You pick dandelions. Haven’t done the yard in months, so there are hundreds of the little infectious yellow bursts carpeting what you dare to call a lawn. Someone said once, or you read, you think, that dandelions can help you sleep. Under your pillow or crushed up and sprinkled on your sheets. Or something like that. And you haven’t slept in weeks so you stand in your bare feet in the dewy wet overgrowth and bend to pick the flowers. Weeds—no, flowers.
After the boys are asleep—they are 13 and 17, so not really boys anymore—you stand under the single naked lightbulb in the bathroom. You watch the fluorescence of the metal wiring inside as it flickers. You marvel at how much science is in these household things. Think about how these round bulbs are being replaced by those modern Guggenheim Museum bulbs with their infinite curves and promises to live on and on and on. Tucked into your Bible, which you haven’t opened in years, is a postcard from that New York museum. On the back it just reads Art as Fuck, Bob. You’re not sure why you keep it, the postcard or the Bible. Anyway, you often have to use the toilet in the dark because of the crappy light. The landlord won’t do shit. That’s what he says. I won’t do shit. You don’t pay me enough for shit.
You spread moisturizer on your parchment skin—also you can’t turn the heat off and it’s June. The cream feels like coagulated blood. You assume, anyway.
You gather the dandelions from the dresser and pull off the flowers, dropping the stems and their forked leaves to the floor. Scrunch up the soft yellow flowers in your fist to smell pungent herby scent.
You remember making headbands out of dandelions as a child. You wanted to find the ones with the longest stems. Some people drink dandelion tea. Eat the greens. Dandelion wine. What kind of horrible thing is that? Bitter, you assume these people are bitter.
You pull back your blanket, exposing the bare mattress, silvery flowers with stitched curves. Drop the petals slowly. The pulpy remnants and stems you slide under the pillow. Your ex-husband used to stash his handgun under your pillow there and you’d fall asleep with an oily hunk of metal pushing into your ear. He would slip his thick hand under that same pillow when he came to bed. It was a gesture that, if you didn’t know what his hand was clutching, you’d think was romantic.
Your oldest calls out. He does that in his sleep. You check the door to the boys’ room. It’s still shut. Your oldest also gets up in the middle of the night, drinks milk from the carton and leaves the fridge open. He does that in his sleep too.
A shotgun rings. Or a car backfires. Mid-step, you startle, then freeze, refusing even to place the heel of your foot down. Wait to hear something more. Wait to hear from your boys. Nothing. They’ve slept through it. You open their door, just a crack, listen to the teenage snoring; warbling love, slobber, and exhaust.
A blue nightlight shines on your youngest, making him appear underwater. You want to yank the light from the wall, but you know if he wakes up without it, in the dark, he’ll scream something ghastly and wet the bed. Leave it. The image stays with you, your drowning son.
Back in bed with the crumbled weeds; the forgotten flower that you loved so much but now just stinks like shit and derelict houses. You brush them from the mattress, but some get ground in. Try to pick each petal out but your nails are bitten to the quick and they can’t get purchase against the soft mattress.
From under your pillow you brush what you can of the dandelions onto the floor. With broad strokes you desperately try to get it all. You finally lay under the blanket, hot but needing the weight on you. You hear the fridge open and fall asleep listening to the glug of milk and the smell of earth beneath you and in your fingers and on your palms.
You sleep the whole night through and in the morning, you drift through the weedy debris of the night on your way to the kitchen. You think about vacuuming but remember the vacuum is broken. Has been all year. You’ll need to pick out the plant bits from the grubby carpet with your fingers. You’ll have to let your fingernails grow for that.
Pretty soon the flowers in the yard will turn puffy and white and with each wish, blow off in the wind and no one will know they were there in the first place, crowding your lawn, helping you sleep, protecting you.
About the Author: Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming with Necessary Fiction, Prairie Schooner, The Citron Review, and elsewhere. When not writing, she can be found with her kid and/or cat, running, learning the ukulele, and on the flying trapeze. Seriously. More can be found on her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.
Story Song: "O Sailor" by Fiona Apple