The Flowers Smell Purple

by Stefanie Freele

Before taking our two-year-old on an April hike around the lake, I eat his bunny crackers while he sleeps and think of what they say about spring, young men, and love.

My sister just adopted a deaf shelter dog. I want her to call the dog Hush. Hush is soft and feminine and fits a deaf girl-dog. My sister isn’t calling the dog Hush and can’t call anything really because the dog won’t hear, so why bother, but she does bother and says loudly while we’re on the phone, Get off the couch. She sends over pictures of the sad-faced white boxer. My sister talks of removing the lawn and putting in a fake one that looks just like grass.

At our house, almost weekly, we unearth plants off the mountain and grow them all over the yard without order. Mint. Ferns. Buckeye. Wild rose. Maiden hair.

Seth sends me a pic on my phone of a tarantula crawling across the tattoo on his forearm. When he calls, I learn how he dug up the hole and found the pincers to be bigger than the legs. When asked aren’t they poisonous he says, Oh yes, but I just knew he was one of us good guys. I also think of the time we were picnicking and heard a scrabbling noise behind us. When I pointed that the rocky dirt was moving, Seth plunged his hand into the dirt and came out with a fitful mole. A damn funny looking creature, but I’d never felt anything so soft.

My sister wants to dig up her lavender because it attracts bees. I’m frantic to find a reason not to. I’m relieved to learn from one of my herbalist books: lavender repels mosquitoes. I tell her this and she says, Yeah, but bees still hide in the grass.

*

As we pack a picnic for the lake and I say the hike is only a mile, the cat snores on the counter, lightly, just enough to make me think of thinly sliced cheddar cheese, corn flakes, and the lakeside alders that rustle in the slightest breeze.

The herons are noisily nesting. Cacophony, one of those words a person can’t use too much, is perfect to describe their clacking cawing activities quite high up in the redwood tree by the lake. We read they can have six-foot wing spans and weigh five – eight pounds.

My sister wants to take out more of her new yard and replace it with a concrete slab for the barbeque.

On the path we find inchworms dangling in the breeze and put a few in our hand. Before I can stop him, my son picks one up by pinching it and gushy green stuff spreads on his fingers. Dada says turn to moth.

He pretends to fish with a stick and we eat his imaginary fish. Bluegill, bass, catfish. Each one is tastier than the next.

The three of us identify plants. He is two and can point out maple, redwood, fir, bay, elderberry, thistle, blackberry, licorice, toyon. They sit under a tree, cracking and eating walnuts. I say, You know, I’m really trying to enjoy your walnut eating but artificial grass very much disturbs me.

Seth shows us spittle bugs and we look for the gobs of spit on plants, There’s one, there’s one.

While I’m resting, looking at the lake, the mountains, the young stand of redwoods, they collect for me a glorious bouquet of wildflowers in a water bottle. I request a bag of walnut leaves to make my newly-read-about natural ant repellant concoction. I’m thinking of how to drive two hours to my sister’s house and convince her to give me carte blanche at the nursery and turn her new yard into a kingdom. Seth tells me, She is a city girl, what do you expect?

While our son rides on Seth’s shoulders and we all sing: We’re groovin’ a–groovin’— a nonsense tune we’re making up on our own and giggling about, my sister calls and asks if there is such a thing as red lavender. She saw some on her bike ride. I wish badly I knew the answer, but I tell her I’ll look it up when I get home.

Our son points out blackberries. Not ready, he says, but it sounds like Not weady. On the way home he states he loves me today, tomorrow, and Thursday. I ask about Friday or even Sunday. He says, I love you Mama. The End.

The wildflowers spread out in the middle of the front seat. I have to lean toward the door to avoid squishing them.

*

When I get home, I spread out four books on the picnic table and decide my sister’s red lavender mystery must be red clover.

Leaning against the deck railing, we watch the river run from left to right.

Below us in the ivy, surrounding another rat is the evidence of death: black flies.

My son smells the wildflowers. Mama, the flowers smell purple.

I say, Really, let me smell. Indeed, they are rosy, fruity even, perhaps reddish I could admit. I say, Yes, perhaps purple.

Yes! Purple! he insists.

I need to go get the rat. Flies swarm, the scent will follow, and it won’t be purple. Let’s go down to the river, I say, throw some rocks in.

Big splash! he says.

*

I receive an e-mail from my sister:

I would gladly give you carte blanche to our yard so long as you agree to 2 things…1) It would require you to drive the 2 hours, 2) There is a strong possibility that whatever kingdom you create, chances are Pickle will demolish it in an instant. Speaking of which, the lavender: (I decided to make peace with the bees and let them live in my yard so long as we have an understanding — they don’t bug me, they can have all the lavender until their hearts are content) is now being trampled to death by small paws. I tried.

The dog is not named Hush. It is Pickle. I tried.

*

On the way down, we squat to inspect the baby rat. It is spring and a young rat’s heart turned to love; this is the seventh dead one in a week — thank you cats — and the fifteenth rat in general, including the fat mama in the birdfeeder, two crawling up the plum tree, and the family we watch scatter about in the ivy below our deck.

It’s a baby, our son says softly as I wrap a bag around my hand to scoop up the carcass. I want to carry it! But, I won’t let him. I want to carry icky dead rat! The tears pour and for a moment I almost let him hold the knotted plastic bag, but then correct myself — I’m the mother — Have to throw him away.

I want to throw away! I want to throw icky rat away!

Almost everything he says involves an exclamation point.

We look for rocks to skip. More skippies! He falls in at one point soaking himself but still won’t go back up to the house. Not ready! Not go in! Not take a nap! Two more minutes!

On the way up he points where the rat used to be and cups his hands as if he’s holding something fragile. A dead baby rat Mama. See it!

Had to throw him away before he stinks.

No stink! Frowning, he sniffs the ivy, the air, and me. No!

*

He runs around the house, Nudie! Nudie!, until we catch and bundle him in the sheets.

Move the piece of pillow. He nuzzles himself between pillows. Have a hedgie nest.

Sleep now, hedgehog. Kisses.

Little soft feet wedged under my thigh. Need bubblies.

Close your eyes. Bubbles later.

Today!

Shhhh. Sleep.

Baby rat in the garbage.

Yes.

The neighbors’ blossoming honeysuckle scent drifts in to touch our bed sheets.

Good smell! our son says, but we don’t want to respond. It’s bedtime.

Tiny baby rat. Sighing heavily, he finally runs out of exclamations.


Stefanie Freele has an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts: Whidbey Writers Workshop. After serving as the 2008 Writer In Residence for SmokeLong Quarterly, she joined their editorial staff. Stefanie is also the fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review. She has recent and forthcoming work in Glimmer Train, American Literary Review, Wigleaf, Literary Mama, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Westview, FRiGG, Boston Literary Review, Hobart Online, and Dogzplot. Her short story collection Feeding Strays will be published by Lost Horse Press in September.

Back to Issue Three: Spring 2009