Passively, Marie looked out beyond the white square frames of her bedroom window. She looked out onto the front garden’s blossom tree standing firm with all the pride of a full bloom. That particular blossom tree always fell too early on in May, at a time when winter’s harsh tail sweeps upon nature with a dying vengeance in defence of spring’s first hints of hope. He petals, cursed with a fragile beauty, would only last the length of a fortnight, although their joy would stretch far longer. Giving onto the pressure of standing upon tired and cramped feet, Maria heaved her way over to the bed; laying into the crisp freshness of new sheet, still soaking up the petals’ pastel pink palette as they tinted the cream walls warm. They calmed yet energised Maria. Now closing her eyes, she could still feel the blossom’s colour. Gently and tenderly, Maria placed her left arm upon her raised stomach: now almost six months pregnant, she could not deviate her mind from imagining all the summers yet to come, the summers spent in the excitement of motherhood. Envisioning the awe her baby’s innocent eye would hold upon its first encounter with the blossom tree, Maria allowed herself to fall into a dreamer’s sleep.
The alarm clock bled into digits within the fifth hour of the morning when Maria’s baby jolted her awake. Drowned in a salty sweat she began to panic with the knowledge of twenty-two weeks being far too early. “Not yet” she hushed as prayer, trying to calm the child within her. Just as the words rolled off her tongue the pain intensified. In protection her body numbed itself. Maria shook her husband awake; with a groggy start, once consciousness rose to Paul’s ears. His feet quickly followed suit. In a futile attempt to pack his wife a bag, he paced frantically yet aimlessly in a circular motion of uncertainty and fear, an echo of his spiralling mind state.
In spite of the familiarity of the hospital drawing into view, Maria’s heart has now climbed to the speed at which Paul was driving. She wasn’t due for another eighteen weeks; there was a calm ordered plan, not this mayhem. Maria felt completely overwhelmed by the lack of control, like that of the blossom’s branches as winter’s anger clutches onto its wafer-thin pink petals, binding them into his whirlwind of madness. When did it end? Where did the petals finally land? Did they? Doctors and nurses, all indistinguishable, crowded around her, only serving to amplify the chaos. This was no early spring gust; this was a tornado.
The next time Maria woke up, it was with a different pain: they were different daggers with sharper points. The fear of the unknown weighed down upon her with a heavy weight, too great to allow her to ask was her baby alive? She felt claustrophobic, not only in the clinical whiteness of that small box hospital room, but in her mere existence. She was hallow, no longer capable of protecting her baby. Words swarmed around her but only sufficed to linger in the room unabsorbed.
Suddenly, Maria found herself sitting upright. It took the length of minutes to realise that she was moving, further minutes to realise Paul was behind her, pushing the wheelchair in which she was seated. The movement ceased at once with a jolted reverse motion. There, before Maria’s own eyes, in a protective yet wonderfully transparent glass-enclosed crib she laid. Alive.
Frozen with shock, Maria struggled desperately to undo the grief she had falsely tangled herself up in. There her daughter lay, cheeks painted with the blossom’s hue. She strained her eyes, unwilling to blink for fear of losing her again. But Maria could not deny or plead ignorant that for her daughter, intertwined by tubes as numerous as the blossom’s roots, time was precious.
Within minutes, a doctor entered the ward, explaining in hushed and clinically cold terms; her daughter’s fate sealed within words of such length and foreign nature, Maria could barely grip onto their tail ends. They held little meaning, the only ones that did being “A matter of days”.
With a gentle calming kindness, the nurses quietly moved Bláithín into a private room; Maria knew it was a dying room and sat in it with an unsettled edge. Even in the bleakness of such a room, Bláithín, in all her fragile beauty, that could only be compared to the blossom’s full bloom, tinted the cold grey walls with warmth. Few selected relatives came to welcome and say their goodbye; each leaving with a peculiar brightness in their hearts. However, little came, for they knew time was a precious gift, a gift bestowed upon Maria and Paul. Yet time was the enemy also and it taunted the couple; Maria stared with a gutted hatred at the Quartz clock ticking down upon Bláithín’s head until the point at which Paul, seeing his wife’s strife and in a blissful understanding, removed the clock from the room. It was only then that the tension left its grip of Maria and her shoulders dropped in relief. The three of them lay there: Bláithín being carefully cradled in her mother’s arm, with Maria in Pauls, steading her hands. The world stood still, frozen from the harshness of reality. The next few days continued in that bliss. They felt eternal.
Bláithín held her stance against life’s cruel wind for twelve days and four hours after her birth. She blew away with grace and peace in the protective embrace of her mother’s arms. As her fragile breaths travelled shallow, Maria held onto her own for fear of stealing any of her baby’s oxygen. Her attempts were in vain: Bláithín blew away from the cling of her mother’s branches with the slightest breeze, as if she in all her tender and innocent youth was ready. Her petals were simply too beautiful to remain upon a single tree yet Maria could not comprehend.
The day she finally came home from the hospital, it being almost two weeks later, the first thing to take Maria’s notice was the bareness of the blossom tree in the front garden, formidably in a tall intimidation like salt to open wounds, yes there was a vulnerability within and Maria could only see herself in its ugly, bare skeleton now rendered futile without its petals to protect. It too had lost its ‘role prematurely, it too stood stationary, it too had its pain helplessly exposed to the world, it too did not suit the blue sky’s flecks between its branches or the flowers by its trunk. It stood there rooted to the ground for all onlookers to take pity upon its misfortune.
Maria and Paul began to drift apart as the silence of all the things they wanted to say to each other but failed to know how formed a wedge that had grown between them. Occasionally Paul would attempt to break down the wall but Maria resisted. All she could manage doing was to stare out through the bedroom window at the blossom tree’s remains from one end of the day to the other, believing it to be her only companion in her inexplicable grief. Her grief was indeed immense. It was as if all her tomorrows had been stolen and she was doomed to live in the past.
A week passed by and somehow, being carried by the relatives around her, Maria made it through. Relatives who’s prolonged stays had enabled her to ignore the tatters of her marriage, gently left until all at once everyone had gone. Her mother left last.
The next day Maria had summoned enough energy to dress herself and walk out the door. She walked and walked until walking a distance far enough from the disaster of her own life, desperately needing an escape. Finally, her body caught up with her mind, and having pushed it beyond its breaking point, Maria fell to the dirt tracks ground with the blood pulsing frantically in her head. Grasping at breathing, panic crept upon her, everything to this point had been meticulously planned out, leaving her now at a complete loss at what to do next. The only place left to go was a house she now longer felt at home in. Her life in tatters, she could only return to the one place and she hated that. She wanted to escape but failed to know how. Resentfully, she began to make her way back only to become paralysed with fear of what to do next at the entrance of the estate.
In the midst of her fear and pain, a flicker of pink flashed past the corner of her eye, falling in a light danced towards her and eventually landing gently upon her left hand now extended awaiting. Unmistakingly, it was a petal from her blossom tree. She thought of the distance the petal had travelled, how far its beauty had spread. It was a sin to contain such beauty to a single location, it was selfish. Its beauty was destined to brighten more than just Maria’s garden. Bláithín was of the same destiny; one came into the world to brighten the hearts of those whose presence she graced before her beauty was needed elsewhere; before a time that seemed just thus adding to her preciousness. Like that of the blossom tree, Bláithín’s memory would serve to keep Maria strong through the harshness of winter. Maria now calmed with only a few subtle tears guarded along the waterline of her eyes began to make her way home, the petal now clutched firmly in her hand’s grip. This one wasn’t getting away.