Garden party

The flowers should all be dead. Their bright orange petals are out of season, kind of spooky in their flourishing. The parents recognize this, but the children don’t, so they toddle about the garden picking at blossoms that shouldn’t exist.

My friend and I sit on our picnic blanket, watching uncomfortably as small hands dismantle the flowers. Our own children seem more sensitive to the miracle—or the plight—of the garden. They stay close to us, little sprouts on good behavior. Eating, fussing, having their faces wiped.

A tight-lipped lady marches toward us. She’d emerged through the back doors of the museum as if she’d been watching malevolently from a castle’s high tower. She goes straight for the children.

“Don’t pick the flowers,” she says to the young gardeners. “Why on earth would you do that?” She grabs for the petals in their hands. The startled children look around for their parents.

“They’re living things,” scolds the museum lady as she drops to her knees and begins scouring the grass for more petals. My friend and I draw our children close, not wanting to implicate them and further pollinate the lady’s anger. 

The food truckers, the bluegrass musicians, the other museum personnel at the party, they do not seem to notice the drama unfolding here at the edge of the petunias. They’re all baking in the sun, even though it’s October, even though it should be sweater weather, even though this flower garden should be trimmed back and barren.

Someone needs to tell this lady that it’s our own fault these flowers grew in the first place. The grownups are responsible for confusing Mother Nature. We fucked up. The moms and dads. If petunias are going to make themselves an attractive nuisance at fall parties, we’ve only got ourselves to blame. If the world were as it should be, our sons and daughters would wear infinite crowns of bee-stung flowers.

“I mean…we all want to save the planet,” says my friend. “Is yelling at children the best way to go about it?”

My daughter scoots into my lap and opens her chubby fist. “Here, Mommy,” she says, and offers me an orange petal that she’s squished and heated into pulp. “This is for you.” I’m touched, I’m ashamed, I’m complicit. I mash her into my chest and inhale her like a bouquet. She was once part of the earth, but now she’s all mine.

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