The air in the hothouse is crying. Eve has her arms above her head, feeling the thickness of the humidity, hanging from it. It’s a while since she’s been to Kew Gardens ; she used to come here all the time before she had the babies. Eve catches a glimpse of herself in the door, a ghost flaunting itself in an old haunt and quickly stuffs her hands in the pockets of her cardigan. It’s early, no one is around but still she feels self-conscious. Of what she isn’t sure; the strange silence of the flowers breathing perhaps or the butterflies flitting around her face. She catches one in the ball of her hands, feels it beating like a tiny paper heart and suddenly she is overcome by sadness, a sadness she is too afraid to name. It seems to Eve that she is constantly afraid these days, like a bird that can’t tell the difference between falling and flying.
She busies herself, rummaging in her bag for more oils, squeezing worms of paint onto her palette. The vanilla orchid watches her, waits. It is huge and elaborate, like a flower wearing a flower. Eve looks at her left hand, still puzzled by the unfamiliar paintbrushness of it, then turns to look at the orchid.
“What does a bee see when it looks at a flower,” she wonders, taking in the pale shine of the orchid’s newborn petals. “Where do you breathe, where are your lungs?” Eve leans forward to inhale the flower’s breath. Bitter sweet. Her palm is sweaty; she wipes it down the leg of her tartan pyjamas, feeling the brushed cotton in the flush of its own heat. And then she begins, painting pink stripes down the length of the largest petal. The flower recoils each time she removes her brush. She persists, not caring about the shaky, uneven lines, the splashes of paint. When it’s done, Eve leans back and regards the flower she has painted, the orchid she has re-created. It seems to wilt under the weight of the oils.
“Now we’re even God!” Eve shouts at the glass sky. She gestures around her at the half-dozen orchids crudely painted with stars and faces and lines, the gaudy colours clashing like cymbals. “That’s for my babies, that’s for what you did to my little girls.”
Eve reaches for her bag and plunders the front pocket for the bits of paper and the photograph she keeps with her. In the picture, two babies side-by-side in incubators. “That’s for giving Amy’s arm and liver to her sister.”
Eve hangs her head, hands buried in her liquid curls. Like seasons shifting, she can feel anger changing into grief, a grief like bleeding that will never stop. The grotesque picture crumples in her fist and lands on the floor by her Wellington boot. “Fuck you God,” she whispers, looking at the birth and death certificates in her left hand, watching as they turn into ruined leaves on the damp floor.
Standing there alone in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Eve is like a woman in an unfinished dream left in limbo. The paints and brushes are somehow back in her bag. The bag is somehow hanging from her arm. In a vague trance, Eve waves goodbye to the painted flowers but her heart isn’t in it; it’s like she’s holding up a drawing of a hand waving. Eve heads for the door, boots scuffling through the remains of her twins scattered on the flagstones.