It was love at first sight. This wild bunch ogled me from their plastic bucket like so many barrow-boys; a steal for £1.50. I fell for their cottage-garden charm; in their Tuppence Coulored hues of mauve, dusty pink, deep-red and white, they were scrubbed-up farmhands courting me in their Sunday-best, tickling me wi0th snatched kisses from their bristly leaves, as we lingered at the stile, just like a Victorian ballad-romance.
But once I got them home their true colors emerged; no longer shy sweethearts waiting at the area-steps, they acquired the confidence of costermongers. Their vase was a den of vice and they were peaky blinders. But I was no Aunt Polly; rather a spinster fallen on hard times run ragged by her lodgers. My front room became their gentleman’s club where they guzzled water like brandy and thrived in cigar smoke. They blossomed forth in their fancy waistcoats and their whiskers bristled as they leered at me rheumily making indecent suggestions as if I was Alice Keppel, propositioned by Tum-Tum, for a mid-afternoon tea-gowned romp in her sofa’d boudoir.
Time caught up with my mustachioed Lotharios; their once-sprouting roots became gouty; their lounge-suits shabby down at heel and couldn’t pay their rent. So they went to the workhouse via the kitchen-bin. I felt a twinge of guilt as I shut the lid on their sideburns. I came to miss their brash presence in my lounge and their saucy winks as I sat on my settee. I took pity on some country cousins of theirs, about to be composted, who were 88p. These humble invalids are grateful for my ministrations and recuperating nicely. Nearly ruined by the flattery of bold deceivers, I am brisk and firm, like Miss Nightingale.
And this time, my gentlemen know their place; they are not lounge-lizards but decorative adjuncts gracing a lady’s home, tugging at their forelocks as I enter. As Aunt Polly says, ‘why should boys have all the fun?’
These bold chorus girls have been knocked about a bit. They look like I feel today: brown round their tight-furled edges, wilting and bought for a song. But there’s life in these old troopers yet, back by popular demand, center stage on my table. One has thrown out her petals with Marie-Lloyd exuberance. Even if it’s her final curtain, she’s a bloomer all right, eye-catching in her frou-frou of high-kicking petticoats. The roses in her rouged cheeks have faded to ash like the cigars she puffed backstage with her port and lemon. But, blowsy and jaded, she can still belt out all the crowd-pleasers. She leans insouciantly over the edge of her vase so the boys in the gallery can ogle her décolleté. She dillies and dallies, flirting with the breeze. Stage-door johnnies sigh as her suggestive scent swoons on the matinee air. She makes the rest of the troupe blush with shame as they bunch behind her, heads bent, pursing carmined lips in disapproval. She doesn’t care. They just need to open up a bit and join in with the sing-along, that’s all; she knows everything in the garden’s lovely.
Front gardens are the laboratories where we conduct chemical experiments. Our substrate is soil, whilst flowerbeds are the petri dishes titrated with double-blind doses of aluminium. We bloom against saturated blotting paper sky in a two-tailed hypothesis of randomised hues. Our spectrum ranges from the acid blue of surgical scrubs and antiseptic gentian violet to aspirin white or Pepto-Bismol’s alkaline pink. Our outcomes cannot be replicated annually. We can be in the pink one year and deep blue another. Our results are unpredictable; we take pleasure in defying science. If you put us to the litmus test we pass with flying colors.
Mid-July’s rising thermometer has brought the first sultry heat wave of sunflowers back to supermarket shelves. I first saw them this week as I sweated round Tesco after work. I envied them dipping their toes in the bucket, as if they chilled at their local Lido. They were long and lean in high-cut chartreuse one-pieces, with stems for days. With their dirty-blonde, tousled petals, they were the ‘fifties pin-up girls fresh from a boardwalk photo-shoot handpicked by model-scouts. They had survived the killing fields of casting to make the final cut.
Even under strip-lights, their tight-pored perma-tanned faces were immaculate. They blanked me with their inscrutable Rayban stares, from behind shuttered eyes. I was a clumsy wildebeest, eyed up by this blonde-mane lioness pride. Under their burning gaze, I felt photosensitive. My hand shielded my eyes from the radiant heat of their glare. Normally I’m drawn to sunflowers, but not today. I imagined how I’d feel facing their cool appraisal after a twelve-hour shift and I balked. I need to work on my summer body before I take that lot on.
Our blazing colors belie the first frost of Autumn’s breath on Summer’s frolic:
- Fiery orange retains the afterglow of July heat.
- Magenta hints at chrysanthemums’ durable mauve donned like a cardigan as chilly breezes ruffle August’s coattails.
- Chrome-yellow heads are small suns, backlit by waiting September shadows as longer days dwindle.
- Whiteness has a glacier glare, unmelted by the glowing tints of our companions.
- Black hearts are coals smouldering with the season’s last warmth.
Our phoenix plumage is sun-scorched. Its feathered-petals drop from the drooping wings of our stems. Soon, the leaves will take flight and follow.
BIO: Kate Meyer-Currey moved to Devon in 1973. A varied career in frontline settings has fuelled her interest in gritty urbanism, contrasted with a rural upbringing. Her first chapbook ‘County Lines’ (Dancing Girl Press) comes out this Autumn. Her second Cuckoo’s Nest’ (Contraband Books) is due in February 2022.