The phone rings at 06:23. ‘Are you sitting?’ someone asks. Beyond the window, a breeze rustles the sycamore, exposing the pale, veined underside of a leaf. She is not sitting, and this is why she falls. She falls when the voice says, ‘It’s Abby …’ She falls, because she doesn’t need to hear more. She falls, because she already knows.
They cling to the branches a little longer this year, and it takes a second storm to scatter them. One rainy morning she rakes them into a pile, and the loamy smell sparks a memory. Abby’s voice caught in the drizzle.
“I never know if this is the beginning or the end.”
And she looks at the leaves and thinks, “Neither do I,” and decides against a bonfire. Spends November watching the pile flutter, then turn to mulch, then disintegrate.
The soil wakes before the trees. She knows this. Deep snow blankets the ground, but below, it is warm, and already something stirs. Early shoots. And though she feels it too, this latent potential, like the trees, she knows she must wait, knows the danger of a late frost. The damage it can do to delicate buds.
When they appear, it is almost blinding, the colour.
The colour of spring. The colour of Abby. She remembers her, close to the ground, digging them in, looking up to ask: “Yellow and blue, what do you think?”
‘Oh, not blue,’ was what she thought. But Abby went ahead and planted them anyway.
And now here they are, pushing through the frost, towards the light. Daffodils and hyacinths. Vibrant, and scented and alive. So alive.
‘How about that?’ she thinks.
Abby’s voice somewhere, laughing and saying, “You see?”
And when she looks closely at the bare branches of the sycamore, she thinks she sees something. The pink blush of a bud, pearly and iridescent, small as a fingernail, ready to unfurl.