Fiction by Chelsea Moskow
My mother named me Flora because all she ever thought about was her garden. My father was a twerp and let her make all the decisions after I was born. No one but me is to blame for my actions, but I was hungry, so I in turn blame my tummy.
It was the night of the charity auction for some nonprofit or other; my mother belonged to them all, and dragged my father with to their ritzy dinner parties. I was eleven and uncool, apparently, so I spent the night with a babysitter while they drank champagne from tall glasses and the woman spoke of her immaculate creation: her garden.
To her friends on the telephone she often said, “Oh, my darlings, this year is surely the one. I will take Garden of the Year, as well as the consolation prize! Patricia, don’t take it as offense, but certainly you must understand.” It was never enough for her to just earn the coveted crown; she had to make sure no one else was in the spotlight with her.
So they were gone and I was left to my own devices. The hired help was a seventeen-year-old face eater, her poor boyfriend on the couch beneath her. They didn’t even notice me as I walked proudly and loudly past them. Idiots. I didn’t want to become a teenager, at least not one like that. The faeries out back wouldn’t like me anymore because I would lose my magical innocence after I came of age. At least, that was what they told me.
“Faeries?” I called out once my feet hit the dirt. My mother never believed me when I told her that her garden bred fairies, tiny ones with sparkly iridescent wings. Their eyes were red, lashed with purple, and they wore dirt as blush on their cheeks. Miniscule and vivid, I had seen them ever since I could remember. They followed me around the yard, into the neighborhood gardens and as far as the end of the block; my mother used to take me with her at night, stealing heads of flowers, leaves, stems from other people’s yards to find their secrets. This often provoked my nocturnal Fae friends since they believed in balance and honesty, things my mother hated passionately.
I heard no response to my initial call, but I was accustomed to receiving as much. My faery friends spoke in colors, words curling from their bottom lips like dyed smoke. Parlor tricks. I always wanted to taste the air and see if the colors had flavors falling from their tongues. They laughed at me when I told them this once, but all in good humor of course. Silly little things, the words they blew often had no meaning in my language, but I knew they meant it in fun.
Sitting still amongst my mother’s tulips and hydrangeas, I waited for the faeries quietly, and the flowers’ sweet nectar filled my nostrils, getting tangled in the hairs.
Each breath I took in deeper, sucking on the candy smell. I imagined how the flowers would taste, the sensation becoming tangible on my tongue. My mouth settled close, and my breath would’ve fogged the petals had they been made of glass. I glanced around, wondering if any fairies would find me silently stealing their sangria; nectar was their sacred wine. I didn’t belong to their exclusive tribe. But it didn’t matter much longer. The thirst overcame me, and I snatched up a bulbous flower head to run it over my tongue.
My taste buds became slick with saliva, mingling with the nectar, engorging my mouth with a delicacy I had not experienced in all my years. This was no childhood sweet I had come across yet. I suckled the violet petal arms and squeezed the reserve sac beneath them. One hand held the flower in my mouth while the other searched greedily for more.
I was drunk on my mother’s flower garden, on the night of the full moon festival, the summer solstice. I was an inhuman child, but not of the indigo kind. I was to sever each delicate neck and savor the juices inside. There would be no life spared in this vegetation station. My thirst would never end. I plowed through my mother’s garden, devouring her precious calla lilies and hyacinths and bougainvillea. Oh, it was all too delicious, and I could not stop. I was suddenly dangerous.
After my mother’s entire flower farm had been ravaged, I wiped my mouth on the back of my bare hand, streaking purplish pink across my ivory skin. I rubbed it with my thumb, but it was stained for good. It was a stamp of the club I was now a part of, the telltale mark of my indiscretion. My mother would be furious. I had to blame the fairies.
In the morning, my mother’s screams let me know she had seen how I had ravaged her once-cultivated land. The tears wouldn’t stop, as though she could water the life back into her garden. My stomach grumbled as if it wished to incriminate itself. I wore long sleeves to hide the violet kiss of nectar on my wrist and my mother, inconsolable, blamed the babysitter, who had left a strip of unused condoms in between the couch cushions.
It was a whole week before my parents went out again, and I was guarded by an evil honor student. Her glasses, behind golden brown hair, watched me greedily and taunted me without speaking. I pretended to be the good child, but it was like she knew it was me in the flower garden. It wasn’t long before I announced that I was going to sleep at the time my parents had decreed. Nose in a book, she only glanced up to say goodnight. It wouldn’t end there.
I waited exactly twenty-three minutes, and sure enough, her searchlight eyes poked into my room to make sure I was asleep. I fooled her; it was time to fly, sprouting pajama top wings as I unbuttoned my shirt and jumped down through the window. I stole away from the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, leaving the good child behind. The drop to the dirt floor below was a short one. Thankfully, my room was on the first floor. I had gotten away with the kittens in the river sack, and deplorable guilt crept into my throat as I relived the attack I had made on the flowers. I was now standing in a lifeless village of broken stems, crushed petals, and plowed lots. This was my fault. And I was going to do it all over again.
I knew Mr. Thomas from three houses down had a beautiful flower garden that he kept meticulously. I bet the nectar was going to be even sweeter than the flowers of my mother, but I could never tell her that. It was becoming an addiction, this honeydew wine. All I could think about was my next binge. I was a vampire of the garden, sinking my teeth into the smooth green necks of tiger lilies, and after Mr. Thomas’s delicious batch, I could not stop. The fairies from my backyard began to follow me to the next house.
Sheila Overture had won the consolation prize almost every year, and my mother—oh, she dared to sabotage such a yard. An organic branch, it defied my mother’s reliance on chemical compounds and inorganic materials. It would be a shame to miss the taste of that prize, the real winner without pesticides. If only the judges had thought to incorporate the taste into the deciding factors, I would have been the first name on that council.
And then, even after the Purest Garden, I could not stop. Fairies were pulling on my pajama bottoms, begging helplessly for me to stop. They were crying tears of green, the blood of the flowers splattered on their faces. The balance was becoming too far upset, at my hands. I could not stop. I would not stop.
I was the vampire of the garden.
In the morning, I awoke in an unfamiliar place. All around me, angry faces were staring down at me. My white cotton tank top was ruined, as I looked down, with greens and reds and blues, the blood of flowers. The faces I soon recognized, and I found the one that my own resembled most closely.
“There will be no Garden of the Year,” my mother said evenly. “There will be no contest at all.”
Sheila Overture, a stout cat woman with peppered braids, looked over at my mother. “No, I suppose there will be no winner and no loser,” she nodded solemnly.
“Not at all, Sheila,” my mother began. “I have won the Garden of the Year, as well as the consolation prize. The flowers are right here inside of Flora. She is my daughter, in my possession. I have won.”
There was no argument. I had singlehandedly ruined and rewarded my mother, the Garden Queen.