It was the day after the spring flood, when Jack met the sad girl in the flower shop.
The waters had just subsided, to the dismay of the town’s children, who’d followed its progress as it levitated swans and moorhens up to their gates.
The first bluebells began to peek from gravel yards, behind dustbins and under benches where nobody sat. Although ghosts did sometimes visit, disappointed to be remembered by no more than a polite message on a brass plaque. HELENA LOVED THIS SPOT -YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SIT HERE!!! (That’s what they’d pick, if only they had the chance to go back and choose for themselves).
The flower shop was almost completely hidden by the marauding wisteria which covered its door. You wouldn’t know it was there except for the wooden sign on the pavement that read, ‘FLOWERS FOR SALE - SHOW SOMEONE YOU CARE.’ Like it was a command rather than a suggestion.
Mrs Reznik, the florist, first noticed the sad girl in the middle of winter. Every day she would appear in the shop late in the afternoon, just in time for the gloaming. The sad girl never bought anything and never spoke to Mrs Reznik, giving the florist no cause, other than that of her own indefatigable intuition to suppose that the girl was, in fact, sad.
Mrs Reznik had a nose for these things; like a human barometer Mrs Reznik could sense the drop in atmospheric pressure that signalled the sad girl’s arrival. A portent of stormy weather. That’s why she didn’t make a fuss, the first time she locked up at the end of the day and noticed that the sad girl was still at the back of the shop, hidden amongst the stems of thistles and the birds of paradise.
Mrs Reznik began leaving a cup of chamomile tea out for the sad girl every night, in case she got too cold. The sad girl liked the cold though. She liked to be alone in the stillness. She liked to see the moon smiling up at her from the pools of water in the black buckets. Its light slanted through the storefront shutters, turning buds of dew on rose petals in to tiny underwater palaces, nebulas of stars in galaxies far, far away from this one.
And amongst the stillness, the sad girl would be still. And silent too, breathing in the scent of peony and eucalyptus; breathing in unison with the flowers as they breathed with her. As if they were one respiratory system, one set of lungs. One perfect union, based on the mutual exchange of intangible things.
And then one day young Jack strolled in to the shop. And Mrs Reznik could swear that all the flowers turned to look at Jack, like he had just laid claim to the very air around them, as if his need of it was greater.
Jack’s eyes fixed on the sad girl as she shrank back in to the shadows, for she was the most exotic, the least available and therefore, the most desirable bloom in the shop.
‘Hello.’ said Jack, approaching the sad girl as though she were a wild pony he did not wish to startle. He extended his arm to her, and at the end of it was a rose, its crisp white petals delicate as frosted icing. ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying,’ said Jack (who had never known anyone to mind what he was saying), ‘but it’s such a nice day, and I thought you might like to go for a walk outside?’
The sad girl didn’t answer. Instead she looked from Jack to Mrs Reznik, who had been watching with arms folded across her apron, pruning shears in hand.
‘Go, girl.’ she said. ‘Every day you freeze at the back of this shop. Let this idiot boy take you out in the sunshine, it will do you good child.’ And with that it was settled and Mrs Reznik resumed her deadheading.
Once they were outside, Jack tried to show the sad girl everything that she was missing in the warm and bright world. As they walked he performed cartwheels and Arab springs to entertain her, showed her his handstand and his backflip. But all the while the sad girl looked wherever she could for shade, for a cool canopy where she would not have to stare directly at such brightness.
And Jack saw that the girl was still sad.
So Jack thought of everything that had charmed him about the sad girl: the pale luminescence of her skin, the way it sparkled in daylight. The curvature of her neck, delicate as fine porcelain. Her eyes like fathomless pools of deepest green. He took a rose stem and dipped it in ink and then he wrote all of these things upon the sad girl’s skin, so that when he lead her out in to daylight once more, other people might see these qualities which only Jack had noticed before.
But the sad girl still seemed sad, and Jack knew that it was not enough, simply to declare his love. He had to prove it. If the two of them could be joined physically by love, Jack thought, that meant they would be joined inexorably within the fabric of the stars themselves.
‘Let us join our bodies together.’ Jack said. ‘So that you might feel my love and my joy, and in our union, my joy would become your joy, my love your love and we will nourish each other and grow together.’
Symbiosis. Thought the sad girl, everything is exchange. All life is mutual, to be apart from it is to be deadheaded.
But after they were joined, the sad girl seemed sadder still, and even Jack could not help thinking that perhaps he had been wrong, for he did not feel fulfilled. He did not feel complete. The sad girl was still sad and perhaps sad was all she would ever be.
So Jack placed her in the attic of his house, where it was always cool and dim. He draped a fine sheet of muslin over her head - a dark veil - which would shroud her from any troubles. In the roof of the attic there was a small hole, and the sad girl was able to look up through the wooden beams and the cracked slate at the starlight and the darkness and the moon that she loved so well.
Jack was contented with this solution, and returned to his most carefree enjoyment of the daytime, practising his cartwheels and his handstands.
Until one day, rain began to fall on the town. And as more and more of it fell it began to turn in to a storm. Soon the town would be flooded again and this time it looked as though the waters would breach the floodgates.
So Jack ran back home as fast as he could, and ran straight upstairs to the attic. When he looked up through the hatch, he could see that the water was flooding in through the hole in the roof, filling the attic like a bathtub. And as Jack pulled himself up through the hatch, he realised that he was swimming. And suddenly the surface was far away from him, and beneath him was water as well, stretching down for leagues in to the blackest of depths. He could see the moon and the stars up above him through the attic roof, but they were far away and blurry, and soon Jack found himself far below a surface that had not existed a minute ago, unable to tell which way was up.
It rained and rained for four whole days, and the flood waters swept through the entire town, carrying old ladies on benches as it went (who didn’t even notice and just continued their conversations). The children all took to the seas in makeshift dinghies, rubber rings and plywood rafts.
And in the flower shop, Mrs Reznik locked the floodgates to wait out the storm. When it was all over, the waters rolled back and all that was left behind was mud and damage. And Mrs Reznik never told anyone about where the sad girl went.
For she knows that the sad girl is not sad anymore. Now she swims beneath the ocean waves with the mermaids and the narwhals. Her hair is coral fire, her skin is phosphorescence. Her days are cool and dim and silent but for whale song and dolphin chatter. Light travels slowly, days and time are muted.
And Jack too, spends his days upon the ocean blue. He floats atop a rolling swell, his legs dangle underneath him and his face stares silently up at the blank sky. And on nights when the moon is shining down on him, like a jellyfish, spinelessly he glows.
And though the children will talk and talk between themselves, and ask Mrs Reznik to tell them the story of how Jack and the sad girl disappeared after the great flood, the stories will all eventually cease to be.
Lost like cannonballs sunk forever, in to the heedless memory of the sea.