They gave so many reasons for the disappearance of the blooms. First they said it was because of the sheer loss of life. That so many had died that all the flowers were used up. Bouquets and wreaths were popular in the Time Before for funerals and memorial services. But the memorials stopped since we could not gather, and a corpse doesn’t really care if the flowers are fresh, or even present. The WHO declared that we had hit Peak Mortality globally and were now in danger ourselves of species collapse. So they destroyed the rest of the flowers. Said there was nothing to celebrate. That it would be better to forget.
They investigated the supply side and found every cultivator and everything capable of blooming. They burned all the tulip bulbs, fed even the smallest poppy and tomato seeds to hospital incinerators and crematoria, threw the contents of greenhouses, down to the last potted plants, into swamps and oceans, crevasses and the mouths of volcanoes. It wasn’t the time to remember joy when everything had gone from grey to brown, then black.
But that wasn’t enough. The very idea of flowers was deemed subversive. During the Bloomfires they told us to bring all pictures of flowers, any children’s book that had flowers in its illustrations, any sheets or toys that bore their colorful faces. Clothing with floral prints, granny square afghans, family pictures with even one bud in the frame were brought down to the monthly Bloomfires so that we’d all forget. They really wanted us to forget, to erase it from memory, like we’d never had flowers, like we didn’t know they’d once existed.
One month they announced that pine cones counted as flowers and burned them too, wresting them from Christmas wreaths and plucking them from bathroom potpourri bowls, building a towering pyramid in every town that filled the air with pitch and blue smoke everywhere. You fools, I muttered, a pine cone by definition is not a flower. It’s a gymnosperm.
What they hadn’t counted on – and this always happens – is the ripple effect. What happens when the New Morale outlaws flowers? What does that do to your food chain, to bees and butterflies and birds? The fools hadn’t even stopped to consider three or four steps ahead. They judged flowers on their aesthetic value alone, didn’t even think about the functionality of flowers. With a doctorate in botany I know I was overqualified to predict this problem – a competent fourth-grader would have seen it. Soon, a few months later, fruits and vegetables became wrinkled, then scarce, then gone. We fought over dried papaya slices in the grocery store as though they were a bouquet of rich red roses. We shouted and traded punches over peanuts and filberts. Basil and rosemary, extinct. Lavender no longer growing in robust rows the length of France. I’m telling you, this was a global problem.
They said it was for our own good. That no good could come of remembering flowers. But they failed to calculate all the bad that would come from their absence.
I was ahead of them though. I lifted the floorboards in my study and gently tucked the reference materials, the textbooks, below the subfloor, on the drywalled bricks. I put the kilim rug carefully over the slats. I would keep those books there as long as they needed to be there, and if the Guarda stopped by to ask me if I had any items for this month’s Bloomfire, I would solemnly tell them no.