by Jefferine Li
Art by Michelle Chang
Issue: Elysium (Spring 2012)

Open flower with a multitude of round, soft petals pointing upward.

I stared out the window, my body slumped in my chair. It was another tedious day of school, eight hours wasted learning useless information. What was the point? It was not as if I could ever become the innovative scientist they so longed for. Ten minutes of the day had not yet passed, but I was already counting the hours left before that final bell rang, a toll of freedom that released me from the teachers’ wrath and the students’ endless conversations which were really not conversations at all. They talked all right, about the latest styles, the fan signing events, the pop concerts; they got excited, but they all talked about the same things and nothing else. Never anything different.

The vibrant colors outside seemed best suited to a canvas, but I squinted skeptically at the abrupt hues of crimson red, burnt orange, and goldenrod mingling together and the azure skies above. What were they so happy about? They would all die sooner or later.I had once adored the magic fall seemed to bring about every year, but not anymore. I used to be that hopeless girl who found her delight in dancing among the vibrant leaves and running through the wheat fields.

On good days, I would sit under a large tree, a wide-brimmed hat on my head and time at my mercy, sketching flowers in my book. The flowering almond was one of the more difficult ones to draw. Each flower had ten, twenty, forty petals, each one a different shade of pink. Some petals—deep, rich magenta. Others—light, dancing pink. This, however, would not discourage me; I found, instead, that the difficulty strengthened my resolve to draw that flower. Each stroke of my pencil on paper brought me a tingling feeling of joy; each line of my colored pencil, a smile playing on my lips.

A wide-brimmed hat lies off to the side of a closed sketchbook.

But the other students were bored. They were hungry for grandiose, for destruction, for human sadness and desperation. They noticed my giddy joy and labeled me as a target. They trampled through the piles of leaves I gathered and crushed the flowers I drew under their mud-caked feet, imprinting black upon the once lively plants. Every day I ran home and cried for hours in my mother’s lap…but I realized. The flowers and plants were never strong. People could easily stamp their lives out and crush their petals with the mere strength of a toddler. Why did I hold so much faith in nature?

Somewhat spiky and psychedelic flower with various lines and circles on the leaves and petals.

The teacher was droning on about the scientific method when a sharp rap and an authoritative voice startled the students awake.

“Mrs. Caprioce! I’ve got the new student, the transfer from Kansas, with me. She’ll be a part of your class now.”

“Ah, yes. Come on in! Class, make her feel welcome and right at home please. It would be wonderful if you guys could show her around and keep her company.”

A girl stepped into view. As she placed one foot gingerly after the other, a slight breeze blew through the window, sending a wave of floral sweetness. It waltzed on my lips, strange and foreign but familiar to my taste. A rare ray of sunlight flitted through the window, beaming down upon the classroom with such intensity that even the murky, ashen walls seemed to burst with a new sense of gold. But the students dismissed her aura and snickered at her disheveled hair and frayed, blemished clothes. They nudged one another, ridiculing the state of her feeble shoes that seemed too tired, and pointed brazenly at her weak figure. They laughed.

Spiky, psychedelic, and dense flower with various lines and circles on the leaves and petals.

Immune to the students’ deliberate exclusion of her from their group, the new girl approached me instead, where I was sitting alone under the oak tree next to the bench.

She silently searched the meadow that spread around the tree, brushing her fingers against flower after flower until she picked one out and beckoned me to see. It was a jasmine, a gentle, pure white flower with a strong, yellow core. A symbol of cheerfulness. Friendship and laughter. Cordiality. Amiability. She watched me closely, pointing between the flower and herself.

“Jasmine…Is that your name?”

She beamed with pleasure and nodded. She extended her hand and gently took mine in hers, tracing the inside of the flower. The soft touch of the petals met my surprised fingers as she ran my fingers down the flower. She curled my hand around the stem, encouraging me to feel its base, the flower’s beating heart. The sweet scent of the flower wafted towards me as she held the flower under my nose, nodding for me to breathe in its life. She pointed all around, picking out the buds, just barely there, but aspiring to be full blossoms one day. The buds that would one day carry on the legacy of its parents.

Gradually, I began to remember what nature was to me. I remembered brushing my fingers against the smooth underside of leaves and admiring the brilliant hues of the plants. I reminisced about filling up my body with the scent of sweet daisies and rubbing dandelions under my chin to improve my luck.

Somewhat spiky flower with petals open and pointing downward.

She continually communicated with me through flowers. She brought me bold French marigolds of electric crimson and vibrant gold that licked of deep jealousy, as well as shy peonies of lavender pink that spoke of shame and bashfulness. Her morning glories with streaks of fuchsia on amethyst depicted her instability, while the delicate carnation pink marjoram flowers expressed her joy and euphoria. Our conversations were limited to the language of flowers, but then again, they were not. When she showed me the bird of paradise flower, I thought of the word magnificence. However, her words pointed out the flower’s colors of rich Mikado yellow, flaunting mint, teal, and French rose, as well as its rigid structure and distinguishing petal positions, lending life to the word magnificence. She painted herself and the world through her flowers, which spoke what her voice could not say and transcended beyond what mere words could convey.

The sun stretched as it rose from its home in the mountaintops, yawning and grumbling about how early it was. It rubbed its eyes and slowly opened its arms wide out and hugged its child, showering light and energy upon the slumbering animals and earth. It smiled down at the beginning signs of life and spread its comforting fingertips further across the land, streaking the sky with brilliant amber.

The sun, however, suddenly receded and withdrew its hands from the earth as a mass of murky thunderclouds, gray from the weight of the rain, overthrew the king and won over the sky. The thunderclouds spread across the sky within a matter of minutes, bearing the atmosphere down with its omens of misfortune. I knew it would rain today.

I could hear the turbulent commotion from outside on the streets. As laughter reverberated in the wind and rang in my ears, a feeling of trepidation and anxiety bloomed inside of me and grew by the second. What was it? What had they done to her? As I ran to the school, I could imagine her quavering arms and legs, her ears wounded by the insults of the predators, but she would fight deliberately to hold her ground and stay strong.

Very open flower with petals extending almost horizontally and a large center area.

The ground was littered with flowers, brutally trampled to death by the feet of the predators. The once vividly colored flowers that had inhabited the meadow around the tree had turned black from the cruelty of the students and no longer retained their original meaning.

They had certainly found their mark. They had killed a part of her, the flowers that murmured her stories and whispered the secrets of the world. The flowers that were her companions, her solace, what she could rely on to always be there.

The downpour came. Large droplets washing and cleaning the dirty earth. The sky was crying for her loss, but it would leave the earth fresher. The droplets would clear away the pain, her pain, and leave behind stronger resolve.

I found her sitting, soaked, in the middle of the meadow, trembling from head to toe over the loss of her flowers. I firmly took her hands and led her to another field near the school. As she sat, oblivious to her surroundings, I searched for a flowering almond among the meadow. I enfolded her in my warmth and squeezed hard until she finally came out of her shock. I showed her the blossom of elegant amaranth pink. The symbol of hope. I smiled and pointed all around at the buds of flowers impatiently waiting for the chance to proudly display their exquisite petals. The rain would support their petals, supply them their needed growth spurt. The flowers would come back, again and again, their petals once again dancing to the hum of the earth.

Full-page artwork with flowers growing along and off of the trunk and branches of a tree.