How the Flowers Grow

by Stephen Daly. Shortlistee of the Best Short Story for Children or Young Adults competition 2021

The smell of lavender fills the car, someone is wearing his Granny’s perfume.

‘You see, this way I can always smell summer.’

Chris looks around at the two adults he is squeezed between and reckons it is probably his Aunt Jane. She smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes which are puffy and red beneath her mascara.

‘Okay, Chris?’

He nods then smiles his reassuring smile that he has developed for sad adults in the last few days. Aunt Jane nods back and diverts her attention to something outside the car. He turns to give his smile to his Aunt Lisa on his other side, but she is still not moving. She hasn’t really moved all day; in fact, he wasn’t sure how she even got in the car. For the past three days she has been like a moving statue. Appearing in an armchair, then perched on a kitchen stool, then staring out a window. Completely still, hands clutched tightly together. She’s not spoken, or eaten, she’s not even cried. Mum and Jackie are worried about her.

Chris wriggles in his seat, he is wearing last year’s school trousers and they are too tight. His collar is digging into his neck, he wants to unbutton it but knows he can’t. His mum did his tie for him that morning, reminding him that he would have to learn how to do this himself when he started secondary school in September, but he doesn’t want to think of that. Why did so many things have to be so uncomfortable?

‘Traffic’s a nightmare,’ says Jackie tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. ‘Everyone okay back there?’