Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story


Grace Andreacchi


He was late, as usual. She began to panic, began to sweat, as she always did, though she knew it was stupid, though she knew he’d show up after all, unapologetic, always late. He didn’t care about Ikebana, hadn’t really wanted to come, it was just an excuse, she knew that. Why had she asked him? Now she wouldn’t be able to concentrate, she’d be thinking about him instead. She wasn’t all that interested in Ikebana, she just thought it would be something to do, other than roll about on the sweaty sheets in her room that smelled of curry from the Indian restaurant downstairs. She ought to have washed her hair. Her dark brown toenail polish was chipped, she ought to have done something about that too. Somehow she felt too tired to do anything, and this feeling made her desperate, believing that if she no longer made an effort she would succumb, go under, and simply disappear. She would drown and never be missed. He wouldn’t miss her. He’d find some other young woman to fondle during his extensive lunch breaks. 

Now she was unhappy with her outfit – why had she chosen the black kaftan? It made her look old; she was only thirty-one! Did she really imagine the Japanese chrysanthemums on the sleeves were appropriate? She wasn’t even remotely Japanese, the effect was ludicrous.

A crowd of about sixty people had pressed uncomfortably close together into the dim hall of the British Museum. The room where the demonstration was to take place was closed off with a red velvet rope. A tall young man in blue trousers, white shirt and nametag appeared and made minimal efforts at crowd control. ‘Step away, ladies,’ he said. ‘Please step away from the doors.’ The crowd was nearly all women. One Japanese woman had two small children with her. They were getting crushed. The air was close and she could smell the heavy perfume of the woman ahead of her in the queue. She’d been here before that woman, how had she managed to get in front of her?

The man with the nametag now lowered the rope and the crowd surged forward. Several people with cameras had already cornered the best spots at the front near the dais. The two small Japanese children were pressed up against the buttocks and thighs of the grown-ups and hadn’t a chance of seeing anything. The Master appeared on the dais and began speaking rapidly in heavily accented English. He was tall for a Japanese, a large, rotund, youngish man, dressed in a high-collared grey suit that followed the curve of his substantial belly. She thought he said something about earth and heaven. He was holding up a long green stalk, which he bent artfully and placed in the holder. He did this again with a second stalk, talking all the while in his peculiar, incomprehensible English. The people at the front took photographs. One of the children began to cry. He still hadn’t arrived. Now the Master took up a single large purple-red flower and insert-ed it between the green stalks. She thought he said something about it symbolising man, but she couldn’t be sure. 

Just then she felt his hands slip round her waist and his lips on her neck. ‘Let’s go,’ he whispered into her ear. ‘You don’t really want to see this, do you?’ She turned her head and looked at him. A heavy-set, grey-haired man, fifty-three-years-old, with a belly, and sweat stains on his shirt. ‘Yes, I do,’ she said, and turned back to watch the Master at work. He was bending one of the stalks again. Now he took a pair of very sharp scissors and sheared away half its width. She felt his hand on her face. He rubbed her cheek with the back of his hand then took hold of the nape of her neck. ‘Let’s go,’ he said again, squeezing her neck until it hurt. She kept her eyes on the Master. He was tweaking the huge purplish bloom into place now. It struck her as somehow obscene, the way his fat fingers kept plying the thick, quivering petals. When she didn’t answer he let go of her neck. ‘I’ll wait for you upstairs,’ he said, glancing at his watch. She felt, rather than saw him leave. The Master said the Ikebana was meant to symbolise the beauty and harmony of nature decaying over time. She counted to ten, then turned and followed him out of the museum.