In a World without Bluebells

- First published in Flash Fiction Online, 2022

In this part of the world, spring paints each roadside bank and woodland patch a shock of brightest indigo, composed at closer look of delicate bluebells in their thousands.

One morning, while taking my customary route through town to my office, a man passed by me with a bluebell pinned to his lapel, glancing as he did so down at my chest, as if checking for a twin; and finding none, he strode on by aloofly, affording me not even the most cursory nod.

The next day, beset by a strange compulsion, I too plucked a bluebell from a garden border and pinned it to myself with a needle I had brought with me for that very purpose.

Presently, I once again caught sight of the man who had scorned me the day before. This time, however, seeing that I was adorned with blue, he looked me square in the eyes and gave me an almost imperceptible nod. A stranger would have barely noted it, let alone ascribed the action any significance, but I continued my journey with a marked buoyancy in my spirit, as well as a nascent contempt for anyone lacking that which I now had pinned to my chest.


Soon enough, to my surprise, I found that I was not the only one who had taken up the bluebell.

On my subsequent walk through town, I spotted no fewer than three others with blue flowers pinned to their chests. And just as had been done for me, I looked each of them squarely in the eyes and granted them, with my newly imbued powers, their own secret beatification. I had always felt myself a disappointment among my peers, someone who had no exceptional talent with which to enrich the souls of my fellow man. And so, having finally found the means, I ended my journey filled with such elation that I could barely concentrate on my affairs and returned home from my office several hours earlier than was my habit, such was the state of my agitation.


By the week's end, the crowds throughout the town were themselves a mirror of a forest floor, bedecked in blue, blooming together in convivial multitude.

How readily we acknowledged one another!—our faces brightening with each near indistinguishable nod.

Even the scent of the place was different: the stench of underlying suspicion that makes human bodies bitter had somehow been replaced by a freshness, a petrichor: all was spring, all was new, all the old animosities had perished in the winter frost, and out we had popped, one by one from the warming ground, into these halcyon days of our civilization!—for all of us shared the secret, all of us belonged; and such a feeling, to belong to this great organism that our comradeship had created!


And then, I spotted a different shade amongst the blue.

Passing me on the street, a man strode by me wearing a bluebell flushed not the bright indigo of our common stock but tinted rather a pale and ghostly lilac.

Quickly it became apparent to me how everyone ignored him, and so I followed suit, baffled at the fact that he had chosen to ostracise himself from our communion.

But instead of shrinking beneath our disapproval, the lilac man returned it with additional contempt, actively turning his back on anyone who dared bear an indigo flower—indeed, dismissing our aversion to him with conspicuous displays of laughter.


I returned home that day shaken, but hopeful nonetheless that the following one would see an end to this trespass of the lilac bluebell.

Far from an end to the madness, however, the next day saw an even greater number of lapels pinned with that unwelcome shade.

Now there were bus drivers who refused anyone without a lilac flower, waiters who openly and contemptuously spat in the food of anyone wearing indigo. Fights broke out in the street. A lilac man was beaten to within an inch of his life by a mob of indigo bearers—myself among them—and it was hours before a lilac-wearing ambulance driver was allowed to deliver him to a lilac-wearing doctor for treatment, hours during which he moaned and screamed in the gutter, cursing the children of any indigo bearer who passed him by.


Over the following weeks, more variations appeared: white, grey-blue, plumb, and all the town fell into fractious chaos.

Anyone wearing a shade that did not match our own, we doused the many livid variations of red.

Scarlet coated my hands, crimson splattered my face, ruby tipped my boots—all the shades that gush from the fountain that is mankind, so that I was, excepting the blue at my chest, a palette of colours a painter might use to capture a regal sunset, because we felt glorious!—all of us, acting in the cause of our flower.

Before long, we became so soaked in red, it was only by our bluebells that we could identify our allies from those that we hated. And although I cannot bear to articulate any further the atrocities we committed in the cause of indigo, they are carved, I assure you, forever on my soul.


For then, you see, one morning, spring was over.

The bluebells, once so flourishing, ceased to bloom.

Unable to find one on any verge or woodland patch, I walked the town as if naked, not knowing who was indigo, who lilac, who grey-blue, white, or plumb. Indeed, the faces and clothes of those around me all appeared dreadfully pallid, as if my eyes had become attuned only to those few familiar colours.

I wandered, looking from chest to chest, desperate to find some indication of allegiance, some way to orient myself in the heaving, bemused multitude that now thronged the streets.

I trembled all over and found myself near drowning in an icy sweat.

In a world without bluebells, how could I tell my friends from my enemies?

How could I know where I belonged?