Little black flowers grow in the sky. They grow in between the stars, in the rich loam of eternity. Most people can’t see them, not even if they wanted to. Most people should be glad they can’t see them. Those black sunflowers glow with a light of their own, in a spectrum that mortal beings can’t register. Such dark light can blind you just as easily as staring into the sun, and then it burns down and turns your soul to ashes. This is the truth; signed in blood and hope to die.
Sullivan stared down at his hands, red with blood. He had always thought that blood was bright red, but his blood looked dark. It flowed like a river from his gut. He couldn’t remember why.
It was strange that he couldn’t remember, when some part of him knew that remembering was important. It seemed to be the one thing left of which he was certain, while the rest of his thoughts were breaking up and scattering like autumn leaves tossed in a high wind. He scrambled to catch them, as they fluttered further and further away.
Is this what dying feels like?
As his normal senses slithered away, he appeared to be growing new ones. He looked up from his bloody hands. People crowded around, forming a ring of heads above him. He could make out their mouths opening and closing, but their voices receded away from him. Instead, he could hear the rocks beneath him sing, sounding something like whale song and something like a carillon of crystal bells being struck. From his own broken body came the sounds of waves breaking and a steady drumbeat. The blue of the sky was fading, replaced by colours he had never seen before. His fingertips tingled as the Earth plummeted through the universe. He could smell the sadness and worry and horror of the people milling around him.
It was then he noticed the optical illusion the circling heads were forming. They were so close together, that they looked like the petals surround the central disc of a daisy or a sunflower. It amused him, and Sullivan attempted a laugh. Like his thoughts, laughter seemed to spiral away into the tunnel of the sun, where it was burnt into gilt and ash. The ashes smelt like fresh-baked bread.
“Sully? Sully, can you hear me?” called a woman’s voice across the void.
What a beautiful voice! It shimmered with a rainbow of moonlight walks, sharing cosy talks, happy tears, fighting fears, holding tight, and bitter fights.
“Sully. You stay with us, you hear?”
The voice reminded him that he had something to remember. It was so important to remember. What he had to remember was twisted up with that voice, like twine around roses.
“Sully? Becca is safe. You saved her from being run over. Do you understand? Rebecca is safe. But you were run over instead,” said the beautiful voice. “You have to stay with us. Stay with me.”
Stay? Stay? His very being was being pulled apart in preparation for roaming the starry sunflower fields. He wasn’t even sure if he was staying himself. Some nameless power was shaking apart the jigsaw that had made him Sullivan. It didn’t physically hurt, though his confusion was almost painful. Then the torment of his thoughts focussed on the name ‘Rebecca’.
Rebecca. An album of impressions flickered: the perfume of baby powder, soft blue eyes, dimpled knees and a smile framing four baby teeth. Rebecca: a chuckle that turned into a laugh, reading Winnie the Pooh, giggling tickle fights…it was good to remember Rebecca. It was very good to know that Rebecca was safe. It still wasn’t the important fact he was struggling to remember, yet knowing Rebecca was safe it did give him an intense glow of satisfaction.
His limbs had felt like they had grown too heavy to lift. That was changing. He felt buoyant; his heart weighed less than a feather, it was light enough to float way. There was no pain. No sorrow. No fear. Nothingness. Black sunflowers flew out of his chest, one after another, a chain of shadowy jellyfish floating upwards to the surface of the ocean.
The pain of that cry cut him deeper than any razor. It sliced away at his confusion. He remembered the beautiful voice belonged to his wife, Hayley, and Rebecca was their daughter. He managed to gain some control of his eyes. He focussed on the petal of darkness nearest to him. It resolved itself into the tear-jewelled face of his Hayley.
His lips and tongue were numb. Had he just visited the dentist for a filling? He fought to say her name. He couldn’t hear if he succeeded, but her eyes met his, so she must have heard something. She had one of his hands clutched in her own, oblivious of the blood and gore. He couldn’t feel her touching him. Why couldn’t he feel her touching him?
It didn’t matter. He could see her, and that was enough. Her eyes were mirrors, as always, showing him his own face as Hayley saw it, loving, kind, and dependable. He always looked handsome in Hayley’s eyes. It was his daily miracle that she loved him with such strength. And she had gifted him with a child of her body. He tried to squeeze her hand.
Suddenly it hailed gloves. Hayley was pulled away from him, and he didn’t have the strength to prevent it. Sullivan couldn’t feel what they were doing, but he could see and hear them, though they sounded very far away. Scissors cut away his clothes. Gloves with cloths swabbed away at all this blood. Voices made brisk comments that fell around him like snowflakes.
“Stand back please. Give us room.”
“There is internal bleeding”
“It looks as if at least one wheel ran over his hips.”
“His pelvis is shattered.”
“Bone shards cut his intestines.”
“We need to get him stable enough to transport to the hospital.”
“This is his wife and child.”
“Madam, can you give us your husband’s name?”
Hayley said, “It is Stephen George Aage Sullivan. But everyone calls him Sully. Please, he is only twenty-nine.”
“Don’t you worry, Missus,” said one of the brisk voices.
A concerned face swam into view. “You just have to hang on, Sully mate. You’ll be on your way to the hospital in just a minute.”
Sully could see the lie. The other snowflakes words floated gently to the ground… these words dropped like stones of ice and shattered all around him. The ambulance officers were working hard, but even as he watched them they grew further and further away.
The black sunflowers were now coming in bouquets and nosegays and daisy chains. They swam across his vision, obscuring his field of view. His back arched to help shake them from his chest.
A mouse screamed, “Sully!”
Another mouse shouted, “Arrhythmia. We’re losing him.”
The confusion took hold again, and the world spun around him, the calm centre in the middle of a cyclone. He tried to close his eyes; they wouldn’t respond.
It was snowing a blizzard now, but the sunflowers still drifted as though they were bubbles wafting on a gentle breeze. He no longer heard the bells or the ocean or the drum, but the rocks were still carolling like birds. He thought he could hear them whisper his name as part of their chorus. It was glorious. His thoughts were dropping off the string and rolling away, until there was just one thought left.
You have to remember.
Most of Sullivan had escaped by now. It was running free, no longer trapped by time or space or the puny laws of man or physics. He was both as large as an electron, as small as the universe, as still as sound wave and as slow as a ray of light. His existence was just a fading poem, with only one final task left for him to do.
He had promised to remember. And Sullivan was a man who always kept his promises. It was the one thing that defined him above all other aspects of his being, even as he stopped being a being.
His heart thudded for one final time.
For just one last time, he thought with perfect clarity. He remembered. I promised to love you until death do us part, Hayley. But I will love you forever.
He could hear the speaking stones sing and mutter his name. While his face remained turned skyward, the blue reflected in his glazing eyes, his vision was filled with infinite fields of shining, gorgeous, shimmering black sunflowers.
Little black flowers grow in the sky. They grow in between the stars, in the rich loam of eternity. Those black sunflowers glow with a light of their own, in a spectrum that mortal beings can’t register. Such dark light can blind you just as easily as staring into the sun, and then it burns down and turns your soul to ashes.
The only thing that remains is love.
This is the truth; signed in blood and hope to die.