The bare off-white walls, glowing under unshielded compact fluorescent lights. Posters torn down, crumpled in the recycling bin. Photos stacked on the desk, little loops of scotch tape still on their backs. Only the laptop and bedsheets still in their right place; everything else - semi-packed, desperately piled in the manner of someone who wants to leave, who must leave, but does not know how.
Claire lay stretched out under the sheets, her body grasping at a few hours of sleep in the wake of the chaos and intensity of the last weeks, and in the face of the coming weeks of transition. Graduation was over, and her sub-letter was moving in tomorrow; she had thought it best to cut ties with college immediately, in an attempt to make moving on active and decisive, rather than gradual and dragging. There was no point in lingering here. As if to drive the point home, her ID expired at the end of the month, at which point her no-longer-belonging would become official.
Beyond her door, there was a man waiting for her, to take her to the palace gardens at Linderhof, "because there are no cherry trees there."
"I know," she replied, "I have to get away from them. They are too much like home, and they are always dropping their flowers, trying to cover everything up."
She could see them now, rising up from the ground, blotting out the sky. A great sea of pink rolling across a dome that reached as far as the horizon. It smelled like fire and perfume.
They were in a castle, but it was not Linderhof - just a cheap, American imitation of mad King Ludwig's opulent excesses. Everything was made of plastic and covered with fake gold leaf and imitation pearl. In the throne room, a piano quintet was playing her piano concerto, and the lush orchestral palette she had always imagined came out in thin squeaks. A conductor was handing out the parts as they went along, and the musicians sight-read each phrase, often failing to transpose the parts that needed it.
The sound gradually grew into a cacophony all its own, with subtle shifts in texture from thin and raspy to full and coarse. It was the best of high modernism, all happening at once, as the interlocking palindromic rhthyms of Messiaen's religious fervor melded with the lush, vivacious flavor of an Ives symphony and the strenuous, guarded precision of Webern. It was a masterpiece of postmodern self-referentiality, and she knew that the moment Dawn Upshaw appeared and began singing, everyone in the room would burst into tears. Claire waited, anticipating every nuance.
The man who had brought her to the castle had taken a seat next to the conductor, taking everything in without a flinch. Geoff appeared in the doorway from the garden, carrying a bouquet of red and yellow roses from the garden. He had picked them by hand, ripping and tugging at each stalk until it broke or tore out at the roots, bringing clods of moist earth with them. His hands were caked with dirt and blood, and several thorns had embedded themselves in his palms. Stopping just inside the threshold, he wiped the sweat from his face with his free hand, leaving it streaked with dark red, earthy paste. He reached out toward Claire, silently offering her the flowers. It was a gesture of love, faith and patience.
The orchestra might still have been playing, or perhaps it had stopped, as Claire took in the sight before her. He seemed an awkward, gangly teenager again, like he was when they had first met, and he had picked her some wildflowers which wilted before they even got to her from being clutched so tightly in his sweaty hands. A maniacal laughter rose within her, an urge to ridicule and revile and rebuke that was beyond her control. She threw back her head and howled in revulsion, and the violins shrieked like hyenas. Geoff remained steadfast, holding the fragrant, dirty bouquet out in front of him. Claire couldn't stop laughing, and the spasm overtook her again and again. She wanted to hurt him, to shake his faith and break his patience. Reaching out, she took the flowers, tearing them from his hands and re-opening the wounds. She dropped them onto the floor, and began to step on them, the heavy soles of her boots crushing the blossoms and cracking the stems. Her laughter finally subsided, as she silently listened to the crunching mess. Geoff was staring at her, hard, and she refused to look at him.
"Goodbye, Claire," he said, and turned and walked back out into the garden.
One of the thorns had pierced the sole of her left boot and was slicing into her skin. It hurt, and with the pain came the awareness that Geoff was gone. She tried to call out after him, but suddenly could not remember his name. The wind howled, and it became winter.
The air was cold in a way she had never experienced before, as she huddled against a tree trunk next to the lake on campus. With her, she had a small bag of dried cherry blossoms, which she was eating to keep warm. Her fingers were stiff with cold as she reached into the bag again and again. The petals tasted like fire, and burned for a few minutes in her empty stomach with a heat that rushed momentarily to her head and distracted her from the loss of sensation in her hands and feet. Then, she could feel the petal cooling inside her, after which she lost sense of its presence, and ate another. She knew that she had to move, but there was no where to go; all the doors were locked and she had melted her ID card in the fire she had built a few weeks ago, for a few seconds of hot, toxic fumes.
Claire ate the last blossom, savoring its warm glow, but wishing she had saved it to remind her of Geoff, of Japan and all the other memories that were fleeing her frozen mind. The trees were dissolving in front of her, the great snow-laden branches cracking and falling down, and finally, she knew the sudden shock of a frozen tree trunk pinning her helpless, cold and hungry to the raw earth.