by Anna Clabburn
bees and grandmothers sing the same song: Beware the gift of flowers
for they sow the seeds of what is to come in your own bed.
You can tell a lot about a man from the flowers he picks. Not so much
the ones he points out in the Botanical Gardens while you picnic, or the
blooms and herbs he plants in his window boxes. It's more those he chooses
to give to you. Wrapped flowers in a man's hand are like hieroglyphic
messages, their petals spell out the root of his intentions with you.
As far back as I can remember, both my grandmothers cultivated flowerbeds.
They wandered in ragged broad-rimmed hats, secateurs in gloved hands,
swishing away buzzing insects and dreaming up fresh floral ways of passage.
Their Rose-walks of cream and deep red, sweet dew-tipped Daphne, ebullient
pots of Geraniums and mad clambering Clematis held secret wisdom, carefully
camouflaged in petals with succulent hearts.
Whispering Cornflowers and Snapping Dragons tell tales as old as their
rootstock. As witnesses to so many tiny moments of human exchange, their
sense of relationships is finely honed, acute and polish clear. Had I
not been so blind to the messages of these fugitive blooms, I might have
learnt at a younger age about the stories flowers shared as the sun ambled
around its familiar horizon. I might have learnt the lesson of flowers
before it was too late not to make mistakes.
But floral appreciation comes later in life for some.
Bed One: Soursops
When full of youth and rampant hormones, men (or boys as they should more
correctly be termed) have little inclination to give the ordered gift
of cut flowers. More often, their feelings at an early age are revealed
in the places they invite a girl to lie down. Nature offers many soft-cushioned
earth beds for those lacking places of their own to play out the wilderness
of youth's fleshy fluids.
Take for instance the rough boy with tousled locks, face sprouting fruit-fluff
hair, who took a girl in too-tight jeans and too-dark eye shadow down
a steep riverbank one late spring. As they stumbled to the water, mats
of tiny flowers at the river's edge, slippery with moisture, confused
their already awkward steps. When they finally fell together it was on
a pale yellow bed of Soursops those pretty dancer blooms on deep
green watery stems that force saliva flushing into the mouth when bitten
Movements and limbs constrained by resilient Chinese stitching, the young
pair roll and clutch, oblivious of the flowers crushed beneath them. Green
stalks mush to pulp, staining white cotton and pink elbows. From their
first touch, she sensed something sour in him. The flowers told her what
her body chose to overlook, if just for an hour or so or was it
a week? Behind the pungent waft of bent sops lay a young man's story of
disappointment, a life disadvantaged by distance from where real things
happened. When she visits his plain home she is struck by its men's smells,
its kitchen pungent with short snacks and an absent mother.
Away from this brown and beige place he seemed colourful, his dull character
embroidered by the existence of a wayward brother whose suburban street
crimes seemed exotic and close to a dangerous edge. He always spoke of
his deviant sibling with respect, as if being 'bad' were somehow redemption
for being ordinary.
He's disappeared again, he'd say with pride.
Her nose remembered the soursops and her hand shied away. She noticed
how her mother seemed to also dislike his smell, how the top lip curled
and eyes darkened deeper every time her daughter turned up home at 3.00am,
You can't help someone like that honey; it's too hard
Too sour, she thinks and finally stepped back, away.
Although the bee came and buzzed at the flower who taunted him with her
primary colours and hint of succulent depths, no pollination occurred
that riverbank day, though it first looked so promising. Perhaps it was
the onion weed that held back her desire even more than the humble Soursop.
Weed with pretty pretend snowbells and kitchen stink aroma as the day
I have to go, she says
But he went first anyway because Soursops aren't renowned for longevity
and are a poor foundation for passion.
Bed Two - Tuzzi-Muzzy on the Front Door
As a child conceived by parents in the flush of a New Year, her memories
of love are always of springtime when buds swell and the air is rich with
olfactory pleasures. The flush of light and warmth in someone wanting
to hold her is like a flood of sunlight, soaking life back into solitude's
Actually, it wasn't spring at all when she met this bumble-thighed man.
He just made her feel it was. For once, suddenly, the space between friendships
and intimacy seemed less a hungry crevice than a light footbridge.
Giggling breathlessly on a bus-stop, bottle of underage-acquired creamy
liquor clutched in chilly hands, laughing so hard and talking like mad
drunks, each nearly oblivious of the other's presence. A night so cold,
their exhalations hung in the air like floating chimeras of their carelessly
Where are we going?, she stammers uncontrolled
I'm not sure, he breathes through laughter, dizzy and
hot with chili-pepper lust.
Do buses stop here at this time of night?
The Trades Hall building loomed greyly behind them with a grandeur that
had as much to do with the golden street light as any architectural nobility.
It was a quiet corner and at 3.00am, most likely and probably, buses would
They hailed a taxi.
Long before she took him on a holiday with her family, even long before
she laughed her way naked in between those solid thighs for the first
time, she knew he held her sense of humour. Days with him felt healthy,
like weekends in a field of fresh Lucerne. Breathing was an easy affair
and she could fill her lungs in his company, sharing oxygen instead of
competing for space as she had so often felt the need to do before. Recognising
humour was to her a re-acquaintance with something put aside in childhood
and very nearly lost.
This man left posies, jumbles of coloured flowers, showy rather than deeply
perfumed but full of good will and bright spirit. One birthday afternoon
she returned home to find her front door covered with buxom bunches, dozens
of tuzzi-muzzies bursting in corners amid paper streamers dancing from
the brass mouth of the lions-head door knocker. Pruney balloons - blown
up in haste early before school - were stuck to the fugitive paint. Some
had fallen off and wandered jolly roly-poly down the gravel path, tempting
But this story is ages old and perfumed with a blind fondness. I've heard
the man with strong thighs now teaches people how to stay stable and glide
on snow with boards strapped to their feet. She remembers it was she who
showed him the mountains in winter, just as he helped her find the spring
inside with its buds of absurd beauty and tricky little ways of hiding
inevitable mortality. When they parted it was with the same air as a daffodil
wilting down its stem, perfectly natural and with infinite grace.
Bed Three - Salt Bush and Banksia Boy
This one surfed like spume on the wave-tops, a skinny pale splash of flesh
sailing and tumbling with the salty water. Looking at him from a distance
through squinted eyes, she imagined she could see the ripple of his belly
muscles, the same ones that stretched and sang when he mapped her own
tides, alone and quiet in his half-lit room.
She associates him with the ocean, imagining its teaming life beneath
his body as she feels the invisible sand-mites bite microscopic chunks
out of her pale white meat. Watching his acrobat's grace as he dances
onto the crunchy shoreline, she anticipates the fish and potato chips,
bars of sweet milk chocolate consumed after hours of eating nothing but
sea breezes and salt water. Swimming light-limbed in swelling rockpools,
she could last all day on a soft drink and his smile. They are always
too busy playing slippery eels to bother with hunger until it becomes
a carnal urge.
Even very white skin can soften to a pale-almond tone if left long and
slow enough over a tertiary summer. One moment, no longer than the next,
and yet it seems to last all day. For weeks, all summer, the same sun,
the same bleached blue sky, the same blissful saturation of effortless
There are no flowers to remember in this dreamtime, only the stretching
shoreline. Saltbushes, with their grey-green silver sharp leaves, remind
her of his beard with its recurrent stubble and softness where the hairs
grew longer, out of control. Running between bushes, chasing feet through
scalding sand, they ignored the moon as it continued to rise and fall.
She called him Banksia Boy because of the island they visited close to
the end of their long summer- camping in an old canvas tent, shaking stray
ants out of their hair and trying to sleep while the sun's scars tickled
with a hot tentacle burn.
Saltbush leaves no scars but is easily remembered as a tingling on the
skin surface, a little like salt itself when it dries and becomes itchy.
Every now and then she itches to see him. She knows she can't. It's the
same with old flower water: never very good for recycling.
Bed Four - The Rose of Many Petals
She can recall once not liking or understanding roses. Their beauty seemed
too tenuous, too easily bruised or unbalanced, and their velvet petals
too quickly lost. Beneath their lush greenery, pointed thorns waited to
draw blood and hot tears. Although this was something she knew well, she
often chose to forget, just to pretend for awhile that things were other
than what they were.
Men of roses come in many colours, like the flowers. She met this ruby-red
harlequin too early, his lips sweet and generous, eyes offering a dew
that seemed to well from deep within a rich heart.
It was difficult to forget the magnetism of this man with his bunches
of soft-petal stories, each new shade a harbinger of another chameleon
change and a new adventure. Ocean, desert, bitumen. They strolled and
ran; shrieking with the pure pleasure of discovering how irresponsible
life can be when sensuous thrill drowns out all semblance of sanity and
One hot night, numbing and languorous, the heat swelled arms and legs
and other parts, and he is shouting. His thorns are visible and sharp,
tearing at her mistakes, driving needle accusations in to draw red pain.
When she runs away in the wet night, humid eyes, blood trails out behind
her on the road like a stained veil, dragging with it their fleshy 'newly-wed'
Roses are an intoxicating bloom. Their botany is redolent with the history
of lovers and a classic exuberance. Yet, they promise much more than they
give. Exquisite passion, enduring ardour, deep lust. It is an unfortunate
problem with roses that men hide behind their myths and women use their
intoxicating odour to blindfold good sense. Impossible liar blooms. It's
common knowledge too that roses can be made to last longer by hammering
on their lower stem. This enables more water to penetrate their stalks
to the flower head, keeping the appearance of life at least for awhile.
However, eventually they die and when they do they leave an ugly triffid
eye, the spikey stalk with bald top and withered flesh. It's always surprising
to find this sad and shriveled heart buried beneath the velvet sheath
Despite their fate, she believes it is worth conserving rose petals as
they dry. Unlike the hard stem, these modest memories of the living plant
can be contained in a scented box. A potpourri in a favourite underwear
drawer (sealed of course) or in a canister on the vanity table is a great
joy, especially when one needs the comfort of recalling deep but problematic
Bed Five - Alstroemerias and good Stock:
It took many years for someone to give her flowers with real longevity.
Rare are the blooms that improve and sweeten with age, especially once
they've been separated from the plant.
When they first met, he sold flowers without his sense of smell. A bad
fall and knock on the back to the head stole his nose and made coffee
taste like pond-water. Women's odours often went sour after only a short
time. He said he liked to peel women's clothing as he would peel an orange,
taking care to notice the intricacies of his discovery and savour the
scented pith. He said this after she threw her garments aside and plunged
naked into his arms too fast.
As a flower vendor, he knew the world of cut things and the reality of
transient prettiness. The first bunch he gave her were Gerberas, kooky
I chose them because they're bright and a little awkward
She blushed at his initial impression of her, trying from then on to seem
a little more sophisticated, dew-tipped in bud rather than already brashly
One afternoon she alighted from a plane to find her front door obscured
by a forest of flowers, cooling themselves quietly in buckets. Their circus
colours and smooth shapes offered multitudes of promises. So she shared
her bed and helped him till the soil of a practical vegetable while their
perfumed Daphne bush grew strong and vigorous.
It's some time, a great deal of time in fact, from the first bunch. They
now plant seedlings in paddocks, till rich compost and sew seeds to sprout
more arbours. He brings her many different kinds of flowers, taking joy
in their delicate structures and teaching her how to appreciate the processes
by which they grow. His gift of flowers today is more often than not one
of two blooms. She has learnt to read this as an encouraging sign of progress.
Infinitely subtle and unassuming, Alstroemerias invariably grow to full
beauty as they sit by a bedside. Lush in a skirt of green leaves, their
soft pink, red and yellow tints are often missed in the florists' crowd,
but not by those who understand and know the true present of flowers.
Patient blooms, Alstroemerias have been known to last up to twenty days
without losing a petal. And even when they droop, their decline is conscious
and never a messy affair.
Stocks must be considered the other flowers of loving longevity. Some
call them Greek Violets because of their mysterious dewy-glade perfume.
Never a dominant bloom, their gentle pink, mauve and white bring out the
individual personality of their surroundings, like a shared creeper on
a neighbouring fence. He brings her these flowers when their pillows of
conversation need fluffing with fresh oxygen. They make excellent companion
Bed Six: Remembrance
Although neither of them enjoyed handling the awkward turf between women
and men, I feel sure both my grandmother's dug pounds of wise observation
into their garden beds. Their sowing, pruning and arranging cultivated
acres good sense and sowed a forest of tall legacies for me to walk among.
Today I am able to build my own architectures of love from these timbers,
knowing only too well the preciousness of their rich but fragile resource.