Nasturtium, peony, hydrangea, lisianthus,
alstroemeria…six weeks ago the words could have been pantomime incantations sung out to draw a smile from the rows of parents at the end-of-year play.
He had discovered them progressively, accompanied by vibrant and lovingly technical illustrations, in the books on her dorm room bookshelf.
In a way they were among the easiest belongings to deal with,
even if he felt guilty about admitting it; the clothes and holiday souvenirs and sketches were the familiar fruit of years of shared life,
but this passion for intricate nature was a surprise he discovered when it was time to dispose of his daughter’s affairs. The clothes could be given to charity.
As for the more personal items, his wife’s clumsily-hidden fits of sobbing told him that some would be stored away and others would be burned.
The official funeral had been dignified and stiffened by the starch of respect from their numerous friends and business partners.
He had allowed a professional to create the wreath laid on her tomb in the family crypt, chosen after a few mumbled and heartfelt inquiries of her university friends.
Now that a few weeks had passed, during which he had hidden from time by devouring every page of his daughter’s flower anthology,
he felt confident enough to step into the marble silence of the crypt with a wreath of his own design in his hands.
He had felt improperly mechanical creating it,
unable to conjure up the magic she must have felt as she snipped the stems and gently jostled the rainbow of blooms into position like a conductor marshalling her choir.
He propped the wreath against the fresh carving of her headstone and tried to conjure up her smiling face in his mind.
The coroner’s report had been an uncomfortably long time in coming but had at least had the decency
to be conclusive: the fire had spread from a spark from a poorly-insulated appliance next to the bed in her boyfriend’s flat, either a lamp or the charger for her phone.
He had received so many letters saying how cruel an accidental death could be that he could have fanned them out in his hand like a pack of cards.
The local chief of police, a taciturn man who had been a quiet friend of the family for years, told him in private that it would be impossible to tell if anyone had tampered with the charger.
An invitation had been sent for the boy’s funeral, but was discarded.
He had wasted enough breath telling her daughter that the boy was bad news; bearing witness to his death would have been seen as gloating.
He closed his eyes and sighed heavily.
Life had become shackled to a new heaviness ever since her passing,
and he prayed without knowing to whom that he would have the strength to keep secret what he had had to do to ensure his daughter’s tomb bore the family name.