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Drama Fiction Friendship

Daisy sat neatly on the cold stone floor, legs tucked between the ancient earth and her own warm body. She cut at imaginary tendrils with stubby scissor-fingers while Mama used the giant garden snippers to trim up the tall sentry topiary, manicured into a tidy stack of spheres, except for the top. Daisy wiggled and hummed while she worked. Mama sighed.

“Daisy,” she said, rubbing her gray eyes with grayer fingers, “please, play somewhere else. I need to work.” She returned to the topiary.

“No!” Daisy screamed. She scrambled to grab her mother’s elbow. Her pale blue jacket caught on a branch in the process. She yanked it free in one furious motion. “If you cut off that part, he won’t have a hat anymore. He can’t guard the greenhouse if he doesn’t have a hat.” The greenhouse door swung open.

“Who needs a hat?” A tall woman with open arms and a bright face appeared, radiating golden warmth. Her angel curls caught the sparse light like a lantern, illuminating the silver lining in the clouds above the glass dome roof. Daisy grinned as she removed her flopping hat and placed it on the topiary like a drooping crown.

“Oh!” Daisy said. “Now he’s a king! Does a king need a guard?”

“This one doesn’t,” Mama said quickly. She gazed reluctantly at the hat, and then at the clouds. “It looks like rain. We should leave soon.”

“Come on, Bonnie, I just got here! Can’t we at least go out for drinks?” Ophelia smiled, but her eyes hardened. Daisy nodded vigorously. Her tongue was chewy in her mouth. She wanted juice.

“You know my Daisy will not be exposed to that sort of thing,” Mama said with a dangerous look. Her voice was a sword, sharpened and polished and prepared to strike. Aunt Ophelia brandished her car keys. Daisy sensed the tension and shrank into an arched tunnel of foliage. A butterfly landed on her hand like a ghost’s kiss.

Daisy lifted it to her eyes. “Hello.” It fanned its yellow wings, slowly, as if breathing in time with her. “You dress like Aunt Ophelia. She always wears yellow. It’s the color of the sun. Sometimes she wears white, like the moon, but only to ward off bad feelings. She says they’re everywhere.” She thrust her hand into the air, and the butterfly retreated. She rubbed the spot where it had rested to try to soak in the yellow.

“Mama doesn’t wear bright colors like that. She likes ‘mute’ colors. Aunt Ophelia says that means they don’t talk,” Daisy told the dahlias. They swayed slightly as she walked by, hands behind her back in an especially professional way. The grown-ups bickered on the other side of the greenhouse. Raindrops pricked at the glass. The late afternoon light was diminishing, washing away in the tide of time.

She came to the far end of the greenhouse, where a painted gazebo covered in honeysuckle vines waited patiently for a visitor. Daisy sat on the bench inside, where the yellow butterflies spiraled and swirled. The resting ones sighed, made golden waves with their wings. Do butterflies ever feel sad? Daisy wondered. They never rushed or cried or fought, but there was a certain empty lull in the restless way they moved. She began to doubt her aunt’s superstitions. Leaving the place, she plucked a blossom and drank the sweet nectar.

Daisy peeked around the corner of a square hedge. She used to hide behind it, and her Mama would look for her with searching hands. There was always a moment right before being found where she felt like maybe she wasn’t in the greenhouse anymore, but rather in an unkind forest with phantom sycamores and tripping roots, and then her mother would pull her into a hug and laugh, and she was happy. Now, Daisy was just big enough to peek over the top if she stood up on her toes like a sunflower.

Around the corner was a battlefield. Mama glared at her sister, her mirror. The mirror spoke.

“I just don’t see why you want to keep her away from a beverage. It’s just alcohol. I don’t even like it, you know I just drink a little for the zap.” Aunt Ophelia crossed her arms. “You’ve always been so stuck-up!”

“Don’t start with me,” Mama cried softly. “You know full well how her father acted when he drank.”

“Oh, yeah, your husband was a real winner. Just because he can’t stomach his booze doesn’t mean we all have to be stiffs. Lighten up a little.” The raindrops were thicker, now. They pounded against the glass, begging to enter, entreating Daisy to let them swallow her whole.

Mama boiled over. “Your deadbeat husband was just the same! And you’re proud of it! At least I had the decency to leave while you just let him walk all over you, and now he’s dead and you wish it was you! Don’t you see how messed up that is? If you just moved on, you wouldn’t be all alone!”

Daisy’s throat tightened and her skin flushed. Her legs itched to run, so she scratched them and stilled. Ophelia’s face contorted. “I’m not alone. You are. Daisy and I are best friends, aren’t we sweetie?”

She spun around to face the hiding place. “You missed a spot,” she said to Mama in a grave whisper. “You don’t even know your own kid the way I do. I’m proud of myself, not my ex-husband, because I survived. My humanity is still here,” she spit out, clutching the cage her heart was imprisoned in. “You lost yours a long time ago.”

Daisy was already gone. Tears crawled down her cheeks like runaway ladybugs. She held her knees as she collapsed onto the edge of the circular fountain and choked, trying to hold her breath. It didn’t matter if she was loud or not. No one was coming to find her, but it felt undignified to weep so gracelessly. The begonias turned away. The lilies and lilacs struck up quick conversations about the weather. Not even the gossipping canterbury bells would look at the lost Daisy. The rain throbbed and the wind sighed. The dim nightlights flicked on with a hum.

Daisy’s father was a shadow to her. She could remember his general shape and the way he moved, but not much else. Mama said he was a drunkard and other things she couldn’t say because they weren’t kind. Daisy didn’t mind saying them. If he wasn’t so bad, she might be happy right now.

Daisy took a deep, shuddering breath. Let it out shakily. She dipped her finger into the cold fountain water and watched the ripples explode, expand, and take over the pool. She plucked out a stray leaf floating on the surface and tossed it to the ground. Despite the storm, she could hear the trickling stream coming from the fish’s mouth at the top of the fountain. He was stuck in stone, forever carved in a jump with his mouth wide open, unable to descend to the sea.

A golden flash of wings jolted Daisy out of her contemplation. Her mother was standing a few yards in front of her. She clenched a closed umbrella in one hand and her residual anger in the other. Mama closed the space between them, kneeled as if to beg in front of Daisy. They reached for each other and hugged.

“Daisy, baby, I’m so sorry. It’s time to say goodbye to your aunt. She’s going away now.” Daisy closed her eyes and leaned against her mother’s shoulder.

“For a very long time?” she asked quietly.

“Yes, I think so. I know you love her. I do, too, but it’s not the same anymore.”

“Do you love me, too?” Daisy breathed. She regretted the inquiry as soon as Mama flinched in her arms.

“Of course —I love you—more than anything!” She squeezed her daughter tightly. “I’m so sorry I haven’t said it more.” Daisy wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck, leaned her forehead to her cheek as Mama heaved her up. She strode forward with her chin up. Her cold witch eyes met Aunt Ophelia’s cowardly defensive stare. Mama’s arms were thin but strong. They did not waver as she kicked open the swinging door with her toe. She carried Daisy into the storm, and the rain melted into their figures. The water seeped through Daisy’s hair and into her scalp.

Aunt Ophelia followed them to the door, dumbfounded. Her eyes swelled with bitter loss, but she stayed over the threshold. Still, the rain licked at her the way fire eats a crumbling house.

“Goodbye!” Daisy yelled into the storm. She laughed heartily, all bells and squeals. Mama lowered her to the ground and opened the umbrella. The raindrops bounced off of it noisily. Daisy hugged her mother’s legs, briefly, then held her warm hand, and they walked together, smiling, in the dewy grass until the rain subsided and the full moon shed her careful beam on the happy pair. In the greenhouse, yellow butterflies rested on the topiary king’s bowing crown, and Aunt Ophelia shut the door behind her to keep out the wet.

February 04, 2021 21:59

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2 comments

Alex Marshall
09:30 Feb 11, 2021

Love the characterisation of Daisy and how throughout the whole story she plays with the plants and animals in this childlike ethereal way. I think some of the descriptions could be tightened up a bit - there were a lot of adverbs towards the end and some of the longer over-descriptive sentences could become hard to follow on first reading (although that may just be a personal thing). I love the tone you achieve though, and the voice you use just really creates this beautifully mesmerising and odd piece.

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Clarice Shepherd
18:22 Feb 11, 2021

Thank you so much! I do have a tendency to use too many descriptions (⎻▵ ⎻) so I appreciate the constructive criticism.

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