a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
“Scarlet Pimpernel,or flowery thoughts on growing up and the passage of time” by A. R. Tivadar (Romania)
By the apartment complex next to mine, on the corner of the garden that meets the concrete stairs, there used to grow little orange flowers. They were small and delicate, with bright orange petals, with purple dots and golden pistils, and bundles of green leaves. I’d pick them every time I went outside and bring them back to my house. I’d place them in water cups and they’d wilt within the day.
I found out only later in life that they were called “scarlet pimpernel”. My family didn’t have a computer with internet until I was in elementary school, and the gardening kits we bought via magazine subscriptions didn’t mention a lot of wildflowers. I took to calling them “portocalitas”, because they were orange. While looking them up I discovered there’s also a novel about a vigilante named the Scarlet Pimpernel. I found out scarlet pimpernel can also come in vibrant blue, which looked really odd after only seeing them orange all my life.
Portocalitas reminded me of forget-me-nots, clusters of gentle blue flowers, sometimes pink or purple, with large green leaves and many stems. I usually saw forget-me-not in the mountains. We knew an old lady with a house high up, among forever green pines and blueberry bushes and with endless hills for cows to graze. We visited every summer when I was little. I found forget-me-not on the edges of rivers, in flooded grass or small shores full of pebbles. I’d pick every one I could find and make bouquets, bigger than what my hands could wrap around. I’d take them home in the city if they survived and press them between my books, dry and forever faded blue.
The old lady’s name was Lucretzia. She was not related to either of my parents, but we called her grandma - “grandma from the mountains”.
My father worked as a constructor for many years, going wherever his company sent him, to whichever edge of the world, whichever forgotten, unknown village hidden by trees and pine needles and thorn bushes, dandelions, forget-me-nots, yarrow and bells. Grandma Lucretzia rented rooms for the constructors in her old home. My father befriended her, and so we kept visiting her, since I was 4 until I was a teen.
In front of the house was a small linden, throwing shade over the chicken coop, protecting them from magpies. They like everything shiny, sparkly and chicken-flavoured, as my sister explained. To the right was a hill, covered in grass and wildflowers, for the cows and sheep to eat. At the edge grew walnut trees and other deciduous among pines. We’d pick them and eat - silly city folk revelling in nature. To the left, by the kitchen, was a fountain, always dripping into an old bucket, overgrown with moss and bizarre weeds. Buttercups and dog violets grew in the flooded earth, and I had to watch my step, the water and mud spilling onto the path towards it. I made a bouquet of the flowers there once, and tried to put it on the paw of a sleeping cat that I had been trying to befriend. He didn’t appreciate it, though.
The old lady eventually died and we didn’t visit anymore. I graduated high school, got ready for college, for grown-up life. Forget-me-nots are still my favourite flowers. I checked the neighbour’s garden, but I haven’t seen scarlet pimpernel in years. I must have plucked them all.
Growing up, for one week a year, we’d leave the scorched city and go high up in the mountains, in the commune Arieșeni. We’d sleep in a large bedroom with two beds, a mirror that shook in its frame whenever we walked past it, and a very elegant glass cabinet in a corner. On the walls were paintings out of polished wood pieces, arranged together like puzzles to create an illustration - one of them was Puss in Boots.
Into the bed frame of one of the beds was incorporated a bookshelf, full of books with faded covers, by publishing houses that don’t operate anymore. My favourite cover was one for a volume of “1001 Nights”. Above the books was a small marble bust of Eminescu, our national poet. In another room in the house, that I walked through after grandma died, I saw another glass cabinet, full to the brim with old books: manuals, textbooks, fiction, non-fiction. Opening the cabinet would have caused an avalanche of decades-old paper. Looking back, I wish I asked if I could take the books and Eminescu with me. I started buying and collecting old books far too late for those in the cabinet.
Through all the windows I could see the mountains, the tilted earth, green as far as the eye could see. Across the street, so to speak, was the river Arieș, and across from it was a wall of pines and firs stretching up to the blue sky, taller than the buildings in the city, older than grandma, as old as her heirlooms. We’d have picnics on a daily basis, grilling meat and potato fries by rivulets, picking forget-me-nots and pine needles, sending them down in leaf boats, picking rocks and wetting them to make them pretty.
The air smelled like grass, like pines and cold. The colours were bright. I was small and happy, blissfully unaware of how much I’d miss all of it.
My adult bedroom is hot and stuffy, the building is of concrete, as old as my big sister - the construction began in the same year. Like many people at one point, I wish I could run away to the woods. Going to the mountains all those years wired my brain in such a way that the mountains are the only place I feel truly at peace and carefree.
While writing my dissertation paper to finish my masters degree, my parents took me on a weekend vacation to Arieșeni. I was a few chapters short of finishing my paper and the last book I needed was late on delivery - my paper was on detective literature and I bought most of my books online, second-hand.
We went to a bed-and-breakfast, nestled in between the pine trees, hidden away from the world. By the building was a field of yellow and purple and white wildflowers, always full of chubby bees. A classically black and white cow stared us down as we walked past her fence. I tried to feed her a fluffy clover flower, but she ignored me.
I didn’t feel refreshed when we returned to the city, hot and loud and still going through the pandemic, to the zoom college classes and constant typing at my paper, even though I was passionate about the subject. I didn’t want to leave the pine forest, green walls all around me and a constant humming of rivers in my ears.
I graduated in July 2022. After I got home from my dissertation defence, I ate potato fries with my parents. The next day I visited my then pregnant sister. Life carried on and we focused on my baby niece, then on Christmas celebrations, then dad retiring, then me finding a job. I guess I should get used to it, that this is what life is like: big events happen, then we all go back to normal.
We found out grandma Lucretzia died in a very anticlimactic way. We went for our summer vacation somewhere else, and passed through Arieșeni, so of course we stopped by to say hi. We met with one of grandma’s children in the marketplace. We asked him how grandma was doing and he casually told us she died. She passed away earlier that year, she had been old and frail, he had been long at peace with that. We left back for our hotel and went on with our vacation, then went back home and went on with our lives. I had to prepare for my high school final exams. We still visit Arieșeni some years, just not her house, as it had lost its charm without her.
There’s a joke between my sister and I that I am going to run away to Arieșeni and live in the woods like a hermit or a cryptid, and that my niece will grow up to go on an epic mission to find me and drag me back home.
My sister told me recently that she and her husband were walking my niece outside, down the boulevard they live on. It was spring and everything was blooming again, with baby leaves and fresh flowers. She was born in August, just as summer was turning into autumn, and spent most of her little life so far indoors, warm and cosy. My brother-in-law handed my niece a yellow dandelion and she regarded it with so much curiosity and wonder, moving her chubby little fingers over the petals as if studying them.
I hope my niece finds flowers that fill her childhood with wonder as well. I hope she likes books too, I have a lot she can borrow.
A. R. Tivadar is a hobby writer from Romania and a graduate of the University of Oradea. She has been published in underscore_magazine, the Aurum Journal and Disturb the Universe Magazine. She also has self-published stories on kobo.com.
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