Bright Orange Tulips

Most days, I didn’t eat a single meal. I couldn’t. I had no appetite, nor the will or the drive to do so. Instead, my days were filled endlessly with drinking and drug taking with friends of mine. We were all so free. It was the 80’s after all and we were teens. Experimentation was an accepted right of passage for us all by then.  

At the time, my step father was cheating on my mother and I knew about it. I had saw him in a store late one night, kissing another man. I had nothing against him kissing a man because I knew that some of my other friends, like Michael, did it. But he had cheated on my mother and that had made me more angry than I could believe. That night, I drank and drank and drank and stole and stole and stole. Mary Elizabeth had to console me at one point as my tear stained face was distracting everyone from their fun. She said, if I wanted to, we could buy those colourless tulips that we were all given when we were ill and dye them a bright orange, the colour they were supposed to be.

“We could put them beside your mothers bed to wish her well, if you want to.”

When she said that, I cried some more. She grew confused because of it. But what she didn’t understand was that I wasn’t crying because I was still upset, but because I was happy that she had thought to even console me. I felt like explaining this verbally would take away from the moment, so I grabbed her hand, nodded my head and dragged her all the way to the display of flowers in the centre of town. The others followed closely behind, confused. The dragging was made easy because she was wearing cut off shorts, but harder because I was wearing a long skirt that went all the way down to my ankles. 

That night, the five of us – Michael, John, Rachel, Mary Elizabeth and I – stole bunches of Tulips from the little display section in the centre of town and dyed them bright orange. Which was, of course, fiddly business but everyone had gotten stuck into it and we got it done alright. Before we continued our night, they let me go home briefly. 

When I opened the door to my house, I expected to see my mother furious with me, as I was supposed to be home a few hours ago. But instead, I saw my mother still in tears as the way I had left her. I guess that made sense. She had gone to the doctors the afternoon before and had found out she had this illness which was incurable. HIV, I think it was called. 

As I walked through the front door, I could see my mum, staring absently at a turned off TV, tissue in hand, ready to dab at her already tear streaked face. Her porcelain skin was coloured only by the ghastly light of a half working bulb that had the habit of flickering and dimming every so often. It took me a while to notice, but she was in her old wedding dress. Not the one she had married my step father, Phil, in, but the one she had married my real father, Paul in. She had somehow managed to tie the corset dangerously tight against her torso, for the only reason I knew she was alive was because of a gentle wheeze every time she inhaled. 

My mother looked like a ghost. 

But she still had layers of clumped together tissues on the dinner table, that would shift every so often as a tear hit against it. Tears had become funny business back then, especially for ladies, especially for my mum as her mascara ran down her face. She was, quite frankly, leaving an absolute mess of it on the table cloth and for a second, I worried about how I would need to clean it up when I got back. But then I forgot all about that as our eyes met when I took one more step through the door. At this point, I wasn’t sure what to do. I had the choice to either go or to stay. But as I took another step, her eyes returned slowly back to the blank TV screen. 

I wanted to do something to help, like turn the TV on, so at least the rocking of her eyes back and forth could fixate on something. But figured against it, turning on the TV would just lead to an even more black and white world than what lay in front of her at that present moment. And besides, she looked like she was trying to help herself, no matter how little it made sense to me. So I left the bunches of tulips on the table in front of her, grabbed a knife, kissed her on the cheek, turned away and walked right through the door, locking it securely behind me. Only to see my friends waiting with agitated stances outside. 

The only one who looked slightly less irritated was Mary Elizabeth, who seemed alright with me taking a long time. 

So, as the others continued to walk towards the night club, I asked her to wait for a second. 

“What for?” She had asked. 

I took the knife I had grabbed from the kitchen out of my bag. For a second, she had looked scared, as if I was about to kill her with it, her face continued to tense into one of shock and disbelief. But then I let go of her hand, and she seemed to calm down somewhat. I used that hand to hold a fistful of my skirt and used my other hand with the knife in it to slash away at it, making it shorter. When I had finished, I had thrown away the knife and the skirt was well above my knees now, the same length as Mary Elizabeth’s shorts. I did the same to my sleeves, grabbed and slashed away at its length.  

Mary Elizabeth had laughed loud that night, possibly laughing away her fears but also attracting the stares from the others in front. They looked back, astonished, and ran towards me, slapping me on the back in glee. 

“I guess plain Jane just isn’t so plane anymore.” I heard Michael shout. The rest joined in with Mary Elizabeth and laughed, while nodding their heads in agreement. The others ran in front of me, smiling, affirming Michaels statement with a brief nudge or a hug. Mary Elizabeth had stayed behind, smiling all the while. 

When they had all run past us, it was only Mary Elizabeth and I standing in front of the huge estate, where my council flat was housed. It felt strange that night, as if the air was charged with electricity and the atmosphere itself was this large, thick blanket that covered me from head to toe in unpredictable warmth. 

And Mary Elizabeth was in front of me. 

And Mary Elizabeth was in front of me. 

I glanced down at her lips on instinct. But it was at that moment that she had decided to gently put her hand in my own and start to run. Her eyes brushed against my own, and I could see the joy and happiness painted inside her bright blue orbs.

That is why I was glad that I had the chance to take a second look at all of her as she stopped right before we got to the night club. And she had looked positively beautiful that night. The warmth of the moon encapsulated her skin in a white shell, the flesh of her thighs and arms glowing in front of me. I couldn’t help but look up at her face. At first, our eyes met again, but then, I couldn’t help but glance down. The affection I saw there was enough to quell the butterflies fluttering in my stomach for a moment. To be perfectly honest, at that moment, I’m sure that I could have moved mountains, solve world peace and ace a maths exam all in a days work simply from that one look of affection.

And I couldn’t help but grin because of it all. 

“You know what?” She had said that night, leaning forward. 

“What?” I had replied, slightly breathless for what seemed like no particular reason at all. 

And that was the moment she kissed me. It was gentle. Soft almost, lovely and smooth. 

She then leaned away, a smile erupting across her face. “Nothing.” She had run into the club then, leaving me dumbfounded at the thought of that definitely not being nothing. 

I wasn’t sure if it was okay for me to fall so head over heels for a girl as Michael and my step father did for boys. I wasn’t sure at all. But that night, I was sure I was falling head over heels for Mary Elizabeth. 

And the truth was, I had liked it. 

And I still do.