Something is wrong with the flowers. I don't know that I liked them before. They were yellow, with petal tips that were always brown — if not brown, green, as if to insult the hope that we can ever be fresh, neither decayed nor undeveloped. Today there are fewer blooms than yesterday. Half of the stems have been crushed. I can't make much of it, so I keep walking. Lily pulls me along. She pants her little gray bearded mouth no matter the season — a ubiquitous smile. We sludge through the muddy sidewalk and take a left at Locust where the maple tree is beginning to turn. That's when I know we're approaching home.
Inside, I shed my coat and fix my coffee. The warmth and steam caress my nose, and I breathe them in and lean back. Lily takes a lap from her water bowl and lays beside me. I pull out my old, printed phone book. No one has these anymore, but I worry there could be numbers I can't just conjure up from a website. I remember Mary and I flipping through them together, learning alphabetical order, discovering the wisdom of area codes. C comes after B, Ci after Ch, until — City Maintenance. I find the listing and punch it into my flip phone, one beeping number at a time. It goes to voicemail, of course, and I leave a message, “Something is wrong with the flowers. In the community garden. Thanks.” That doesn't feel satisfying, but I suppose how could it? I can't help but feel there's nothing left. Retirement hangs on me like loose skin. Maybe if I were traveling — my long, white hair and thin, rubbery flesh glowing in the sun on a cruise ship — always moving, seeing somewhere new. But my hips groan sitting on the couch, and my bank account groans buying groceries.
I could go to the store. We're about due. But not yet. We have a couple more days before we exhaust our supply of bread, then butter, then eggs. I've got time. I could read, but sometimes that only teases, reminds me of all the things life has excluded me from. I come back to the flowers. I drum my fingers on the table. What about Martha, from down the street? She works in that garden. Maybe I could call her — no — go see her. If it's really going to bother me, if I'm really that aimless, I suppose I should aim myself at that.
Bundled back up and wet with cold drizzle this time, Lily and I knock on Martha's door. She doesn't respond. The lights seem dim or maybe off through the windows. It's gray out, but not totally dark — a soft glow might be missed. I wait, counting slowly, “one, two, three…,” to thirty. I knock again. I think of what waits for me back at home — the bare, empty rooms. I start to think of that big, old-fashioned phone book I cling to. I could use it to stand a little taller, at the edge of a cliff. Making the leap six inches greater — the wind combing through my hair. If I didn't think about what waited at the bottom, the ride might feel free, beautiful, fun. The end must be so quick it would hardly matter.
Or I could throw the phone book down first, a test to see what would happen, how long it would take. Mary's little hands wouldn't be grabbing at it in my vision, begging to look up a pet store or an ice cream shop. I wouldn't have to pry it from her to use it. I haven't had to in too long of a time. I shiver, maybe from the cold. I push the thought away and knock one more time. She comes to the door in a robe — her eyes squinted, her hair disheveled.
“I'm so sorry. Did I wake you, Martha?”
“What is it?” she says. I stare at my feet for a second.
“It's the garden. The flowers. So many blooms are missing, and the rest look crushed, like something was dropped there. I wondered if you knew,” I say.
“Well,” she says, rubbing her eyes. “I don't know what the heck happened, Ginny. I guess I'll fix it later.” She starts to close the door.
“Have a good day!” I slip in as the crack closes.
Since the proverbial gun still awaits me at home, I go back only to grab a shovel. Lily barks and wags at me as I close my door on her, leaving her home alone. I strike the marigolds, stabbing through their verdant stems, and scoop up the gelid dirt underneath them. I don't know what I'm doing. I drop the shovel. These flowers were crushed from above, not from underneath. I heave the shovel as hard as my shoulder will allow me, clanging it against a lamppost.
I jolt from that sound. Robert made it, what feels like twenty years ago when he chucked that pot at me. It missed my head, and it collided with the hood of the stove, the sound reverberating into the bones of my ears, my neck, my shoulders. I can feel tears just remembering this. I couldn't help but feel it was my fault. Part of me knew I was going to be in his crosshairs whatever I did, but I felt as if happier people, people with purpose, people who were lovely and likable, didn't have spouses who threw pots at them.
I trudge over through the loose, muddy dirt to retrieve the shovel. I've ruined the garden even more, and I've found nothing. I squat down, knees cracking, next to the flowers I haven't destroyed instead. Tiny pieces are torn from the petals here and there. Mostly, everything looks squashed. It makes me think of a car running them over. The shape doesn't fit with tire marks, though. It's more of a bulbous, oblong shape. Perhaps a person.
Saint Thomas Hospital……………….614-555-0111
I can't process this here, so I decide to brave home, again. I only make it a few steps before something grabs my attention. I don't know if it wasn't there earlier or if perhaps I just hadn't noticed — was too fixated on expecting Martha to have the answers, hadn't allowed myself the indulgence of investigation. A bench is broken. The slats of the seat are broken downward, near the middle, and the dirt is torn underneath, right across the sidewalk from the garden. Surely someone would be concerned about that!
I rub my chin, trying to think of who else to call, how I would look them up in the phone book. But I realize I'll probably be right back where I am now, fighting to figure it out myself because nobody cared. And all I have to go home to today seem to be visions of my grand cliff flight. Oh, how the breeze would flap my cheeks. How the air would encircle me with its freezing blast, invigorating my soul one last time. I snap back out of it from the rustle of a squirrel, and I think back to the bench.
Mary adored benches. She'd swing her legs and spread her arms across the seat, claiming the property and blocking any trespassers. Her stringy blonde bangs hanging over her eyes, she'd snort and giggle when I would pretend I was going to sit on one of her hands. “Mom! Hey!” she'd shout, and I would laugh and stand back up. Then in a few seconds, we would do it all over again. It seemed days on end went like that. Days on end that ended too soon.
The day we took her to the hospital, the pain was so great she wouldn't get out of bed. Carrying her inside and regarding her pale face, I was confronted with memories of all the little tummy aches and tired days that I disregarded. Cancer stealing her from me, one coin at a time, until the coins were gone before I opened my purse.
I glance back toward the bench — and it's vanished. Not just the hole, the signs of the incident, but the entire bench. I give my head a hard shake. I hate it when this happens to me. I feel a tightness in my chest as I look back toward the flowers too. But they are not unscathed. They have been stabbed, repeatedly, by a delusional old woman with a shovel. What they are not is crushed — there is not an imprint of a body as I once believed. My jaw clenches, and my stomach turns. I need to go home. And if only for Lily, I need to let my cliff flight wait for another day. I need to go home, to not hurt any more flowers, even if they are only the community marigolds that never exist in the prime of their life.
Loria Harris is an MFA in Creative Writing student at Lindenwood University. Published in Mid Rivers Review, Kings River Review, and others, she has received the Haba Poetry Award and the Dickerman Poetry Prize. A lifelong creative, Loria holds a BS in Music Performance and works as a professional photographer.