Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sunflower by Adrienne Bracken

A grandfather wonders at the magic of a growing seed when his son and granddaughter come to visit; by Adrienne Bracken.

Amazing, one seed shooting up into a tomato. A cucumber. A pepper. Scattered about the ground like rice at a wedding. Seeds to roots to leaves to the edible byproducts of fifty years hard summer work.

Zucchini. Squash. Parsnip.

I smoothed the trowel over the earth's icing, coating the spongy cake layers underneath.

I'd caught myself daydreaming about pastries since my doctor put me on a low-sugar diet. No more snickerdoodles, Raisinets, or log cake for this old fart.

Gathering my tools, I wiped them off on my Levi's before placing them, one by one, on the wooden shelves in the shed. Hand built, those bastards were.

Hobbling to the sliding doors at the back of the house, I leaned hard against the French door handle Jeanie'd fought me on. That damn woman, always worrying about things like door handles and cabinet lining.

I moved into the living room, then sank my backside into the burgundy recliner in the corner and flipped on the television. Just in time for the ball game. For the love of summer. I was too tired to care about the soil rubbing off my jeans onto the worn out microfiber. Another thing Jeannie was obsessed with. Microfiber. We couldn't just have a regular damn chair in the living room. She was something, I tell you. Would have had my head if she'd seen me dirtying the furniture in the living room.

The doorbell rang. I couldn't be bothered. "Come in," I said as the door opened anyway.

My son came into view. Little Livia followed behind him, bouncing between her right and left foot.

"Grandpa!"

She ran to me, and I opened my arms up wide. Jumping up, she snuggled her head into my neck and whispered, "I missed you."

"I missed you too."

My son simply said, "Dad."

"Craig."

He sat on the cursing microfiber sofa across from me.

"What's new?"

Always trying to be cordial.

"Nothing. I'm too damn old for anything to be new."

"Right, right. Whatever."

He ran his hands through his over-gelled hair, then pulled a cell phone from his pocket and began pressing the touch screen.

"Grandpa, why do your pants have dirt on them?" Livia asked. She wiped one of her fingers through a grass stain and giggled as it smeared across her skin.

"That's not dirt," I said, forcing my eyes open wide.

"Ew!"

More of her cute giggling went on.

"Livia, don't do that. You'll get all dirty. Come sit next to me."

Craig pointed to the couch.

Livia slid down from my lap and positioned herself by her dad, too stiff in her pink dress and Mary Janes.

"Wish you would have told me you were coming," I said.

"I told you last week, dad."

"I don't remember last week."

"Well, that's not my problem."

He kept clicking through his phone, and I thought about all the times Jeannie had spoiled him.

I cleared my throat. "So why'd you stop?"

"You know I stop every week, dad."

"Because you want to or because you have to?"

His eyes locked on mine, but he didn't say anything.

The room fell silent. Livia began fidgeting next to her father, swinging her legs to and fro. He reached over and, with one strong hand, held her right leg in place. Her smile fell into a straight line.

I pushed on both arms of the recliner, forcing myself back to a standing position.

"Liv, come with me."

I moved through the narrow, wooden paneled hallway into the bedroom. Livia followed closely behind me, tugging on the edge of my palm.

"What is it, pappy?" She asked.

I didn't answer, instead digging through my closet until I found the old ball cap she'd always loved.

"Well, I was thinking about it," I said, "And it's time to pass this baby on to you."

The Roberto Clemente Pirates hat I'd had since I was twelve fell from my fingers to hers.

She slowly raised the hat to her head and lowered it.

"The magic will fall out of it if I go too fast."

Her voice was barely above a whisper, but I belly laughed and cracked the heavy silence.

She grinned, her baby teeth shining one by one.

"I'm gonna be just like Roberto," she said.

"I know you are. And it all starts with that hat."

Craig wandered into the doorframe, then flipped on the bedroom light.

"Livia, what - oh God, you didn't."

She pulled on the edges of the cap, tilting her face up. "Do you like it?"

"It doesn't match your dress. And it's dirty. Take it off."

"But grandpa gave it to me."

Craig stared at me before saying, "It's time to go."

He grabbed Livia's hand and began pulling her from the room.

"Let her go," I said.

"Don't tell me how to raise my child, dad. It's not like you did such a hot job yourself." He continued pulling her through the hallway to the front door, then opened it and pushed her back, sending her stumbling forward onto the porch.

"Wait there, Liv," I said, shutting the door.

I turned to my son. "If I ever see you put a hand on that girl again, you will be sorry. Do you understand me? Your mother would be sick, absolutely sick."

"Guess what, dad?" he said. "She's not here anymore. She's dead. Been dead for a year. It's time to get over it and move on, like everybody else. Nobody gives a shit about the French door handles or the goddamn sofa. You keep repeating the same stories over and over. For crissakes, just move on."

He paused, then added one more, "Move on."

He opened the door, Livia standing on the porch, silent tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Daddy said bad words."

He grabbed her hand again and began pulling her towards the car.

I slammed my door, which, at this point, sounded more like just shutting it. I remembered the days I could hit baseballs with an aluminum bat, throw a punch like Ali. I might not have been as good as Ali, I mean, who was? But I could have knocked a guy out. I couldn't even slam doors anymore.

Age is a pain in the ass. And the back. And the feet. And everywhere else.

I sank down into my recliner, the game still playing.

Summer was here, and Jeannie was gone, and the seasons would change again soon. Fall would come, and I needed to make sure the seeds were ready, that they'd keep growing in future summers.

I'd planted for fifty years, I'd watched the roots show. I'd tasted the vegetables over and over again, so much better than the mass-produced ones in the grocery store.

I might have ruined the first batch of seeds I'd planted, might have sent them through too harsh a winter. I'd be damned if I watched the same mistakes be made, season after season. I wouldn't die of diabetes or heart disease or anything like that. But I'd sure die trying to save my favorite sunflower.

2 comments:

  1. very well written. something along the lines of....repent at leisure. sad but certainly relevant.
    well done

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. I agree with Michael, this is very well written. It comes through with the voice of experience, and passes that along to the reader almost naturally. And a nice (very sad) tug on the heart. Nicely done.

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