The Flower Box by Jane O’Connor, short story category winner 2020

Kay sat on the step of her pottery studio cradling a cup of tea when she felt a nudge on her arm as Pansy, her Nan’s Yorkshire Terrier, rushed past her and began doing joyful circuits of the lawn. Kay had been apprehensive about taking Pansy in, but things had happened so quickly after Nan’s fall that she had felt it was the only option, and her Nan had been so grateful.

It had been left to Kay to break the news to Nan that she was going straight into a nursing home after hospital due to her failing vision, and that her bungalow would have to be sold.

‘I never really liked the place anyway,’ Nan had confided in Kay. ‘My home was with your Grandad in Sheridan Lane, the bungalow was just a place to live after he died.’

‘I know,’ said Kay stroking her hand, relieved that she was not more upset. Nan suddenly clutched at the blanket and Kay looked at her in alarm.

‘But my garden Kay,’ she said, her eyes filling with tears. ‘All my beautiful flowers. I’ll miss them so much.’ Her bottom lip trembled as the realisation sunk in, and Kay had felt helpless to do any more than sit with her and quietly share her loss.

The next morning Kay drove to Nan’s bungalow with Pansy on the back seat, and they made their way through the side gate and into the garden. It was late June and they were met with a glorious riot of colours, scents, butterflies, and bees. Kay took a small linen bag and some secateurs out of her satchel and began snipping off the sweetest blooms she could find as Pansy ran round her legs in excitement.

Back in her studio, Kay set about making a simple slab box and lid that she decorated with carved impressions of the flowers from Nan’s garden.

‘Pansy,’ she called, just before she put the pot in the kiln. The dog came running in from the garden, covered in dust and mud. ‘I’ve got a special job for you,’ said Kay.

The next time Kay visited Nan she was already in the nursing home and, despite Kay’s protestations on the phone, she had been told very firmly that they had a strict ‘no animals’ policy, so she had had to leave Pansy at home. She did have the flower box though and she carried it into Nan’s room, placing it carefully on her lap as she sat in a comfy chair by the window.

‘I made you something, to remind you of your garden,’ said Kay putting Nan’s hands on the box and letting her touch the lid and sides.

‘I can feel the pattern of peonies,’ said Nan in astonishment as her fingers traced the carvings.

Kay beamed with pride, ‘Yes that’s right, now open the box.’ The scent of the dried and pressed flowers filled the room and Nan’s face lit up as she picked up the blooms one by one and named them by their smell and feel.

‘Sweet peas, roses, cornflowers,’ she blinked back tears and nodded at Kay. ‘This is wonderful, thank you so much.’

‘There’s one last surprise Nan,’ said Kay. ‘Turn the lid over.’

Nan did as she was told and tentatively felt the underside of the lid. ‘Pansy’s little paw prints!’ she exclaimed with delight.

‘I couldn’t make you a flower box and leave out your favourite flower of all, could I?’ said Kay with a smile. ‘And in fact, Pansy is fast becoming my favourite flower too.’

****

Jane O’Connor is a writer and academic based in Birmingham, UK. Her debut novel Needlemouse is about a lonely woman who volunteers in a hedgehog sanctuary and was published by Ebury in 2019. Jane has had short stories published in national magazines and is currently working on her second novel – a tale of love, books, and witchcraft based in 18th Century Lichfield. In her day job, Jane is a Reader in Childhood Studies at Birmingham City University. She lives with her husband, two young sons, and several cats in Sutton Coldfield. You can meet Jane on Twitter @JaneOConnor100

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