Standing beside the newly-turned grave, black-clad and sombre, Periwinkle Collier was a man of style and substance. The substance, it is true, was more evident around his waist than in his pocketbook, nevertheless, his was an imposing figure. With a name like his, it had need to be.
“We’ll call him Perry,” had said his mother, thinking fondly of the suave TV lawyer who filled her daydreams. A stark contrast to the burly builder who held his newborn son with all the delight he would have given to cradling an octopus.
“Hummm…” Her husband handed the damp infant back to its mother, his duty done.
“You can get him registered on your way home.” She presented her cheek upon which he dropped the obligatory kiss, acknowledging his dismissal. Truth be told, he was glad to be gone. He needed air. And a pint. Definitely a pint. No man should have to see what he’d seen in the past hour, he decided… not on a full stomach. The ‘Bull’ would be open…
Three hours and rather more than an odd pint later, he had presented himself to the Registrar. That maiden lady had recoiled from the alcoholic haze that hung about the men who stood before her desk. Two of them were held up by little more than luck, while between them they dangled a third. The tradition of ‘wetting the baby’s head’ had evidently been upheld with more enthusiasm than was customary.
“…and the child’s name?” she asked, her pen poised, oozing disapprobation. The gears of his memory did their best, but failed to attain their goal. With one word he condemned his newborn son to a decade of torment from his peers and himself to that special hell reserved for the husbands of seriously offended wives.
Some fifty years later, the son, now grown to portly proportions, reflected on the floral munificence of his name. It had been bad enough for a growing lad in the Midlands, but when work had taken the family to the northeast, things had gone from bad to worse. It hadn’t taken Perry long to realise that being addressed as ‘petal’ and ‘flower’ was normal there… just a general form of greeting given and received by everyone, rather than the barbed shaft of unkindness. Even so, it had made him squirm. He had hated his father.
When he had reached his late teens, though, things had gone downhill rapidly. He was a fine figure of a youth, tall and broad-shouldered. Yet it only took one of his mates to find out his full name and he would be defending himself from the inevitable taunts. ‘Petal’ and ‘flower’ took on a whole new dimension of meaning. He was branded as ‘different’, outcast and marginalised by the ‘in’ crowd. He hated to fight and learned instead to deflect the taunts verbally. Even so, he could not wait to turn twenty-one when he could change the damned name to something, anything, less effeminate.
There had been that one night when he had almost given up. Sometimes the words failed. Years of bullying culminated in a battering that had left him, a gory mess, in the gutter outside the nightclub. And then she had been there. Eyes like deep moorland pools into which he had fallen and was lost, he thought, pleased with the hackneyed poesy. She had loved his strength. Not just the muscles… she had seen something in him that he himself had yet to realise. She too thought he was ‘different’… but on her lips, those words healed the scars in his soul. In the halcyon years that followed, he had needed no other name than the ones she bestowed, though ‘Daddy’ had been the best… and that too was her gift.
But he hadn’t called his son after a bloody flower!
He looked down at the damp earth so recently shovelled into place, thinking back over his own life as he gazed upon the face of death. It had been her belief in him that had sent him from the building site to college and then on to university. She had managed somehow to make ends meet while he studied and kept a home full of love and warmth. It was her encouragement that had kept him going… and her pride he remembered from his graduation.
He could trace the path of his life from his father’s first pint to now, seeing it unfold like the petals of a flower.
If they had called him Fred or John, she might never have found him.
Kneeling on the grass beside the grave, he carefully tipped the contents of the pots into his hands and buried them in the damp earth. By spring, the grave would be a mass of blue flowers.