‘Flower for your sweetheart?’
Della heard the voice of a young man, hoarse from a morning of work, call out to the couples who carried themselves like they were on a stroll in a garden and not a bustling, smoggy street. The men nearly always bought one, laughing openly, lovingly, as they handed it to the blushing girls clinging to them.
‘Flower for your sweetheart, sir?’ he asked as she passed by. She smiled, not bothering to correct him in case someone from her street heard and reported back to her parents that she was walking about
It was funny because she did have a flower for a sweetheart. In fact, if she didn’t hurry home, she might miss her.
‘Hello, Edward. Oh – Della!’ Flora said as the front door opened.
Luckily, Della arrived home first with just enough time to hurriedly wash the thick black smoke off of her face. She didn’t get changed out of her slightly charred clothes, however. She knew Flora wouldn’t mind. That was one of the many things Della liked about her – Flora just wanted her to be happy. “As long as you’re smiling, I don’t care about what you’re wearing or how you say things. You don’t have to pretend with me, Della.”
Della had never had met anyone like Flora – a person who didn’t want the airs and graces, the rules of being her parents had drilled into her, like clockwork. No, Flora wanted the real her, as messy and peculiar as she really was. Flora would always embrace her, and Della would hold her as tightly as she could, never wanting to let go; their hearts nearly bursting from the pressure, from the love cursing through them.
Flora smiled at her, her green eyes shining like stained glass caught in the light. She was only one year older, but Della couldn’t help but wonder if she was some kind of ancient goddess incarnate. She was so beautiful, in her plain frock and faded shoes. ‘Why, you fooled me. For a moment there I thought you were Master Edward! Though I must say, you do look rather handsome – much more than he did in those clothes,’ Flora said, smiling, a blush tinting her cheeks like rouge.
‘Thank you,’ Della replied, rouge on her face now, too. She hated the restrictive dresses, the long skirts. She just wanted to feel free in her clothes – but that wasn’t allowed. “Wasn’t becoming for pretty girls,” her parents said, stiffly. “Not of our status…” And neither was conversing with the cook, Flora, that they had hired.
Well, Della wasn’t pretty and had no interest in appearing “becoming,” whatever that meant. She just knew it had to do with appearances because that was something her parents obsessed over. Not her, though.
She was just a girl. She just wanted to be herself.
So this morning, Della stole one of her brother’s old suits. It fit surprisingly well, but of course, she’d have to wash it now and change quickly before her parents returned.
One day, though, she could wear whatever she wanted.
One day, they could be together.
All she had to do was keep this hidden for a few more years. Flora had friends down South, including an old family she’d known since she was a child. She could try and get work with them before Della’s money ran out; they both could.
They had a plan. They could do it – share a life together, properly, without having to constantly hold their breath.
That’s all she wanted…
Smiling at her, Della quickly pulled her other arm from behind her back and presented the spring violet to Flora. ‘I got this. For you.’
‘Oh, it’s beautiful,’ said Flora, holding it like it was some precious gemstone between two slender calloused fingers. ‘Nobody’s ever brought me flowers before.’
‘Yes, well…’ said Della, fumbling with her words suddenly. Flora smiled, before pulling her into a tender embrace. Della could feel the violet tickling her back as she sank into Flora’s warmth.
‘Thank you, sweetheart.’ Flora said, releasing her. Both of their faces were wet with tears, with the words they were forbidden to say. They’d flowed down their cheeks instead of from their lips. “I love you” had dripped, fat and heavy as they cried from the pain of holding it all in, from simply existing in small smiles and secrets and slight looks. In mere moments.
They each spent a moment wiping each word away gently before Della took Flora’s arm in hers and led her into the sitting room, where they could be together, just for a while, just for a moment or two, before she had to get to work.
One day, Della thought, they would have all the time in the world.
For a moment, Della pretended that they were treading on hard cobbled stone together, leisurely and free, like those couples from before. She almost breathed in some of that thick smog, before Flora looked at her and smiled, taking it away, as quick as that.
Chloe Smith is a disabled and autistic writer and poet from the UK. She is a Foyle Young Poet of the Year 2015, and her poetry has been published in Rose Quartz Journal, Cauldron Anthology, and more. Her flash fiction has been published in Ellipsis Zine, TRAIN, Three Drops From a Cauldron and The Ginger Collect. For more about her writing, please visit her website. She’s also on Twitter, @ch1oewrites.