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Memories of a Flower
“Come on, Whinny, play with us!” the children of the town beg, their tiny feet soiling the brook’s clear water with brown. She sits on the sun-baked rock instead, and shakes her brunette head no. Images of being dunked underwater or doused in mud remind her of why she shouldn’t play with them.
“Some children just aren’t nice,” her mama told her earlier this year. “It’s a shame that all the children aren’t.”
The children shrug and turn back to their playthings, pretending Whinny doesn’t exist once more.
She watches them play for a while, but is growing rather bored, and decides to play her favorite game, “How Many Things”.
How many things can she hear? She closes her eyes. Hm, the other children splashing and laughing, of course. A flock of geese returning home after a chilly winter. The wind blowing through the branches of the trees.
Now, how many things can she smell? Eyes closed, she opened her nose, and the most peculiar smell wafts in. It smells lovely and sweet, as if every scent of every flower she had heard of had mixed together here. She opens her eyes and sniffs around, attempting to find the source.
“What are you doing, Whinny?” one of the children asks her.
“I’m trying to find out where that lovely smell is coming from.”
Silence falls over the children. Whinny looked at them all, confused, and one speaks, “Do you not know the story of the Flower Woman?”
Flower Woman? This sounds absolutely ridiculous. The child took her silence as a “no”.
“Well, one day a long time ago, a woman moved into town. Now, she was nothing like the other women of this town. She was alone, with nothing but the rags on her back and a few burlap sacks over her shoulder.
“She bought a house on a field, and every day at nine o’clock in the morning she would leave her house in an old straw hat and a man’s slacks. She would pick a random spot on the field and plant one lone flower. And every spring and every fall, her field would burst into bloom of all different colors, making that sickly sweet scent that you smell. Supposedly, she’s possessed by some evil spirit. Rumor has it that if you touch one of her flowers, you will die.”
Whinny blinked at the child. “Well, perhaps she is just lonely. I will pay her a very nice visit.”
They yell for her to stop, but she continues following her nose down the forest path towards Flower Woman’s house.
The sun has risen high in the sky by the time she arrives. And what meets her eye she can hardly believe.
Flowers of every color imaginable stretch out to the horizon as if a sea of color is threatening to drown Whinny. Mesmerized, she takes a tiny step forward, when she hears—
“Who is that on my property?!” a woman’s harsh voice demanded.
She jumped and squeaked, “sorry, I just through it was pretty…I’ll go now.”
With a bowed head she turns to trudge home, but the voice softened and replied, “No, my dear. How about you stay.”
Whinny whipped around joyously, searching for the Flower Woman. “Where are you, Flower Woman?”
Near her feet, flowers shuffle and pop up, forming a straw hat underneath them. She stands up and brushes off her dirty blouse and slacks. “Why, hullo there child. Glad to see you.”
Flower Woman plucks a deep blue flower off her hate and holds it out to Whinny. “Here, take Esther. Isn’t she beautiful?”
Whinny shrinks away. “I heard that if I touch one of your flowers I will die.”
Ellie cocks her head back and laughs beautifully. “Oh, dear child. At some point in time you will die. Everyone will. But it won’t be because you’ve touched one of my flowers.”
Whinny cautiously took the flower. Esther really was beautiful.
Under the blazing afternoon sun, Flower Woman shows every kind of flower in her field to Whinny, naming them.
“This one’s name is Susan,” Flower Woman says, cradling a violet-blue flower in her hand. “She is graceful and humble. She is a queen of some mythical land. Look, notice how her head is bent.”
“Why do you name your flowers, Flower Woman?” asks Whinny after the fifteenth or so flower.
“My name is Ellie, child. And I name them all after someone I’ve once known.”
“Wow, Ellie. You must have known a lot of people.”
“Yes, I’ve met them all through my books. They all have great stories, enough that I’ve planted a flower in their honor.”
Every morning at nine o’clock Whinny would visit Ellie’s field. And every day Ellie would introduce her to many flowers and show her the newest addition.
“And this flower,” says Ellie, motioning to a royal purple flower standing tall with its petals reaching to the sky, “once was a king. His name was David. He was one of the best kings there was. But then this king,” Ellie points to a blood red flower wrapped around David’s stem, “was out to get David all his life. His name was Saul.”
Whinny stares at the two flowers. “Wow. And all these flowers have stories like this one?”
“Well, Whinny, they all have unique stories behind them. Say, would you like to meet one before she becomes a flower?”
Whinny could not possibly turn down such an offer, and she found herself following Ellie into her house. On every wall in Ellie’s house were shelves and shelves of books. Whinny had never seen a collection so large.
“Where did you get all these, Ellie?”
“Well, the people of this town think I need to take my mind off flowers. They leave books on the street in front of my field for me to have something to do.”
She wades over to an end table crowded with stories and picks one off the top. It has a black leather cover, and very well-worn.
“Whinny, would you mind reading page 776?”
She opens it to that page, and staring back at her in big letters is RUTH.
“It’s the Bible! I know this story.”
“Let’s read it again, though. She will be tomorrow’s flower.”
So Whinny does, as Ellie closes her eyes and rocks back and forth on her rocking chair.
“And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel,” Whinny reads.
“And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.”
A long pause followed the story, and suddenly Ellie states, “I think Ruth should be a red rose, because she fell in love.”
“Have you never done a red rose before?”
“I have, but Ruth will be a special one someday.”
So the next morning, Ellie takes Whinny outside and digs a hole near the edge of the field.
“Here,” Ellie hands Whinny the packet of seeds. “You plant Ruth.”
Cautiously, she takes the packet from Ellie, and sprinkles a few seeds in the hole. Ellie waters her, then covers her with a good layer of dirt.
“She’ll come around in a week or two,” notes Ellie.
The next day, thunder shakes the town and lightning flickers across the horizon. “We can simply not allow you to go to that old woman’s house in a storm like this. You stay put for today,” her parents say.
Whinny sighs and takes her usual place near the fire, where she can still see out the window.
In a few minutes there is a knock at the door for Papa. “There’s a fire, somewhere in the town. I have to help put it out. You two stay safe.” With that, Papa was gone.
In about two hours or so, Papa returns. “Whinny, come with me.”
Of course she did. They walk along a path that she knows well, through the forest. Why is Papa taking her to Ellie’s field?
She knows when she smells the smoke.
A crowd of people have gathered around her field, too superstitious to venture any further onto it. Everything on Ellie’s field burned. Not a single flower stands. All that hard work that Ellie has done in the past has been wiped away by a single storm.
On the horizon, she sees a woman waving, with a few burlap sacks over her shoulder and a flowery straw hat on her head. With tears in her eyes, Whinny waves back.
Whinny visits the field every day after that to clean up the ashes. In two weeks after the fire as she was cleaning up the field, a splotch of red catches her eye. She gasps and smiles, and bent down to see closer. “Hello, Ruth. You make a very fine flower.”
Years pass; storms came by, former children are married, snow falls and the sun melts it away.
One morning as the new spring sun rises on the horizon, Whinny rises, kisses her husband good morning and heads into town. Before she leaves her street, a similar scent draws her into the forest onto her vaguely remembered forest path. Finally, the source of the smell reaches her eyes. And she can hardly believe it.
For the first time in years, Ellie’s field isn’t barren. Instead, flowers of every colors stretch out to the horizon, like they had before.
She hears the town whisper, “That horrible witch. She really was possessed after all!” But she knows they’re wrong. Ellie’s just smart, that’s all.
Orchard Park, New York
Far Hills, New Jersey
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