Author: Irene Montaner

“So, what is it?” Dan asks.

I don’t know. I think it’s a flower but I don’t remember its name. I add another brushstroke to my watercolour painting. Another red leaf, longer than all the other ones and I paint some green leaves too. Red and dark green leaves but I cannot remember its name, so I shrug. “Tell me, how is it that we’ll run away?”

“We’ll leave this madhouse early in the morning, before the nurses are up. We’ll get into the growing bunkers. First, we’ll sneak into the genetic labs and tweak some good-looking plants and then we’ll grow them in some nice hydroponic cushions. We’ll get those red plants of yours, you’ll see.” And his eyes glint as he goes through this crazy idea once more. As if we could break into the growing bunkers without anyone noticing, let alone leave the asylum.

Perhaps on Earth it would have been possible for us to get away from this confinement but certainly not here in Europe, where security is automated and highly effective and there are some practicalities to consider: spacesuits, food and water and an additional supply of oxygen should something go amiss (not that anything has happened since the colony was founded forty-some years ago). And I’m certainly forgetting something because that’s what I do these days, I forget things.

“So, what is it? Dan asks again.

He also forgets things and this time I forget to ask him how we’ll run away. I paint instead and add some more red leaves to my flower. I experiment with the shape and paint them as some elongated diamonds. I add some light green dots in the middle and then something happens. For the first time in years, I see the flowers clearly in my mind. Bright red leaves with a velvety touch to them, veins radiating from their central axis towards the edge of the leaf. I paint them quickly before I forget them.

In my mind, I see them in a terracotta pot with a golden ribbon around in the middle of a table. Our kitchen table. There are tiny fragrant pies fresh out of the oven and wreaths of evergreen decorating the door and window frames. And someone calls my name. Mam, oh it must be mam. And I wonder what it was like for mam when she got old and forgot things too. And whether she ended up in a retirement house surrounded by crazy people. But surely she didn’t because she was on Earth. And there you could wander freely no matter how insane you were. No one would think her a public danger for forgetting her stuff every now and then. She needn’t be locked up in case she was spotted walking at night towards the outer gate without a spacesuit. Or plucking the lettuces out of their nutrient solution because the symmetry of their leaves was no longer perfect although they were not edible yet. Or if she forgot to turn on and off the water filter of her apartment for a few days in a row. None of those things mattered on Earth. And her other children certainly cared for her. Yes, I had siblings, Paul and Ruth. Those were their names. Their names.

“Poinsettia. That’s it. The flower’s name is poinsettia,” I say.

“Poinsettia,” says Dan. “And a Merry Christmas to you too.”

And we both revel in the elusive memories of merrier days, far away from the colony.