The Lily Eater

In the waiting and the wanting there came a silence, where the rustling leaves were muffled, and the birds ceased to sing. There, inside that muted instant, he rose from the water, a man like no other. His flesh so thin and tender you could see the webbed veins pumping blood beneath.

From my seat at the edge of the pond I watched.

The man floated just slightly above the water, how, I could not say. Kneeling down, he plucked lily after lily from the pads below devouring every last one.

“Who? What…are you?” I asked.

“I find what is lost,” he said, flowers spilling from his lips.

His fingertips hovered like bees pollinating each plant he touched. For every lily he plucked two more grew in its place.

“Do the flowers taste sweet?” I asked.

“Depends how many tears have been shed in the pond. This bunch are decidedly salty,” he said, removing a stamen lodged between his teeth. “Now then, why did you summon me? What’s gone missing?”

“I summoned no one,” I replied, swishing two fingers round in the water. It was warm and thick like the medicinal broth the doctor insisted father drink before dinner. Once, he’d winked at me and dumped the bowl in the fern by the window. When the next course arrived our giggles rattled the cups in the cupboard. Chef didn’t find it amusing, but the fern fared quite well that year.

The lily eater fashioned a garland out of newborn flowers placing it upon my head.

“Father showed me how to make a garland for May Day,” I said. “He raced me to the garden at dawn and we rubbed dew on our faces. He insisted May dew was magical, said it would make my freckles disappear. Didn’t work, though.”

“Sounds like lovely chap,” the man said, chuckling.

“Sometimes,” I said, “but only on sunny days.”

“Well, you must be searching for something,” the man said. “A dolly? A sweet? A pair of skates, perhaps?”

“No, all of my things are in order. They have to be. I’m moving, you see.”

“Moving?”

“Yes. My aunt is taking me in.”

“Ah, my mistake then.” The lily eater’s gaze had no end.

I turned my head away, adjusting the ribbon on my dress.

“Are you sure you weren’t looking for this?” he asked, placing a brooch in my palm.

The gold pin had a garland of enameled daisies on it alternating with bright green crystals. “Now you will have May magic forever,” he’d whispered in my ear that last time as he hugged me tight.”

I shook my head, biting my lip. “No. Take it away. It belongs at the bottom of the pond.”

“Seems an odd place for a pretty bauble,” he shrugged. “But if you insist, I’ll put it back where I found it.”

The man glided across the water.

“Wait,” I said.

“Yes?”

“May I see it once more?”

“Certainly,” he said.

The starched grey afternoon could not prevent the brooch from glittering in my hand. Clouds heavy with rain concealed the sun. A black and blue sky, that’s what father would have called it. A cry lodged in my throat.

“You know, there are an awful lot of bits and bobs down below,” the lily eater said. “Don’t suppose you’d be willing to take the pin off my hands temporarily, would you? At least until I clear out some of the other refuse?”

“I suppose I could,” I said, rubbing my eyes.

“I am in your debt,” he said as his body began to descend.

“Wait!”

“What is it now?” he said, already submerged up to his neck.

“Can you…can you tell him something for me?”

The lily eater blinked. “It can be arranged.”

“Tell him…thank you for the pin and…wherever he’s gone, I hope the sky is never bruised.”

“Consider it done,” the man said, disappearing into the murky pond.

“Goodbye father,” I whispered, pinning the brooch to my dress.

END

I want to thank Litstack; For the Love of All Things Wordy for again providing me with some wonderful photo prompt inspiration.

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About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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26 Responses to The Lily Eater

  1. Miles David says:

    This is a great first chapter for a novel. Fresh and enticing. Don’t change anything. Just write Chapter Two.

  2. Wow, that was great. There was so much greatness, in fact–touches of Arthurian, touches of Edwardian, so many touches. Yet the thing that sticks with me the most, upon second reading, is the concept of a bruised sky, the black-and-blue aspect.

    I’ve missed you! (There. Exclamation mark, JUST FOR YOU.)

    • Auntie Kate gave me an exclamation point? Well, this is an honor indeed. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was so worried it was overly sentimental. Hard to ride the right line with this subject matter. But I’ll take Arthurian/Edwardian any day. Thanks.

  3. Jennifer says:

    This is lovely – beautiful imagery, and so poignant. I’m enchanted!

  4. Jason says:

    This is a beautiful story with a nice tempo and a graceful ending. The rich “circle of life” imagery is mesmerizing. You make this writing thing look easy :)

    • Aw, thank you, Jason. What a wonderful compliment. Between you and me and the lamp post it was so NOT easy. I was tearing my hair out over this one. I feared it had the potential to be over written and cliched, and kept working to write my way out of that. I must say this blogging business has really challenged my short fiction skills. :)

  5. Laura W. says:

    That was the best!!!! So many exclamation points lol.
    I actually don’t think it needs to be chapter 1. :) It’s complete in itself, the young girl coming to the point where she can say goodbye. What a great and original story.

  6. peterwilkin says:

    A moment in time when a child, faced with physically ‘moving on’, suddenly accepts the death of her father ~ & such a beautiful description of how her anger (at her father’s departure) dissipates as she wishes that his sky is never bruised. And the Lily-eater, a wonderful creation of your imagination, seeker & finder of all that is lost in the pool of tears where he lives. A brooch; a previous symbol of a broken promise that the child now sees for what it is: a gift from her late, loving father. A wonderful, sensitively written short piece that I, too, believe should stand on its own to be enjoyed with your other novellas when you eventually publish them in a book *think ‘Dubliners’* :)

    • I am still tearing up from this beautiful commentary. Growing up, one of my great joys in english class was to analyze novels. I relished the opportunity to breakdown work and look at it’s themes. (Of course I’m telling someone with a background in psychology so I’m sure you know what I mean.) To have you articulate what I was going for in the way you have is so gratifying. Thank you so much, Peter. It meant the world to me.

      Also, did you just mention James Joyce and I in the same sentence? ;)

  7. This is beautiful writing. I wouldn’t usually have come across something so gently visual – but Peter W. re-tweeted the link. Gloriously, delicately, deeply felt and seen and written. To reach such depths in so few words is truly exquisite. Thank you. :)

  8. J.A. Pak says:

    Lyric, dithyrambic beauty.

  9. I was going to say what Peter said.
    But, you know, better.

    Sheesh.

    p.s. You roped me in from the very first line. Moving imagery, symbolism, themes. Just perfect.

    • Aw…you’re no slouch in the brains department either Teacher. So glad you enjoyed it. Didn’t know if I could pull off the poetic opening, but the picture just seemed to lend itself to that phrase. Heard it in my head early one morning and jumped out of bed to write it down before it disappeared. :)

  10. Pingback: LitStack’s Flash Fiction Challenge #6 | LitStack

  11. chris says:

    A lovely, enchanting piece. I hope you will collect your short tales into a book.

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