• marigolds


    In which three lie awake all night pondering flower nomenclature, while a brown dog dreams. Two 1960’s folk singers make a brief appearance. Thankfully, puzzled ghosts are soothed by song. It is not a duet.

    The long night.

    I have made a sleeping nest beside our bed. I have two green blankets, a white bed pillow, and a small yellow one, too. I am not sure why I am driven to make this little nest, vacating my tall wide bed for this place here on the hard floor.

    I am sheltered between the bed and the chest-of-drawers, and both seem to tower above me. I cannot see the rest of the room, nor the vague moonlight from the window, or my husband. I stare up into the blackness and can only see the square shapes that surround me, and the peak of the ceiling above. The ceiling fan rotates overhead and the breeze from its turning blades reaches me here in my tiny canyon.

    Is it the heat that drives me here? The mattress of the bed gets hot under my skin, the energy of my radiating sixty-year old body, nuclear and sticky, sinking into the bed, held there. I may climb up later, when the sheets are cool.

    I am wide-awake as I lay, bones aching on the hard floor, steady heart beating. There is a younger part of self joining me here, restless. She is searching for something, remembering. She fears death, this one. Doesn’t know she is already gone. A still smaller aspect, a little girl, is beckoning. She is urging me to make a fort with the green blankets, tuck them overhead, make a proper shelter. I follow their little shadows into the night. These barefoot ghosts are busy.

    I think over a story I am writing about a house at the corner of our street. It is a blue house, and even though it is midsummer, the front porch of the house is strung with gaily-coloured Christmas bulbs. The cement walkway leading up to the house is lined with planters filled with sunny flowers — and here I am stuck. What is the name of that flower? I know the flower I am trying to name, have planted some myself in a basket on our front step. The name will not come.

    In front of the blue house, on either side of the wooden steps is a riot of petunias, mixed with lettuce, burgeoning squash, and geraniums.

    Not geraniums.

    Pot after pot of robust, bushy tomato plants mark the edge of the property. The gardener, Mike, when I asked about their robustness, told me he gets up early and shakes the tomato plants. This must be done before 7:00 a.m. he explained adamantly, not one minute later.

    Not dahlias. Not rhododendrons.

    I squirm on the floor as I try to find a position that does not hurt my hip, tucking the yellow pillow along my back, hunting in the thicket that is my brain for the name of that perky blossom. The overhead fan turns. The younger version of self, tracing her freckles and moles, tries to remember what it is she has lost, while the little one considers the engineering problems of pillows.

    Not rose, obviously. Or daisy.

    Mike has an old brown dog named Frappy, who lies on the grass in front of the house, not too far from the crabapple tree on the corner, and not too far from the porch. Sometimes he lies by the big stump of a dead cedar, in the middle of the yard, as though in the shade of an imaginary tree. He yips in his sleep, dreaming old dog dreams.

    I wonder, idly, if I am lying on the floor like a dog for some reason that has nothing to do with hormonal heat, something I can’t yet fathom. I long to fall into sleep. My slender young self is fretting. Littler self would like to invite the dog over.

    Not lobelia. Not lily.

    I am frustrated that I can’t remember the name of the flower I know so well, nor find a way to help the younger me find what it is she is so forlornly seeking. I do not understand why I am driven to lie on the hard floor in the dark. I am floundering. Drowning in the green blankets, lost in the weeds of wakefulness.

    Not chrysanthemum, although that feels close.

     I begin making lists. I start with blankets. There are the two green ones here, and we have two yellow ones as well, and a white one in the wicker chest, also a small blue one for travelling. Three handmade quilts, one by my husband’s grandmother, one by my grandmother, and one by the sure hands of my oldest friend. That is the one I love best. Four duvets, and two machine-made quilts, plus two Welsh blankets, a car throw, and a picnic blanket. I do not care to count sheets. Throw pillows: ten in the living room, five in the bedroom, seven on the guest bed…

    Hydrangea? Calendula?

    I run my brain up against the void that is the place where the word for that small dense flower is meant to live. The blankness there is not the same as the confusion I have about impatiens and begonia, both shade-loving plants, or the familiar tangle of thinking Joan Baez is Canadian. It is prairie-born Joni Mitchell, I know. Still, they both ended up in California, and when I part the thicket in my brain, there they are in beads and caftans, sitting cross-legged in a field of grass and singing protest songs together in high clear voices.

    Alyssum, fuschia, foxglove, snapdragon…

     I begin to drift off, and feel a tugging. My young self is pressing in her quest, willing to play nest here with us on the floor for a time, but has a puzzle that must be urgently solved. I make a midnight promise to soothe her shadow if I can, get to the bottom of things, if only I can sleep. A puzzle that was years in the making cannot be unraveled overnight.

    I imagine my soft hand on her cool teenaged forehead, calming.

    “All the weary mothers of the earth will finally rest
    We will take their babies in our arms and do our best
    When the sun is low upon the field
    To love and music they will yield
    And the weary mothers of the earth shall rest”

    Be reassured, I tell her. I still have the confidence to move in the night-dark, can still read the signs in the grasses and interpret the gentler dreams of bones and organs. I know there are problems to be solved, lists to be made, children’s souls to be guarded.

    I am alert. There are stories to write, and flowers to be named.


    With thanks to Shelley Sims. She knows why.

    Lyrics “All the Mothers of the Earth” – Joan Baez.

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