragedy, but it was more than a tragedy for him. It was the death of spring, the sun turned to cold stone. It was his apocalypse.
by Rachel Norris
prompts: daffodil, desire, apocalypse