Every Wednesday evening she finished work early and drove her old Renault across town to the nursing home. It was one of the strangest routines she’d ever implemented in her life. Her mother was ninety-three. She was smaller than a rose bush. She was brittle bones beneath loose skin and eyes like faraway search lights in the dark. Her mother was dying. Slowly, slowly dying.
The trip over town every Wednesday was something that pulled at her and it took all her effort and strength to make the wheels turn and her limbs work. The roundabout was a marker. But it was more than that. When she reached the point in the road where she could see its UFO shape, edges frilled with foliage like a wedding cake, she knew she was almost to the nursing home, the nursing home that smelled of disinfectant and bodily waste and fear and confusion. Some weeks she barely noticed how the life of the roundabout had changed since the previous week, and sometimes it shone clearly with new growth and hope.
It was now a trend in certain parts of the country to use these spaces in the middle of roads for decoration. Some grew their flowers in the shape of letters, spelling out village names and welcome signs, some were simple areas of lush green grass, while others used intricate designs with pathways and sculptures. This one reminded her of a summer meadow: like scrub land in winter, but bursting with pretty flowers and butterflies in spring. The changing of the seasons altered the landscape of the roundabout, just like the lives of humans…just like the difficult language of life and death.
Last week she’d had a call from the nursing home to say her mother had fallen. It was a strange turn of phrase, she’d thought. Your mother has fallen. Like she’d slipped into bad behaviour or been slayed on a battle field. She’d driven over a little later than she normally would and the roundabout was lit in the shadows of street lights and the full icy moon. She couldn’t see the colours of the flowers, only dark leaves like bewildered hands and the flatness of the grass. Her mother had been further away than ever when she got there, her face a flag held forward while the real her retreated.
Today she reached the roundabout at her usual time, on Wednesday. The fuchsia pinks and lemon yellows of the flowers bobbed in a slight breeze. The road ahead loomed like a sigh. She would take the second exit, as always, but as she drove on, she looked a little longer at the foxgloves, the yarrow, and the wild waxy buttercups, the heads all turned up to the streak of sky above them. One day soon the season would change again, and this patch of land would turn back to the earth, and this strange uncomfortable routine she now had would also change.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and the forthcoming Orange Balloon (August 2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.