Author: Sorcha Walsh
When David was six years old, Maria would cycle outside his house on her bicycle, pigtails flying, as she raced down the street. Once, he threw a ball at her, meaning for her to catch it, but it simply bounced against her head, the force of his throw knocking her to the ground. She didn’t cry then, simply let out a surprised “oh” as she hit the asphalt. Her elbow was scraped, and David, horrified, ran to help her up. He just wanted to play, he explained, nearly crying himself. Maria didn’t seem to mind, though, simply brushing the dirt off her bleeding arm.
From that moment on, David wanted more than anything to be friends with her. So, the next day, he knocked at her house on the corner with a wilted pale pink flower he had picked from her own mother’s flower bed by way of an apology. Maria tucked the flower behind her ear and wordlessly went outside to play with him. They played House in the tree at the end of the road, deciding which branch would be which room, and how they would decorate every room. She wanted every room to be purple, which David usually hated. He hated girly things. For Maria, though, he didn’t care. They spent hours in the tree, and only came home when the streetlights came on.
The next day, they did the same. It was a school holiday, so they could spend as much time as they wanted to outside, only coming home for a sandwich at lunch.
The summer passed in much the same way, each day a new game. They played House, Cats and Dogs, Doctor, and Tag in turn. When they got bored, they would sometimes play with the other children, but it was always together, Maria and David, David and Maria. Where there was one, there was the other. Their mothers got used to saying their names together, in one breath, as if they were one two-headed child. Mariandavid. Daveanmaria.
The next summer went by in much the same way, and the one after that. Hazy summer days turned into brisk autumn evenings which closed in to dank winter nights, which then slowly began to open themselves once again into a breezy spring where all life burst impatiently from the hard ground, before stretching out, languorously and luxuriously, into the kind of long summer day in which you can live a lifetime or two before teatime.
When Maria and David were eleven, Maria grew very suddenly. She became taller than David for the first time, and he couldn’t outrun her. He began to think that she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen, with her long blonde hair which had grown out in loose ringlets all the way down her back.
David knew that she didn’t really want to play with him every day anymore. She had girl friends now, who were tall as well, and they would share lip gloss and giggle at the break at school. She never really spent time with him at school either, but he didn’t mind. He was friends with plenty of boys, and they would kick balls and spit and act tough.
The next year, Maria began to stay at her friends’ houses, and never really said anything to David apart from “hi”, in passing. Still, he looked out for those greetings, treasured them, fancied he saw a glint of something more, something old in her eyes. Once, he went to her house with his parents, for a dinner party. They didn’t talk at the table, but he went to her room afterwards, just to see, just to know. There wasn’t any harm in it, it was just to see.
The year they both turned fourteen, there was a dance at school. Boys were asking girls and all the girls could talk about was who had asked whom. David knew nobody had asked Maria, had overheard her complaining to her friend about it. So, one day, he picked a pink flower from one of the neighbour’s gardens and knocked on Maria’s door.
She was very nice about saying “no”, very gentle. She didn’t mention the other man, and even gave David a kiss on the cheek, which would once have made him spasm with joy. But now his face remained leaden and downturned, and his mother remarked that he had the eyes of an old man when he came home that night.
The day of the dance arrived, much the same way dentist appointments do. David watched from his window as Maria went to her parents’ car, dressed in a beautiful white dress. Her hair was twisted up into a bun, with several loose locks framing her face. David thought his heart would burst from his chest just looking at her.
That night, he fell asleep with a darkly bruised flower clutched tight in his white-knuckled hand, under his rumpled pillow.
The next morning, he left home slightly earlier than he usually did. He stood on the street corner and bent down as if to pick a flower once more. When he heard the door to Maria’s house open his fingers closed instead around a rock. He stood up and turned to face her.
“Oh,” she said, her eyebrows raised. She must have been surprised to see him there. David didn’t respond. Instead, he raised his arm high above his head and brought the rock down in a sickening arc towards her head.
Her hair had been so blonde, he thought, so fine. It really wasn’t fair, it wasn’t nearly as nice matted up. He gently went to his knees and clutched her face, not minding how dirty his fingers got. He brushed her hair behind her ear, softly as if he were handling a porcelain doll. Her books lay scattered on the ground and her elbow was scraped where she fell.
The next year, and the year after that, the flowers grew redder than ever at the base of the white picket fence.