by Bradley Sides
The first time I saw Dahlia Washington, I was in the garden behind her house. She looked doleful when she stepped onto the deck with her rusted watering can and saw another potted stem gone brown. She grabbed the container and smashed it against the bricks. The dirt shot across the yard, with some ricocheting against the wall and landing on Dahlia’s pouty lips. She licked them, digesting the earth that she so loved, and slowly bent down to pick up her mess.
Calm now, she examined the fragments of the clay pot, holding each piece up toward the sun, seeing if the broken fragments might be redeemable if she glued the vessel back together. She would find out later. For the time being, she stuck them in her pockets.
Her eyes scoped the grass ahead of her. Although she was a botanist and, therefore, spent most of her time outdoors surrounded by insects, spiders made her uneasy. “Too many legs,” I would hear her tell one of her visitors the next day. “I can’t trust something with more legs than me.” She laughed when she said it, hoping to ease her apparent display of silliness.
As she moved closer to me, my new heart fluttered. I wanted her to hold me. I needed her hands to soothe my anxiety. She wasn’t exactly my mother, but she was my protector. She hadn’t told me yet, but I belonged to her. I knew I did.
She squatted at the edge of the tilled ground and tipped her watering can over us. Her voice, which was rich and strong, only made me more eager for freedom. Her soft hands rubbed the dying leaves near me, coaxing them to come back. Then, finally, she saw me.
Dahlia began to cry. I was her prize. My eyes peeked up above the dirt just enough that she could tell that my head was fully formed. I rocked back and forth in the ground to loosen my body. My mouth. It was open. I screeched into the open sky. I was alive. And I was her first.
Dahlia’s visitors still came, and they made their usual offerings. One finger for a chance at a new child. She brought me out and showed me off as her “proof of the possibilities.”
“See, Monica,” she said, grabbing me by my shoulders and twirling me. “This is Hawthorne. He’ll be going back to his donor family next week. Look at him. A human boy.”
I smiled and waved at the woman who sat on the couch. “It’s true,” I said, and I ran around the room as Dahlia always instructed me to in front of clients.
Monica was like most of the recent ones. She was interested, but after seeing me, she had her doubts.
“Why is he so small?” she asked slowly, with her voice muffled.
Dahlia hated this question—she hated it more than anything. Her cheeks always reddened before she answered.
Why did my size matter? I was a child. I was grown from a finger. What did these people expect?
“He’s a child,” Dahlia said, huffing. “Look at your donor finger. It’s not that big. Compare it to the size of Hawthorne. He’s, what, at least ten times the size of the seed. What matters is that he’s a boy, and, with my expertise, I can grow you your own child—your own Hawthorne.”
Monica looked down at the floor. “Well,” she said, tapping her thumb against her knee. “I’d really prefer an Iris if that’s possible.”
“I’m good, but I’m not that good yet. I can’t pick the gender. Besides, Hawthorne is my first big success,” Dahlia said.
Monica stood up and glanced out the back window at the garden. “Out there, huh? That’s where it happens?”
Dahlia stood to match Monica. “That’s where it happens,” she said.
Monica was quiet. Then, she shook her head. “I just can’t do it. I thought I could. I can’t let you cut off my finger for a child that’s—well—that’s the size of a chicken.”
She took her purse and darted out of the door and to her car. “I’m sorry,” she said waiving her hands at the both of us, “I just can’t do it. It’s not normal.”
She backed out of the driveway and rolled her window down. “If you start growing larger kids—or girls—let me know. I’d be very interested if that were the case.”
Her tires squealed as she sped off down the street.
Dahlia slammed the door and grabbed me by my shirt collar. “Listen to me, and listen now,” she commanded, grabbing a butcher knife. “I’m cutting myself in two parts. You take me out to the garden and cover me with the dirt. Pretend I’m a finger. Pour the solution on the counter over me twice each day—once in the morning and once at dusk. I should sprout from the ground in a couple of weeks. Forget your donor family. I’ll grow a girl at a normal size if it’s the last thing I do.”
She walked toward the backdoor and looked at the garden. “Do you have any questions, Hawthorne?” But she didn’t wait for an answer. She took the knife and did as she had said.
I’ll never forget the moment when I first saw her eyes. She had done it. Dahlia had really done it.
I plucked her from the earth just as she had done to me.
“We’ll need bodies, Hawthorne,” she said as I scrubbed the dirt off her. “Lots and lots of bodies.”
I agreed. Who was I to argue with my creator?
Bradley Sides is a writer and English instructor. He is a regular contributor to BookBrowse. His work appears at Electric Literature, Fiction Southeast, The Lit Pub, Literary Orphans, The Rumpus, Toasted Cheese, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his first collection of short stories.