Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Family · #1989737
Written for the prompt(s): "What are we going to do with all these flowers?"
|Written for the May prompt(s): "What are we going to do with all these flowers?"|
Notes/Warnings: Trigger for mentions of abuse.
Word count: 1,612
"What are we going to do with all these flowers?"
Sonja didn’t even look up from the pile of Mom’s papers she was going through, but the stiffening of her already ramrod-straight spine said that she’d heard me, despite the fact that I’d spoken more to myself than to her.
Around Mom’s livingroom—around the whole downstairs of the house, really—were scads of flowers in pots and on stands. Gladioli and chrysanthemums, carnations and hydrangeas, daffodils and tulips, orchids . . . and even a beautiful peace lily that stood tall and proud on the right end-table between the picture window and sofa.
The flowers covered every available surface in the livingroom, and even some not-so-available surfaces. The entire house smelled of greenery and the perfume of sorrow.
Finally, a few minutes after I’d spoken, and after I’d sat on the sofa to await her eventual reply, Sonja sighed and looked around at me, glasses perched practically near the end of her nose. Her expression was, as always, patiently disdainful.
“Mom’s dead and we have to sort through this entire house—her whole life—and you’re worried about the damn flowers? Really, Maggie?” Sonja blinked once and stared me down, her pale blue eyes steady and unnerving, until I looked away. I plucked a white carnation from a vase of the same sitting on the left end-table, and sniffed it just to have something to do while my older sister stared at me like I was a bug under a glass.
“Well,” I said, shrugging and inhaling the clean, green scent of the carnation and closing my eyes for a few moments. “We’ll have to do something with them eventually. As it stands, they’re making it impossible to move around the house without knocking over reminders of Mom in the forms of vases of carnations or potted peace lilies.”
Sonja continued to stare at me for most of a minute before turning back to Mom’s desk. The rustle of papers started up again.
“Let’s save worrying about the flowers for after we get everything else out of the way. By the time we get this place sorted out and ready to go on the market, the flowers will be long dead,” Sonja said absently, already partially absorbed by Mom’s papers once more.
“That’s Sonja. Always practical and pragmatic,” I sighed, replacing the carnation. Sonja’s back stiffened once again.
“If it wasn’t for my practicality and pragmatism, you, Sara, and Derek would be fumbling around still trying to plan Mom’s funeral,” she said, as stiff as her back. I sat back in the sofa and leaned my head back against the wall.
“I didn’t mean that as a dig, Sonja,”
“It sure sounded like you did.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
Sonja made a noncommittal noise and placed what looked like a bill in a separate pile of the same, while I examined the gorgeous peace lily, touching its cool, silky petals and leaves.
Silence spun out between us, not quite comfortable—never that. Silences between Sonja and I never have been. There’s a seventeen year age-difference between us and the gap is, after all these years and . . . everything that’s happened, probably unbridgeable.
Thirty-eight years was far too long a time to try and bridge it. Especially when the other party didn’t so much as budge to meet you part-way.
“That peace lily came from Dad,” Sonja said suddenly, interrupting my melancholic thoughts, and I jerked my hand back from the peace lily as if it’d suddenly sprouted teeth. Then I was the one to stiffen, my stomach instantly churning.
I wondered if dropping that bomb was Sonja’s way of getting back at me for the perceived slight of a few minutes ago. I honestly couldn’t decide.
“How’s he doing?” I asked, simply because I couldn’t think of what else to say. Sonja snorted.
“Do you care?”
I couldn’t be anything but honest. I’ve always been that way, and that’s exactly why things are the way they are now. “I don’t know.”
“Well.” Sonja snorted again and more papers rustled. “He’s fine. Upset about Mom’s death, of course. But otherwise he’s fine.” A beat went by. “He asked after you. I told him you were holding up,” Sonja added before I could ask what she’d told him.
“Does he really care, or was he just asking?” I tried to keep my voice level and light, but it quavered nonetheless and Sonja turned to give me another bug-under-a-glass look.
“Of course he cares, Maggie. You were always his favorite,” she said without inflection and I looked away.
“After a fashion,” I muttered, but low enough that Sonja probably didn’t hear me. I didn’t want to rehash old dirty laundry or start an argument over how my honesty had torn our “happy” family apart all those years ago.
Sonja had never forgiven me for that honesty.
Sara and Derek were still, I sometimes thought, in a state of shock over the whole thing.
Mom may well have died still hating Dad and blaming herself.
“May I give him your regards?” Sonja asked me quietly. I smiled ruefully. She was the only one of us kids who still spoke to dad. Even let my nephews, Garrett and Lawrence, spend weekends at his house. This, despite claiming to believe me about what’d happened for all those years. I suppose she still trusted Dad, even after everything, more than she believed me.
But to put her children at risk, no matter how small that risk . . . it baffled me. And hurt me. For she never let the boys spend weekends with their Aunt Maggie, no matter how many times they, or I, asked. Perhaps that was punishment for shattering her illusions about the nature of our family.
“You can give him whatever you like,” I said finally. “Just don’t say it’s from me.”
Now, Sonja sighed. “Why do you have to be like that, Maggie? It’s just a courtesy-hello.”
“And yet I find that I don’t even want to give him that,” I gritted out. Sonja looked away. At a framed photo of the family—minus dad, of course—on the bookshelf near Mom’s desk. In it, everyone’s smiling except for Sonja and I. I couldn’t have been older than fourteen when it was taken. It would’ve been less than a year or so after I’d finally told Sara about what Dad had been doing, and Sara—bless her sweet heart—had broken her promise to me and told Mom. . . .
“It’s been twenty-five years since it happened, Maggie—”
“No, it’s been twenty-five years since it stopped,” I corrected her pointedly. “It started when I was five.”
To that, it seemed, Sonja had no reply. At least not for most of a minute. Then she said: “He made a mistake. An awful mistake. But a mistake. And he’s sorry—”
“He certainly is.”
“—and he’d apologize to you—again—if you gave him a chance. He’d do it however many times it took for you to finally get over it, and—”
“Get over it?” I said incredulously, leaning forward on the sofa, my hands clenched on the seat cushions. “Sonja, our father raped me . . . from the time I was five till I was thirteen. He only stopped because Sara told Mom and she confronted him! Not because he had a crisis of conscience about what he was doing to his youngest daughter! So I wish I could just ‘get over it,’ as you’d like for me to do, but that just hasn’t been going so well for me!”
Sonja’s face was pale under her concealer and make-up. “Maggie—Mom just died and we still have all her stuff to go through. Let’s not get into this just now—”
“You were the one who brought up Dad,” I accused standing up and pacing to the window—widely skirting the end-table with the peace lily—to look out. Across the street, Mrs. Brzinski’s gardenias were coming in nicely. “You’re always the one to bring him up. Then when someone says something you don’t want to hear, you change the subject and tell them this isn’t the time to get into it.” I took a breath and turned to face Sonja again.
Her jaw had dropped and for a moment she looked gobsmacked . . . and caught out. Then her face closed off and she turned back to Mom’s desk, taking up an unopened envelope. “I’m not discussing this with you anymore. Not now.”
Sonja flinched and her shoulders hunched.
“Well, what shall we discuss, now that Dad is finally out of bounds?” I demanded, and for a long time, Sonja didn’t answer. Merely opened envelopes and separated paper into piles.
“I suppose you’re right about the flowers,” she said at last, evenly, almost casually. “Something will have to be done about them before they start to rot.”
Once more incredulous, I shook my head and turned to look out the window again. At the soft sprays of white dotting the hedges in front of Mrs. Brzinski’s house.
“I’ll take them,” I said finally, without thinking about it. I didn’t honestly know if I wanted the damned things or was just problem-solving in the most expedient way possible.
“Alright,” Sonja said. And: “If you don’t mind, though, I’ll take the peace lily.”
Silence once more spun out between us, familiar in its awkwardness and passive-aggressive resentfulness. And Sonja kept shuttling paper from pile to pile, and I stood by the window, keeping watch over Mrs. Brzinski’s gardenias, and fighting the urge to knock the beautiful, potted peace lily to the floor and grind its fragile petals under my heel.