4: I Pray You Love, Remember

A young woman walks through the streets of Ankh Morpork in the fading chill of an early spring morning. Old eyes in that young body adsorb the fact that the drowsy morning sun is glinting on the roof tops and beginning to warm the walls of the houses lining the streets that are empty at this hour. She remembers cold winter mornings not too far behind now, struggling against a freezing wind through wet streets and the comparison warms her. Her steps take her into the main market place, bustling later, but at this time quiet with only the most committed stall owners up and about, setting out their wares. She pauses beside a flower stall, disturbing the merchant who was adjusting the placement of the flowers in tall buckets of water. He turns, not pleased to be interrupted, but she apologises and explains her need to purchase a flower.

"A rose, the palest yellow or cream you have, but not white."

"How many do you want luv?" He reaches for the relevant container, pulling out a bunch of delicate buds that match her enquiry.

"Just the one please." She examines the bunch of blooms in his hand closely before picking a single perfect example.

He offers to wrap it but she wants to take it as it is, the water still glistening on the stem. She pays and leaves him, carrying it carefully, ensuring as the streets get busier that it comes to no harm. Before long she reaches her objective, the Engineering Guild, and climbs the shallow steps to the large imposing foyer. The day guard is just starting his shift, and the handover is still in process behind the reception desk. They look up at the sound of her footfalls on the marble, but recognising her, smile and return to their paperwork.

"I'm just going to pop up and put something on her desk, is that ok?"

She is waved through without comment and makes her way towards the wide staircase curling up into the building. Two flights up she wanders into the long light filled room, the rows of drawing tables tilted like sails in the morning sun. Moving with assurance through the clutter she reaches the office jutting into the room, half windowed. The door is unlocked as per usual and she enters without hesitation. Walking up to the large desk that dominates the room she places the rose with infinite care in the centre of the cluttered surface, on top of the large drawing spread out and held down with various mugs of suspicious cleanliness.

It seems incongruous lying there. Beautiful, glowing even in the light drifting into the office through the glass separating it from the main room. She stands there a moment, gazing at the delicate petals before stroking it with a single light finger and turning to go. With her hand on the door, about to leave she recollects something, turns back to the desk and taking up the ever-ready notebook scribbles two lines. Tearing off the sheet she folds it in two and slides it under the long stem of the rose.

As she leaves, boots clattering across the floor of the main foyer she nods to the day guard. Coming down the last of the wide steps into the street she notes the time on the building across the roadway and turning away picks up her pace as she hurries towards the working world that expects her.

~X~

The rose lay there untouched until Senior Engineer Matilda Tewt walked into the office and shut the door firmly behind her. Her co-workers had looked up in surprise to see her arriving so late, and then looked again as they noticed the shadows under her eyes made more prominent by her pallor. Curious glances had been exchanged all over the room as that door was closed so decisively, Tewt was known for generally operating an open door policy. Leaning tiredly against the door Matilda heard the murmuring break out in the room behind her and then die away again and was once again grateful for the decorum of her staff. She really couldn't face them. Not today.

Standing there, the solidity of the door at her back a sort of strange sanctuary she allowed the quiet to envelop her, opening her eyes at last to gaze around the familiar space. It was then that she saw the rose. Moving the few steps to the desk she stood staring, trying to place this small piece of delicate beauty. Why was it here and who had brought it – through the entire Guild – on this of all days? Eventually she noticed the note beneath, folded so simply. She pulled it out and unfolded it. There were two lines only, written in a curving hand on the paper.

I'm here if you need me.
I'll swing by at 4 when my shift finishes

It was unsigned. Matilda touched the rose with a gentle finger, unconsciously echoing the earlier gesture of the deliverer. Leaving it on the desk she moved round the piece of furniture, settling into her chair and turning to examine the latest chemical reports. But every few minutes she would stop, raise her head and look again at the rose.

~X~

Magda wandered through the streets of Ankh Morpork, enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon spring sun through her jacket. Arriving at the Engineers Guild she quickly ran up the steps and weaved through the now busier foyer to the reception desk. The guard looked up at her approach and flicked a finger to call over one of the young runners they used to pass messages between floors.

"She said if you came I was to call up for her."

She smiled for him in gratitude, finding it once again easy to hide the real reason she was here and remained leaning on the high counter. For all she was listening to him talking about the spring weather, her eyes kept returning to the staircase, waiting for the sight.

Tilda came walking down the stairs slowly, a heavy tread unlike her usual light step. Her head was lowered, face hidden behind hair swinging forward and she held a single pale rose in one hand. Magda made her goodbyes and wandered over to the foot of the staircase, waiting as the slighter woman came down the last flight. Tilda said nothing but merely slipped gratefully within the encircling arm that wrapped around her in gentle support. Magda felt no need to speak either and fitting the tired form against her side she held the woman close for a moment before they continued walking, out into the sunshine and down the shallow steps.

It was quite a walk to the Small Gods Cemetery and they made the journey in silence. Tilda didn't step away and Magda didn't withdraw her arm. But as they passed underneath the heavy gates Tilda felt the apprehension that was growing in her companion and paused.

"Not the church" Magda whispered and Tilda nodded, acknowledging her hesitation and pointing instead to the path leading further into the cemetery.

They made their way up to the top of the graveyard, settling on a sun-warmed bench. It was quiet amongst the graves at this time of day, a few isolated mourners and in the distance, the verger tidying one of the paths. In the silence Matilda could hear the birds singing in the trees that were planted amongst the stones. It was a beautiful day. Looking back she realised it had almost always been a beautiful day as over the years Spring had taken the opportunity to model a wide variety of different bonnets for her. Sometimes it helped and sometimes it didn't. Today it didn't. Tilda gazed out over the city through eyes burning with unshed tears. She was so tired of crying. Tired of the ache and the loneliness that came with the burden of grief carried unaided. Last year had been terrible, she had been amongst people to whom this day meant nothing, people to whom she couldn't reveal her pain. Last year, like the year before and every year since that first time she'd faced this day alone, had been difficult. But her dark thoughts were penetrated by the warm comforting strength of the arm around her shoulders.

"You remembered."

"I never forgot." Withdrawing her arm Magda reached down and lifted up the backpack she'd been carrying. She reached in and pulled out a plainly wrapped package, placing it across her lap.

"I didn't know what to get this year. Eight is a difficult age." As though it was the most natural thing in the world she wrapped Matilda in that strong arm again, resting it on the back of the bench, there to support but not invade. "I thought she'd think herself too old for toys, reckoned she'd be into drawing, like her mother."

Her hand was resting on Tilda's upper arm and unconsciously she began to stroke a single finger back and forth over the tension held there. One hand placed safely on the brown paper Tilda just let herself sit for a moment, the calming touch somehow lifting away a little of the weight from her shoulders with each gentle repetition.

Eventually she picked up the parcel. Undoing the string, the paper fell away to reveal a pad of good drawing paper and a collection of pencils of varying softness. Tilda took the pad and turned it over in her hands.

"Last year was easier," Magda's voice softened; her finger still soothing back and forth in gentle caress on that arm, an absent-minded comfort. "She was younger, simpler to buy for. I got her a doll. Wasn't the best doll I admit, I'd only just started working and could only scrape a little together. But it was recognisably a doll."

"I'm sure she would have thought it was brilliant." Tilda slid down the bench a little to better rest her head on the shoulder offered to her for that purpose and the supporting arm about her adjusted to the new position, gathering her in close.

They sat together in silence, watching the shadows walk on long legs over the mown grass as the sun slid down over the city.

~X~