The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Book: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
also from fear. If you’ll tell me exactly how you’re feeling, I’ll be able to help you find the right flower to convey your message.”
    “I don’t like you,” I said. “I don’t like you locking me out of the house or throwing me into the kitchen sink. I don’t like you touching my back or grabbing my face or forcing me to play with Perla. I don’t like your flowers or your messages or your bony fingers. I don’t like anything about you, and I don’t like anything about the world, either.”
    “Much better!” Elizabeth seemed genuinely impressed by my hate-filled monologue. “The flower you’re looking for is clearly the common thistle, which symbolizes misanthropy.
Misanthropy
means hatred or mistrust of humankind.”
    “Does humankind mean everybody?”
    “Yes.”
    I thought about this.
Misanthropy
. No one had ever described my feelings in a single word. I repeated it to myself until I was sure I wouldn’t forget.
    “Do you have any?”
    “I do,” she said. “Finish your task, and we’ll look together. I have a phone call to make, and I’m not leaving the kitchen until I’ve made it. When we’re both done, we’ll go looking for thistle together.”
    Elizabeth hobbled inside, and when the screen door banged closed, I scurried up the steps, crouching below the window. I rubbed my hand against the soft leather of the shoes, feeling for straggling spines. If Elizabeth was finally going to make the phone call she had been attempting for days, I wanted to listen. It was intriguing, the thought that Elizabeth,who never seemed to trip over a single word, had something she found hard to say. Peering in the window, I saw her sitting on the kitchen counter. She dialed seven numbers quickly, listened to perhaps the first ring, and then hung up. Slowly, she dialed again. This time she held the phone to her ear. From where I sat outside the window, I could see she was holding her breath. She listened for a long time.
    Finally, she spoke. “Catherine.” She pressed her hand over the receiver and made a sound between a gasp and a sob. I watched her wipe at the corners of her eyes. She put the phone back to her mouth. “This is Elizabeth.” She paused again, and I listened intently, trying to hear the voice coming through the line, but couldn’t. Elizabeth continued, her voice fragile. “I know it’s been fifteen years, and I know you probably thought you’d never hear from me again. To tell you the truth,
I
thought you’d never hear from me again. But I have a daughter now, and I can’t stop thinking about you.”
    I realized then that Elizabeth was talking to an answering machine, not a person. Picking up speed, her words tumbled forth. “You know,” she said, “all the women I’ve known who’ve had babies, the first thing they do is call their mothers; they want their mothers with them—even the women who hate their mothers.” Elizabeth laughed then, and relaxed her shoulders, which had been lifted almost all the way to her ears. She played with the spiraling cord with her finger. “So I understand that now, you know? In a completely different way. With our parents gone, all I have is you, and I think about you constantly—I almost can’t think of anything else.” Elizabeth paused, perhaps thinking about what she should say next, or how to say it. “I don’t have a baby—I was going to, adopt one, that is—but I ended up with a nine-year-old girl. I’ll tell you the whole story sometime, when I see you. I hope I’ll see you. Anyway, when you meet Victoria, you’ll understand—she has these wild animal eyes, like I had as a little girl, after I’d learned that the only way to get our mother out of her room was to start a grease fire on the stove or smash the entire season’s canned peaches.” Elizabeth laughed again, and wiped her eyes. I could see that she was crying, although she didn’t look sad. “Remember? So—I’m just calling to say that I forgive you forwhat

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