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The Water Lily House

by Kat Beyer

The Waterlily House at Kew closes in November, and, nearly always, I am the last visitor there. Then I wait--without noticing I'm waiting--through the entire chilly, bone-wet English winter for it to open again. The Waterlily House doesn't float on the surface of my mind through December, January, February and March, not at all. Only, sometimes, when I'm having a cup of milky tea at home after a long day at work, I will feel the steam on my eyelids when I lean over it, and think of the House.

Through those months I think, without meaning to think, of one lily in particular. It's the sacred lily of the Nile, and it has translucent blue petals and a yellow heart. I wonder where that cup of color goes in the dark months. I think it sinks into the roots buried in the mud at the bottom of its pool. Does it sleep in winter, or is it always standing ready to return, or both?

In April the lilies and I both return. I take the first Saturday I can, even if I was up late with my mates the night before, and if April is being a bit chilly I wrap up against her, but always in layers, starting with my favorite dress and with a jumper and a jacket and a scarf. In April the Waterlily House is still silent. I stand inside the door and take off the scarf, jacket, and jumper, and walk through the silent steaming air. I fill my lungs with the smell of green tropics.

I come back again and again, waiting until the Nile lily blooms. I've begun to realize that the day it blooms, and all the days that its blue and yellow petals are open to the air, are the only days I feel truly calm in the whole year, the only days when I make sense to myself. I wish I knew why.

This year, while I gazed on the open flower for the first time this spring, I heard a sound like the ringing of tiny tambourine bells. The next weekend it was trumpets, and I thought I saw the water flash with hot sunlight.

I once overheard my mother saying to my father, "I miss the temples. I miss the silence on the river. So much noise--cars are so noisy!" I think one day soon I will have an answer. In the meantime, I stand before the lily, my jumpers and scarves on my arm, and stare into that translucent cup of blue and gold.

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