- Epiphyllum oxypetalum is a species of cactus and one of the most cultivated species in the genus. E. oxypetalum blooms rarely and only at night, and its flowers wilt before dawn. -
20th June 1948
France, Rue Cambon
Tonight, the night sky is full of stars but no moon.
Do you remember? It was on a cloudless night like this that we shared our first kiss under the apple blossom tree. It rained seconds after our romantic moment, but you laughed it off. April showers bring May flowers, you said, even as squalls of raindrops pummelled our backs and ruined your makeup. Your smile is still etched in my memory.
Because of that, April will forever be my favourite month.
France is a beautiful place this time of year now. It was even more so back when I was but a struggling Italian artist, and you a runaway heiress. But the world has changed, and this place has too. I remember the idyllic days we spent roaming Paris, exploring the city, and each other along with it. With you, the place where the people had shunned my talent and suppressed my creativity seemed to take on a glowing sheen. It was then that I understood the true meaning of perspective. With the people that matter, even the grey ruins of life come alive.
We were both dreamers, you with your typewriter and me with my paintbrush. You were charming and outspoken, unlike the reserved Parisian girls I’d met. You lived for art and culture as I did. We both knew we had so much to see, so much to experience, yet too little time. So we threw ourselves in into life, two innocent people clinging on desperately to the fraying strands of youth, flinging aside our burdens. We had but a few dollars in our frayed pockets, but we had each other, and we thought that was enough.
We were wrong, Christy, so very wrong.
I still visit the café every morning, hoping to glimpse the ghost of you seated on the bench outside, writing, the sun spilling its rays over your hair and the pages of your notebook as you scribbled. Perhaps it was the image, or the aura around you, but I was entranced then, and the vision of you continues to mesmerize me. Each day I wake up with pain in my heart, hoping to see you next to me, praying that the past years of loneliness have been but a cruel nightmare. But I know that’ll never happen. Dreams come to an end, don’t they? Our time together was a time of peacefulness, the calm before a storm. We were snowflakes; beautifully formed, fell tranquilly, and melted into nothing.
You know me, Christy. I never believed in having a therapist for life's problems, but you were the one who taught me to be resilient and strong. Just like a cactus, self-reliant and independent. So I bought one after you left, to remind me of you. I’ve tended to it for years, and I consider it my closest companion in your absence. It’s a peculiar plant – it only flowers once and wilts when dawn comes. It represents love, I think, the luckiest, fleetest kind of love that you have a single chance at in your entire life. Our love.
I struggled to accept reality for a long time, but I now understand that we were alike but yet different. Even if you had met me at midnight on Avenue Cambon that fateful day, we wouldn’t have survived together. I could barely fill my belly with the pieces I sold, much less support you. You were right to return home. The life of poverty was not for you. Romance itself can never feed a hungry stomach, much less two. My only regret is not being able to say goodbye.
But I still stand by my adoration for you, Christy. I will wait here in Paris, until the day you have finished your manuscript and are the owner of your own life.
He saw her still in his dreams, especially in these hard times. In the silence of the night he laid in her lap while she rocked him to sleep, her ghostly fingers caressing away his taut frown. Everything reminded Joseph of Christine. The dandelions that she plucked from the ground to pin in her hair, the twitters of robins she used to feed from her palms – they all breathed Christine’s love and passion for the world. He'd spent the last twenty years of his life devoted to art, pouring his soul out on each and every blank canvas and carving out the shape of his heart with every brushstroke. Still, loneliness haunted him.
How he missed her. She might have lifted the clouds over his head and allowed him to see the beauty of his life. But, she was gone, gone like the wind, brushing past with a gentle ruffle and leaving behind nothing but a lingering touch. The only times he’d felt truly happy was when he saw her in his mind’s eye, but even so he wept with the knowledge that she would be gone when dawn broke. If only-
-she was but reduced to a figment of his imagination.
But one night, it felt real. Christine took his hands and urged him to dance, her emerald eyes shining bright in the moonlight, wisps of golden hair coming loose from her braid as she twirled. Carefree. Joyous. Emotions so distant and past that they almost seemed foreign to Joseph. He almost felt young again.
Together they danced among scented flowers, surrounded by fireflies that shimmered with gold. But Joseph only had his eyes on Christine. Her beautiful face, flushed rosy pink with exertion. Her laughter, tinkling in the still night air. Her hands, smooth and warm in his grasp. He wanted to dance with her forever.
And in the artist's sleep, a single tear rolled down his aged cheek.
The moon emerged from behind the clouds, casting blueish light into the room. It fell upon the potted cactus, placed inconspicuously in the corner of the room. Slowly, but surely, its buds awoke from their slumber, unfurling and stretching their pearly white petals. A lady of wonderment, a wave of fragrance flooded its area, beckoning one to marvel at its short-lived beauty. As the clock ticked and the twilight faded into cream, it retreated and would never return.
She blooms in full and her beauty is only witnessed by the night sky and, by dawn, she wilts even before the sun’s first kiss; with only her fragrant scent left as the ghost of her evening arrival. The men ask after her, desiring to know her name but to no avail. So they name her themselves.