I wrote this a few years ago. I don’t want to give too much background information about this piece but, it is an adult fairytale. If you would like to know more, comment or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Merryweather leaned forward, her knees pressed into the soft dirt as she crushed another of the marigold buds between her fingers. She looked over to her sister Flora and said, “I’ve found another one; that’s fourteen this morning.” Flora shook her head and clicked her tongue, and Merryweather shifted her weight to the right to reach the flowers at the back of the bed. It was hot this morning, too hot for working, but they had customers waiting in town and it couldn’t be delayed. As far as Merryweather could see, the empty white sky bore down upon the open land like some grievous weight, pressing on her back and driving her hands further into the flower bed. Her fingers found another of the diseased buds and pinched it from the stem. “Fifteen,” she whispered, and the bud popped between her fingers.
Flora sat down beside her and wiped the sweat off of her chin. “Where’s Fauna?”
“I don’t know; I haven’t seen her since breakfast.” Merryweather looked down at the marigolds and took her scissors out of her pocket. “I imagine she’s in the shed, mixing up today’s batch. Have you looked there?”
“I haven’t looked anywhere. I was just wondering where she was, that’s all.” Flora, older than Merryweather by nine years, was already starting to exhibit the signs of chronic arthritis that had debilitated their Mother. But, Merryweather’s fingers were still as nimble as when she was a girl, and so Flora had reluctantly passed the critical task of gathering the flowers to her.
Flora was watching her out of the corner of her eye; Merryweather could tell. Her sister never did trust her to cut the flowers right, even though Merryweather has been doing it for three years and had only injured a few of the healthy babies out of the thousands she had harvested. She reached down and quickly cut the first one, exactly in the right place, just to show Flora she knew what she was doing. Flora sighed and looked away. Merryweather cut three more and put them in her basket. The flowers glowed orange and yellow in the bottom of the basket, unnatural and vaguely disturbing, like the eyes of jaundiced children.
“How many today, do you think?” Flora was watching her again, but not really seeing her this time, so Merryweather didn’t mind. She settled back on her heels and squinted at the contents of the basket.
“Well, yesterday there were forty-three, so I figure about the same today, maybe a bit more. This weather’s been helping; they’re blooming like crazy.” She looked at the next plant an put down the scissors to pinch off another malformed bud. “That is, if we don’t lose too many more. Sixteen.” She squashed the bud and threw it onto the paving stones, then took up her shears again. “Why don’t you go find Fauna and see if she’s ready for these? I’m almost done.”
Flora stood up slowly, favoring her stiff joints as she walked to the small shed at the back of the yard. Merryweather turned and watched her enter the shed, then come back out and wave, mouthing, “she’s in here, I’ve found her.” Merryweather looked back down at the flowers an cut another perfect bloom from the plants and put it in the basket with the others, ignoring with effort, it’s small breathless cry as it is separated from its stem.
Flora discovered the babies quite by accident, seven years ago. Actually, it was closer to nine years but she didn’t tell her sisters that; she felt it make them hate her for keeping the secret to herself for so long. She had been weeding in the annual bed they planted every spring on Mama’s grave when she heard the cries. She lifted her head and glanced around her for the source, but there were no babies within hearing distance. Their house was too far out in the country for that. No, it was much closer, and much smaller, and it wasn’t until she bent back to her weeding that she heard it again, right next to her ear.
She kept her head very still and listened, looking at the ground. When she heard it again, it seemed to emanate from her Mother’s grave, low to the ground and very faint. She slowly turned her head until she was looking directly at the marigolds nodding on their stems next to her face. She couldn’t really believe what she was hearing but, it was definitely coming from the flowers. Before she knew what she was doing she reached out a finger and touched the nearest blossom. The crying started anew and spread to the other blossoms until she felt she was nearly suffocating in small cries and chokes and newborn sniffles, all coming from the marigolds on her Mother’s grave.
From that day on, she knelt by the flowers at least once a day, little by little unearthing the enormity of her discovery. She found that the flower-babies, as she liked to call them, liked the sun and rarely cried when the weather was good, but on cloudy days they whimpered and grizzled until she couldn’t stand it any longer and retreated into the house to escape their cries. Thy didnt like it when she weeded: that almost always threw them into full-blown tantrums, but she weeded anyway, with balls of cotton stuffed in her ears because she couldn’t bear the thought of Mama’s grave covered with weeds. But, what they liked the most was when Flora knelt down in the dirt and put her face right in amongst them, sang to them, and told them little stories of April rain showers an butterflies. Then she could actually hear them laugh and giggle in their high-pitched infant voices, and it made her smile, thinking of their happiness.
She began to take careful notice of their growth, finding that the largest and healthiest buds bore the flower-babies with the heartiest laughs and the best dispositions.
One day, before Flora knew what she was doing, she reached out and plucked a deformed bud from its stem, and then watched in horror as it wriggled and twisted in her palm, until it finally died several minutes later. She determined never to kill another one again, but soon she found she couldn’t bear the shrill screams of the disfigured blooms that emerged from the diseased buds. The poor things were in constant pain, she could tell because they were the ones that never ceased crying, even when she snuck out of the house and sang lullabies to them in the dead of night. So, she took to plucking the ill-fated buds and then squashing them between her fingers immediately. She hoped it was a merciful end.
Things might have gone on like this forever if it weren’t for something that happened two years after Flora discovered her flower-babies. The sisters were expecting the minister and his wife for dinner, and Merryweather sat with the visitors in the parlor, laughing and talking. When Flora walked smiling into the dining room to see if dinner was ready, Fauna was setting the first course on the table. Flora stopped abruptly in the doorway of the room, watching her sister with her heart in sudden spasms. Fauna carried out two more salad plates and set them on the table. It was a beautiful salad, green and fresh, but what caused Flora’s shocked silence was the garnish: a wonderful contrast of yellow and orange marigold petals sprinkled over the greenery of the salads. She almost fainted, thinking of it, but she breathed deeply and sat down at her place at the table, silently eating her salad with the others. Actually, it was quite delicious and the pastor could not stop praising it, causing Fauna to blush.
It wasn’t until all three sisters and the ministers wife discovered their unexpected pregnancies the next month that Flora made the connection and told Fauna and Merryweather about the flower-babies. Of course the sisters could not let their pregnancies continue. On the next full moon Fauna concocted a potion of herbs and oils, which aborted their babies, kneeling together on the bathroom floor and crying softly in each others arms. Hiwever, the minister’s wife gave birth the following spring to a beautiful baby boy with yellow eyes flecked with orange and gold and fine brown hair the color or rich, fertile earth. That is when Merryweather had, what she called, “the idea”.
She got up from her knees beside the grave and carried her basket to the shed, opening her eyes wide as she stepped into the gloom. The smell in the shed always reminded her simultaneously of wide-open fields of wheat and the cramped space of the church confessional. Flora and Fauna looked up briefly from the large pot that simmered over the small stove. Merryweather asked, “is it ready yet?”
“Almost,” said Flora, and the steam from the pot curled around her head, like a halo in the shadows. Fauna added a few more spoonfuls if sugar to the mixture and Merryweather took the flowers over to the pot, waiting for Fauna’s nod of approval. It was Fauna, the most proficient cook among them, who had turned out to be the best at making the tea. Somehow, Flora’s came out strong and bitter while Merryweather’s smelled of spoiled milk, even though they all had followed the same recipe. When Fauna leaned her head over the pot and breathed deeply, drawing the steam down into her lungs and holding it there, Flora and Merryweather held their breaths too, waiting. Fauna finally let her breath out, all at once, in a whoosh that stole the steam from around their heads and carried it to the farthest corners of the shed; she nodded with a smile.
“One if the best, I think,” Fauna said and then reached for Merryweather’s basket. “It’s time for the flowers.” She took the basket, then looked at Merryweather and Flora. “Do you have your cotton in?”
“Of course,” said Merryweather too quickly. She really did hate this part, when the blooms were added to the brew. She couldn’t understand why they all had to be there when the flower-babies were cooked, but her sisters had insisted they do it together. Somehow it had made them closer: acting as accomplices in some dirty deed, even though they knew they were really helping scores of women conceive darling little babies with yellow eyes and earth brown hair because if what they did there, in the gloom of the potting shed. It was almost shameful, like having your slip show in church, only much worse. But, at least they did it together, with cotton shoved down deep in their ears to dampen the guilt.
Fauna held the basket over the boiling liquid, then quickly, without hesitation, she dumped the flowers into the pot. Flora folded her arms over her chest and watched the flower-babies swirl and sink into the tea. The tea immediately began to change; the color of marigolds diffusing through the liquid and turning the brew from a nondescript brown to a pale, iridescent yellow-orange. She closed her eyes, imagining that she could hear the flower-babies as they died, just to make her,self feel some of the guilt she had felt the first time they did this. But the cotton balls worked, as they always did. She was only able to hear the familiar hushed roaring, like some great sea off in the distance. When she opened her eyes again, her sisters were looking at her with stem-haloed concern on their darkened faces.
“I’m sorry. I just got dizzy for a moment,” Flora said, trying to smile but Fauna took her by the arm and led her outside into the brightness of the morning sun and left there without a word. Flora stood there for a minute, the sun setting around her shoulders like an old blanket, warm and familiar. Then, glancing behind her to make sure Fauna had gone back to the shed, she strode over to Mama’s grave and knelt by the marigolds.
“I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry,” she whispered, and the flower-babies gurgled and laughed at the sound of her voice. A warm breeze skipped across the yard and the blossoms bobbed and danced in the wind. Flora could almost hear them forgiving her as they always did, even when she was killing them. She lay face down in the dirt next to the grave, pressing her tear stained cheek into the sun warmed earth. Her eyes closed while she ran her hardened fingers through the moist soil and stroked the leaves of the flower-babies, gently touching their petals, and when she encountered a withered bud she plucked and crushed it between her thumb and forefinger, without thinking twice.