“A Flower In Her Hair”
A Short Story
It isn’t as it was, she thought.
Pines, that back then, seemed to tower above her, touching the clouds, were now nothing more than the twenty foot variety, barely covering a patch of a blue sky above.
“Catherine,” her teacher called upon her, “come up and diagram the sentence there on the chalkboard.”
Catherine checked her long brunette pony tail behind her and tip-toed up to the chalkboard.
“Look at all her freckles,” one of her classmates said to another as she walked by.
Catherine heard the comment and stopped, held out her arm to allow for a better view, and just stood for a few seconds, hoping to embarrass them…again.
“Enough of that,” the teacher chided. “Just come up and do what you were asked to do.”
Catherine’s mother sent her off to school each day with a flower in her hair. Today, it was a bright red carnation. Her mother told her that every time she saw it, she was to think of how much her mother loved her. She was in sixth grade now, and couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t wearing a flower in her hair.
As was often the case during her day, the flower would fall off, or be the part of the game the boys at school would play on her. A quick hand would steal the flower from her hair, with Catherine chasing after them.
The red carnation dropped from her hair as she got to the chalkboard. Her classmates snickered.
“Go on,” the teacher said, snapping her fingers at the class to quiet down.
She carried on and diagramed the sentence perfectly. She turned, looked at the teacher, who wouldn’t allow her being pleased with Catherine’s efforts to show, then looked at Tommy seated in the front row, the boy she would have her first kiss with later this afternoon under the towering pines. Tommy turned red, pulled his hand through his thick blonde hair and looked away from Catherine.
She picked up the carnation, let out the slightest of grins thinking of her mom and walked back to her desk.
“I’ll put it back in your hair,” William whispered, sitting directly behind her.
She could feel his grimy hand interfering with her efforts to affix the flower back in her hair. She slapped his hand away, turning around and saying, “And I’ll fix your head in a nasty way if you don’t stop.”
“Catherine!” the teacher called out.
Catherine looked out the window. From her desk, she could see the tops of the towering pines in the park that was just two blocks away from the school.
There were more pines back then, she thought. At 45 years old now, standing in the same spot where she had her first kiss, she was sure that some of the pines must have died, or been removed.
She sat down in the exact spot where Tommy held her hand for what she remembered to be an interminable amount of time, his hand sweating into hers, his eyes darting toward her, then away from her, until finally, having had enough of the wait, turned to him and said, “it’s okay Tommy…kiss me.”
It was oddly pleasant, she remembered the kiss being. And aside from the few seconds of physical pleasure, all she could think of was why she never saw her parents kissing.
“I’m sorry you never saw your parents kissing,” she could still hear Tommy’s voice from back then saying. “That’s all I ever see my mom and dad doing. They even close their bedroom door when they’re kissing.”
“Never mind, Tommy. I get a kiss from mom each morning before school.”
Tommy pulled up blades of the spring grass growing, throwing them against the gentle afternoon breeze. “You think we’ll kiss when we’re as old as our parents,” he asked.
She thought for a moment, looking at the freckles on her arms and hands, and then remembering she even had them on her nose.
“I hope so,” she said softly.
Catherine continued to sit in the same spot, her legs crossed and outstretched, just as they were back in sixth grade. She had made her way back to the city she grew up in, not to come back to the park with the towering pines where she experienced her first kiss, but to tend to all that was needed for the funeral of her mom, the woman who always put a flower in her hair.
The death of her mom wasn’t the first passing of another she loved. There had been so many, she thought, as she laid down on the grass under the pines. But the first one was the hardest. It was the one who taught her how fleeting life was, and that being young or old sometimes made no difference to death’s calling.
“Thank you, Tommy,” she said quietly.
Tommy’s funeral was held one year after they first kissed. He died in a car accident. One day he was there with her under the pines, in the classroom and walking her home from school, the next day, he vanished.
Before Tommy’s death, she was a model at everything. Since his death, her life had spiraled in a steady decline. Three failed marriages, jobs gained and then quickly lost, but mostly a life lived alone, on the outskirts.
But today, the day of her mother’s funeral, she made time to come back under the pines, and lay with the innocence of her youth…and remember, not expecting anything other than to remember.
Tonight’s musical offering:
Cat Stevens: “Oh Very Young”