She eventually grew to love the smell of magnolia. In the past, her shower gel had been scented with the flower and a hint of coconut. The mixed scent rose in the shower’s steam but she didn’t care much for the fragrance; she knew that was artificial. She had grown accustomed to artificial scents over the years, so when it came to the real thing, she could never handle it.
Her name was Serena, and if anyone should be known to have had life in their bones, it was her. She wondered if all the boys who approached her had agreed between themselves, to say the name Serena reminded them of the word serene; they had always said her name was beautiful because of that. But it was difficult for Serena to accept it as a compliment, because she didn’t embody serenity.
That’s what she once said to her therapist Teresa. ‘I feel like I should change my name. I’m nothing like serenity. And I know that’s not my name, but that’s what it reminds people of. Wouldn’t it be better if my name spoke the truth about who I am?’
Before answering, Teresa wrote on her notepad. She used a fountain pen and Serena loved the sound it made as it slid over the paper, her handwriting leaving it’s swoopy and indelible mark. Teresa looked up and said ‘I don’t think you need to change your name Serena. I think you need to change your mindset. Why don’t you try to find some serenity?’
‘I don’t know how to do that.’
‘You know what I find serene?’ Teresa asked. She watched Serena kick off her boots and cross her legs on the plush sofa. She always did this halfway through their weekly session.
‘What?’ she folded her arms.
Teresa replied, ‘Nature… flowers. Magnolias.’
Serena scoffed, shaking her head and hiding a smile as she glanced at the window. ‘Magnolias.’
‘Magnolias.’ echoed Teresa. ‘Do you still have them growing in your garden?’
‘I do. I don’t know how to get rid of them. And no one that I’ve asked sees the point in getting rid of such “beautiful flowers”.’
The magnolias had appeared during a springtime in which Serena’s fridge was empty, aside from some yoghurt and hummus. She was ordering a lot of takeaway food and binge-watching a lot of television. Inside of her festered an emptiness that she couldn’t help but feel and couldn’t successfully describe. One Sunday afternoon, she laid on her sofa staring at the living room walls as daytime television droned on in the background; one leg off the sofa, and one arm behind her neck. The rest of her form splayed across the deep blue fabric of the furniture.
The corner of her eye caught a reflection of light from the garden. And looking past the garden doors, a magnolia flower stood proud amongst overgrown grass and thriving weeds. Thinking nothing of it, she settled her gaze on the blank walls of the living room. However, by the end of spring, all she could see and smell were magnolias, as multiple had grown each day.
She lived by herself and she went out often. Her nine-to-five was boring, so the weekends were her time to let loose. Sometimes she would drink more than she could handle and go home with men that showed interest in nothing but that thing. And Serena was the same – she had only wanted that thing from them too. And the next morning she would write a note saying, ‘Last night was fun, maybe we’ll bump into each other again. S. xx.’
She would call a cab and sleep comfortably into Saturday afternoon. When she woke up, Serena would look out of her window and see the magnolias growing like weeds in her garden. Their white glow illuminated her skin. Men had said her skin was luminous too, like polished mahogany. Serena didn’t know if that was a compliment. Nevertheless, the magnolias’ glow blinded her.
Her neighbours, Jake and Talie, were elderly and fond of gardening. One day they knocked on her door, ‘We were wondering how you grew so many magnolias in your garden. They’re beautiful!’ The couple exclaimed.
She was unmoved by their admiration. ‘I don’t know, they just started growing. I’m cutting them down soon because they reflect too much light.’
‘But you mustn’t get rid of such beautiful flowers.’ They said. Serena didn’t entertain the conversation for much longer. She closed the door.
Yet, the magnolias grew. Some of them had hints of pink and yellow spreading out from beneath their carpels, but that never outshone the overpowering hue of white. A few times Serena walked into the overgrown mass of her garden, carelessly chopping the flowers down with a pair of garden shears. She would tread on the fallen magnolias as she spotted more, walking over to cut those down too. Within days however, new ones arrived in multitudes, growing in their place, prouder than ever. Their citrus-honey-sweet scent seeped into her living room, through the kitchen and up the stairs, into her bathroom, and the two bedrooms in the house. She accepted at one point, that perhaps the magnolias weren’t going anywhere.
In the same breath, the men that wanted nothing but that thing from Serena soon stopped wanting it. She lost her desire for them too. She mixed her vodka with lemonade and watered down her cocktails. She went grocery shopping and wrote about it in her journal. The citrus-honey-sweet scent moved through Serena’s emptiness, pushing out all that stopped her from feeling whole.
‘I didn’t change my mindset.’ She said to Teresa months later. ‘But something did change. I don’t know what it was.’ It was the middle of the session and her feet were planted on Teresa’s carpet, who wrote with her fountain pen, beaming.
Serene smiled and looked out of the window. ‘Sometimes magnolias grow so big, that you can hold them in both of your hands. As you bring them up to your face they almost blind you, but it’s a good-blind. They make my skin glow, like an angel.’
‘That’s beautiful.’ Teresa laughed, and Serena laughed with her.
‘Yeah.’ Serena smiled. ‘Something like that.’