The Man Who Forgot His Nancy’s
by Frank Prem

(2023 Short Story Competition 1st Place Winner)

 

Oh!
This is a beautiful little flower.”

A thin voice. An older voice, A little quavery. A little uncertain., but full of warmth and wonder at seeing a special thing for the first time.

“What is it called?”

She sighed to herself – inaudibly – as the anticipated question was asked.

They came here, to the Warby Ranges, every year. Had been coming without fail for, perhaps twenty. It was the wildflowers that brought them. Donkey orchids, and paper daisies; the nodding greenhoods and myriad of small flowers that made a walk through the dry forest of the plateau a special treat in the late Winter, and early Springtime.

These days, though, he always asked. Could never remember what he was seeing, as though everything was the first time. In some ways, it seemed that it was.

It is a Nancy,” she said, her voice just a little flat in its tone. “An Early Nancy.”

The Warbies were a rugged attraction, with their scrubby trees and the preponderance of granite boulders. There was a wild edge to the litter and the scatter of the forest surrounding the tracks they walked that made each visit both, a small challenge and a spiritual renewal.

Spider orchids, and leopards. Delicate small things that made such a contrast to the rugged roughness of the boulders. A giant’s marbles, played with and then abandoned in a random scatter.

The walk, each year, was a slow ramble. There was never a rush to reach the end. Every breath inhaled the forest, and every step revealed a new delight. They would stop to admire and discuss each one. Bring what they saw to the other’s attention. Discuss them, amiably as they ambled.

And there were always more.

So many more of the little white flower with a spot – was it purple? – on each petal, making a kind of wheel within the perimeter of its petals. And each time, now, he would ask. Could never remember.

“What … what are these dear little things? I can never recall …”

She had learned – mostly – to be patient, though she could feel the stress – the distress – rising inside her with each new asking.

“They are Nancy’s, love. You know …”

And he would remember after the prompt.

Sometimes the trip became excruciating. Occasionally, it was unbearable and she had to turn away, just for a moment, to allow a tear to fall silently. A sniff and a tissue, then carry on as though nothing.

The Early Nancy’s were the commonest flower they would see on the walk. They were the one flower that he really should know, and he did not. Could not bring them into the front of his mind unless she spoke it. Could only see something pretty, each time, something that he would love to know the name of.

“What is that one, do you know, love? It is so familiar, but I can’t seem to …”

She allowed herself a short, frustrated breath.

“It’s an early one. “That’s all it is. It’s just an early.”

“I know. I know it now.”

He looked at her face, into her eyes. Spoke her name, then picked one small, white flower and held it out for her to take.