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Wildflower by Mia Doring
She marched through the park on her way home from the train station in the orange Nike runners she wore for commuting, her office shoes tucked side by side under her desk. The park was really just a gravel path dividing two gentle green hills, like a miniature valley. Suburban trees loomed overhead and big suburban cars were about to flick their lights on, but not yet. It was 5pm, dusk was settling and people were ants making their way home all over the city and all over the suburbs. She liked the routine, liked to know she was one of the ants. She even liked the crush on the train. She had porridge every morning but on Sundays she had eggs. She was only 29.
A man and his child – about three – and their yellow dog were having a gay old time on the hill. The child slipped and rolled down the incline, plopped smoothly over the side of the wooden ledge that separated grass from gravel path. He smashed his face into the sharp stones and his lip immediately burst open. His little body lay lifeless small and soft under his blue hoodie and grey tracksuit bottoms, as his chubby but not fat fat father hurtled his way down the hill.
There was a moment of silence. A split second. Then the child moved and started screaming. The violence of it. The inescapability of it as the father looked around with the wet whites of his eyes gleaming like a scared horse under an equally tumultuous grey sky. Irritable obligation began to swell inside her but she continued straight ahead, scarf wrapped around her throat and lower face, adamant to get home and not stop and not care about this moronic father and his screaming bloody child. She crunched along head down eyes down. A few steps in she furtively glanced up to check on their progress, optimistically willing them to be vanished. The father’s eyes were staring into hers. They had been waiting, his eyes, poised for the moment hers would inevitably rise to greet them. He knew it would happen. They both knew it would happen. Even the barging over yellow dog knew it would happen. Out of politeness and a sort of awkward respect for this bloody atrocity she’d just witnessed, she solemnly petted the dog with one gloved hand.
“Do you have a tissue or something?” The man swung his body around as though a packet of tissues might have been hanging in mid-air behind him. The clinging child still pierced the air, wrapped around his upper body. Since she had petted the dog, she now felt colluding in the events and exposed and Jesus Christ she’d have to go over there, near the tragedy near the pain near the mess. Over she went, tightening her coat’s belt and shifting her bag more securely over her shoulder in a way that she hoped would communicate a deep desire not to interact. Over she went, arranging her face into an expression of being busy and I’ve no time for this and I’m up to my eyes. Blood was dripping down the child’s chin and all over his teeth, bubbled and diluted with saliva. His mouth was wide open in a permanent wail producing a wall of sound. It made her feel repulsed. And behind that repulsion, a secret smugness that she didn’t have children; and behind that smugness, a whisper of something else. The father was a giant panicking five year old, shuffling urgently back and forth, rubbing the child’s back hard, getting blood and tears and spit all over his nice green jacket. The boy had a small hole just above his top lip. He was an ugly child made uglier by this. She thought he looked grotesque, not like how a human boy should look.
She rummaged for tissues and stood at a safe distance from the screaming and the blood. She attempted to smile at the child, organising her expression into one she had seen people use around upset children. The dad angrily fumbled out his phone with his semi free hand. “Jesus Christ, that’s gonna need a stitch now!” He managed to mumble and shout simultaneously. There was sweat on his face as he continued to fling the child around in his embrace. “Gonna have to go to Michael’s now. Jesus Christ!” He was bellowing now, shouting at her as though the stakes were the same for both of them, as though they were in it together.
She stood removed from the scene as other passers-by marched home. She could practically feel the relief in their dodging gazes, as they told themselves that this girl in the yellow coat had it covered, that they didn’t need to offer help, that they didn’t need to drag her from this mess. Grinning miserably at the boy she held out a tissue, breathed through her ever tightening chest, and waited until the man got off the phone to his wife, still swearing and cursing and shouting. He grabbed the tissue and muttered a thank you. Shoving it into the child’s face, he heaved his buggy and dog and son back up the culprit hill. “No problem,” she said, still trying to look concerned. She smoothed the ends of her hair down around her scarf.
It was properly dark now. She went home and let herself into her house, switching off the alarm and outside light. She turned on the heating and let her clumsy old dog out into the back garden to pee. She took carrot and parsnip soup she’d made last night out of the fridge, put it into a bowl, reheated it in the microwave. The neighbour’s TV was on loud and she could hear the end of some show, the canned laughter and whooping rising and falling.
As she dumped her bag on the couch and kicked her way out of her runners, the compulsion to smoke a cigarette suddenly overwhelmed her. She felt the familiar antsy sensation that was nearly a thirst. The need was in her chest and in her throat. Bizarre. She’d hammered out all those associations years ago. Still. There was tobacco around here somewhere. There. In the hollowed out book at the fireplace where her housemate squirrelled away his joint making accoutrements, thinking she didn’t know about it, thinking she’d never seen a joint before. She quickly rolled a cigarette, her fingers moving deftly. She lit it off the toaster and leaned on the back door-frame looking out into the dark void of garden. For the laugh she flicked the switch which turned on the Christmas lights. They’d been hanging around the shed’s door for over three years.
The garden sparkled to life. The dog snuffled around. There were endless things for him to investigate out there, mostly giant weeds. But also long grass, insects, buried toys, overgrown pink and purple wildflowers, yellow dandelions, remnants of a lost flower bed, ivy roots that led to streams of the stuff carrying over the wall into the no man’s land behind, from where cats and urban foxes could sometimes be heard screaming at night. The weeds and grass and wildflowers grew lushly up each side of the burnt sienna fence that squared off the garden, now all lit by the splattering of silver plastic stars under the cold clear October sky and the white half moon. She threw her cigarette away and stepped into the garden, felt the long dewy grass curl around her calves and ankles. She swung her arms around her like an athlete warming up. She straightened her back and pushed out her chest and looked up at the stars and then down at the grass and mud and soil and felt the muscles and tendons in the back of her neck lengthen and satisfyingly strain with the unfamiliar movement. The microwave pinged in the kitchen. She went back inside.