Wildflowers – by Rosa Meronek
Martha ran the flat side of the shovel back and forth over the patch of damp dirt. Bending down, she picked up a small stone and shoved it into her front pocket. She stood and rolled her shoulders before crossing herself and bowing her head. A slight breeze blew several strands of hair into her face. Tucking the strands behind her ear, she looked out over the field of wildflowers. It was picture perfect. The sun was fading over the horizon, streaking red and orange across the sky.
She sighed, tightly gripping the wooden handle of the shovel in her gloved hand, then tossed it into the bed of the ATV buggy. She reached into the small brown sack on the passenger seat and grabbed a handful of seeds. Turning, she cast them about the freshly turned dirt. Jumping into the buggy, she turned it on and headed across the back few acres of her property towards home.
As she neared the two story ranch house, she smiled. Susie was playing in the grass with their Chocolate Labrador, Root Beer. She stopped and waved her arm back and forth at Martha.
Martha waved back, guiding the buggy to the large barn across the yard from the house and parking beside a faded green tractor.
She stepped out, kicking one foot then the other against the back tire of the buggy and knocking mud off her tan work boots. She pulled the shovel from the back then glanced to the porch where her mother sat, rocking slowly in a large wooden rocking chair, her gaze on the little girl.
The old lady fluttered her hand in Martha’s direction. Martha gave her a slight nod and a tight smile then veered left to go into the barn. Walking through the large open doors, she turned and hung the shovel on the wall. She pulled the stone from her pocket and tossed it into a small wooden crate on a shelf. It rattled against the other stones until gravity pulled it to its resting place.
“Twenty-three,” she mumbled on a sigh as she pulled off her white leather work gloves, tossing them on the shelf by the crate and wiping the sweat of her hands on her faded jeans. She checked on the animals, locking up the barn for the night. She yawned, heading across the yard to the house and walking up the three steps to the porch.
Her body ached. Her boots scraped against the wood planks as she moved to where her mother sat, still rocking slowly, still watching Susie. Standing behind her mother, Martha leaned down and kissed the top of her head, resting her hands on the old lady’s shoulders.
“Everything okay?” Martha asked quietly, her eyes on Susie.
“She’s fine.” Her mother patted Martha’s hand.
Martha breathed deep.
They watched Susie and Root Beer roll around the grass. She threw a ball, and Root Beer brought it back but didn’t let it go. Susie chased him around the yard, laughing and squealing at him.
“I miss my soaps.”
Martha looked down at her mother. “I know, Mom. But, we can’t bring a repairman out here to fix the antenna. You know that. We just have to enjoy the movies we’ve got.”
“Already seen ‘em a hundred times.”
Martha sighed. Every other night was the same thing. She turned back to Susie. Martha smiled as she watched her little girl. Having fun. No worries. The corner of her mouth tugged down. The porchlight turned on with the darkening sky. The chirp of nearby crickets blended with the occasional clucking chicken, neighing horse, and snorting pig.
A loud buzzer sounded from inside.
“Susie! Time to wash up for dinner,” Martha called.
The little girl jumped up from the grass, calling the dog to follow her then ran inside.
Martha’s mother stood slowly from her chair, taking careful steps as she shuffled into the house.
Martha took a deep breath, letting the cool night air fill her chest before turning to head inside and pull the roast out of the oven.
“I miss Daddy…” Susie’s groggy voice was quiet as the little girl drifted off to sleep.
“Me too, Babygirl.” Martha leaned forward and kissed Susie lightly on the cheek. “Me too.” She sat back up on the bed, her hand still on Susie’s back. Her gaze drifted out the window as the memory of that last day with Michael, just over a year ago, came to mind.
“What are you watching, Babe?” Martha asked, walking into the living room after dropping Susie off at school.
Michael looked up at her, concern on his face. He nodded to the television. “The news.”
Martha stepped over to the loveseat where a white laundry basket full of clothes fresh from the dryer waited for her. She pulled a shirt from the pile and started folding. “Anything interesting?”
“Looks like there’s a new flu strain that’s hitting pretty hard.”
Martha rolled her eyes as she kept folding and faced the tv. “That’s what they say every year.”
Michael tugged at one of her belt loops and pulled her down to sit next to him on the couch. “Mar, sit and watch this with me. It’s kinda scary.”
Martha scooched close to Michael, leaning into him as she focused on the newscaster’s words.
“Common flu-like symptoms including fever, coughing, sneezing, lethargy, and body aches. Skin rash. Complications include respiratory distress and pneumonia. It’s highly contagious and particularly dangerous to the elderly and the immuno-compromised. The Amet virus is indiscriminately deadly, killing 60% of those that catch it, and has led to deaths totaling over thirty-thousand nation-wide.”
Martha smiled. “If this is such a big deal, why are we just hearing about it now?”
Michael laughed, pulling her close and kissing her temple. “Because we don’t watch the news, and we live miles away from the rest of the world.”
“Mm.” Martha’s eyes closed as Michael’s hand massaged her shoulder.
“Maybe I should cancel my trip into the city tomorrow. That way I don’t risk catching this thing.”
Martha turned to look at him with a smirk. “It’s just a flu. You’ll be fine.”
Michael smiled broadly. “I don’t care about catching the flu, Mar. I just don’t want to bring anything back to you or Susie or your mom.”
Martha turned to face him, wrapping her arms around his neck and smiled. “Oh, so chivalrous.” She leaned in and gave him a peck on the lips. She grinned. “Well, if you’re planning on getting sick and dying on me, I’d better make use of you while I can.” She took his hand and pulled him off the couch, leading him up the stairs.
Martha blinked back the tears threatening to form in her eyes. She took a deep breath. Michael had never come back from his appointment in the city. A car accident amidst the chaos of fear and panic had taken him from her.
She leaned down and kissed Susie’s cheek again. She smiled as she brushed strands of hair off Susie’s forehead. Martha pulled the sheets up over Susie’s back, tucking her in, then reached over to the nightstand, flicking on the nightlight.
She reached down to the floor and scratched Root Beer’s head as he slept. She stood, her steps echoing loudly in the silence as she shifted over to the window, making sure the latch was in place. She looked up into the dark sky. The moon shone bright, lighting up the front yard. Her eyes narrowed at movement down the dirt driveway. A figure was making its way towards the house.
Martha turned around and ran out of Susie’s room, sprinting down the stairs. She grabbed the shotgun off the dining table, flinging open the front door as she ran out onto the porch. The screen door slammed behind her.
“This is private property!” Martha held the shotgun level with the man’s chest. Root Beer’s sudden barking came from behind the screen door.
“Whoa! Hey, sorry!” The boy, who couldn’t be more than seventeen, held both hands up and took a step back on the dirt path a few yards from the house.
Martha stepped down from the porch, walking towards the boy. “What are you doing here?”
The boy continued to step back as Martha stepped forward, his hands still in the air. “I’m sorry. My car broke down a few miles away, and I got turned around. I saw your house and figured-”
“Figured you could steal our resources.”
The boy’s brows furrowed in confusion. “What?”
Martha shook her head. “You city people. You bring your sickness. You try to steal our food.”
The boy’s eyes went wide. “Lady, I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I got lost. I just need a phone. That’s it.”
Martha’s lip curled. “Liar.” She cocked the shotgun. “I can’t have you bringing the disease to my property. Infecting my family.”
The boy nearly stumbled as he backed further. “Lady, calm down! What disease?”
“Your eyes are bloodshot. I saw you coughing and sneezing as you came down the drive.”
The boy shook his head rapidly. “No, no. I’m not sick. I have allergies!”
“You’ve got Amet.”
His eyebrows drew down. “Amet? Wait, no.” He shook his head. “The outbreak? A year ago?”
“Yes.”Martha swallowed, her hands starting to sweat. This was just a boy.
He started lowering his hands and took a half step forward. “Lady, that outbreak was contained.”
Martha held the shotgun steady as she continued stepping forward, causing the boy to step back and raise his hands again. She shook her head. “Stop lying.”
The boy took a deep breath. “Okay, look. That outbreak killed some people, yeah. But, it was greatly exaggerated. It’s been gone for almost a year now.”
Martha shook her head. “Liars. You’re all a bunch of liars.”
The boy glanced around. “Okay, okay. How about I just go? I’ll just leave.”
Martha sucked her teeth. “See, that’s a problem too. You’ve seen our property.” She motioned her head to the side. “You know what we have here. If I let you go, you could bring others.”
The boy shook his head frantically. “No, I-” His face froze, and he let out a small cough. Blood seeped out from his lips. His body collapsed to the ground.
Martha’s mother stood behind the crumpled body, a large kitchen knife dripping blood was clutched in her right hand. Her gaze raised from the man to meet Martha’s. “Why do you always let them jabber on so much?”
“Mom!” Martha lowered the shotgun. She sighed, “Twenty-four.” Martha moved towards her mother and the boy’s body. She looked down as she shifted his head back and forth with her boot. “No rash.” She looked up at her mom.
Her mom shrugged.
Martha looked back to the house. The soft glow of Susie’s night-light shone dimly through her second story window. Martha’s lips pulled into a tight line as she turned to the distant field of wildflowers.
“I’ll go get the shovel.”