Sweet William

Sweet William

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Mrs Deakin looks up from the book. It takes her a long moment to pull her focus back onto the flowers. “I suppose it was all his body,” she says. Her brow is furrowed, making her pencilled-in eyebrows collapse towards one another. “So what grew in one part of the ashes was bound to affect the other.”

“No, that’s not –” Robert raises a finger in protest, but Mrs Deakin is unperturbed.

“I should have expected it, really,” she says. “Sweet Williams were his favourites, after all.” There is a little smile on her pale, thin lips. “It’s what his old mam used to call him. ‘You take care of my Bill,’ she’d say when we were courting. ‘You take care of my sweet William’.” She looks down at the pink frills of the petals, and lets a tiny, melancholy sigh escape into the warm June air. “Sweet William,” she whispers.

Time passes. A blackbird watches them from the fence.

“It’s quite amazing, isn’t it?” Mrs Deakin says, still smiling at the flowers. Her watery eyes beam happiness. “It’s lovely how this entanglement thingy works.”

“I don’t think it’s entanglement, Mrs Deakin.”

She turns her head and frowns at him. “But that’s exactly where I put the ashes,” she says. “And those are exactly the same colour as the ones that came up through Bill’s ashes in our garden.” She hesitates for a moment, and the light goes out of her eyes. “My garden, I mean.”

Robert doesn’t know what to say. The blackbird hops from the fence to the crabapple tree, leaning in for a better view.

“Dennis did enjoy his chats with you,” Mrs Deakin says eventually. “I did too, of course – but just to listen. It was all a bit over my head, all that laboratory what-not. I was only ever an office girl and…” Her voice trails away. The blackbird fills the silence with a snatch of song.

She wants to believe it, he knows that. And where’s the harm?

“So you didn’t plant anything?” he says.

“Not here, no.”

“You just sprinkled his ashes in my garden?” He doesn’t mean to sound accusing, but she turns ever so slightly away.

“ Only half. I didn’t see what harm it would do, dear. Anyway, it used to all be ours, before we had the bungalow built. Bill used to tend the whole thing, you know. And this part – your part – well, that was his favourite bit of the whole place.” Her voice turns dreamy and wan. “I thought he’d like to be over here on this side of the fence too.”

She turns back towards him, and he can see the corners of her mouth have dropped. “The children made us sell off half the land. Bill didn’t want to, but they said it was too much for him.”

Robert surveys the garden. Just for a moment, he meets the blackbird’s stare, then drops his gaze to the flowers. He hadn’t noticed any ash in the border, but he was rarely home in daylight these days, what with the grants to write and the lasers to calibrate and the students to sort out. This morning’s view from the kitchen window, that rash of reckless pink, had stunned him. He was overwhelmed: suddenly he had to know what the flowers were. Bill will have a book, he told himself, rushing out of the door, Bill will know. And then, just after he had knocked, he remembered Bill was no longer home.

He feels the prick of a tear in the corner of one eye. He knows what happened – it seems so obvious now. They had stood here, he and Bill, at the edge of the patio. It must be two years ago now. Bill had shaken his head at the view. “You might know a lot about the universe,” he said, “but you’ve plenty to learn about looking after a garden.”

“Do you still want the book, dear?” Mrs Deakin shows him the page. “They’re definitely Sweet William.”

Robert looks at the open page in the widow’s trembling hand. Sweet William: biennial, it says.

Mrs Deakin’s eyes are fixed on the pink bloom again. “I really didn’t know that was possible,” she says. Her eyes are shining. “It’s so wonderful. It’s like magic, isn’t it?”

Robert takes the book from her, then, ever so gently, takes her hand in his own. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, it’s like magic.”

About the Author: 
Michael Brooks, PhD in quantum physics, is a consultant at New Scientist and writes for the New Statesman and the Huffington Post UK. He’s the author of Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science and 13 Things That Don't Make Sense. He advises the Centre for Quantum Technologies on outreach.

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Quantum Theories

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X is for ... X-ray

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K is for ... Kaon

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