The Little Orchid

The flower sat there, pouting.

“Of what use am I?” he demanded of the old birch tree. “No one uses me- I don’t really serve any purpose. To be sure, I smell good, but what of that? How do I make a difference to anything of significance?”

The birch smiled sagely.
“Wait. And watch.” That was his answer to every impatient question the little orchid posed.

The orchid took no notice of the reply, and turned on his side, bobbing his tiny head indignantly. He yearned to be important. It was hours since he had blossomed, and not a soul had taken any notice.

What this to be his fate then- a wayside flower who bloomed by day only to perish, having lived a useless life?

An hour later, he was rudely wakened by prying fingers. For a moment, he felt the sharp pain of separation as the umbilical stem connecting him to his mother plant was severed, and then he was free. Delighted, he wondered where the owner was taking him. She was a pretty lass, he could see as she screwed his head up and looked at her past his petals. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her face, set. The orchid’s heart twisted with pity- the poor one!

The girl lifted him up in the air and carried him. The flower opened his mouth wide as the wide world opened up to his curious gaze. Almost an hour later, he found himself suddenly deposited on a perfumed letter. Twisting around while she moved away, he began reading the letter.

Dear Brennan,

How my heart breaks to write this! I begin not with the usual pleasantry- what use is it? It had to be done sometime- and I shall do it now- hurt though it shall.

My country goes to war again against yours… And I will have to choose. I will have today to choose, between love and duty; affection and allegiance; between my heart and my honour. How many times? How many painful times have we met in secret, to plan our lives, knowing full well the futility of it? All I wanted was to love you for life, to bear your children- and today, cold as the winter morn, I know that will never be.

For, Brennan, my heart, Papa has fixed my wedding! It is to be with Charles- as you suspected from the start. And I will not go against it. I know. I know how you must ache, the shock, the pain – I can imagine it as though it were happening right in front of my eyes this minute… but forgive me, forgive my betrayal, I cannot go against my country now- when Papa himself goes to command our men against yours!

On the morrow, I am to be married. Forget me- and forgive this broken wretch, if your heart will be so generous: for you know not how I burn here this instant. You wage a war: you may die for a soldier’s death or live with honour at the end of the war- but I will live all my life, the wife of a man I do not love, condemned in my own heart by a guilt that will for ever burden my shoulders- the guilt of crossing an innocent man’s love… the price of a terrible choice that I will pay every living, breathing moment.

I remain yours in the depths of my heart,

A single teardrop, glinting perfectly in the sunlight, fell upon the parchment and the orchid, his own petals bedewed with his tears, turned to look up into the girl’s tormented moist eyes as she scanned her letter to her beloved. Picking the orchid up and gently pressing his petals together, she inserted the flower into the fold of the letter and sealed it in an envelope. The orchid could barely make out what was happening- he was blinded by the thick envelope.

He could hear noises all around him, people, dogs barking, then silence. Eventually, he fell into a deep slumber, aware that in a matter of hours, he would be dead- but wondering sleepily what was to become of him after. What would happen to the man receiving the letter?? What thoughts would race through his mind?

“Brennan, this letter is for you!”

The man on the bed shifted weakly, his eyes brightening slightly. He was bleeding from multiple wounds and knew death would be a welcome visitor any minute now. It had been two months since the war began and though his men had fought hard and fought true, the English simply had wider coffers- and more men and arms.

Every day, he had waited for a letter from his beloved Esme. He knew she faced a terrible choice- to choose him and desert her country in its hour of war, or choose England over him and his love. Pain darkened his eyes at the thought that he’d never love his sweetheart with his words and lips again, but he willed himself to wait for the last words, as his brother held the letter- what had she chosen?

It was all important that he hear her choice before he breathed his last- was he to die alone, or was she by his side, sharing his burden? Could it be that she had given up her love? The pain of such a decision was almost too much to contemplate and yet- he desperately had to know. Sudden weakness and a very severe bout of coughing dimmed his vision, and he knew for a certainty that he would last barely a few moments longer. The coughing had turned bloody now…

“Open it, Seamus, let me hear what she has to say to me one last time before …”, he rasped weakly, urgently, anxiety tainting his last few thoughts.

His brother struggled with the envelope, urging, “Wait, Brennan, a moment to pry it open!”

It was almost too late and Brennan’s eyes began to dim when the envelope at last slit open – and in a slow dance, a dried, brown flower drifted out of the envelope. Moving in small spirals, it finally landing on the soldier’s parched lips. He could smell the fragrance and as his eyes shut one final time, he managed a trembling smile and edged out in a whisper, “An orchid… she must love me still, Seamus… she must love me still…”, unable to see the growing shock in his brother’s expression as he read Esmeralda’s true intention in the letter.

And in the next second, Brennan breathed his contented last, a slight smile lingering on his lips, underneath the orchid.

The orchid lay on the soldier’s lips- a dead, dried, crushed wisp, unaware of the drama that had played out around his withered little body, unaware of the weeping man by the side of the bed. But had the orchid survived, he would have lifted his tiny petals and shone with modest pride at his magnificent contribution: for in that small, cramped room, unknown even to himself, he had transformed one man’s anxious suffering and laid him to sweet, eternal sleep with the promise of hope, the promise of everlasting love.

The little orchid had at last made a difference.