Fantasy Strange

Restoration

By Holly Lyn Walrath
495 words · 2-minute reading time
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From the author: What impositions we put on women are like trying to cover up something dark and broken with flowers. We may think we are in the right, but who decides what light is best?


On the day the saints remove their habits—shedding black veils, letting their long locks free in sheets of amber cotton or untamed tangles of black, twisting around heads like halos—on that day, the flower man comes.

They rid themselves of the dark swaddling. The saints expose bodies of every shape and size, black and white and brown and every color in-between. The sackcloth reveals lacy pinafores and white t-shirts and plain blue jeans and leather bags into which they tuck forbidden items like lipstick, blush, eyeliner, a comb, gold rings, vials of perfume, hidden but worn proudly on the arm like a badge, a tattoo of numbers, a scar, as if to say: I am proud to choose.

But the Flower Man comes.

He slips into to the cathedral of light and paints a cage of petals, long threads of vine pricked with thorns, his brush so wet it drips ink onto the cobblestones and daisies well up between the cracks. The Flower Man smears white petals, teal vines, red flowers, and green leaves. Dried, they come alive, twining into walls, across metal gates, through the smallest of keyholes. The flowers blot out the light, break through the stained glass, matting steeples, knotting statues of marble, creating a cathedral of dusk.

The saints crash against the wall of flowers but it is as smooth as glass. The vines snake over their newly freed limbs in riots of flora, creeping into their eyes where petals curl under eyelids, thin veils of sugary perfume, translucent and yet opaque.

I’ve freed them, the Flower Man says, as the women grow wider, larger, towering over him, ten times the size of normal women, lips gently parted but voiceless. He sets up a salon in the garden, flouts the power of art, of restoration, watching the women flatten, reduced to layers behind layers, their bodies merging with the vegetation, their hands prickling leaves, their eyes folded anthers, their ears closed pistils, their stigma the stigmata of the Flower Man’s making, crucified again, anchoresses.

People linger near the flowers, barely noticing the women behind them, trying to see the cathedral, pilgrims to the dark. How wise the Flower Man is, they say, look how he’s saved the saints.

So, the saints retreat. The few too slow sink into the grass, pollen pouring out of their lips, coating their bodies in gold. The rest don the habits once more, tuck hair under black. The fabric is a sudden safety, a sudden power. Wrapping itself around their bodies it gives them teeth, claws, horns. Fire sears from their fingertips, flames coat the cathedral, flowers burn to ash, white-hot at their feet.

The people sift through the ashes, but the bones of the Flower Man are nowhere to be found. Perhaps he’s gone on, the people say, to paint another cathedral. But the saints of the cathedral of light know better. They wait in the light, drinking fire late into dusk, biding their time.

This story originally appeared in Remixt.


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