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Image by Rebecca Matthews

Like Flowers, The Ones With Petals

We hadn’t had a dog for years, but this had become the catch cry for our midday escape. Living near the coast meant we could step out of our stagnant home offices and fill our lungs with a fresh sea breeze, not to mention reacquainting our fingers and toes with the blood circulation lost through desk-bound inertia. The sun shining through the glass in our front door beckoned, so we grabbed sunglasses and jackets and stepped out onto the porch. A cardboard box, about the size of a toaster, had been placed carefully behind a pillar near our door. I picked it up and stowed it on the bench inside. We locked up and set off on our regular circuit.
“Were you expecting anything?” I glanced at my husband, who frequently ordered bicycle parts from overseas.
“Not that I remember, but it may have been something I ordered months ago and forgot. We’ll know soon enough.”
His prediction was way off. It would be months before we knew what the parcel was about.
On returning from our walk, he examined the box while I examined the contents of the fridge and decided to make an omelette.
“It has no labels. No address. Nothing written on it at all.”
“That’s weird. It’s not ticking, is it? Or breathing?”
Hubby held it closer and listened.
“No ticking or breathing. It smells like flowers.”
“What sort of flowers? Roses, Sweet Peas, Carnations?”
He frowned at me.
“Like flowers. The ones with petals.”
I laughed.
“You’d better open it then.”
He slit carefully through the tape and opened the box. He removed four oddly shaped items wrapped in coloured tissue paper and placed them gently on the counter, then pulled out an envelope and held up it up for me to see. Wrought in beautiful script, it read ‘To My Loves’.
“Very strange. What’s in the envelope?”
He slid a knife through the edge of the envelope and unfolded a single A5 piece of soft pink paper decorated with roses. It was very fragrant.
“I can smell that from here. Roses. How beautiful! What does the letter say?”
“It says: ‘To My Loves.
Dear Darcy, Elizabeth, William and Sarah,
You have brought me great joy during my final years. Having you near has renewed my hope for man as I have watched you raise your children with such kindness and patience, teaching them wisely to respect others and take care of what they are given. They are a great credit to you. As a token of my thanks, I leave you these small gifts – items that have been treasures for me as I hope they will become for you. I sense that my time here is quickly running out and wish you a very fond farewell.
Yours with love,
“They must have left the box here by mistake. It’s not for us, and previous people were Carl and Fiona. I’ll have to ask around to find Darcy and Elizabeth, although it sounds a bit like a joke.”
We put the box aside with the contents still wrapped and sat down to lunch. Over the next few weeks, I spoke to neighbours, posted notices on several social media platforms, and asked at the Post Office, but couldn’t find anyone who knew of Mabel, Darcy, Elizabeth, William or Sarah. A month went by and we stood contemplating the box as another omelette sizzled on the stove.
“When did the package arrive? Perhaps someone has been having a laugh at us. Wasn’t it the school holidays?”
“It was around the start of April.”
We looked at each other, rolling our eyes.
“Not an April fool’s joke, surely.”
I sighed. “That would explain why it hasn’t made any sense. Let’s unwrap them and see what they are.”
He lifted out the first object. It was spherical and swathed generously in blue tissue paper. Tugging at the wrapping, he revealed a slightly used golf ball, along with a slip of paper that fluttered to the counter.
‘To Darcy – may your dreams of the perfect golf shot become a reality. Remember to celebrate the shots that go astray because they are a key part of honing your skills.’
The second object was angular and wrapped in orange tissue. It was a clear plastic ornament shaped like an angel, with a gold loop. Another slip of paper fluttered down.
‘To Elizabeth – may your eyes shine brighter than your Christmas Tree when they alight on your children unwrapping their presents. Your children are your gifts.’
The third object, enveloped in green paper, turned out to be tightly curled, slightly grubby rubber snake.
‘To William – may you always find happiness in the creatures of the wild. All life is to be celebrated.’
The final parcel, covered in pink paper, enclosed a tiny white padlock with a gold key.
‘To Sarah – may you carefully choose the secrets of your heart, because from your heart flows life.’
He lined the objects up, each with their note, along the benchtop. We looked at each other, sharing an ongoing sense of bewilderment.
“It’s either an elaborate practical joke, or we just haven’t found the right people yet.”
“It’s like a story that doesn’t have an ending. How frustrating.”
The box was pushed aside and the mail that we typically ignore mounted up around it over the next few weeks and months.
Later that year, I walked to the library to return a book and search the shelves for another. One of the books on display was called ‘Special Delivery’ and it reminded me of the mystery parcel. I got chatting to the librarian about it.
“I’m not sure who else to ask. I could have put a notice in the national newspapers, or on the current affairs program, but I thought that was going too far.”
“And who did you say the name of the lady was?” The librarian was busy checking in books and had only half heard what I’d said.
“Mabel. The letter was signed Mabel.” The librarian stopped what she was doing and stared at me.
“Mabel,” she said, with a sense of urgency.
“Mabel. And she had sent the letter to Darcy, Elizabeth, William and Sarah.”
The librarian turned a strange shade of grey-green and beckoned for me to walk away from the counter where we could be heard. She looked down for a long while before raising her head somewhat shamefully.
“I hate to admit it, but Mabel was our nickname for our neighbour. We thought she was a bit of a strange old coot – not quite all there. She died six months ago.”
I thought of the beautiful handwriting and the kind sentiments. Her judgement seemed a bit harsh. I thought of whom it was addressed to.
“But letter isn’t addressed to you.” Her name tag didn’t read Elizabeth or Sarah.
She looked even more ashamed.
“They were the names we told her. We didn’t know that she knew we called her Mabel.”
Clearly this was a deception that was unravelling before me and having unexpected consequences. I resisted the urge to judge further and offered her an olive branch.
“I’ll bring them in, and you can tell me what they mean.”
“Thank you – I’d appreciate that.”
The librarian was clearly shaken by my news, so I hurried home to get the box. I threw open the door and shouted up to my husband in his office.
“I’ve found Elizabeth!”
“You’ve found whom? What?”
“I’ve found the owner of the mystery box. Elizabeth. Only her name is Jan. She works at the library.”
The ensuing silence meant that he had been quickly reabsorbed into his business dealings, so I grabbed the box and dashed back to the library. The librarian met me outside.
“I’m on a lunch break. Here, let’s sit at this picnic table.”
She opened the box and read the letter. I could see that her hands were trembling, and a tear slipped down one cheek.
“She knew…” The whispered words were tangled with emotion.
Unwrapping the golf ball, she waved it at me and recalled, “This was the ball that my husband hit through her glasshouse. We never admitted it. She had to pay to have it repaired.”
Next was the green rubber snake. A small smile tweaked the corner of her mouth but didn’t reach her eyes.
“This belongs to my son. He must have thrown it over the fence to frighten her.”
She reached for the orange parcel and unwrapped the angel. Her shoulders slumped.
“We knew that the flashing Christmas lights bothered her, but we thought she should just get with the Christmas spirit. This is one of the angels from my tree. I’m not sure how she ended up with it.”
Finally, she unfolded the pink tissue paper to reveal the tiny white padlock with its matching tiny key. A hint of understanding crossed her face.
“Oh. Alice.”
“Who is Alice?”
“Sarah is Alice, my six-year old daughter. The truthful one. Alice must have told her. Thank you anyway.”
“There’s more. In the envelope. Each gift had a slip of paper with it.”
Jan opened the envelope and read quickly through the slips of paper.
“Oh, worse still. What a gracious lady! And we talked about her like she was an idiot.”
Realising that now was not the time for proverbs about judging books by their covers, I only suggested, “Maybe she knew you better than you thought.” There would be plenty of time for reflection and self-recrimination.
Later that evening, as Jan and her family sat around the table after dinner with their respective items, Jan turned to Alice.
“So what did you tell her, Alice?”
“I told her that we were playing a game of pretend with our names. And that Dad gets grumpy with his golf balls sometimes. Oh, and that the snake accidentally fell over the fence when we were playing with it.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said that games of pretend were fun as long as you all knew it was pretend. And she said that lies gobble up the truth like her chickens gobble up sunflower seeds, and if you let them have too much, they get sick.”
Despite the strange six-year-old logic, the message was pretty clear.
“Did you give her the angel?”
“Yes, she said that her angel was missing, so I gave her one to replace it.”
“That was very kind, Alice.”
Alice leaned over to her brother and whispered something.
“What did you tell him, Alice?”
“Oh, only that she smelled lovely, like flowers. The ones with petals.”

Like Flowers, The Ones With Petals: About Me
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