by Wendy W. Ralph
First Prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2017
In the desert, our neighbors landscaped with rock poured into simple patterns. An aggressive cactus or two usually guarded corners and waited to claim rouge soccer balls. Our lush yard, however, and the gentle “Shh…Shh…Shh” of the yellow sprinkler my mother spent her days adjusting, spoke another language entirely. It stood in contrast to an endlessly beige backdrop of sand, tumbleweeds, and adobe with an enormous Mimosa at the center of it all, its pink powder-puff blooms blushing at their own impossibility.
On Easter Sunday, we kids posed for photos by the row of purple Phlox so dense in blossom they blocked the barren landscape beyond them. On Independence Day, the lens caught me in a full split on the blue-green Bermuda grass that defied all the odds of the desert and left a deep stain on my white shorts. The flags thrust into the earth around me in that photo seem to claim the spot for my country, but that is a lie. This place belongs to my mother. It is hers entirely. She sends photos of her Marigolds to family. Sometimes, we are in the photos too. We are a gauge to measure the Chrysanthemums against. Can you believe how much they’ve grown?
I played in our neighbors’ yards. I searched for diamonds among the crushed Quartz that flowed in stone rivers, caressed the soft bellies of Horny Toads until they fell asleep, and held funerals for those found resting eternally. I dug unmarked graves into the cracking earth, recited homemade prayers. I collected black Stink bugs to march in somber processions with their heads bowed and learned to respect the dirt homes of the Fire ants that punished intruders severely. Most of all, I grew to fear the desert sun and its fierce potential. My friends did not understand. Why should we play in the knee-scraping jaggedness of their lifeless yards when the only grass for miles was just two houses away? Why suffer the radiating heat of a concrete driveway when our Barbies could frolic in lush forests and splash in woman-made lakes instead?
The bank took that house back decades ago; the desert reclaimed it too. Sometimes I return in my mind, before the decline. I snip the Gladiolas and bring them inside. I fill the rooms with vases of buds and blossoms of every sort. When all the vases are full, I fill cups, bottles, and bowls instead; I pack the sinks and bathtub. I can’t stop. I ravage the garden. I even steal the brown seedpods dangling from the Mimosa and bust them open to harvest the bean-like trees-in-waiting. I swallow them whole. I wear a hot pink Gerber daisy tucked behind my ear. My bare feet are covered in grass clippings, but I never stop to wipe them at the threshold. There is no more time. The sprinkler whispers to me; it follows in my footsteps, showering me with a fine mist with rainbows trapped inside. “Shh…Shh…Shh…,” it urges. “Shh…Shh…Shh….”
Wendy W. Ralph