I sneak out of my house, my leaning shack, where my mother lays still, and brother on her chest. Soon I will have to bring them to the cart. The disease has stricken everyone, and mother and brother are the last ones to go. I sneak into the early morn; dark clouds threaten rain to make the bleak, mud-filled streets wet again. How fitting is the mood today, for I feel bleak as well. I pull up my torn, once green dress, taking care of where I place my feet. I do not care if I get dirty; I am dirty enough. I worry that if I fall, I will not get back up to gather posies. Posies used to be my favourite flower, and mother's too, but now they are a necessity. Few others are out this early, and I am glad for the silence.
I reach the field outside our town. It is still green, the grass long. I can recall when I was young, when mother took my sisters and me to this meadow, and we would run, play, and make crowns for ourselves out of those fragrant flowers. The field is so unlike my dress, my home, and my town. Everything back there is dark, dirty and torn, and full of death.
I excuse those thoughts from my mind and concentrate on kneeling and gathering the precious posies. I fill my pockets, my sleeves, the front of my dress, everywhere I can find to put the sweet-smelling flowers. I must smell nice, in case I must go out again, even when no boy will look at me now, with my dirt-stained dress and too-red cheeks. I pick some extras to put with mother and brother before they leave, as remembrance. My brother never saw the field, after all.
I try to sneak back home the same way I left. There are more people about, and children run the streets, some laughing in bitterness, some joy, and some weeping as the cart-man puts their mothers and fathers onto the cart. I see small clumps throwing dirt clots at each other, making their clothes dirtier.
Adults are in the streets too, but not many of them are left. The cobbler's wife walks sobbing in the gutters, now a widow and with nothing to live for.
The cart-man is making his rounds, calling "Bring out your dead!" I will have to hurry to beat him to my house. I stop suddenly, trying to remember if I have a tuppence at home still, or if all our money is spent. I shake my head and continue.
Before I can reach my street, ragged children, younger than me, in clothing browner than mine, see me and start to chase me. I cannot run; I am too tired and too sick, and they are not, for the disease has yet to take them. They form a ring by holding hands, and I am the center; they are the petals of those stupid posies. They begin to chant, and I try to stop my ears with my hands:
"Make a ring around the rosie,"
They must have seen my cheeks, and I try to cover them as they turn redder. I am so embarrassed; I did not think anyone would care anymore.
"Her pockets are full of posies,"
They knock the flowers out of my hands, and smile gapped smiles. I look in fear, spinning with them, seeing their faces. I feel weaker, scared. I heard of this song from a friend, now gone as well, who called it a curse.
"Ashes, she looks like ashes,"
I must have been going pale; I am so frightened. My legs begin to wobble. I cannot take this much longer. I spin faster and faster, trying to see every face at once. I am getting dizzy.
"We fall down dead!"
The children collapse into a giggling circle. I stumble, trying to get away, posies forgotten. Dizzy, frightened, and weak, I try to run. My feet slap in the mud, my skirt flapping and tripping me. I hurry and hurry and the song follows me:
Make a ring around the Rosie,
Her pockets are full of posies,
Ashes, she looks like ashes,
We fall down dead!
I believe in the curse. It has to be one! How else would I be so weak now, if not for it? I am almost home.
The last of the song stays as I trip again and fall into a puddle. I feel cold, and I realize that mother and brother will forever sleep in the house. And what about the flowers I picked? I want to go back and get them. But then I will have to face the children again, and their song. We fall down dead! Here comes the cart driver, calling for the dead again. I am too weak, but I struggle. I want to go to the house, not die on the cart, with the smelly bodies.
I fall asleep on the cart with one thought: We fall down dead.