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Davide Castel Davide Castel
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Cinema Bianchini - 1

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She had a friend.

This story is a repost, written in two parts.  There is more to this story than meets the eye...can you figure this out?

(Part 1)

The tranquillity in the large, white, spacious room was marred by a slow yet persistent rumble.  It interrupted the serenity of the person who had been meditating alone in her special place, the Cinema Bianchini.  Alarmed, the occupant turned and watched in disbelief as a white frothy substance slowly filled the room emanating from the only exit.  Lungs starved of oxygen, frantic hands clutched an erratically pulsating heart.  Trapped, with no way out, the muffled screams for survival went unheard.

The recurring dream had lain dormant for many years and Florence was now disturbed by its untimely return. More than eight years had passed since Florence, wanting a simple life, had relocated to the ‘Bella Rosa Retirement Village’ in sunny Mildura. White picket fences separated her cottage from the many others in the complex giving her security and independence. Not much was known about this quiet, unassuming widow with her ready smile and sad eyes, who seemed to live in her garden. The friendly and caring community were often concerned by her fragility and the never-ending workload she had created. When asked about herself or her past, no information was ever disclosed. ‘My past is of no importance,’ she would calmly reply.

Today was Sunday the 13th of December; a day of anniversaries and the feast of Santa Lucia.  It was an unforgettable day for Florence who had already attended Mass at the local church. She needed to keep herself very busy and was lost in her private thoughts until a neighbour interrupted her reverie. The profusion of colourful blooms usually attracted admiring comments. Mavis and Joe, her closest neighbours, were always full of admiration of her garden as were others who stopped to pass the time of day often leaving with generous bunches of flowers. The multi-coloured hybrid dahlias were a picture of beauty and the sweet scent of the gardenias were a constant source of delight.
‘Good morning Florence,’ said Mavis noting that she wore the usual fuchsia flowered dress. The only other dress she seemed to own was the green leafy one. ‘In your garden as usual I see. You certainly get results with all the time you spend in it.’ Joe also commented, ‘Let me know if you need any help.’  They admired the roses that lined the pathway leading to the wisteria covered front veranda which sheltered many flowering cacti creations at her ‘Bella Rosa’ cottage.

Florence straightened and focussed on the couple. ‘Thanks for the offer, but I can manage. It keeps me busy and out of mischief,’ she said with a tired grin.
    ‘Your roses are especially magnificent this season.  What have you fed them? Did you sprinkle magic dust on them?’
    ‘Well …’ Florence flinched feeling guilty; did they know she talked to her roses? They were the only family she had. ‘Just organic blood and bone this year; somehow the roses seem to love it. Would you like some?’ Florence bent to cut some of her velvety blooms.
    They thanked her for the perfumed roses and as they drew out of earshot Mavis said, ‘Don’t like the look of her today Joe ...’
Inwardly, Florence felt satisfied that all her work did not go unnoticed. Her stored knowledge in the use of recycled matter and liquid fertiliser, proved quite powerful in this gardening venture. She knew that ‘au naturale’ was the best way to feed her flourishing blooms and the organic veggie patch in the backyard. Being resourceful, she had finally managed to live a simple and uncomplicated existence. Her Bert would have been so proud of her.
Although therapeutic, her garden had enslaved her and Florence found it increasingly difficult to straighten her back. She ignored the occasional spasms in her chest which she presumed was hunger, as she did not always remember to eat at lunchtime. Each week, the Senior Citizens at ‘Bella Rosa’ held a social day with lunch and entertainment. Florence attended reluctantly although the meals had been nourishing. She had downsized and didn’t want extra commitments - Isn’t that what Bert had wanted her to do; to get rid of the clutter in her life?  
Once upon a time, her interests had been very different and quite habit forming. Embedded memories of happier events resurfaced, as well as the more painful ones, especially on this day.  What madness had possessed her to do what she did? Her thoughts wandered to another time, another place …

It had not always been a peaceful existence at No. 8 Romsey Court, where Florence lived with her husband Bert, who often lamented that his wife was too involved in the community and was never at home. He did not always understand his wife’s reasoning. Her obsession with collecting and hoarding drove him crazy. ‘What do you need that for?’ He would ask each time he saw something new. ‘We don’t need anything else. Our house is much too cluttered as it is.’ He had wanted to downsize to a smaller place, with less work involved for the two of them, now that he was retired. But where would he put all her junk? He knew that Florence would not want to throw anything away. ‘Why don’t you start to give things away?’ These suggestions were often answered with an incredulous hurt look.  
Bert was not displeased with his wife’s enthusiasm and the energy it created. Usually it meant special creative meals for him and a surge in housework. He benefited in other ways as well. He remembered the times she entered competitions and for a time they were her top priority. They already had everything they needed, so Bert could not understand why she needed to do this too. Yet her winnings brought many interesting prizes into their lives. Florence had filled the house with furniture and electrical appliances that he did not want and clothes that he did not need, although the shopping vouchers had come in handy.
Bert had been an obliging husband, going to movies he didn’t particularly care to see and dining out when he preferred home cooked meals. He had appreciated her winning the prize of monthly flowers for one year. They brightened up the house, as their garden was devoid of colour and contained mostly trees and shrubs. It was Bert’s job to keep the grass and shrubs short and neat. Women were needed inside the house, he would say. Although Florence was no gardener, she was often praised for her artistic flower arrangements when rostered at the local Church.
He smiled whenever he thought of their overseas travels, especially the prize of a two week cruise to the South Pacific Islands. The odd assortment of characters had made the cruise unforgettable. There were politicians let loose and in holiday mode, quite different from images they presented to the public. Celebrities had even mingled with the passengers. It was magical at sea. Unfortunately, holiday travel created other obsessions for Florence who felt compelled to add to her already overwhelming pile of guest soaps and shampoos. She could not explain why she did it but the enormity of it all sometimes overwhelmed her in her nightmares.

Bert reminisced over the times Florence collected corks for motor-neurone disease. She was never home back then. He had not expected such a full time commitment but then he should have known better.

‘I fret when you’re not around … and what about the housework?’

‘I thought you would be pleased to see that I am getting out of the house and exercising,’ she would reply sweetly.

Florence was experiencing much pleasure in walking and meeting new people who now nicknamed her ‘The Cork Lady’ and occasionally, the bags of corks would hold some amazing surprises, all accidental drop-ins she presumed. But it was the sight of thousands of corks which gave her the most pleasure. It helped fill some of the emptiness she suffered, yet the dreams still plagued her …

It had taken Florence more than five years to vacate her home before the auction. There was no point living there without her Bert, she reasoned. Radical plans had been made to put her house in order before the auction. She sifted through stacks of newspaper cuttings, letters, greeting cards and other personal papers which had all been finally reduced to ashes in the open fireplace. She had lost touch with friends and neighbours, finding no time or interest in them anymore.

End of Part 1...

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