There is a windowsill that faces south, warmed most of a given day by the heat of the sun. It is not a wide windowsill, nor a brightly painted one. Its white enamel is chipped and flaking away at the edges. What is important about this windowsill is what sits atop it.
Six tiny mason jars, half full of water, sparkle in that sunlight, sometimes casting prisms into the room beyond. Inside the water, bent by refraction and age, a different flower wilts in each jar.
The first in the row is a carnation, white though you’d be hard pressed to tell that now, with a stem that may have been cut, but has since splintered. The carnation, with its shriveled brown petals, has been on the windowsill longest. Rupert could tell you where and when he picked it up, if you asked him. Please don’t.
The second flower used to be a rose, red and lush, but the petals have all fallen off. They lay scattered around their mason jar and the only part still in the water is the hip on its prickled stem. The rose is almost as old as the carnation, acquired before Rupert knew quite what he was about.
Next in line is a daisy. It’s a little wonky, brighter on one side than the other and listing vaguely to the left. It was Rupert’s first attempt as preservation.
The fourth flower is a faded, though once vibrant, blue. A delphinium. Its petals are so delicate that you can still see the veins in them if you look closely. Rupert pressed this one properly before he put it in its jar.
Almost at the end, the fifth jar holds a tulip. Its white petals are just beginning to curl and tomorrow or the next day Rupert will liberate it from the water to dry and to press.
The last jar and final flower, a calla lily, is fresh. Its petal is downy and white, creamier than any of the others on the sill. It can’t have spent more than a few hours in the jar, and yet it’s already turned its pale face to the weak sunlight.
There are no prisms today.
Rupert spent the morning in church, surrounded by flowers and the dead. He arrived before the deceased. He arrived before the family. He nearly arrived before the priest, but there were ice-patches on the sidewalk for the last half mile of his walk and it slowed him down. The back of the church was cold. A snowflake or three occasionally wafted in through the open door. Rupert didn’t notice. Rupert usually doesn’t notice the weather, unless it threatens his flowers.
He sat in the shadowed corner of the last pew, thinking of his jars. When the family arrived, he paid no attention. When the mass started, he barely even blinked. He didn’t stand when everyone else did, nor did he kneel. He isn’t Catholic after all, so why would he bother? He stood when people began leaving and wandered after the procession, all the way to the graveyard. The ground was much too cold to inter the body, but there is a small chapel there to hold one last prayer service for the corpse inside the casket. The dead man, after all, was someone’s husband, someone’s father, uncle, employee, friend.
Rupert doesn’t care. He doesn’t have any of those things and he’s never been any of them either. He’s been a son, but his parents died when he was small. He’s been a brother, but all of his sisters are dead too. He never went to their funerals. If he were given to self-reflection, he might wonder if that was what drove him to attend the funerals of others. He isn’t.
Rupert doesn’t ask questions. When vegetables go missing from his garden, he doesn’t ask which of the village children stole them. When the tire of his bicycle goes flat again, he doesn’t ask who made the small slice in the rubber that let out all the air. And he never asks himself why he collects flowers from the funeral bouquets of dead men.
This morning, the prayer service had been short. The cold was bitter and the wind harsh, driving the mourners back into their cars and away. Rupert lingered. By now, the priest knew him. He nodded to Rupert, said a short blessing over the casket, and took one of the floral arrangements with him as he left.
Rupert stood alone in the tiny chapel. The priest had left the doors wide open and the wind through the entrance drew Rupert’s attention. It rustled leaves and petals, shivering over the blanket of flowers. The heavy altar cloth swayed gently. Rupert blinked, consumed by a moment of vertigo. Graveyard chapels, Rupert firmly believed, were places of stillness, when they weren’t full of people. Wind was unwelcome here.