Pete & Florence

A Short Story by Tanah Haney

Pete watched Florence climb up the wall and across the ceiling, sipping his chocolate, and thinking of spring. Spring was one of those things that most people knew existed, somewhere, but had never seen. Like the North Pole, or whales, or giant squid.

Florence never used to climb walls; it was something she’d just taken up recently, on account of a phrase she’d read in a book: “Bob was so stir crazy, trapped in that godforsaken bunker buried twelve stories deep, he was practically climbing the walls.”

So Florence decided to try this new pastime of practically climbing the dull aged stucco. The key, she said, was to think each move through methodically. Otherwise, it would be more of a chaotic scramble than a practical ascent.

Once she got going, she just couldn’t stop.

The ceiling was the next obvious stage to her exploration. The walls were sloped slightly outwards, so it was in effect like living in a great four-sided flat-bottomed vase. The ceiling was transparent, or would have been if it wasn’t so covered in grime. It was always dark out, and stars were like spring, so it didn’t matter much anyhow.

The ceiling was curved slightly, the bubble like the skin of water in a vase. If that made them flowers, well then it was even more remarkable to watch Florence go, since everyone knew that flowers couldn’t climb.

“Yes they can,” Florence said from above. Bits of stucco had already fallen from her clothing onto Pete’s head; now she was knocking loose layers of dust. “I would be a rose, of the climbing variety,” she said firmly. Florence had never seen a rose. “You, sitting there in your lumpy brown chair – you would be a mushroom.”

Pete snorted, though whether from dust or obscure botanical reference, Florence could not be sure.

Night arrived, by way of a slight sighing sound; a wheezing, snuffling, quiet sort of sigh, like a giant dog asleep on the roof of the world had shifted in its slumber. The room shifted with it, and dimly through the dirty ceiling, lights could be seen.

“Those could be stars,” Florence said, in a questioning kind of way.

“Nonsense,” said Pete. He was reading the book, the only one he could find. He was trying to find the sentence about Bob in his cabin. He was on page 402, and no mention of Bob yet. Perhaps the book had changed again.

“It’s just more flyers,” Pete said, “On their way from point A to point B as usual.”

Florence was experimenting again. She was carefully lifting first one hand, then the other hand; then one foot, then the other foot. Never more than one limb at a time – yet.

“How d’you know they’re not going from point C to point D?” she wondered.

“You’ll fall,” Pete stated, with his own private sigh. Pete’s sigh did not cause the room to shift, but merely a slight creaking of the chair beneath him. “Besides, it’s just an expression.”

“Nothing,” said Florence, “is just an expression.”

Florence was rather fond of words. Each time she discovered a new word or phrase, it changed her world completely. Unfortunately, it tended to change Pete’s as well. He sniffed and brushed dust from his hair.

“Oh, look,” he exclaimed, feigning surprise. “It says here that Bob gave up climbing walls, in favour of sitting quietly by the fire.”

Florence laughed, a bright burbling bubble of merriment. The light changed colour when she laughed; this time it grew a hint of lilac. “No it doesn’t, silly – that’s the wrong book.”

Pete frowned up at her. “There’s more than one?”

Florence shook her head; her hair hung down like upside down seaweed, floating in a watery breeze. “No, it’s wrong because you’re reading it wrong. You’re always looking for something. But you can’t find anything that way. You have to let it find you.”

Pete sighed again and closed the book. “That’s absurd, Florence,” he said. It was a phrase he used often.

“So are stars,” said Florence. “But look, there they are.”

“I told you, they’re just…” Pete began, in irritation. But as he looked up, through the breezy tangle of her hair, through the grime patterned now with handprints and sock smudges, he saw that she was right.

“Well, I’ll be,” he said, oddly pleased. “Perhaps spring is not so far away, after all.”

“Perhaps,” said Florence, a smile in her voice.

T.H.