Radiant: The Balcony

By Jo Phillips

Illustration by Lindsday Lombard
Illustration by Lindsay Lombard.

Quentin tells Martha he does not like bright things. He is quite specific about this when they choose the flat by the river, he cannot think deeply with pinks and blues and yellows shouting at him from every angle. And Martha is so in love with Quentin that she agrees, and the flat is painted white. Everything is white apart from two cushions, which are grey. “Don’t you think it needs something to make it a bit…warmer?” she says, one spring evening. The flat does not face the river but a danker, murkier inlet where the tide goes out leaving pale mud, and the only time there is brightness is when the sun shines a brilliant red just before it sets. “I could plant flowers on the balcony.”

“Yes, you could,” he says, looking out and staring intently at the flats opposite reflected in the receding tide. “But… make sure they’re in keeping with…everything? Nothing too loud.” Martha nods, and the conversation where her sister drunkenly told her she thought Quentin was a pretentious bore floats into her mind.

Quentin decides on lavender. Martha is watering it one evening when he is working late again, when there is a knock at the door, but when she opens it there is nobody there except for a single plant that has been left on the doorstep. There is no card, and she looks around to see could have left it, but the landing is empty with only the sound of faint footsteps fading away down the stairs. She plants it next to the lavender. At the moment it is just plain green stems and Quentin cannot possibly object.

By June the lavender has grown so high they can only see out of the top third of the French doors. Surprisingly, Quentin is not concerned by this. He is also unconcerned by the new plant which is no longer green stems. No-body knows what it is, but it has huge pink and orange flowers, and grows taller and taller. Martha is almost worried by Quentin’s change in attitude, but decides it must be because they are perfectly matched as a couple. They have clearly both compromised – and this is important, she thinks, lying in her white bed, looking at the ceiling, because there are no pictures or ornaments to look at, everything hidden away behind white doors so there is nothing to see.

By August the lavender is finished for the year. Martha’s sister tells her to cut it back so it will flower again, and suddenly the flat is flooded with light. But the pink and orange flowers keep getting bigger and brighter, growing around the door as if they are trying to get inside. Quentin is still working late, so Martha busies herself on the balcony, and once again she can see the water flowing in and out of the inlet, and the reflections of the windows opposite. And a tiny movement catches her eye, and she looks up and across the water through the gap where the lavender used to be, seeing Quentin in the window embracing somebody else.

It is funny, Martha thinks, after Quentin has left and she arranges new ornaments and pictures and rugs, how after all this time the sun has turned the white walls yellow. And the flat opposite seems to have become whiter since he moved in. They have not planted lavender, she notes. Perhaps there is no need. “Everything’s so… radiant,” Martha’s sister comments when she comes to visit, and Martha just smiles as the flower petals tremble in the breeze.

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