by Abby Manzella
My mother tells me that, as a girl, I should know to be gentle with flowers; their petals, like their perfume, are fragile. Her words teach me to see blooming plants as proper ladies. My favorite, Queen Anne’s lace, greets me when I run through the woods—she regally bows her head in her too-tight ruffled collar, her skin pale and her step delicate. She wouldn’t come home with sunburnt cheeks and dirt stains on her brand-new summer clothes.
I never tear through a patch of those stately white flowers for fear of trampling their elegance, but I do pluck their darkened centers. These specks, the size of pencil tips, I smear on my hand to see that royal purple spread across my flesh like blood after an adventure. Maybe, along with the color, some of the flower’s majesty will rub onto me—the scabby kneed, tree-climbing girl that my mother wishes wore dresses. At the flower’s root, though, even she is not the dainty flower she presents herself to be. Beneath her genteel facade, buried underground, she is held up by a wild carrot full of toughness. But Mama only wishes for me what’s on display.
For my Mama, I close my eyes and try to will myself to be that refined Queen Anne’s lace kind of girl, where boys yearn to touch my hair while I keep myself at a respectful distance and laugh coyly from an available pedestal. Instead, the boys swear and play “En garde” with me after we break dead branches to use as swords. We are pirates in search of damsels needing rescue. We act out the stories passed down to us.
Once we win the battle, we call to the captured lady: Ahoy, how can we be of service to you, ma’am? Our imagined damsels faint dead away from dread and relief.
I’m so sorry, Mama, not to need rescue. I would do it if I could, but the rapids in the stream are never high enough to sweep me off my feet, and I have yet to fall and twist my ankle in the midst of danger—probably because I wear sneakers and look where I’m running.
All I can offer, Mama, is this bouquet of wildflowers I cut for you, but know that the only part that represents me is the wild.
Abby Manzella is the author of Migrating Fiction: Gender, Race, and Citzenship in the U.S. Internal Displacements, which was awarded the Honorable Mention for the MLA Book Prize for Independent Scholars. Her work has been named to the Wigleaf Top 50 Longlist and has been published by places such as Literary Hub, Catpult, Kenyon Review, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Colorado Review, and the Boston Globe. Find her on Twitter at @abbymanzella