Della almost blew the seeds off of a talking dandelion.
The flower said, “Don’t” and Della managed to keep most of the breath in, but a puff escaped her lips. Several of the dandelion’s parachute seeds swayed.
“I said don’t. Back off, meat-weed.”
She stood up and stumbled back. She kept her wide eyes on the little flower until she felt she was close enough to the back door of her house. Della turned around and ran inside.
She slammed the door and stamped into the living room, where her mother sat on the couch.
“Are you alright, honey?” her mother asked, looking up from a magazine about gardening.
Della looked at her mother with eyes as big as nickels. Two streams of tears sprinkled down her cheeks. Her mother got up and grabbed her, lifting her high, until their faces met.
“Baby. What’s the matter?”
Della tried to speak but her throat was tight.
“Did you get hurt?” Her mother held her out a few inches and looked her body up and down. Della shook her head, no.
“Did something scare you outside?”
She squeezed her eyes and nodded and sniffed.
“What was it, baby?”
Della’s throat released a stuttered word.
More tears came. Her mother squeezed her tighter and nuzzled her nose against her red face.
“A flower scared you?”
Della felt her mother’s cheek flex against hers. Della pulled her head away and saw her mother trying to hide a smile. She drove her earthy brows together and looked her mother right in the eyes. Her mind tried to navigate the twists and dead ends of confusion.
I don’t know, mommy!
“Okay, Delly. I think it’s time for a nap.”
That set her off and she wailed and kicked but was soon struggled into bed and blanketed. After much screaming and protesting, she slept. Her mother woke her when her father came home from work. She squealed when she saw him. He picked her up and kissed her. She rubbed her cheek on his scratchy chin. In her nap fit, and now her father’s presence, she had somehow forgotten about that talking dandelion.
The next day rained. With her forehead pressed against the cold glass, she watched the downpour flood her family’s patchy, overgrown, toy-strewn backyard. Among the crabgrass, a slender green stem, now bent in a curly-q, caught her attention. At the end of the stem was a battered fuzzball, the dandelion’s head, drooping and hanging on. Della stared at it until she remembered. That thing is alive. It could talk. She saw other stems in the yard too, also curled in the smacking rain.
She went and found her mother.
“Mommy, can I go outside?”
“No, baby. It’s raining today.”
“I know it’s raining, mom. I just really want to go outside.” Della was almost whining. “I can put on my rain boots.”
Della forced out a lungful of breath. “You never let me go outside.”
“Never, right,” her mother mumbled.
Della cheered up later when a sun ray beamed through a window leaving a bright hot rectangle on the living room carpet. Feathery dust could been seen then lazing around in the orange haze. Della’s mother got out the rags and cleaner and started wiping every surface in the house. Della began spinning and dancing in the living room. She climbed up on the couch and started jumping.
“Stop. You’re spreading more dust. Can you see it, in the light?”
“Uh, huh. Can I go outside then?”
“Sure. Let’s put a sweater on you though.”
Della, wearing sweater, socks, boots, and tights tromped out into the mud and the thigh high blades. She avoided the grassy spots and went straight for the dirt patches, hopping like a frog and splattering mud on her tights as she moved toward the back of the yard which bordered a forest. Covering the back edge was a patch of big beautiful dandelions, ripe for blowing. Della stopped her hopping, tilted back and peered down her nose at the white maned flowers. The one that had spoken to her was there, now dry except for the dewy stem. It didn’t look so curved and sleepy anymore.
Della knew she would feel funny starting a conversation with a flower, so she waited and listened. Nothing happened for a while. All she heard were drips and chirps and road sounds, made far from their country house, being carried to her ears by the wind which kissed her hands and face.
“If she’s here to make honey out of us I think I’ll poison her.”
Della’s jaw dropped.
“She’s not a bumble bee, Dot. She’s a little human. Didn’t you hear the footsteps? Speaking of which, you were the one who called attention to yourself yesterday, by talking to her,” another, sweeter, voice said.
“Whatever will be, will be. She was about to rip me out and blow my precious babes away. I had to speak up! What would you have done, really?”
“I would have done the same thing. I’m just saying, you can not blame the poor child.”
Della just stood there staring.
“Is she still there? I think I can hear her horrifying breath”, asked the mean one. Its leaves curled at the ends and it shivered.
“Hello, dear. What is your name?” asked the sweet one.
“Della… hello,” she said and gulped.
A volley of squeaky hellos sprinkled from the dandelion patch. Della started moving backward, as she had done before.
“You’re afraid, aren’t you? Aw… there’s nothing to worry about. My name is Clar, and Dot, the one whom you met yesterday, is all talk.”
“How… how can you talk?” Della asked.
The flowers made some beeping noise, Della thought it might be laughter.
“We have a lot of explaining to do, don’t we? How to say it? Hmm. You see, we don’t normally talk to humans. Most of them can not hear us, our voices are in a frequency range higher than your adults can hear and–” Clar talked so fast. Della had a hard time following her.
“Free Quincy range?”
“Yes, frequency range. Our voices are too high pitched for big people to hear. You can hear us because you’re a small, young, human, your ears haven’t lost their youthful abilities. Wonderful isn’t it? Anyway, back to what I was saying. We know who you are but you don’t know who we are. At least, we’re not who you think we are, we’re not from here either, not natural anyway. Somethings are natur– well, hah, of course we’re natural. We aren’t artificial, you know? That is true, but we’re not…” the flower paused.
The pause lingered.
“You’re not just flowers, right? You’re some sort of, people?” Della’s face scrunched.
“Ah, yes?” Clar sounded unsure.
“What Clar is failing to explain to you,” said the one called Dot, ”is that we’re not originally from Earth, but we’re not aliens. We have just as much of a right to be here as you do.”
Its voice started rising.
“We’ve lived here for over four thousand years and you people, just because you can’t hear us talk, you always slaughter us! Poison us, pick us, mow us, blow off our babies before they’re ready! We are not weeds! You are the w–”
One of the dandelions near Dot thrust out a long spiked leaf and was twisting it around Dot’s stem. It tightened until there was a snap. When the spiked leaf let go, Dot’s stem was crushed in and bruised and she leaned over.
“Whoa, Ren! What do you think you are doing?” asked Clar.
Della imagined she could hear Dot wheezing although the flower made no sound.
“She’ll be fine,” Ren said in a huskier, yet still feminine voice.
“She’ll have a scar!”
“For the rest of her short miserable life. Who cares? The babies are fine.” said Ren, waving two of her leaves.
Then Ren, who was larger and less squeaky than the others, muttered the word “unfortunately”.
“We just… shouldn’t display such violence to a little girl,” said Clar.
“Clar, please. She’s a human.”
“I understand that, but please, just stop wringing the necks of your kin.”
“Now that I don’t have to listen to Dot anymore, I can.” Ren said in a lighter tone.
Dot raised a short leaf and shook some gesture at Ren, Della suspected that it wasn’t a nice gesture, kind of like the one her daddy sometimes made while he was driving.
“I am so sorry you had to see all that, Della. We’re really not bad people and Dot really will be fine. You see, we don’t feel pain because we don’t need it. We don’t live for very long and we have so many babies. It’s not hard for our species to survive. Every year, our babies, our seeds, blow away and we die, but our children carry a piece of us with of them. They take on our names. Is any of this making sense to you, sweetie?”
Della was still a bit nervous. None of it really made any sense to her, of course. She had picked lots of dandelions and they had never shown that they could talk or think or move until now.
“You’re giving her too much information at once. We all know that you’re the best talker, but do it slowly, Clar,” said Ren.
“Why haven’t I ever heard you talk before?” said Della.
Clar waited this time, before she spoke, but when she did she drew most words out longer than necessary.
“It may be obvious, but we are not ordinary flowers. You don’t have to be alarmed, you probably haven’t killed any of us before,” said Clar with that beeping noise which Della now, just barely, recognized as laughter. The other flowers seemed to think it was funny too.
“S-So, you just sit there until you have your babies?”
“Basically. That’s why some of us use a lot of strong words. Talking, it’s all we do.”
They all laughed. Della felt kinda bad for Dot, the others acted like they hated her.
Clar continued. “We migrate. That means we, uh… travel all the time. Your yard seems like a nice place for us to stay for now, though.”
Della looked around at the mud and towering weeds and spotty clumps of grass. The yard didn’t look nice for anything but a pig.
“But our yard is so messy. I don’t like it. It’s not pretty at all.”
“Pretty is… pretty, but we need safety. We need to know that your father isn’t going to mow us or poison us, like your neighbors did to our ancestors.”
Della noticed Dot tugging on Ren with her short leaves.
“Yeah, good point,” Ren said. “Dot doesn’t want you to tell your mom and dad about us. She’s right about that. Please don’t.”
Della had no intention of ever telling her parents about any of this, considering her mother’s reaction the previous day. It wouldn’t mean much if she told them anyway. For one thing, they wouldn’t believe her. Also, her daddy never did any yard work. He wouldn’t find out on his own.
Della heard the hum of rain on the wind and the dirt around her changed color from bright brown to grey as clouds hid the sun. The rain returned and Della heard her mother call her from inside the house.
Clar told her to come back and visit any time. Della ran to the house, splashing more mud onto her tights. The dirty tights kept her mother mad enough so that she didn’t ask what Della had been doing out there and Della was glad for that.
As the week continued, Della came to love her secret friends. She even loved keeping the secret. If her mother ever found out, which she wouldn’t, Della could just say that she had lied to protect the flowers. She didn’t like lying, but a good reason makes a lie permissible, she thought. “Permissible” was one of the big words Clar used. Della somehow managed to get Clar to explain what it meant.
By the first day of the next week, each dandelion in the patch had a mane the size of a tennis ball. Their parachute seeds were almost an inch long and their stems were thicker than Della’s pinkie finger. She was amazed on the morning she found them that way, it had happened almost overnight.
“You said you weren’t like normal dandelions and I knew you weren’t because you talked, but now I can see that you’re not like normal dandelions. It’s amazing, you’re so beautiful.”
Della would have meant it as a compliment if she had said “I want to pick a bunch of you and bring them to my mother” but she thought twice about saying that.
“You’re not your old mopey self today.” Dot let out a wretched whisper.
“She’s happy and not bored for once and all you do is tell her she’s a mope?” said the biggest one, Ren.
“You’ve been a decent girl this week haven’t you Della? You didn’t tell your mother about us did you? I know it’s true, you like having a secret, right?” asked Clar.
Della was nodding. “I haven’t told, but you’re getting so big. They might see you soon.”
“And if they do notice us, we were just discussing this, we don’t care. They haven’t done a single thing about the rest of this wonderfully hospitable, overgrown mess of a yard.”
“I guess so.”
Della sat down then, cross legged and listened to the flowers, as she did every day, talk about the history and biology of their ancestors. The one percent of it that she could comprehend reeled her, the flowers knew tons about their own past and tons about their own bodies. Sitting and listening to Clar fast-talk and Ren translate was the best part of Della’s days that week.
One night, Della was taking a bath and heard her mother and father talking.
“I read all about them on the internet. If we don’t do anything about them we’ll just get more of them next year,” said her mother.
“Did you find out how big they get?”
“It said they’re supposed to be about a foot tall, and the flower part maybe an inch wide.”
“But ours are like as big as your hand. Maybe we just have some mutant ones. I should enter them in a competition at the fair. I’d probably win, too.”
They laughed. Then her father continued.
“Okay, I’ll see if I can do something about them tomorrow. I’ll go to Ace and ask what kind of poison I should use.”
Della started. Her bath water splashed.
“I’m gonna go check on her,” said her mother. Della didn’t have time to compose a single word of her speech in defense of the dandelions before her mother rounded the corner and entered the bathroom.
“Hi honey, are you ready to get out yet?”
Della hoped her silence read as a ‘no’ or at least indecision enough to give her a moment. Finally, she decided to say the simplest thing she could think of.
“Mommy please don’t let daddy poison the white flowers.”
“Yeah? You like them, huh?”
“But they’re weeds, baby. We can’t just let them grow. They’ll be covering our whole yard after the summer.”
“But the yard is already taken over by weeds!”
Della knew she had a good point, she saw it in the reaction on her mother’s face.
“They are… worse weeds. They blow their seeds everywhere.”
“But mommy, they’re so pretty.”
“They kind of are now but in a little while they’ll just be yucky stems and there will be white seeds all over the yard. Also, their leaves definitely aren’t pretty. They’re pointy and yucky like little saws.”
Della didn’t think much of her mother’s down-talking. She looked up at the ceiling and her mother left the bathroom. Then she heard her mother tell her father that she had rolled her eyes.
“How does she know how to do all this stuff? Rolling eyes, talking back, she’s 4,” her father wondered aloud.
“TV, I guess,” said her mother.
Tomorrow, Della thought, I have to tell them tomorrow, before daddy gets home from work.
Della forgot that the next day was Saturday.
She woke halfway and lay in her bed watching the strips of sunlight that cast through her blinds caravan across her wall diagonally. They had moved from the center of the wall, on her Precious Moments calendar, down to the floor next to her bookcase, as they had done every cloudless morning that she could remember, when the faint rumble of the garage door snapped her fully awake. Daddy is home?
Della jumped out of her bed and ran down the hall in her pajamas. It was true. She looked through a window in the door from the kitchen to the garage. Her father was removing a big jug of poison from the trunk of the car. The big picture on the front of the jug was of a fully bloomed dandelion.
Della pulled with all her tiny might on the sliding door to the backyard and hurt her elbow before she noticed that it was locked. She unlocked it and opened it and jogged into the backyard rubbing her arm.
The flower patch looked very different than it had a week ago. The ground could not be seen through the dandelions’ two foot long leaves. That night they had grown even more and some of their “heads” were almost as wide as Della’s.
As usual, the flowers heard her coming and spoke first.
“You sound exasperated, dear. What’s the matter?” Clar said.
“My daddy is going to cut you down and poison you!”
“I knew it! We should have followed an east wind!” said Dot, whose voice was sounding better. “My ancestor surely wanted us to go east. I’m sure, Clar, that it was your mother who insisted that we blow this way.”
Clar ignored her.
“Della, if what you say is true, there is something that we need to ask you. It’s a thing that we don’t ask often. As you know, we rarely speak to humans, and of those humans, we almost never ask to be curated. Della, what I mean is this, this thing that we have already discussed and deemed you suitable for, is that we would like you to interfere in our life cycle. We would like you to,” she paused, “we would like you to pick us.”
The words pushed Della back.
“But, you’ll die.”
“Yes Della, we will die, but we need you to move our babies to a safe place. Do you know of one?”
Della knew that if you kept walking out of her backyard, into the forest, kept walking, left the trees, you’d be in a big abandoned wheat field that always had weeds which nobody ever mowed. The sun and rain touched it, the dirt was soft and the wind blew easily through it. She could take the flowers there.
“I know a very safe place.”
“That’s it then. You have been, and will be, a good friend to us and our children. You are a good girl.”
“But, no. I don’t want to do that to you, Clar, Ren, Dot, all the rest of you. I’ll just tell my daddy that you’re like people and he’ll stop.”
“Della, it’s okay,” Clar said. “I am pleading. Do you remember what I told you the first day we met? We don’t feel pain. We want you to do a strange thing, I know. A hard thing, but for us it’s a normal thing. Della, please pick us if you want us to live.”
Della turned around, steadied her gaze at the back door and began walking. Behind her, all the dirty bruised flowers with the claw leaves shrieked at her like tiny gargoyles.
Della walked into the house, out of the flower’s sounds of desperation, intending to ignore their screaming and to forget the thorniness she was beginning to feel in her conscience. She walked through the hallway, glanced into her parents’ bedroom and looked at her sleeping mother’s face. She lifted her gaze to a set of photos above the bed. Della, her mother and her father, blessed, smiling, were embracing in the pictures. Something held her eyes there. Held them to stare at the loving family which she could call her own.
Then she turned back and ran again for the back door. She stopped in the garage first to hoist up a big plastic bucket which she could have knelt in and been nearly hidden.
Outside she just ran for the flowers. Most of them stopped their crying, a kind of tinkling noise.
“Della?” It was Clar who whispered.
“It’s me, yeah.”
“Are you going to take us, or not?” said a frantic one.
“Yes, I will. What do you need me to do?”
Clar told her.
“Grab as many of us as you can, not by our tips but by a low place on our stems, pull us out and take us to the safe place.”
“And then just blow the seeds around?”
“Yes. We’re trusting you to do that. When our babies grow, introduce yourself. Ask them which ones are Clardens, my daughters, tell them about me. Sweet girl, don’t be afraid. They only require a little sun, soil and water, or course wind to travel on,” said Clar.
Crying, the thing that caused misunderstandings and required naps to get over, was something Della hated, but it was what she did then. Love too, she thought, they need love.
Della brought the bucket closer.
“Are you ready?” she said.
“No, no. We have things to pack, friends to call, hotel arrangements to make — of course we’re ready!” said Dot.
“Yes, keep making fun of her Dot, maybe she’ll leave you behind,” said Ren. “Please Del, will you consider leaving Dot behind?”
Della couldn’t hold her smile in, so she laughed out loud and a few salty happy tears fell into her mouth. She knelt down by Dot first.
“Okay Dot, you’re first then.”
Della wrapped her fingers around and pulled hard on the bottom of Dot’s stem. It snapped and she placed it in the bottom of the bucket and Dot never made another sound. Other flowers now, were making their crying noise. Clar kept saying Thank you. Thank you. Della kept pulling her friends from the ground like a mother taming her baby’s delicate hair, with caresses and cooing when she bucketed them. The confusion and strangeness of the situation still hung with her as her hands kept moving.
Then she came to Clar last.
Then she pulled and set down and stood and carried the bucket and disappeared into the forest. Her father came along and found the stumps. He wondered if Della was responsible and sprayed the severed weeds with his poison.
In the new home, the field past the forest, Della held each flower’s white mane up in front of her lips and blew.