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OCTOBER 1998 | VOL. 2, NO. 5



BEGINNING of story





Wildflower 1, 2, 3

"Oh my God! Danny!" She moved to the door, and was nearly knocked over as Brad bolted out.

"Danny!" he called. Janie felt sick at the silence. She ran out behind her husband into the yard. The fence gate was swung open and down the alley they saw a tall figure turn into a yard and disappear. Another scream and Brad dashed into the alley after the suspect, Janie trailing. She stopped, put her hands on her knees, and hacked uncontrollably. No good running, she raced back to the house to phone the police, tears streaming down her flushed cheeks.

As she hung the phone up, Brad burst into the house and grabbed the keys. "You call the cops?"

"Yes. Didn't you find him?"

"No! I'm taking the car to go look. You stay here."

"I'll go with. . . ."

"I SAID, stay here."

Janie looked at him in stunned silence and watched as he ran to the car and drove away. How dare he yell at her? Danny was her son, too. She put her face in her hands and wept. She wept for their son, but also a little for herself.

Later that night Janie found herself sitting on the back porch in her chair again surrounded by co-workers from the bar and neighbors who seemed empathetic but were clearly eager to return to the safety and comfort of their own homes. Her sister knelt beside her and patted her knee incessantly. It irritated her, but she did not say so. "Thank you all for coming." She rubbed her swollen eyes. The police had gone, the reporters had gone, and the only people left were these few friends.

Brad had not spoken to her, except to calm her when he failed to find either Danny or the man they had seen running down the alley. He had held her for the first time in months, and it would have pleased her, but for the situation. After that, he'd been too involved with police reports, calling friends and family, giving interviews to three television stations. She thought she noticed concern in his voice when he asked how she was doing, but he didn't show it in deed - not in her eyes.

"Is there anything I can get you?" her sister asked.

"No, Rose."

Janie continued to rock. Around her, friends carried on hushed conversations of which she caught only bits and pieces.

"Sorry bastard hasn't come out here once!"

". . . should keep a better eye on him."

"What good's a watch dog if. . . ."

One by one her friends filed into the house and went home. Sharing in someone else's tragedy is so convenient. Grieve a while, cry a little, hug and talk, then go home and watch a movie. Only Rosemary remained true. It had always been so. Rose was strong. She had been fifteen when Janie was born. A year later a train on a dark road killed their father and eight-year-old brother, and their mother went crazy. Rose raised Janie, took care of Mom and somehow found time to go to college. When Rose married an advertizing executive named Anthony, Janie had felt rejected. When she dropped out of high-school to marry a bricklayer five years her age, it hadn't been Mom who felt like the failure, it had been Rose, and Janie was ashamed now of her poverty and ignorance which Rose's very presence accentuated.

"I'll sleep on the couch tonight," Rose chimed.

"Oh no, that's okay. The springs are all broke. You go home. I'll be fine."

"I didn't drive an hour and a half just to go right back home. I'm staying until this thing's over."

Janie smiled, nervously. My house is such a mess, she thought. "Thank you, for everything."

"We might not see each other as often as we should, but that doesn't mean we're not family."

"I know, but the air conditioner's broke and the couch is so uncomfortable. . . ."

"Baloney. I'll sleep on the floor, then. It doesn't matter."

Janie looked out into the dark and fought her persistent tears. It wasn't fair. The moon cast its half-light through broken clouds onto the roses. A black petal detached itself and seesawed slowly to the ground. It wasn't fair.

The waves tossed her small boat like a twig in a boiling ditch. Before her was water, behind her was water, and to both sides, more water still. She was alone in the boat. Small wildflowers slid fore and aft as the boat rose and fell with the swelling of the waves. She stared at the flowers and understood them. She was a wildflower. Janie looked out at the rolling sea and saw a fog creeping closer. In the distance was another boat, moving away from her. She tried to steer toward it, but the faster she rowed the further the boat seemed. She looked behind her and saw yet another, smaller boat, very nearly capsizing from the force of the waves. "Danny!" she called. "Danny!" The waves grew more violent. White caps formed and rolled down the sides like little avalanches. She was rocking so that she thought she would fall out. A female voice called to her from the fog. "Janie. Janie." It must be an angel, she thought. The tall waves tossed her even more. "Danny. Danny!"

"Janie! Wake up."

Janie opened her eyes and saw Rose standing over her, shaking her gently. Janie had fallen asleep on the couch. An empty half-pint of gin sat on the table.

"A detective is here," Rose said. "He wants to talk to the two of you."

A sick feeling wormed its way from Janie's stomach to her throat. She propped herself on her elbow and rubbed her eyes. "Where's Brad?"

"He's in bed. You need to wake him. The detective's in the kitchen."

Rose must have been up a while. She had already dressed and made her hair. "What's he want?"

"I don't know. He said he wanted to talk to the two of you."

Janie left Rose in the living room and found Brad snoring on the bed, fully clothed. She stood in the doorway and stared for a moment. Brad was squeezing a pillow in one arm and a picture of Danny in the other. It was Danny's preschool picture, and he had refused to give it to the news people or the police when they asked for pictures. She longed for Brad to love her, but she was at least grateful for the love he gave their son. Perhaps that was why she stayed.

They returned to the kitchen together, Brad fixing his hair. The detective was a tall man, not large, middle forties. He offered his hand, which Brad took. Stone was his name. He had been the one asking questions the previous night. "Mister Bartlett," he said, nodding. He fumbled with a paper in one hand and cleared his throat. "We've found your son."