She makes her way through the brush, the thorns scraping her hands as she clears the branches out of her way. She cares little about the pain. She meanders her way through the area, tired and in anticipation.
And there it is, her beacon, her safe house, the flower. The clay of the earth holds it upright. It is outwardly fragile, minute, and seemingly pathetic. But the sinew of the fibers, the veins on the leaves and the water hold it together. The thin stem is like a miniature beanstalk, unequivocally green and vital. The leaves splay off of it, their veins vital and strong, like those of a runner on a hot day. She puts her hands on the leaves, they are soft, almost velvet-like. As she strokes the leaves and their veins, she thinks that this is what it must be like to be in love. She thinks that this is what happiness feels like. All the flower needs is light on its face and water in its roots.
She pulls her hand away from the flower and lets it hover over the petals. They are milky-white. She has touched them just once. She remembers their smoothness and how the water clung to them. They felt calm, like an oasis. She moves her hand closer and immediately pulls it away. The petals are so vital to the flower, they give it its charm, its beauty, its safeness. They make it what it is. They create. She slowly moves her hand back and delicately pinches a petal between her thumb and forefinger. It is the safest thing she has ever felt. She can’t think, she merely feels. She plays with the petals, careful not to bruise them. She pulls her hand away.
And there it is. The center, the sun, the perfect yellowy womb. She has never touched this. She wants to do so more than anything, but to her, the concept feels wrong. She thinks about how many bees have touched the center to remove its pollen. That is their job, she thinks. But for her, that is not her job. She has no place touching the center.
She looks at it. She thinks she can almost see a nebula within its shine. The light hitting it creates the image of a small, perfect sun. She bends down to sniff it. The smell is tantalizing, exotic, passionate. She is suddenly consumed by the smell and brings her hand down on it. The pollen sticks to her fingers like gold dust. She shudders. It feels perfect. Completely perfect.
She is motionless. She draws back her hand in horror. What she has done is completely wrong. She feels it in her bones, she feels a pang in her chest. She can hear bombs in her head. She wants to run, to never look at the flower again. Her hands won’t stop shaking.
She fingers the earth surrounding the flower. It is hard, unrelenting. She pushes her fingers into the damp and finds the roots of the flower. She feels dirt under her fingernails. She begins to force the roots up, and with her other hand she grasps the stem. She pushes up and pulls out. The flower hangs limply in her hand. Its petals are crushed and falling off. The stem is weak and almost torn in half. She looks at it for a moment and throws it down. She can barely look at it. She runs away, bombs going off in her head.
Years later, she is lying in a bed with a man on top of her. He smells of sweat and alcohol. She remembers the flower. Not its smoothness or sweetness, but the crumpled image of it. A tear slides down her cheek.
Is this love? she thinks.
All she can do is remember.
Megan Willoughby is currently an English major is California State University, Northridge. When she is not busy with school work, she spends her time writing at the orange grove on campus.