Monday, June 13, 2011

Chapter Two


“Gardens”

           
    I sat in my closet facing a cement corner.  The paint was cracked and peeling in a number of spots, a putrid green beneath a coat of off-white.  The door at my back stood open just enough to allow in light to read by.
 Wood planks, warped and stripped, lined the floor of my hiding place.  They were the source of unpleasant slivers.  I curled up on a heap of frayed wool for protection, having learned the hard way not to scoot my bare feet across the splintered surface.  The natural fibers in the woolen blanket made my bare legs itch, but it kept them warm. 
 In the deepest corner of my closet, piled in a short stack, sat my fondest treasures.  Six books—half a dozen children’s stories that inspired many of my nighttime fantasies.  I’d acquired each one from school.  The first was two years old, Goldilocks, an early reward for excellent progress in reading.  The second was a gift from one year back, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  It had been handed out to every student in class by a guest speaker.  The third Charlie Thompson had given to me recently as a cruel joke, The Ugly Duckling.  (Little did he know I secretly adored the tale.)  The remaining three were hardbacks retrieved from the trash where they’d been discarded over broken bindings —Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and my absolute favorite, The Hobbit.
 I kept my little library hidden in the dark, below an old, threadbare dress and a pair of strapless sandals, all buried beneath the wool blanket.  My greatest fear was to have this treasure discovered.  If my father were to find it he would punish me for stealing, or worse, accuse me of wasting his money on pointless scrap.  If mother were to stumble upon my books she’d worry herself sick over what father would do and force me to return them to school.  I’d be left with nothing—no adventures, no friends, no treasure.
 At the moment I was engrossed in my newest storybook, Alice in Wonderland.  It was easy to imagine trailing in Alice’s footsteps, remaining far enough behind her to keep out of the way.  Once I met the grinning cat from Cheshire, however, my strategy changed, and I pictured myself sitting right there amid the festivities, invisible to everyone in attendance.  I even helped myself to a crumb of cake and a sip of tea. 
 I was laughing in my head right along with Alice, the March Hare, and the Hatter, when the sound of my name put an abrupt stop to our mad tea party.  All laughter ceased and my heart stalled.  It started beating again when I realized it was just my mother calling.
 “Anna?  Anna, where are you?”
 I scurried out of the closet, making sure to bury my precious library book beneath the blanket.
 “Coming, Mama!” I called.
 I followed my nose into the kitchen, recognizing the familiar scent of boiled potatoes.  Dinner.  I hoped that Mrs. Hopkins had left a bottle of cow’s milk at the backdoor today.
 Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins were our closest neighbors.  They were private, gray-haired people living on a small farm about a mile away.  The quickest route to their land was a straight line through the woods, but the easiest way was to travel down a snaky dirt road walled on either side by endless cottonwood and white oak trees.  The old couple farmed a few acres, keeping cows, sheep, hogs, and chickens fenced up around a huge red barn.  I wasn’t allowed to bother them, but my walks took me near their place now and then.  Theirs was an inviting ranch home set back from the road, spacious and pretty.  Nothing like our house. 
 My mother and I spent most of our days alone inside a rundown, two-bedroom box of cinderblock and wood.  Mother always told me to be grateful for the roof over our heads, especially now that the leaks weren’t as bad.  I recalled the week my father had stayed home to patch up the holes on the rooftop.

 It was raining. 
 Every few minutes thunder vibrated the air and a wild streak of lighting glared through thin curtains draping our windows.  Mother and I were minding two dozen pots and buckets spread throughout the house catching drips and trickles that seeped through the ceiling.  I was in charge of the containers in the hall and bedrooms, emptying them as they filled with rainwater.  Mother watched over the kitchen and living room, keeping an anxious eye on my father’s form planted in front of a black-and-white television.  The fireplace hissed beside him every now and then, tossing up a billowed mix of steam and smoke whenever wandering raindrops fell on the flames.
 He grumbled and complained about the “rotting dump” my mother kept us living in, swigging back a liberal dose of alcohol in the process. 
 “What the hell is it you do when I’m gone anyway?  I’d think with all the time you got to waste you could patch up a hole or two around here.…..worthless woman.”
 Mother didn’t talk back.  A wise move. 
 It wasn’t until a sudden stream of rainwater broke through the ceiling right above him that he threw a real tantrum.  We stayed out of his way.  He took out his anger on the house, pitching his empty beer bottles overhead, smashing them against the sopped, torn plaster while cursing both the weather and my mother in the process.  Eventually, he stormed outside and managed an intoxicated drive to the hardware store to purchase shingles, nails, and a few sheets of plywood. 
 The next morning I was awakened by loud hammering.  The caustic swearing that accompanied the noise was nothing new.
 Mother attended to a drunken roofer for the next five days, wincing every time he called her name. 
 “Lin!  You tryin’ to starve me to death?  Where the hell’s my food?  And bring me another beer!”
 She never hesitated in promptly responding, crawling up and down the ladder to hand him demanded items.  I knew it was a difficult thing for her to do, being terrified of heights.  But I guess we were both far more afraid of him than anything.
 I watched from the trees every day—a forest of white oak, birch, cottonwood, and the occasional conifer that surrounded our house.  I hid in the shade of the woods, keeping within earshot in case I was called.  My job was to remain invisible for as long as my father ignored me.  Luckily, he never did growl any foul version of my name that week.  It seemed on this particular visit he’d overlooked my existence. 
 I could tell mother was emotionally drained by the time his truck rolled off, headed on another long haul across the states.  I came out from my hiding place as soon as he left, and walked up to stand beside her.  Her weary eyes, sunken from exhaustion, stared down the dirt road as if she were waiting for the cloud of dust to settle.  I waited too.  After sighing an audible sound of immense relief, she uttered only one thing.
 “We should be grateful for the roof over our heads.”

 I appeared in the kitchen from out of a dark hallway and hugged the wall, waiting for Mother to notice me.  We were dressed similarly in faded cotton dresses, no belts or shoes or accessories.  Mother’s hair hung loose just past her shoulders, so thin it behaved like fine threads, lifting and floating with each move.  It took only a moment for her darting eyes to find me.
 “Anna, there you are.  Come get the glasses.  Have a seat at the table.”
 I headed for the cupboard, spotting a bottle of fresh cow’s milk on the ledge.  Mrs. Hopkins had left some after all.  I couldn’t help but smile.
 “Would you like cream on your potatoes?”
 I nodded absolutely.
 Mother skimmed the cream from off the top of the jar, ladling it generously over our bowls of steaming boiled potatoes.  She then poured milk into the two cups I’d set on the table.  We ate in silence, savoring every rich bite of food.  It was a tasty treat—fresh, sweet cream and milk. 
 I always wished we could thank the Hopkins for their generosity, but Mother forbade me to see or speak to them.  I think she was afraid if we ever said anything, the neighbors might find the courage to talk to us.  And if that were to happen, my father might get wind of the shared spoils.  He’d put a firm end to it, for sure.  Charity to him was the worst form of insult.  As it was, Mrs. Hopkins only brought around the milk and potatoes every couple of weeks, and only when my father’s truck was gone.  It seemed the old couple was wary of him also, so things were always left at the backdoor early in the morning.
 “Mama?”
 My mother’s eyes glanced up from her bowl.  They stayed on me, waiting for the question I obviously wished to ask.
 “Have you ever had a garden?”
 She nodded the tiniest bit.  “Once,” she said.
 “Did you grow potatoes?”
 Her eyes fell as she shook her head.  “No, Anna.  Flowers.  I once had a flower garden.  It was pretty.  Johnny didn’t care for the colors, though.”  She always called my father by his name, even around me. 
 I could tell whatever memory my question had dredged up wasn’t a pleasant one.  Kindly, I stifled my curiosity.  It was easy enough to imagine a younger version of my father tearing up a beautiful flower garden in some drunken rage, shouting out absurd excuses for his cruel actions.  I went on, working up to what I wanted.
 “Mama, did you know that a buried potato will grow into a potato bush?”
 I watched her slurp up a spoonful of cream and shake her head.
 “It’s true.  Lenny said so at school and his father’s a farmer.  Mrs. Cosgrove told the whole class he was right about that.”
 I watched Mother’s eyebrows pull together, her normally troubled face appearing even more so.  I continued.
 “If we were to plant some of the Hopkins’ potatoes, they would grow into bushes full of new potatoes.  We could grow our own!”  My eyes widened, hopeful. 
 Mother laughed nervously.  “Is this an experiment your teacher suggested?”
 “Well, no,” I admitted.
 “Then why would you want to do something so silly when the Hopkins provide us with more than enough.  They have a farm, Anna.  We don’t.”
 “But it might be nice to grow a few plants of our own, just two or three.”
 Mother was shaking her head as I spoke, but I continued to make my case.
 “It would only take a small patch of dirt.”
 Her head appeared to tremble, shaking with an adamant no.
 “But, Mama!”
 “No, Anna.  No vegetable gardens.  You’re a little girl, not a boy.”
 My face twisted up, confused.  “What does that matter?”
 She straightened up in her chair and wiped both hands on her lap, attempting to convey some parental confidence.  “Boys grow up to be farmers, Anna, it’s their place.  They plow and plant and harvest to provide for their families.  Girls don’t.”
 “Then what do girls do?” I asked, discouraged by her announcement.
 She forced a momentary smile.  “Well, they grow up to be mothers, of course.  Like me.”
 “Oh.”  I felt my eyebrows skew.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to grow up to be like her.
 It was quiet as I helped clear the table.  Mother washed the few dishes we’d dirtied at dinner.  I wiped them dry and put them away.  Once finished, I slinked out the backdoor, eager to take a short walk through the woods.  My feet slipped into a pair of sandals abandoned next to the screen door and then hustled across a stretch of tall grass that made up our backyard.  A healthy mix of dandelions and chickweed choked off large sections of the yard.
 The sun had already slid below the treetops, painting the horizon a fire red.  I walked toward the sunset into the woods, certain of where I was going.  The path I took was as straight a line as you could manage having to skirt around countless trees.  A low, constant croaking from distant frogs mixed with chirping crickets, the two sounds nearly identical.  Occasionally a warbler sang from high above, his voice a tickled chime in the wind.  About a hundred yards from the house I stopped and fell on my knees.  I’d reached my destination—a tiny opening in the woods with a ceiling of clear sky.  The patch was mostly wild grass and clover.   
 My hands slipped into each dress pocket, the right fishing out a large kitchen spoon, the left recovering a snatched raw potato.  I went to work on the ground, digging at the grass with my makeshift shovel.  It was difficult cutting through the sod until I realized that worming my fingers beneath the roots to rip out an entire section at once proved more effective.  When I reached the soil below, it was a simple task to spoon out a hole.  I worked quickly and determinedly to dig five holes about three inches deep.  It seemed a good depth to bury a chunk of potato. 
 When the digging was done, I used the spoon to carve into the flesh of the potato, cutting it into five semi-equal pieces.  I ended out with four rounded balls and a fifth chunk that sort of resembled a square with sloped sides.  The job was nearly done.
 The first piece of potato made a dull thud as it hit the bottom of the hole.  The second made a similar sound.  The third fell from my hand, nearly silent in its landing.
 I gasped, looking at the evidence in my mother’s open palm.  She’d caught it in midair.  Her brown eyes weren’t nearly as big as mine when our gazes met.
 “Annabelle,” she sighed, kneeling the rest of the way down beside me.
 “Mama,” I whispered, terrified that I’d been caught red-handed.
 Her neck twisted to scan the little clearing that was growing more shadowed by the minute.  My heart pattered in my chest, waiting for her to speak.
 “Johnny doesn’t know about this place?”
 My head shook in small, rapid movements.
 Her head tilted as she frowned at me.  “I told you not to do this.”
 My shoulders crept up, nearly touching my ears.  I didn’t know what to say.
 She released a long, audible sigh and let the chunk of potato roll off her fingers into the center hole.  Silently she took the two remaining pieces of potato flesh and plopped them into the final holes.  Her hands scooped the mounds of dirt I’d dug up, and buried our experimental seeds.  She patted the dirt flat, then turned to a bucket I hadn’t noticed behind her.  I watched in surprise as she rose to her knees and poured a good amount of water on the plot of dirt.  I jumped up to avoid getting wet.
 Our focus rested on the mud puddle, regarding what we’d just done.  I felt as if we’d buried a litter of dead kittens.
 “It would be best if this were to remain our secret, Anna.”
 I nodded.  My eyes lifted to find hers.  She seemed to want to smile, but instead her mouth pulled to one side, twisting into a discontented look.
 “If Johnny were to find out that you defied me, well…..it wouldn’t be a good thing.”
 I nodded again.  I knew that wasn’t the reason my father would get upset, but it was as good an excuse as she could come up with.  Either way, I understood that this was another thing we were to keep quiet about.
 Mother carried the empty bucket back to the house.  I walked beside her, my eyes flickering up every few seconds to gauge the worry engraved in her features.  It was easy to see she was troubled, fretting over another secret she’d need to keep from father.  He was our soul provider, a fact he often ranted and raved about.  Once a month he would drive my mother to town to purchase the things we needed for survival, though a large portion of her grocery allowance was spent on his coveted alcohol.  It filled up half the cooler.  Being a proud man, if he were to discover that our food supply was supplemented in other ways—if he ever learned of the Hopkins’ charity or stumbled upon our experimental potato bushes—well….
 I swallowed hard.  Mother shuddered as if she could read my mind.  An eerie coincidence.  Perhaps we’d shared the same thought.  I felt a pang of guilt, knowing that once again my existence had caused her strife.  A wave of regret made me want to go back and dig up the wasted potato, preventing it from sprouting and announcing to any passer-by that we had a secret garden.  But I didn’t turn around.
 The evening sky reddened to black as mother saw to her busying chores.  She swept the wood floors, wiped down the table, chairs, and counter, pulled the windows and curtains closed, and turned out all but one light.  Then she put me to bed with a cool kiss on the forehead. 
 I laid on a single mattress in the dark, wondering if it was a moonless night outside.  No light filtered through my curtains.  Though I longed to, I knew it would be impossible to read anything more of Alice in such blackness.  The muffled sound of the television cut through the silence, carrying down the hall to comfort me until I fell fast asleep.

 A curiously far-reaching table, covered by an unusually long, lace tablecloth, reached all the way from one birch tree to another.  It was a wide stretch across the hollow in the woods.  The table was surrounded by many chairs, fancily shaped and cushioned.  A great number of ceramic place settings ran the length of both sides while the center was stacked with trays of mouth-watering desserts.  On either end sat a large ceramic teakettle, each snout steaming sweet-smelling vapors.  Every setting had a saucer and teacup, though not dainty by any means but as big as beer mugs.
 Compared to the available seating, few souls were in attendance at this tea party.  I recognized most from my reading—the snooty Duchess and her baby pig, the well-dressed rabbit, the blue caterpillar, the March hare and a still-sleeping dormouse.  I noticed a white smile hovering off to my left, and realized the Cheshire cat must also be there.  His grinning lips and teeth were the only part of him visible.
 I took a seat on one side of the table—right in the very middle—and was greeted by the host, the Hatter.
 “Welcome to our party, dear Annabelle…” he started.
 “Alice,” I corrected.  For that’s who I wished to be in this dream, even though my hair wasn’t blonde but black as crows.
 “Alice?” he questioned.
 I looked to the head of the table, such a far distance from my seat.  How odd.  It was difficult to make out the Hatter’s features, being shadowed by the oversized brim on his towering hat.
 “Yes, sir,” I affirmed politely.  “Please do call me Alice.”
 “Alice!” he announced with a sudden cry, startling me and every other guest.
 “Yes sir?” I questioned.
 “What?”
 “Did you not call my name?”
 “No, I did not.”
 “But…you said ‘Alice’ quite loudly, sir.  I heard you.  I’m sure everyone here heard you.”  I gestured to the surrounding party.  They all nodded, excepting the sleeping dormouse.
 The hatter argued, leaning forward in his chair, “I did not call your name.  If I’d wanted to call your name, I’d have cried ‘Annabelle!’”  He did so in a loud voice. 
 Once again I jumped.  “Mr. Hatter,” I breathed, with some annoyance.
 “Yes?” 
 I wasn’t used to characters in my dreams being so disagreeable, but it did seem to keep in line with his personality from the book.
 “Sir, I’m going by the name, Alice, right now because that is the name of the girl in this story.”
 He groaned and slid back in his chair.  “Another boring story.  Did you at least find out how this one ends?”
 My eyebrows pinched.  I was confused and concerned.  “I’ll have you know that Alice in Wonderland is most certainly not a boring story!  There are a lot of mad and crazy things that happen in it.”
 “Mad and crazy does not mean interesting,” the Hatter said.  “Crazy without any excitement or fun or danger is just plain…..BORING!”
 Things were not proceeding as I thought they should.  “You’re not the Hatter at all!” I accused.
 “And you’re not Alice.”  He rose from his chair, jostling the table and every dish on it with his haste.  The Duchess spilled a drop of tea from her cup while the dormouse fidgeted in his sleep.
 With him standing now, I could see beneath the brim of his hat—the rounded face, the brown curls, and a pointed chin that stuck out stubbornly at me. 
 I recognized him.  Gavin. 
 He was the boy I’d met once in a previous dream.  We’d both worn riding hoods, his black, mine red.  I stood up from my chair, careful not to disturb the table as he had.
 “Why are you here?” I asked.  “You don’t belong in my dream.  You’re not a part of this story.”
 He tapped the brim of his oversized hat.  “I am as much a part of this story as you are,” he declared.  “I’m the Hatter.”
 I frowned.  “No, you’re not.”
 “And you’re not really Alice.” 
 I watched his eyes grow big and challenging.  The look was intimidating.  I breathed in and out.  This was silly.  Why was I arguing with my own dream?
 We stood there for a long time, silent.  No one around us spoke either, which made sense because it was my dream and I’d willed them to wait patiently at the table.  The dormouse yawned and turned in his sleep—a simple test to be sure I still controlled the activities in my own dreams.  I broke the silence first.
 “This is my dream,” I insisted, fairly sure of the fact.
 “It is,” Gavin agreed, “although it’s awfully boring,” he added in a mumble.
 “Quit saying that.”
 “Well, it is,” he mumbled more lowly.
 I mustered up enough courage to tell him, “I want you to leave.”
 Silence followed.
 “Please,” I added with a nervous swallow.
 His dark eyes looked me up and down.  Then he fell back in his chair, picking up the oversized teacup in front of him at the same time. 
 “I don’t want to go,” he told me matter-of-fact.  He sipped on his cup then placed it on the saucer.  He watched me stand there uncomfortably for a moment.  Then his eyes scrunched and stared as if he were displeased with me.  His nose wrinkled when I failed to do anything.  But why should I do anything I didn’t care to?  This was my dream, not his!
 Gavin flitted his fingers at me.  “Go on, Anna…I mean, Alice.  Have your little boring tea party.”
 Every character seated around the table suddenly disappeared except for Gavin and myself.  I’d willed them all away, but no matter how hard I wished for it I couldn’t seem to make him go.
 “Great!” he exclaimed, rising from his seat.  “Now we can have some real fun!”
 He was all smiles, looking like a copy of the vanishing Cheshire cat.  I felt my eyes burn with threatening tears, but managed to hold them back.  Gavin jumped up on his chair, using it as a step to reach the table.  He danced down the middle of my imagined buffet, kicking up his heels and hopping about, stomping and squishing plates filled with sweet cakes and tarts.  His big hat remained high on his head, one hand holding fast to the brim.
 “Come on, Annabelle!” he called, waving me up with his free hand.  “This is fun!”
 All I could do was watch.  My beautifully dreamed tea party had turned into a nightmare.  Gavin twirled about in a swift, tight circle and lost his balance.  He tumbled backwards, landing with his hind end in a platter of cream puffs.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.
 “You’ve ruined everything!” I sobbed.  I willed my dream to an end and all our surroundings disappeared.  Everything but Gavin and his big hat.
 I heard a sigh, or maybe it was a huff, before Gavin picked himself up off the ground.  He came over to stand in front of me, frowning.  I could only flicker a glance up at him occasionally, noting that his expression wasn’t sorrowful, nor angry, but disappointed. 
 “You don’t belong in my dreams,” I sniveled.  “I was dreaming of Wonderland.  You are not part of Wonderland.”
 A quick glance caught his frown moving to one side of his face.  He appeared to be contemplating my words.
 “I belong in any dream I wish to be in,” he eventually told me.  “I’m the key keeper.  And this isn’t Wonderland anyway, it’s Dreamland.”
 I scrunched my eyes and tilted my head, looking up to regard him strongly.  This didn’t make any sense at all.  I pinched myself.  Nothing.  So this was definitely a dream.  I was surely sound asleep and dreaming, which meant that he was a part of my fantasies—a figment of my imagination.  But why was my mind doing this to me?  Why could I not envision that intriguing mad tea party as I wished to?  Or perhaps that’s exactly what I was doing…..going mad at a tea party like all the mad and crazy characters in the book.  Maybe my imagination had taken it a little too far.
 “I’m sorry I ruined your tea party.”
 I focused on Gavin again.  His lips were puckered, pulling down at the sides.  He looked sincere……and funny.
 “I just wanted to dream of Alice and Wonderland, that’s all,” I said.  “I happen to like the story.”
 Gavin turned his head to look at my mental void.  He waved his hand and the forest reappeared all around us.  We stood facing each other in the middle of a sunken, open area of grass.
 “So, what else happens in Alice’s story?” he asked.
 “Um…”  My shoulder involuntarily lifted.  “I haven’t read past the tea party yet.  That’s as far into the book as I’ve gotten.”  I stuck a finger in his face before Gavin could comment, making his eyebrows perk behind a curtain of curly bangs.
 “I did read about how Alice was trying to find her way into a garden, but she wasn’t able to get there right away because she was too big to fit through the doorway, and then she was too small to get the huge key to open the door, and then she was too big again when she’d finally recovered the key, and then a bunch of animals came and other things happened that I suppose were distractions, but she did meet this wise, blue caterpillar who told her to eat from both sides of a mushroom so she could grow bigger or smaller until she finally got to the right size.”
 I stopped to breathe.
 “So can she fit through the doorway to the garden now?”
 I shrugged.  “Yes, I think so.”
 “Did she step through it?”
 “Well, no, not yet.  They were right in the middle of a mad tea party.”
 “Oh.”
 “It’s not boring,” I insisted, reading the look on his face.  I was grateful when he didn’t challenge me.
 I felt his fingers slip in between mine as he took my hand before announcing, “Well, come on and we’ll go see this garden ourselves.  Who needs Alice or that goofy Hatter?”  He shed his big hat and tossed it to the wind.
 I kept with his determined pace as he pulled me along, headed for the surrounding tree line.  A mess of thick, brown curls bounced around his face with each eager step.  He looked sideways at me and smiled.
 I smiled back.
 We slowed near the edge of birch trees.  My mouth gaped when Gavin guided me around a bush, stopping before the most beautiful garden I’d ever laid eyes on. 
 Flowers of all varieties spread endlessly in every direction, the colors more vibrant than any rainbow.  I let go of Gavin’s hand and reached for a soft pink rose.  My palms cupped around the open bud.  It was huge!  The petals draped over my fingers like sheets of dusted silk.  My nose naturally moved in to take a whiff.  It smelled like fresh-baked strawberry cupcakes. 
 “Wow,” I breathed.
 “Do you like it?” Gavin asked.
 “Oh yes,” I answered truthfully.
 “Good!” he chirped.  “Now we can get to the fun part!”
 My hands fell away from the pink rose and I felt my eyebrows slant.  I was seriously concerned that he would start trampling through this beautiful garden, stomping the flowers into the ground, once again spoiling everything.
 “I don’t think I like your fun,” I said. 
 His smile wilted faster than a poisoned weed.  “What do you mean?” he asked.  “I thought we had a great time the other day when we hiked to Grandmother’s house.  Remember how I let that big bad wolf eat me?  That was amazing fun!”
 I recalled how he’d allowed himself to be eaten by a storybook wolf who was dressed in a nightgown, waiting in Grandmother’s bed for Red Riding Hood.  Gavin had laughed the entire time as he was swallowed whole, head first.  His amusement had echoed up from inside the wolf’s stomach.  I’d turned my eyes away in horror. 
 “I don’t want to spoil the garden,” I told him.
 “Spoil it?” he repeated, screwing up his face.  “You’re so strange.  We’re not going to spoil it, we’re going to make it better!”  His smiled instantly returned.  “Come on, Annabelle, you’ll see.”
 Once again my hand was snatched up and he dragged me behind him through a congestion of flowers that stood up to my waist.  We stopped dead center amidst a circle of pink roses. 
 “Imagine them anyway you want them to be,” Gavin instructed.  “Then wave your hand.”
 “Wave my hand?”
 “Yes,” he nodded, “like a magician.  You can even use magic words if you want to.”  He immediately demonstrated, turning to a mass of yellow daffodils beside the pink roses.  He waved his hand and shouted, “Butterkin Flybertix!”
 I watched the droopy, yellow petals rise like the sunset and fold up in the center.  Then they slowly fell open again before rising and flittering closed.  A smile spread across my face as I realized the flowers were flapping their wings.  Soon the stems began to stretch and pull as if they wanted to fly away but couldn’t, rooted to the ground as they were. 
 “Oh my!” I gasped.
 Gavin nodded proudly. “Now it’s your turn.”
 I glanced uncertainly at him.  “How?”
 “Make up a magic word and wave your hand.”
 “Okay.”  I thought for a second, then waved my hand over the pink roses.  “Spotterdottipus!”  I giggled at my own silly word.
 “Not bad,” Gavin said, observing how an infestation of colorful polka dots were popping up on every petal of pink.  I’d never seen anything like it, not in any storybook.
 Gavin took my hand and pulled me through the polka-dotted roses, past the fluttering daffodils, and into a stretch of bright-orange, freckled lilies.  Five long petals came to a curved point on each stem. 
 Lifting both arms over his head, he cried, “Grimdraggon Slobberchomp!”  His hands fell down abruptly and washed to either side. 
 At once, the lily petals transformed into orange dragon muzzles, more scaly than freckled.  Their jaws snapped at the sky, many of the heads leaning in our direction.  I squealed and cringed away from them, but my moves weren’t fast enough.  Lily petals fell against my cheek, my hair, and the tips of my fingers.  I was certain to be bitten by such fierce-looking flowers, until it registered that the sensation on my cheek wasn’t painful at all, but more like the wet, rough texture of a kitten’s tongue.  I looked at my fingers to find dragon lilies licking at the padded flesh.  Gavin’s laughter hit the air before my own as we were playfully attacked by the slobbery licks of dozens of lily tongues.
 My dream continued like this—Gavin and I taking turns making up ridiculous, meaningless magic words while transforming the sea of flowers into a truly mad Wonderland.  When we’d finished gardening, a table for two materialized in the middle of it all, set up for tea and cake.  Gavin’s big hat appeared at his feet.  He never did put it on throughout our entire private tea party.

Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich


Chapter Three




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