You were the first person who ever gave me flowers on my birthday, and it’s always been one of my more vivid memories.
It was my seventh birthday. It was just a party at my house with us and everyone in our class. My mother bought a cake from the Co-op – she was never a fan of baking things – and got us plenty of snacks and fizzy juice to drink. You were one of the first people to come. You turned up at the door, holding your mother’s hand. You had on the cutest little light blue checked shirt and a pair of smartly pressed grey trousers, although you also had your trainers on. She was holding the present you bought me, because on the way down to my house from yours you had insisted on stopping to pick me a bunch of daisies – you knew I liked them. It was this bunch of daisies that you held in your other hand. You’d made the tightest fist so that you wouldn’t drop any of them before they got to me. I was so delighted that I instantly forgot the actual present you’d bought for me and threw my arms around your neck (but I didn’t kiss you – I was seven, you were six, and kissing was yuck). You handed me the flowers and I insisted that my mother put them in a small glass of water for me. Of course, they didn’t last long – a day or so at most. Daisies are wild flowers, and not designed to last while picked even in water, and crushing them in your fist probably didn’t help them either.
Only weeks after that we stood together at milk time in school, and you had on the clothes I knew you in best, including your navy blue Fruit of the Loom jumper. Several hours later, my mother told me the worst news – you had been hit by a car and killed while out playing with one of our other friends. I was stunned, too stunned to even cry. I thought of you at milk time in your jumper. Would you really not be there at the same time tomorrow?
I didn’t want to go and see you get buried, because I wasn’t willing to acknowledge that I’d never see you again, although I wondered if you still wore that blue jumper while they buried you. Not having you in class took ages to get used to. There was an empty seat at our table, and your name came off the birthday calendar.
I thought about you from time to time, but increasingly more as I got older. Finally, on what would – should – have been your 18th birthday, I went to visit your grave again for the first time in years. I looked down at your gravestone, at the photo of your smiling little face, at the etching of Snoopy in the opposite corner and the gilded lettering that told us who you were, when you were born, when you died. You were real, and you gave me flowers on my seventh birthday, and I remember you. As I set the bunch of lilies down in front of your epitaph, I spotted daisies growing in the plot. It was like you were saying hello to me, and I cried then. What I wouldn’t have given to have been buying you a pint, one of your first legal ones, or a present that was silly, fun or useful. Anything – anything – but flowers.
Hannah Nicholson is originally from Shetland, and studies the MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen. She has had work featured on the websites of Quotidian magazine and The Ogilvie, and is currently working on a novel. She can be found on Instagram @tooriekep and on Twitter @selkiesong.