Sunflowers on a Windy Day~ Jory Sherman Short Story Contest Honorable Mention

 

Monday morning, early, while he sleeps, I enter the field to cut an armful of sunflowers. The doctors said surround him with familiar things. What could be more familiar? The house with its heavy front door, handmade by my daddy? The cracked linoleum in front of the sink? Me? We were childhood neighbors. He spent more time at our house than his own. For the last five years, since Daddy passed and I came back home, Pierce has been my plus one. Long ago, Daddy nicknamed him P.S. because he hung around so much. A tag along. But his name is Pierson Ansel Stevens the Third. And apparently, last.

I squint into the sky. The misty haze could be predawn, or a harbinger of showers. The forecast is fifty fifty for the morning. He doesn’t do well with storms. The rain would come, but later would be better. My arms ache as I cut the thick stems. I’d forgotten gloves. My fingernails bite the tender stalks’ skin. The sharp green of summer wafts into the new day’s air, mixes with the good dirt smell my clumsy feet stir up. Wind slaps at me. I forgot to tie my hair and it thrashes my cheek, gets stuck in between my squeezed shut eyelids. I bow my head and blink it clear. The hem of the old cotton housecoat I’d thrown on whips around my legs. A gust caught the big sunflower faces, tried to kite them away into the cloud strewn gray expanse. I have to hang on or lose the whole bunch. Contrary, nature stills, pausing in her tirade, and lets me catch my breath.

At least the wind cleaned out any bugs for me.

The kitchen door bangs shut behind me. It settles wonky. The loose hinge needs tightening. I hold the sunflowers close and they scratch the tender skin of my neck. I deposit them on the counter, dig in the cabinet beneath, and fetch out my vases, line them in a row. They’d grown dusty already. Pierce used to bring me flowers, so many they filled the house. He claimed to be making up for lost time. I have a lot of vases.

When he’d first started to forget things, I’d thought he was cheating on me.

 

On laundry day, an orange scrap of paper rested in my hand. I’d fished it out of the pocket of his coveralls.

My ears throbbed with each pulse beat of my heart.

Don’t be stupid. Pierce loves you.

The clink of his tea glass as he set it on the table brought me into the kitchen. “Whose number is this?”

Pierce unlaced his boot, let it drop to the floor. “What number?”

My hands shook the tiniest bit as I handed it to him. Pierce’s face went blank, another indication of guilt, I thought.

He studied the numbers, the small V of an almost scowl marked the space above his eyes. Eyes gone dark-cloudy, he crumpled the paper in his fist. “It’s nothing.”

But it hadn’t been nothing. I was right to be terrified, for he’d been stolen, that was certain.

It shames me now, to think I imagined he’d  go willingly.

 

I focus on the task at hand and rinse the four biggest vases one by one. Water beads on the blue and green and yellow, waiting for my dishtowel to wipe away drops that streak and puddle. The vases don’t match, but that’s all right. Under the tap they go. At the half mark, I stop filling.

My gathering had been messy. The shears neaten raw ends to a forty-five degree angle. The vase sits ready. I divide and arrange the flowers. Perhaps those big cheery faces will push back the gloom settling into the corners of the house like untended dust bunnies left to breed and multiply.

Generous bouquets fill three vases. The fourth waits, empty. There are plenty more blooms in the field, but the sun is coming on soon. It’s always good to leave some for tomorrow. I tip out the forlorn, forsaken receptacle and watch the water swirl down the drain. I dry the outside of the vase and set it back in the cabinet. One arrangement goes on the kitchen table, the second on the top of the old wooden writing desk in the corner and the final in front of the window. After breakfast, I’ll move them to the T.V. room.

A series of thumps from upstairs catches my attention and I hold my breath. No fussing. No calling out. Just him coming down.

Please God, let it be a good day.

I pluck at my collar and dip my face into my cotton blouse, pat my eyes and cheeks.

Pierce comes into the kitchen, his robe tied askew. His hair sticks out like he’d been through a windstorm. I should trim it later if the morning goes well. We would see. After I got him to shave. I bought an electric shaver, but he hates it.

His favorite blue cup hangs on the mug tree and I unhook it, cradle it in my palm. “Would you like coffee?”

He nods and shuffles over to a chair.

Hot, dark liquid from the carafe streams out as I pour, and wisps of fragrant steam fog the air above his cup. I dollop it good with cold milk and a heaping spoonful of sugar. For a second, my hand hesitates near the can of protein powder. Not yet. Wait. Coffee first. If he refuses the drink, he might not take in anything all day.

I set the mug down in front of him. My own cupful had grown tepid, but I pick it up and sit down, scooting over to get closer. In case. Pierce’s coffee was cooled considerably by the milk, but still.

He leans back a little, not so slumped as some days.

Ignoring the cup before him, he reaches out and with one finger traces the bright petals on the smallest flower in the arrangement centered on the table.

His gaze lingers on the yellow bloom. “I went to China for you.”

“You did.”

He did. I’d run away from him and he’d chased me. To China.

“I’d go to China a thousand times for you.”

The dry, empty places in my body and soul rush with blood and water. He takes my hand, turns it palm up, kisses the sweet, tender center. The morning sun slants in. A beam strides boldy across the table, dips into our coffee.

“P.S.” My voice is so calm and regular, part of me marvels. “I love you.” My hand, palm open, waiting to snatch whatever gifts the day gave, stays in his grip.

He smiles at me. “P.S. loves you, too.”

I curl my fingers around his. We drink our cold coffee and watch the sun kiss the faces of the flowers.

 

 

 

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