by Julianna Holland
Through the smoke and the opaque mantle of my cataracts and bee veil I note that the waxing honeycomb has filled with a hatch of eggs, the mass of white absurdly distinct. All my life I have been hounded by the gleam of whiteness. In the snowfall of my childhood, a ram’s bone remains in a ditch, the pearl germs in my children’s teething gums, the hoar evinced itself in sharp focus.
It has dogged me since my fifth year when my brother died one Sunday in spring. That afternoon I stood before my mother and the still baby in her bedroom gloom holding a spray of tiny, white buds. A tea tray on the dressing table glistened with a spoon, half-harrowed in the sugar, tempting as a spade in sand. I ventured closer holding out my wilting flowers. A meagre offering. My lowered stare took in her swollen chest and, startling me, her breasts cried first. Milk tears spilled and spread across the strained fabric of her nightdress. My infantile bravery shattered. Dropping the white cluster on her bed, I ran from the room. I see them now, the same restive sprays, dancing boundless beyond the bulk of the hive. Were they meadowsweet or cow parsley or Queens Anne’s lace? I had neglected to learn the name of the spirited white flowers, paragons of remembrance, tenacious souvenirs of my boyhood. I turn to my wife and ask at last. ‘Baby’s breath’ is her reply and my mourning carries on.