To Mourn a Flower

Write On! Fiction Prize Honorable Mention, Ages 13-18

by Kanchan Naik

The muddy road towards the third house on Chestnut Avenue is a rough one, filled with jagged stones and bunches of weeds. Rainwater lines every crevice, and in the summer, snakes curl within every hole. Each inch of the pathway screams of disarray.

But I know that road as if it is my own name. There are some things in life that you cannot forget, and some that cannot forget you. It’s like the silver raindrops that stick to the window pane even when the wind tears through the storm. My feet navigated between cracks and craters, and eluded the lone gray puddles that dotted the dirt.

If I told you that I didn’t glance downward even once, you wouldn’t believe me.

Thirty-one steps forward into the open air, and there it was. The third house on Chestnut Avenue. I never dream when I sleep, but sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking that I’m back home in my stiff oak bed by the window. And the only way I can convince myself to return to my peaceful, dreamless state is to promise that I’d come back some day.

Who would’ve thought that I actually would.

Four windows, two doors, one story — I counted what I could to assure myself nothing had changed. And nothing had. Locked in its own motionless, serene aura, the third house on Chestnut Avenue stood the same way it had nine years ago. Faint white paint across wooden walls, peeling here and there. Brown tiles that curved across the roof, allowing the morning dewdrops to slide off and onto the ground. The green veranda, rimmed with potted plants, held the same rocking chair I fell asleep in on Saturday nights. Through the stained glass of the kitchen window I could see our record player on the sill, and remembered. All of the pictures burnt into my mind resurfaced, with their soft colors and lonely memories. One thing had changed.

I used to call the third house on Chestnut Avenue home.

~~~

“Look at the garden,” he croaked.

There I was, sixteen and scared. Kneeling by my father’s bedside, watching him glance outside his French windows. Sunbeams streamed through the parted blue curtains, and bounced off my father’s deep gray eyes like the light of a mirror. I stared at those eyes intently, praying that they would stay open.

Praying that he would stay with me.

He sighed. “You never listen, Jean. Just like your mother. When I skipped meals and pinched pennies for new paintbrushes, she went off and made a garden. A garden, for Lord’s sake.”

“Don’t talk,” I whispered. “You need to rest.”

“I remember walking for miles across town, pleading with neighbors and heaving a crate filled oil portraits and water color landscapes. And when I came back, brooding and melancholy, she was ankle-deep in dirt, determined to plant a few roses.” Hesitantly, I held my father’s hands. Even after scrubbing them with soap, morning after morning, I almost felt the paint caked between his fingers and the pastel bits in his nails. Though his skin was waxy and almost translucent in the morning light, his dexterous fingers were the ones of a skillful artist. Though fragile and only partially conscious, my father still saw the world as an infinite painting — one of the ultimate artist with a thousand hues.

“Flowers grow, Jean,” he spoke. “Softly and slowly, like your mother’s footsteps. She implored me to paint her garden after the rainfall she insisted would arrive. When the first green stubs appeared just beyond our front door, she sang. As her first leaf poked through the soil, she danced across the sidewalk with a watering can.”

Was he senile? My father was many things. Crazy was something I tried not think about. But when he began rambling like this, with a trembling voice and a lack of eye contact, I began to wonder.

“Flowers grow, Jean,” he repeated. “Your mother did not. I watched her wilt in my arms the day you were born. I thought we had found our way. I thought we were richer. Yet the only things she wanted were the seeds.”

“She lives in the flowers now, Jean.”

And very softly, my father wept in front of me for the first time. Even the air itself seemed to shatter in face of such a broken man. I only grasped his hands tighter.

“When I held her tightly, the way you do now, she saw a petal fall from a daisy and touch the dusty ground. And even as she was dying, she only mourned the death of that single, dainty petal. When you find a moment so beautiful, and so delicate, you will understand.”

I stared.

“She would have never been the woman I know now if she hadn’t left me.”

~~~

“Flowers grow, Jean,” I repeated to myself. There I was, twenty-five and reminiscent. Wrapping my fingers around the slender daisy stems by the veranda. They were small creatures, with a pale, thin aura of beauty that knew no glamour or grandeur. And yet, among the velvet roses and the frilly carnations that once dotted the garden, the daisies were the only ones who survived.

Even in a place as dead as Chestnut Avenue was a piece of life.

For a moment, I was ready to pluck a daisy as a keepsake. But I remembered the mother I never met, and that single petal.

The only things she wanted were the seeds.

I never returned to the house on Chestnut Avenue after that day. I had to see it, only once, simply to prove to myself that it was still there. Yet two months later, someone left a package at my doorstep–with a handful of dried paintbrushes that smelled like home and a photograph of the flowers I planted.

My daffodils are just pushing out of the soil, their yellow petals peeking at the sun.

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Kanchan Naik is a dreamer. Writing is an ocean to her where she dives to find the right words, drowns to breathe emotions, and dabbles in darkness to find the light. She is a freshman at the Quarry Lane School.

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