The old woman rested her bony, arthritic knees on the kneepad in front of the fresh soil. She had just composted her three plants: a sweet pea vine, a single white tulip, and a purple pansy. And, in that order. And she never picked a favorite. “Lest one gets jealous or hurt.” Her mother’s voice whispered through the cobwebs in her mind. Yes, when she had turned eighty-one, dust and memories, and not much of anything else, occupied her mind.
The old woman worked diligently to take care of her flowers. She had even given them names. They were most important in her life, and she often worried what would happen to them once she passed on, because the perennial sweet pea needed pruning every summer, the tulip was susceptible to mold, and the pansy needed replanting every spring.
The old woman sighed and removed the lid off the container. She stuck her hand in the curdled black dirt and pulled out a ball of night crawlers. She separated the slimy mass and laid four of the worms on the sweet pea’s soil.
She admired the sweet pea vine, whose name was Jane. She loved the pale pink petals that looked a whole lot like little ears, and she loved the sweet smell, and the bees and butterflies it attracted. And the way it grew and grew and grew always caught her eye. Taller, curling its spindly fingerettes around anything that lent a hand. Nothing could stop the vine from grasping whatever it wanted, having no discrimination on what and where to put it’s trust. It was planted first.
The old woman then placed four night crawlers beneath the tulip.
She loved the tulip, whose name was Marie. The white petals moved not when high winds blew and low winds howled. So strong, upright, sophisticated. Dignity radiated from the tall, stiff beautiful flower that grew straight up for the warm spring sun to smile down on. No scent to inhale, for its sheer beauty perfumed the eyes and nose. It was planted second.
Last, the old woman gently laid four worms on the pansy’s soil, and then tossed the remaining worms on the ground to twist and curl underneath the afternoon’s sun.
She cared deeply for the purple pansy, whose name was Lynn. She loved the soft petals, so easily they fluttered in the crisp spring wind, and she loved two-tone hue of soft purple to rich scarlet. Naked to the touch, but clothed to eye, so feminine and ladylike. Thin wiry stems that shivered not when frost bit, and it was the first flower to bloom while snow slept peacefully on the frozen ground. It was planted last.
Bluebirds flew overhead, chirping to each other as they swooped down into a small nest, resting securely in a dogwood tree. The old woman looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand, and she smiled. The nest was filled with tiny featherless chirping babies. Their beaks bobbed in and out, reaching for the regurgitated brunch their mother had brought for them. But the old woman’s smile faded as she spied a kelly green tree snake curling its thin ropey body around the branch that lead to the nest. The bird parents chirped and hopped in circles, like they were jumping on invisible pogo sticks, but much to their disappointment and horror, the snake inched closer and closer with murder in it’s eyes. The birds flew away together, as the snake drew closer. Finally, its head disappeared into the nest, and it’s body relaxed, while the baby birds chirped louder.
The old woman looked back at her flowers, and this time she wasn’t smiling. She was remembering. Remembering her daughters, her three daughters who were dead. Much like the broken bird babies in the snake’s stomach, above her head.
Her daughters had been newborns, too, when they had died. But the old woman knew it was for the best, for she had realized, many moons ago, that her girls were bad seeds. And all their seasons would have been unfruitful, useless, and futile.
When she had looked into the eyes of her firstborn, the old woman had immediately known how bossy the babe would grow up to be. She would smother everything and everyone around her, using people like stairs to get what she wanted. Much like the sweet pea vine.
When she had looked into the eyes of her second born, she witnessed the vanity that befell the child. She wouldn’t care at all about anyone; only her own beauty would take precedent over her life. So selfish and hypocritical she would be. Much like the tulip.
And when she had looked into the eyes of her youngest daughter, the old woman had seen weakness would rule the babe’s life. Never having a voice to stand up for herself. And when life got too hard, as life often does, she would wilt easily in the afternoon heat. Much like the pansy.
The old woman no longer heard the chirps from the baby birds, and when she looked back up into the tree, she saw the snake meandering down the branch and onto trunk of the tree.
A tear fell from the old woman’s eye, as she glanced back once more at her three beautiful flowers. She did miss her girls most days. Yes, today she missed them so much…
Bio: Jeanna Tendean resides in Gadsden, Alabama with her husband and son. She has been published in various e-zines and Anthologies, including The Killing Fields and Atrum Tempestas Anthologies. She is currently working on her first novel.
Motivation: Personal fullfillment. And, most importantly, I wanted readers to understand and relate to complex family dynamics.