“A Hundred Thousand Flowers” by Bob Thurber
For Sydnee aka Monka
The bird, what was left of it, looked like it might have been a blue jay or possible a baby crow. The carcass was swarming with flies. Part of its breast had been eaten away, by a feral cat I suspected. Feathers were everywhere, and the wound in the bird’s chest was crawling with maggots. I scooped my granddaughter up. “Look at all the pretty flowers,” I said, moving us toward a patch of weeds.
She was four going on five. She held my neck, looking backward.
“Did you see the bird, Bubba?”
She called me Bubba instead of grandpa. She had always called me Bubba.
“Yes,” I said. “I saw it.” I hefted her higher, until her head was above my own. She extended her arms like wings. Her chest bumped against my ear as we walked.
“Are you going to die, Bubba?”
“Yes,” I said, “Yes, I am. But not today I do not think.”
I wanted to make her fly, like I used to, by holding her horizontally, straight out; but she weighed too much now, and at fifty-six I no longer had the strength in my back or my arms.
“Though hopefully not for a very long time,” I said, swinging her outward and down.
“When,” she said, as her feet touched the ground.
“Look at those,” I said, pointing to a patch of flowering mustard weeds. “We should pick some of those.”
“When,” she said.
“Right now,” I said. “We should pick a hundred of them.” I gripped my knees and leaned, pulling breath. “No,” I said. “A hundred thousand. We can bring ’em back to the house.”
“Bubba,” she said. “When will you die?”
I pinched the base of a stem and plucked a bunch. “I don’t know,” I said. “You never know when something like that might happen. I’m going to eat these,” I said, pretending to gobble.
“No!” she shrieked. “You’ll get sick.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”
“You can’t eat flowers, Bubba.”
I made a sad face, a heavy pout that was deliriously happy.
“But it’s okay to smell them,” she said, leaning forward.
I straightened up and stood beside her. There were bumble bees bouncing among the orchids, and ticks to guard against, and the family of feral cats to watch out for. The sun was behind us and our shadows were long. Hers was about the size of a full grown woman, and mine… well, mine went on forever.
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–Bob Thurber is the author of Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel (Casperian Books, 2011) and the recipient of numerous literary awards, including The Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. He lives in Massachusetts. Visit his website at www.BobThurber.net