My mission was to take Justine flowers, this being what was always done at the firm where we both worked. The donation envelope had been light in weight, but inside it rustled with notes. Plenty of people feeling guilty, perhaps, thinking of what they might have said or left unspoken. Certainly there was way more cash than when the girl from accounts left to give birth.
I’d avoided lilies with their morbid associations and had gone for something pastel and hand-tied. The bouquet on the seat beside me would have graced the arms of any pastoral themed bride.
‘You look like Ophelia,’ Justine said when I passed the flowers over. ‘Or the lead soprano in Madame Butterfly.’ A nurse appeared on cue and took the flowers to water. I watched them go with unexpected regret.
Justine was dressed in jeans and a washed-out t-shirt. I assumed these were her own clothes – in the office she was always suited and booted, so the outfit was as alien to me as a hospital gown. I felt mildly ridiculous in my own navy suit, ridiculous and far too hot.
‘How are things at work?’ she asked.
‘The usual,’ I said. ‘Just the usual.’
A total lie. How could I tell her that ever since she’d stood on the top of the office building, too close to the edge in her office suit, no one could do anything but ask why.
‘I meant to go through with it,’ she said. ‘You know that, don’t you?’
The nurse came back with the flowers in a lurid yellow vase. She’d taken the silk ribbon off, and she handed it to me in a crumpled roll. The flowers seemed ordinary now, overwhelmed by their container.
Justine picked at one of the peony buds with a fingernail, peeling open the green to reveal a creased pink flower within.
‘I know people think it was only a miscarriage,’ she said, ‘but...’
I’d been out to lunch and when I got back I’d seen her there teetering on the roof, facing the car park. A crowd had gathered, as if she could be kept from falling by force of collective will. Someone had to do more than stand around waiting for the rescue crew.
‘There was a buddleia growing on the fire escape,’ Justine said. ‘I wonder why you never get those in bouquets.’
I wrapped the ribbon tight round my wrist, thinking what I would say back in the office, what I could say now, trying to remember the way words had blossomed when I’d talked Justine down.
ANNE SUMMERFIELD was brought up in one of the most boring towns in England, which may explain why she’s always written stories. Last century she had short stories published in Virago and Serpent’s Tail anthologies, in Mslexia magazine and on BBC Radio 4. This year, she’s had shorts in Shooter Literary Magazine and online with InkTears and Spelk. She tweets infrequently as @summerwriter