Les Fleurs du Malgouève

Simon Whitechapel

Quels sont les infortunatés que le soir ne calme pas, et qui prennent, comme les hiboux, la venue de la nuit pour un signal de sabbat!
     --Baudelaire, «Le Crépuscule du soir»(1855).

He had tried to bribe the man, had almost come to the issuing of a threat, but had stilled the breath on his tongue a fraction short of disaster. The man’s eyes had narrowed almost as soon as he had begun to speak five minutes before, and he knew that, in his nervousness, his accent had returned, gliding between his words to harshen or elide a consonant here, lengthen or purify a vowel there. A threat would have sprouted that seed of suspicion, made the man demand his name and address, even report him to the police.

So he closed his mouth, nodded with as good grace as he could conjure, and left the smell of cheap tobacco and cheaper cooking, knowing that the man would be turning their conversation over in his dull head behind him, trying to shake some seed of extra significance from it. Damn. Seed again. His brain was throbbing with the concept. Throbbing. Not sprouting. The heads around him on the bus, as he traveled for a third and final futile consultation of the alchemical manuscripts in the British Library, seemed like seed-pods ripe with glutinous secrets. What flowers would bloom therein, if the right words were spoken? He had a vision of it: the bus rusted and half-gone in a London of sterile ruins, with pallid and noxious skullflowers nodding in a dusty wind atop the skeletons still lining its seats.

Oh, and he had been too pedantic too, too precise in his diction.

“My garden, it must remain illuminated throughout the hours of darkness. Simply must, for I...”


And the oaf had shaken his head with a slight belch.

“No exceptions, chum. General black-out. No exceptions. There’s a fucking war on, chum, or about to be. No exceptions.”

But the pink, pale-lashed, piggish eyes had gone alert enough when he dropped that first delicate hint of a bribe. The hyperbrachycephalic skull enclosed rich enough soil for his... Ah, damn, seeds again. Seeds. And despite itself, his mind went to his garden, that small hexagonal plot over which that oh-so-curious lamp had burned each night for the past thirty-one years. Une lampe de verre pâle en forme d’hexecontaèdre pentagonal lévogyre, occultant la lumière des étoiles pendant trente-sept ans. So the unique manuscript of Lévi had said, and he had been scientifically precise in following its specifications. Paying the finest glass-blower in... But no, he would not return there, even in memory. It was all for nothing. No hope of flight, no hope of refuge, not in life, not in suicide.

When he returned from the British Library he went out into the garden, crossed the three flat stones that led across the black, beaten earth to its centre, and unhooked the lamp from its stand of meteoric iron. The oaf would make a special point tonight of confirming his obedience. There’s a fucking war on, chum, or about to be. No exceptions. And no escape. He looked up into the late afternoon sky, then went back inside carrying the lamp, to sit holding it on his lap in the window that overlooked the garden, the fingers of his left hand restlessly tracing its facets as he waited for nightfall and the first rays of starlight to strike the naked surface of the black, beaten earth.

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