The following is from our Writers in the Grove member, Lorelle VanFossen, for our prompt-a-month series for July, based upon the prompt “garden.”
The petals radiated out in a burst of sunlight, yellow, softly moving in the breeze. A bee landed on the center, climbing around the pistil and stamens that would soon become the seeds I’d snack on over the winter. They were so good, my mouth watered.
The center pattern of the sunflower is considered by many to be a mathematical marvel. I find it hypnotizing. While many believe it is a helix pattern, I trace the Fibonacci sequence from the center, spiraling out, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…each number a sum of the previous two numbers. From the center, the future seeds curve curves out in two series, each winding in the opposite direction, stretching out to the very petals, each seed aligned with its neighbor, a mosaic found throughout history in the ancient tiled floors of the Byzantines, Romans, Greeks, and Moors. Or so my text books say.
The bee leaps off the flower as the wind tilts the flowery landscape, then returns, a black and yellow fuzzy creature crawling around the spiraling maze.
A thump on the ground next to me draws my attention back to earth. It’s my sister. She tugs on the soft green leaves of the plant. The bee loses its purchase and flies away.
She’s heard this before, and she never asks the obvious next question. She doesn’t care much about the world beyond her nose.
I have no answer for that. It’s a statement that stymies me every time. How could anyone be bored. There is so much to see, so much to do, so much to learn – even the flowers teach us math and pattern. To her, this is an old song. The responsibility of the world is to entertain her, and right now, we are failing her.
A hawk stabs the air with its cry. I lean back to see it circling overhead, lifting on the warm current. A small bird dives out of seemingly nowhere to jab at it, warning the giant predator that it has been seen and it is not wanted. I swap a mosquito buzzing around my ear and wish I could do the same to all the mosquitoes this time of year.
“Let’s do something,” she orders me. I think we are. Clearly, not enough for her. “There must be something for us to do around here.”
A chill runs up my spine. This was a warning sign. Trouble was ahead. A bored Cindy was a danger to all peaceful and good creatures.
Action was required. I stood up, dusting off the dry dirt and leaves from my backside. Without another person in sight, the job to entertain my sister and keep her and all around her from harm became my responsibility.
On my list of chores and things-to-do I found enjoyable were mucking out the barn, pulling weeds, refilling the horse trough, and checking on the chickens. None of these passed Cindy’s criteria for amusement. These were my times, time spent on repetitive tasks so ingrained, I moved through them without thinking, my find free to wander, explore, and revisit books and text books, absorbing and processing the lessons from school and all around me. She found these tasks, in her words, “utterly boring and mundane.” Big words for a little girl in a frilly white and yellow lace dress with sparkling silver shoes, a fashion statement at odds with the farm.
“Want me to push you on the swing?” The rubber spare tire swing hung sadly from the old pully pole on the barn.
“Nah, did that yesterday.”
“You seemed to enjoy it.”
“Yeah, but that was yesterday. It’s boring now.”
“We could go down to the pond and skip rocks.”
“It’s too far.”
“It’s a three minute walk.”
“I said it was too far.”
“We could saddle up old Jack and go for a ride through the forest and up on to the ridge. The elk herd should be out by now.”
“That’s too much work. And I don’t care about no stinking elk.”
“So, what do you want to do?” I knew I was inviting trouble to ask, but the sun was hot and I’d run out of ideas.
Her eyes sparkle in the sunlight as she swung her arms back and forth, rocking on her heels. “Let’s go spy on old Mrs. Johnson.”
“You won’t walk three minutes to the pond but you want to walk ten minutes to the Johnson place to do what? Watch her? Watch her do what?” The Johnson’s had the neighboring ranch. They ran Black Angus while they kept horses and chickens. Horses because Father enjoyed them, and chickens for food.
“I heard she was baking some pies for the gathering this weekend.” Cindy stopped moving and looked at me from under her dark lashes. She leaned forward and whispered, “We could get a taste.”
“No. I’m not stealing pies from Mrs. Johnson.” I turned toward the bar. “And we are not spying on them. Got some better ideas, come tell me?”
She stomped her foot. “Well, if you won’t go with me, I’m going by myself. I want some of that pie. Now.”
She stomped again, each stamp taking her away from me, pounding out her frustration. I didn’t watch her go. I didn’t need to. I could hear her maddening mutters up the drive even into the coolness of the barn. She was on her own with this one. I was tired of getting into trouble and getting all the blame as the older one. It’s her turn.
“The weeds don’t pull themselves,” Mother announced upon entering the barn. I’d just finished mucking out the stable, checked the chickens, and filled the water trough for the horses. Returning back to the garden was next on my list, not that she knew that.
Wiping her hands on her plaid apron, we walked into the garden. The sunflowers tracked the path of the sun across the sky, the last of the lettuce and strawberries hiding under their shadow. I noticed a few frills where the carrot tops were finally making their appearance. I knelled down next to one and pulled a couple weeds out of their way, giving them room to grow long and straight in the shape of an inverted cone, according to my geometry book. My mouth watered. I could almost taste their sweet sugary crisp orangeness.
“Where’s your sister?” Mother knelled down between the beets and chard, finding a few scraggly weeks to pull. I’d been through that row yesterday.
“Gone to the Johnsons.”
“Again? You should have stopped her.”
“She was bored.”
Mother sighed, reaching for the weed bucket. The weeds we pulled were snacks to the horses and chickens, and anything not gone to seed went into the compost for this winter’s mulch.
We worked in silence for the next hour, moving down alternating rows, filling up the week buckets. I liked the companionship, as did my Mother, no voices to interrupt the sound of the bees and bugs around us doing their job of keeping the garden active and alive, just the soft scraping sound of our bodies moving along the rows. I loved the feel of the cool dirt in my hand, sliding my fingers through it, tugging on the smallest weed starting to poke its head out.
The sun was sliding down toward the horizon when we stood up and stretched.
“It’s getting late.”
“Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes. Wonder where Cindy got to.”
Honestly, I wanted to say, I don’t care. If she is entertained, it is less work for the rest of us. Someday, she will find nothing to hold her interest here, and she’ll be gone. Off and out into the world where other people and things can amuse her. I’ll be still here, going to the local engineering school and working the farm, keeping an eye on Mother and Father.
I took the two weed buckets from Mother and added them to my own. The dying plants made a smacking sound as they hit the dirt in the chicken pen, dust rising. I needed to water it all down. I’d do that after dinner, after the chickens had a good first dig through the weeds.
The grinding and scattering of gravel lifted our heads up the long driveway. A four door white truck with “Fredricksville Sheriff” emblazoned on the sides raised up a cloud of dust as it drove up to the barn and farm house. The engine roared then quieted as Phil Stenson unfolded his tall body from the front seat, adjusted his belt and gun holster, then opened the back door.
“I believe this here is yours.” Sheriff Stenson closed the truck door and leaned against the vehicle, folding his arms. His gray uniform looked grimy against the whiteness of the sparkling truck. “I thought I should return her.”
Cindy spilled out of the back seat, all aflutter, dusty, and covered with what appeared to be blackberry smears on her face and chest. Her blond, curly hair was no longer tied back with a yellow ribbon as when I’d last seen her. It was gone and her hair was a tangled mess with a few leaves tucked into random curls. Under a tear in the hem of her short, lacy skirt, a buckle of one silvery shoe was undone, hanging off the side. Her legs were scratched and bleeding.
“What trouble has she been in now, Phil?” Mother’s voice was tired, tired of her life, tired of her responsibilities, and just plain tired. I felt tired just looking at Cindy.
“Stole two pies from Mrs. Johnson.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, no. Little lady?” He nodded to Cindy, who stood before us, arms cross, defiant, panting as if this was all just too much for her. “Are you going to tell them, or should I?”
She glared at him. “It’s my story. I’m doing the telling here.”
The sheriff pushed his sunglasses up further on his nose, and let her take center stage. I stepped next to Mother, ready as she was to hear another fairy tale version of the past few hours.
“I was just minding my own business, out for a walk along the road -”
“The Johnsons live down a quarter mile from the road.”
“I was walking the neighborhood driveways, if you must know all the details.” She huffed and smoothed the front of her ragged dress. “I need the exercise.” I could see that her arms were as scratched as her legs, dried blood crisscrossing her white skin with jagged lines. Blackberries, I guessed.
“And here were these two pies, just sitting by the road -”
“She broke into their house through the back door-”
Cindy turned on him and thrust her chin forward. “Whose telling the story here? Huh?” Then she turned back to us and took a deep breath. “This man -”
“Came at me with a shotgun-”
“A screwdriver. He was fixing a chair.”
“Okay, a big screwdriver that looked like a shotgun -” Phil snorted. “And I ran away into the woods to escape his rage-”
“With two pies.”
“With two pies that I just happened to find. I didn’t steal them.”
Mother tried to hide a smile. “Looks like you took some time in your escape to eat them.”
“It’s tough work escaping a crazed man whose chasing you. A girl gets hungry.”
I bit my lip to keep from laughing.
“Mrs. Johnson called me,” the sheriff took a step forward. “I was in the area and caught her in the blackberry bushes near the stream by the Andersons, pies long gone, but the evidence,” he pointed with his elbow at Cindy, “of their existence plain and clear to see.”
“You ate both?” Mother’s voice went shrill. I did the math and wondered where she’d found room in her stomach. Mrs. Johnson was famous for her deep-dish pies. “Well, little girl, there will be no dinner for you tonight. Up to your room. I’ll be up after we eat to clean up those scratches.”
Cindy stomped a foot. “No!”
Cindy sagged and moved grudgingly toward the front door. When Mother said “now” it was final. Any action after the “now” either followed orders or – “the belt,” as Father often threatened, though he had yet to follow through.
“Thanks, Phil. I’ll deal with Sally Johnson later, and bake up some extra pies for the gathering to make up for the loss. Ben and I will figure out the punishment when he gets home from work. My apologies to you all for interrupting your day. I appreciate you bringing her back safe and sound.” She nodded to him and followed her rogue daughter into the house.
The sheriff looked at me. “You’re the good girl, aren’t you?”
I didn’t know how to answer that.
“Always a pair. One good, one trouble. A balancing act, I suppose. A teeter-totter. I’ve seen it too many a time around here.” He opened the truck door to climb in. Through the open window he called, “You stay good, you hear. Your mother don’t need any more trouble.”
I nodded, wondering why he would say that. That’s all I ever wanted in life. To be good. To be good at my chores, at my studies, at just good at being. While I could envy my sister’s willful and trouble-making temperament, it wasn’t my way.
I watched the sheriff drive away, counting the seconds it took to get to the main road at the top of our driveway, then calculated the speed based upon the distance. Twelve miles an hour. A safe speed. A good speed for the gravel road.
Dinner was still that twenty minutes away. I returned to the garden. The Fibonacci-patterned sunflower was now turned to the west, I sat next to it as the warm orange light slid across us. A bee buzzed around lazily, not landing on either of us.
It was good. Good enough.