‘Violet Queen’

On Connie’s wedding day, she carried sweet peas. It was 1944, and she had been up until 2am the night before, stitching her skirt and jacket by candlelight.

The navy velvet she had cut the pieces from had once been a pair of full length curtains in the drawing room, but now that half of the house was shut off, they were no longer needed. In any case, there were no guests there to notice: only Maisie the groundsman’s wife, and Gregory’s mother, who sobbed all afternoon.

The flowers were bound together with twine that itched at her palm, and reminded her of that unfamiliar feeling on her third finger. She had never worn a ring before. She was seventeen.

When John was born, it was the first month of May, and Berlin had just fallen. Maisie sent a telegram to Gregory, and they cut buttercups, bluebells and cranesbill to fill empty milk bottles and jam jars in the parlour. Growing through the hedgerow, they found five early stalks of sweet peas, and that was the first smell of his life.

Over the decades they grew them all, trained up canes in the sun where nothing else would grow. Winston Churchill, Blue Ripple, Little Red Riding Hood: they could never leave a garden centre without a packet of new seeds.

Today, everyone else is in black, but Connie’s wearing purple satin, the colour of Gregory’s favourite sweet pea. Before her there are a hundred Violet Queens, bound in twine and standing in a jam jar. They’re blushing, weeping, fading through every shade of purple, their petals gently rippled like pleated silk.

Over fifty years they’d self-seeded in every corner of the garden and seemed to bloom more every year; the same garden where John’s first flowers had grown. From May to September it danced with bees, and they brought the air alive with floral scent. Today, like every summer day, they brought their smell of honey sun, and memories, and hope.