I arranged nine white blooms, for the fifth time, into a circle atop the casket. Upon inspection, I noticed the circle is more of an ellipse, stretching upward and to the right. I cleared the flowers away and started over. It had to be perfect.
It was not a useful flower, but it was traditional and very beautiful. Much more beautiful than my father could afford; more than he would be willing to give the woman that invoked only loathing in him, if he spared her a thought at all.
I could smell the whiskey a good ten seconds before my father appeared beside me.
“Why are you here?” I asked him.
He ripped one of the flower heads from my grasp.
“Stop fussin’ over this shit, Branwell. There in’t enough fancy flowers on this island goin’a save that whore.”
My hand was at his throat before he could bring the bottle to his lips again, the amber glass shattered on the rug below us. The bitter aroma saturated the air around us as I slammed him back against the coffin so hard I could feel the wood crack and a few hushed gasps from the pews behind them.
“I know it was you who poisoned her, you fucking monster,” I seethed as his glazed-over eyes stared back, both bewildered and full of hate. “But you are done torturing her. Because when I kill you, there will be no body to lay flowers over.”
Rage flushed through me, blinding white and molten. It overtook everything except my shame in knowing this fire was the very thing that made me my father’s son.
Someone pried my hand from his neck and-- like the scene change of a play-- three men in expensive black suits took my father away as he yelled profanities back at me between fits of coughing. They brought him out the church doors. The silence left behind pressed against my ears like I was submerged in water.
I stared down at the sharp, broken pieces of bottle that had pierced some of the petals of that ninth flower, and the whiskey had soaked it through. It was limp, brown and the remaining petals began to shrivel.
The man who had pulled me away now stepped over the mess and pulled more flowers from the arrangements on the altar beside him. He wore a suit of wool and velvet in an almost-black shade of red.
He spoke to the coffin, but it was clear he was addressing me.
“I knew Her. Not well, but she was always so kind when I saw her. You said she was poisoned.... But the doctor found no traces.”
“He wouldn’t, nobody would unless they knew what to look for.”
“Undetectable?” The man said. “You seem fairly certain about this.”
“I am,sir, because I created that poison. The bastard stole it from my lab.”
There was a long silence in which the man studied me. His eyes sparkled with what would have been amusement, if someone who spoke and moved with so much power could even be amused. Without a word, he motioned for me to join him by the coffin. I stepped forward and watched him as he pushed the flowers one by one into a perfect circle.
“So, you are Branwell McCalhain?”
“Bran,” the main repeated. “My name is Ryan Holme, and I’d like to offer you a job. In Antiford, if your interested?”