This is Chapter two from my novel "The Roar of The Dandelion". I posted the first chapter (Doors) some time back, and I received some extremely helpful feedback, so I thought that I'd post the second chapter, and the third later (as agents usually request the first few chapters, fingers crossed).
I should mention that the novel is Fiction, but is based on actual events from my childhood. So if the plot seems unrealistic, please keep that in mind. I forgot to mention that last time.
This is the synopsis:
Sisters Sadie and April are dragged from town to town by their schizophrenic, yet beautiful mother, Alexa. Since the psychedelic drug era has left the aging flower child’s mental stability irreparably damaged, the two young girls find themselves on a relentless escape from their mother’s paranoid delusions. The free love lifestyle fuels Alexa’s veracious sexual appetite. As she runs away from delusions of death threats and other fantastical scenarios, she runs into the arms of countless men. The children, impoverished and often neglected, develop a powerful bond through their colorful imaginations. As Alexa escapes deeper into her own imagined reality, so do her children. Seamlessly blending dreams and fantasies with harsh realities, “The Roar of the Dandelion” is a deep and jarring exploration of the impact of social values on children, and their capacity to use ingenuity and creativity to thrive in even the most adverse terrain.
Chapter 2: The Orchid
"It's a plant for our new abode," Alexa said as she attentively placed the beautiful plant on the kitchen counter. Sadie had never seen such a graceful and unusual flower. The blossoms were exotic and alien looking. They were dangerously delicate, drooping wistfully on tall stems. "This is called an orchid plant," She said with pride. "It's very sensitive. It needs to be misted instead of watered, and you can't keep it in the sunlight. It always stays open, and doesn't close, like most flowers do." Her smile was uncharacteristically gentle as she said this. "We're turning over a new leaf, girls!" She giggled at her own analogy.
For a moment, Alexa’s unusual gesture stirred a twinge of hope in April. Does she really mean it? She wondered.Her second thought was that the flower looked expensive. She wondered if Alexa had stolen it. April and Sadie stood next to the flower. Sadie touched its delicate petals with her fingers in wonderment. April stared at the foreign looking blossoms. “Mom?” April asked, “Where did it come from?”
She lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and exhaled as she said "I don't know. I remember hearing somewhere that they've been around since the age of the dinosaurs. They're special. I'm going out tonight." Then she tore open a cardboard box frantically and rummaged through it. Not finding what she was looking for, she tore open another box and rifled through it. She left small, rumpled messes in her wake. "I'm late. Where are my clothes?" She muttered indignantly to herself. The children were unfazed by Alexa's sudden shift of temperament. There were boxes scattered around the empty living room of their apartment. She continued to force them open, mumbling to herself with the lit cigarette hanging from her lips.
"If you get hungry, make yourself a sandwich or something," Alexa mumbled the words dismissively, as if she had said it too many times and was tired of having to recite it. "Here it is!" She sighed as she held up a short red dress. It was the dress that one of her previous lovers had bought for her, before he’d left and wanted nothing to do with her. The girls couldn't remember his name. "I love this dress," she said with a rare intonation of enamor. She was wearing her usual casual clothing: a long, limp, faded sun dress and worn leather sandals. Her hair was tied back loosely under a scarf. "When I was younger I had a lot of pretty dresses. I had dresses for all occasions. That was before I realized that material things aren't important. It's our spirits that are important. It’s just nice to dress up sometimes." Alexa's tone was resolute, as if she were trying to convince herself as she said this. But there was an almost imperceptible trace of longing in her eyes as she laid the dress against her body in admiration.
The truth was that Alexa didn't need much decoration. She was what most people called "naturally beautiful", although she didn't seem to think so. She had straight, dark, hair that was speckled with gray. Her smile was perfect. She had a strong chin and high cheek bones. Her eyes were deep gunmetal blue, with peaks of grey. When Alexa looked in the mirror she would routinely complain that her eyes were spaced too closely together, her nose was too wide, and her chin was too big. Her daughters had become accustomed to her ritualistic ruthless dismantling of her features.
"Mommy, when are you coming back?" Sadie whispered. April shot her a wide eyed glance that said she's in a good mood now, don't provoke her. Their mom didn't answer. Sadie always felt a trace of anxiety whenever Alexa left. She was never sure that her mother would return. Alexa took a long drag from her cigarette and said to herself, "If this guy turns out to be married or gay I'm gonna be really pissed off." She exhaled a stream of smoke. Then she began the frantic search for the box that contained her makeup. "You know, I don't even care if he's a yuppie, as long as he's not married. Sometimes those personal ads aren't very personal. I'm never surprised at their lies. I'm immune to it now. But I have a feeling about this one. My intuition is telling me that this is it, girls. We're gonna find mommy’s soul mate. We’re gonna settle down in this town, I think." April and Sadie looked at each other skeptically.
Despite Alexa's frequent statements about the importance of the soul, there was something missing from hers. That night would be one of many that she continued her wanton quest to find this ambiguous, wayward thing. Her soul mate, she’d said. Alexa often used words like soul, love, and oneness. She usually uttered them with the same impatient desperation as an indignant child that was denied a toy that they desperately wanted.
The girls watched as their mother performed all of her mysterious feminine rituals in preparation for her date. When she was done, hair curled, red lipstick carefully applied, and red dress hugging her svelte body, she turned to her daughters.
"How do I look?" She asked confidently, knowing what their answer would be.
"You look pretty, mommy!" Sadie chimed. She really thought that her mother was the most beautiful woman that she'd ever seen.
"Yeah, pretty," April said glumly.
Alexa twirled around. The hem of her dress swung up and swirled around her lean legs. “This would be a good dancing dress. It shows off my legs,” she said. April hated when her mother said things like this. She thought that Alexa's shameless methods of seduction were unnecessary. She knew from watching Alexa that men didn't need that much prompting.
Alexa took another look at herself in the mirror. "I hate my lips," she said, scowling at her reflection in her compact mirror. "They're so thin. Lipstick just makes them look worse, doesn't it? I hate wearing makeup. Men are so predictable. They love this superficial junk." She sighed.
Truthfully, the transformation was remarkable. Their mother rarely made such an effort to look nice when she went out. In fact, she usually despised women that were made up. She often said that they looked like painted dolls, especially the attractive ones. Alexa always said that she preferred a natural look. “It's ridiculous that boring people think that they have the right to judge me. They're not a part of anything, except their ugly, consumer-driven nightmare machine. The straight life is pointless. I could care less that they whisper to each other about me. They're the ones that have sold their souls,” she had would say arrogantly. But sometimes she broke her own rules, if their situation was especially dire. And this time it was. Alexa had used her last dollar that morning.
"Listen, if I bring a friend home make sure to stay in the other room, okay? OH!" She scampered across the carpet in her high heeled shoes. The mattress was leaning against the wall. It whooshed as she tipped it over, and hit the carpet with a thud. She picked up a blanket from the floor that had been uprooted during her earlier frantic search, and spread it over the mattress. "You girls sleep in the other room tonight, I may bring home a friend." They nodded silently. She kissed them on their foreheads and whirled around, dramatically punctuating her departure with a slam of the apartment door. The moment that Alexa was gone, April wiped her mom's red kiss mark off of her forehead bitterly. Sadie took the cue and wiped her forehead also.
The girls were alone again. They had been left alone in motels, empty apartments, stranger’s houses, grocery stores, movie theaters, and of course, the dragon car. Sometimes it was hard to find things to do since they didn’t have any toys, but most of the time they were able to imagine things or make up stories to entertain themselves. Although they were used to being left alone, Sadie would still get upset sometimes after Alexa left.
"Where's our blanket?" Sadie asked worriedly as she scanned the room full of boxes. The familiar disturbing feeling that overcame her sometimes when their mother left them alone had started to creep into her.
April saw the change in her sister's mood. She pretended to search through the boxes, putting on a show to distract Sadie and stave off her tears. "Where's my red dress, and my lipstick? I hope he's not gay! Sleep in the other room tonight girls!" April exclaimed dramatically as she feigned searching through the boxes. She waved her arms, pursed her lips, and made her eyes hilariously round and wide as she puffed comically from an invisible cigarette. April's imitation of Alexa made them both break into hysterical laughter. The power of their body wrenching giggles brought them to the floor. They laid on their backs, laughing until the strength ran out of them.
Then they got up and really started to search. They hated sleeping on the floor without a blanket. They would often wake up in the middle of the night, not knowing where they were. The feeling of displacement was disorienting, and often terrifying. Somehow, the simple, thin, presence of a blanket on their bodies was a comfort during moments like this. So they opened the boxes, one by one. By the end of their search, they had emptied multiple boxes and put away their contents. They had placed the items in the spots that seemed most appropriate, although it was a half-hearted effort because they knew that they would probably be leaving again soon.
It didn't take long for them to unpack almost everything that they owned, yet the apartment still seemed empty. Although their mother sometimes talked about buying furniture and “settling down”, the girls didn't dare to expect it.
They were careful as they unpacked Alexa’s records, which had dogged, fading sleeves. The bands had funny names, they thought; names like The Doobie Brothers, Pink Floyd (which had made April laugh riotously when she read it), and The Grateful Dead. Alexa's fixation with Rock and Roll was almost as powerful as her addiction to men. Sometimes she would claim that she was a backup singer in some of the albums that she owned, or that she’d slept with one of the band members. “This album means a lot to me, because (so and so) was recording it when I met him,” Alexa would say in a wistful, breathy sort of way. It was a tone that she reserved for recalling her most precious memories, the false ones. But since Alexa had a tendency to make things up in her mind, and her daughters had learned the signs, they didn’t really ever believe her. April thought it was strange that their mother clung to her rock and roll albums. She protected them like trophies, even though they didn’t have a record player. Her record collection and a decrepit, paint splattered radio where the two items that she was sure she would never be able to survive without, although many other things had been left behind in the empty rooms of randomly chosen towns.
April's prized possession were her books, which her father had sent her years ago, when he had somehow discovered where they were living. She was the proud owner of 12 paperback books, which she had read from cover to cover at least three times. The books were the only thing that April had from her father, and she cherished them even more than Alexa cherished her records. April stacked them neatly in the bottom of the closet, away from their mother's immediate sight. She knew that the sight of anything having to do with her father would annoy Alexa. So she always kept them hidden. The next time that Alexa spun out of control, April planned to sneak into her closet, turn on the light, and hide in the familiar pages of her books. The books had the mysterious power to transport her. When she was reading, even the grimmest surroundings or situations would dissolve like mist.
Sadie didn't know how to read. Her cherished possession was a small dirty teddy bear named Cuddles. His umber brown polyester coat of fur was a matted and disheveled. His stitched-on smile was mischievously crooked. A bit of fur covered one of his eyes, making it look as if he was always attempting to wink. The intensity of her bond with him was indefinable. Sadie was sure that it surpassed any normal kind of love. She would talk to her bear frequently, and he was never shocked or disappointed at anything she said or did. He never did anything but love her back. Nothing could ever change his loving, quirky expression of undying devotion. Sadie was certain of precious few things. But there wasn’t even a small glimmer of a doubt in her mind that her bear Cuddles lived, breathed, and loved her.
Almost everything was unpacked, and they still hadn't found Sadie's bear. For a fleeting, terrifying moment Sadie thought that she had lost him. Tears welled in her eyes. But they finally found him at the bottom of the box of blankets. When they pulled the blankets out of the box, Cuddles lay there, staring back at her lovingly. Sadie grabbed him and pulled him to her chest, relieved.
They spread the blankets on the floor in the other room. This was to be the girls' "bed", until they moved again.
After they'd unpacked and stood back to assess their work, they realized that the most beautiful and valuable possession in their virtually empty apartment was the orchid. It bent gracefully towards them from the kitchen counter. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Sadie whispered into the bear’s soft ear. He smiled and winked back in agreement.
April had to find some way to entertain Sadie, now that everything was unpacked. She would use whatever was within her immediate grasp, and find some way to make it fun. It was a gift that she'd always had, one that Sadie was amazed by.
There was one thing that there was always plenty of, and it was boxes. April's unique gift to transform anything into a game had led to her remarkable aptitude for making things out of them. She arranged the empty boxes thoughtfully into a version of a small city. They became storefronts, tollbooths, cars, and mansions. Depending on the scenario that April made up, the girls imagined themselves in the roles of clerks, taxi drivers, and millionaires.
Weeks before, April had realized that it was around Christmas time. So she had made a Christmas tree. She carefully stacked some boxes into a crude pyramid shape and threw a green blanket over them. Alexa loathed the mere mention of any Holiday, so April had taken it upon herself to fill their tiny, barren living space with holiday spirit. Through the girls' eyes, the blanket covered boxes sparkled and glowed with tinsel and multicolored lights. They'd danced around their tree cheerfully, making up Christmas songs. Then they’d unwrapped small boxes covered with colorfully printed imaginary paper. They'd given each other invisible presents: toys, dolls, and beautiful dresses made of satin and lace. Alexa had heard them celebrating and stormed into the room, furious. Even the girls were surprised at the level of her anger when she saw their "tree". With one swift movement, she'd knocked it down. “You think I’m a bad mother, don’t you? You're spoiled! I’ve spoiled you! You have no idea how hard it is to be a single mother!” She’d screamed. “Christmas is a farce anyway. The whole thing is bullshit. And I refuse to let my daughters have anything to do with it!” Her mouth twisted into a snarl of unbridled rage, and the veins rose to her forehead. She backed April into the corner. April had stood stiffly, with her eyes cast down at the floor. Then Alexa had pursed her lips into a small, shriveled hole and spit on her. April hadn't been able to move, not even to wipe her mother's spittle off of her face.
When Alexa had left the room, April had stood in the corner for awhile, frozen in shame. Then she'd gone suddenly limp, and collapsed onto the floor in the corner of the room. “Don’t listen to her,” She’d whispered shrilly. “Mom just doesn’t want to have to buy us presents. She hates me. She hates everything except her stupid records, and fake stories. She hates everything that’s real.” Then April had sunk deep into thought. She was silent for awhile as she wiped the saliva off of her cheek, and the tears from the corners of her eyes. Then she'd said somberly, “I hate everything that's real too. I wish we could go live in a tree house somewhere. Or a boat in the middle of the ocean. I wish we could just…go somewhere.”
Sadie hated seeing her big sister cry. She curled up next to her and put her head on April's shoulder. “I love you,” She said. “We have pretty dresses still, remember?” She ran her hand down the front of her lace trimmed skirt, smoothing it adoringly. “Mom can’t see them. She doesn’t know.” A weak smile fought to the surface of April’s agonized face. They’d worn their beautiful imaginary dresses over their clothing for the rest of the day. It was a secret that they shared together, one that Alexa wasn’t able to take from them.
They'd owned a few toys in the past, but they were never able to hold on to them. The few toys that they'd owned were from men that were pursuing Alexa, and foolishly thought that she would be impressed if they tried to win her daughters' affection. The toys would remain in the girls' lives only as long as the men did. Childlike things always got discarded, left behind, or destroyed around Alexa. It was as if she couldn't stand the sight of them. For some mysterious reason, she didn't mind Sadie's bear, which made Cuddles that much more special to Sadie. She could always find a reason to be offended by childhood things.
As the day faded into night, it became too dark for them to see their own playful cardboard settings.
"Are there lights in here?" Sadie asked.
"I don't think so. Mom was really pissed off when we left, I don't think she packed a lamp," April said, using one of her mother's favorite phrases. The familiar nagging, lonely feeling started to creep back into Sadie like a sickness.
April could see Sadie becoming upset. April felt helpless when Sadie cried, because she never knew what to do or say to squelch her sister's steady stream of relentless tears. Once the first tear sprung from her eye, Sadie would sob through the night. So when Sadie's chin began to quiver, and her mouth began to draw into a tight frown, April thought quickly, saying, "Hey, you wanna sleep in a bed tonight, Sadie?"
Sadie furrowed her brow. "How? I don't get it," Sadie whined, unconvinced.
"We'll make one out of boxes. It will be real big and comfy. Come on, help me!" April said optimistically. Sadie seemed distracted by the idea, which was good enough for April.
The girls pushed some of the boxes into the dark bedroom. Most of the boxes were empty and a couple were not. April lined them up neatly, threw a blanket on top, and smoothed the blanket neatly over them. The streetlights outside the window cast tangerine colored shadows on the walls, providing just enough light for them to see their new bed.
"Wow! It looks real!" Sadie squealed. April walked around her new creation, proudly examining it. Sadie squinted her eyes, imagining that a billowing gossamer canopy was draped over the bed, and that it was covered with a soft, lavish comforter and big, cushy pillows.
The girls carefully climbed onto the boxes, trying to distribute their weight evenly, so as not to create any dents or creases in the "mattress". They carefully laid on their backs and pulled a cover over themselves. Both of the girls stifled the thought that it felt nothing like a real bed, daring not to spoil the illusion. Sadie shut her eyes tightly and tried to focus on the version of the bed that she kept in her mind, and not the rigged cardboard lumps that dug into her back. She tried to turn her body into a more comfortable position.
Then the "bed" unexpectedly caved slightly under her, and her shoulders fell through. There was a sudden stinging pain between her shoulder blades as something cold and sharp dug into her spine. In a moment she realized that the box was full of clothing hangers. She yelped and attempted to pull herself up, grasping at the sides of the box as her back received new, fresh scratches from the sharp metal wires. "Help me up, help me up!" She screamed.
"Okay, okay, you big baby!" April said as she grabbed her younger sister's arms and pulled her out.
They both climbed down from the boxes. Sadie was wailing wildly. Their bed had been ruined beyond repair. "What is WRONG with you!" April yelled, unaware of her younger sister's wounds. Sadie sobbed, heaving uncontrollably as she fell to the floor. There was a loud, even knock on their ceiling. "What is it? You know mom doesn't want the neighbors to know that we're here alone. Shut up! The person downstairs is knocking!" April yelled over the sound of her sister's shaking sobs. "Sadie, quit crying! The neighbors are gonna call the cops! Mom will kill us!" But Sadie continued to wail loudly, her screeching voice echoing off of the walls of their almost empty room. April was overwhelmed, frantic, and tired. Suddenly, Sadie's cries were muffled as April shoved her balled fist into her sister's mouth. April had panicked, and was trying to stop her younger sister's crying in the only way that she knew how. One of April's long, ragged nails caught the roof of Sadie's mouth, cutting underneath one of the small bones. Sadie, wide eyed and startled, stopped crying.
April pulled her hand out of her sister's mouth. The orange light of the streetlamps that flooded through the window revealed the blood on her thumb nail. "I'm sorry," she whispered, wide eyed. She gently took Sadie's hand and guided her to the bathroom. "Does it hurt?" She asked softly. Sadie shook her head, there was blood on her lip, and she could taste its mineral flavor in her mouth. April lifted her up to the bathroom sink and turned on the water. "Rinse your mouth out with the water until there's no more blood, okay?" She said gently, as if her words might break her younger sister. April stood silently with tears running down her cheeks, holding Sadie up to the sink. Sadie scooped water from the faucet with her hand, and spit it out repeatedly, as April had asked her to. The first few times that she did this, the water was almost red. Each time that she spat, the water that swirled down the drain became less and less bloody. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," April repeated. When Sadie was done rinsing, April gently lowered her sister to the ground. April's eyes were red and swollen from crying.
"It's okay, sis," Sadie said, tugging on her sister's sleeve. "Let's keep playing, okay?" April's hands dropped away from her face. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve and sniffed. Sadie led her by the hand back to the kitchen, where they sat down underneath their new plant in the dim fluorescent light. The kitchen was the only room in their new place that had any sort of light.
“Why were you crying?” April asked.
“The box had sharp things in it. They scratched me,” Sadie said, pointing to her back.
April gently tugged her sister’s shirt down at the back. She blew gently on the scratches. “Is that better?”
“Yeah. It tickles,” Sadie said, smiling. April still seemed upset. "You wanna tell stories to each other?" Sadie asked. April shook her head no. Sadie looked up at the frail, sinking blossoms of the orchid, remembering how hopeful she'd felt earlier when her mom had brought it home. She realized that she wasn't in the mood to play anymore.
“I did what mom woulda done,” April said shamefully. Alexa hated it when the girls cried. Sadie didn't know what to say. She curled up and laid on her side. April curled up next to her. They both fell asleep in the dim yellow light, nestled up next to each other on the frigid kitchen floor. The orchid bent over them tenderly as they slept.
Sadie woke up with the taste of blood in her mouth, and swollen eyes that didn't want to open. "Is it morning time?" She asked groggily. She could see her sister sitting in the corner of the kitchen, her knees pulled to her chest tightly. April was obviously furious.
"She didn't leave any food for us," April said sharply. There was pure hatred in her voice. Her eyes were blazing. Sadie rolled to her knees, leaped up, and rushed to the refrigerator. She opened the refrigerator door to see that it was empty, except for a lonely half of a block of orange cheese that had been there since before they had moved in, and one bottle of beer. The cheese looked dry, with unsavory dark spots. The sight of it made her stomach quirp. They hadn't eaten since the previous morning. April got up and stood behind Sadie, then grabbed the cheese from over Sadie's shoulder.
"I don't know where a knife is, so let's just tear it, okay?" April said, trying to disguise the tremble in her voice. "It will be fine. Mom will be home today. She's usually not gone for more than one night. It will be fine," she said, trying to convince herself. "There's a lot that we can do. We'll have fun today." But the tone in her voice didn't sound fun. It was rather serious. She broke off a piece of cheese and handed it to Sadie, saying, "Just pick off the chewy parts and the moldy parts and throw them into the sink." Sadie chewed carefully, trying not to disturb the cut on the roof of her mouth. They nibbled on chunks of the old cheese until their stomachs stopped turning. Sadie looked up at the orchid plant on the kitchen counter as they ate.
"Do you think that we should water the flower?" she asked.
"No. Remember what mom said? These are special flowers. She said that you have to mist them and keep them out of the sun.” Sadie was suddenly filled with dread as she contemplated that the flower might actually die before their mother got home to take care of it. She cringed at the thought that it would never be able to survive while it was in Alexa’s custody.
They opened the remaining boxes that had comprised their temporary bed. They both carefully pushed the memory of the previous night out of their minds as they searched for something to transform into a toy. April found a small embroidered pillow. She loved it instantly. "If you squint your eyes, it almost looks like a face," she said, with her eyes narrowed, tilting her head to the side. Sadie found Alexa's deck of tarot cards. She knew that her mother had expressly forbidden her to touch them, but her older sister had already found her toy and she wanted to play. April played with the small pillow as if it were a stuffed animal while Sadie leaned the cards against each other, building delicate structures. Sadie loved the mysterious colorful images on the cards. One of them featured a woman draped in a flowing robe, a crown of stars surrounding her head. Another showed an angry looking horned beast, flanked on either side by a man and a woman. The images were ancient and etheral.
The girls eventually grew tired of playing and started to think of new things to do to distract themselves from their growing hunger.
"I'm bored, can we go somewhere?" Sadie whined.
"No, Sade. We can't leave. I don't know where we are yet. Mom hasn't taken us out of the apartment. And it's school time. If anybody saw us, mom would be pissed. Stop whining, you know that I hate it when you whine." April's hunger had started to affect her mood, and they were rapidly running out of activities to distract themselves with. They were able to distract themselves for most of the day with the few things that they had in the apartment, but eventually Sadie wasn't able to ignore the twisting pains in her stomach. "I'm hungry," she whined. As the words left her mouth, they could hear the clicking sound of the front door lock being turned. Their mom was home. They hurriedly attempted to put away their mother's tarot cards before she could see them in disarray.
"Girls?.....Girls?....Dammit, where are you?" Alexa said as she set bags of groceries on the kitchen counter, accidentally knocking the orchid over. It hit the floor with a resounding crash. "Fuck," she muttered dismissively. Hearing the noise, Sadie and April hurried to the kitchen. The fragile flower lay there amidst a pile of dirt and broken terra cotta, next to their mother's red high heeled shoes. Her heels ground the dirt into the floor as she walked through the kitchen putting the groceries away. April ran past her mother to the scene of the crime. She gently pinched the stem of the plant and carefully lifted it up, placing it on the kitchen counter. Sadie began to search the room for something that would act as an acceptable pot for the plant. She found a plastic cup. She sniffed it. It smelled like beer, but she handed it to her sister anyway, who began to scoop the dirt up and put it into the cup. Sadie carefully brushed the dirt off of the flower's petals with her finger.
Alexa stood over them, a cereal box in one hand and a can of food in the other, brows stitched together angrily. "You didn't even give your mother a hello hug. You're more concerned about the stupid flower than your own mom? What's wrong with you two?" Alexa's lipstick, which had been carefully applied the last time that they'd seen her, was pale and smudged. Her eyes were tired, and faint trails of mascara ran down her cheeks.
"Sorry, mommy," Sadie said, and walked over to Alexa, dutifully wrapping her arms around her waist.
"Sadie, you're getting dirt all over my favorite dress!" Alexa said with a repulsed expression while she squirmed out of her daughter's embrace.
"Hi, mom," April said glumly. She continued to scoop the dirt into the bowl, trying not to make eye contact for fear that Alexa would see her seething anger. The girls silently replanted the orchid as their mother talked about how she'd spent her time away. Alexa didn't seem to even remember bringing home the flower, which had symbolized the three of them "turning over a new leaf." It was nothing to her now.
"He's pretty foxy, but not that good in bed," she said passively. "At first, he didn't seem to like me. Then I told him about recording an album with Cat Stevens, and he suddenly had to take me home with him. Men are so predictable," Alexa said smugly, rolling her eyes as she placed items onto the shelves of the barren cupboards. "He kept asking me to sing for him, and I kept telling him no, and that he had to pay me first."
April raised one eyebrow questioningly. "You can't sing, mom," she said dryly. Luckily for her, Alexa either didn't hear her or decided to ignore her. But anyone that had been subjected to Alexa's singing voice would have agreed. Alexa would often sing along to the songs on the radio. As she sang, she would close her eyes tightly and place her hand over her ear, hugging the imaginary earphones close to her ear as if she were in a recording studio. Despite the fact that she tried hard when she sang, straining her weak voice to its limit, it always sounded more like wailing than singing. Sadie and April hated it when their mother sang.
"Finally, before I left I told him that I would sing for him if he gave me 20 bucks. So he gave me the money last night, and I walked out this morning before he woke up. That's how I was able to buy the groceries.” Alexa had put away the groceries and was now pacing around the apartment aimlessly. “Men...they may make most of the rules, but as a woman you have to know how to break them, girls. If he calls I'm not picking up. Asking a professional like me to sing for free! The audacity of it just makes me sick." Alexa had finished putting away the groceries, and now stood facing them with her hands on her hips. April knew that her mother had probably done more than just sing to receive her 20 dollars payment. She didn't know which details of Alexa's story were actually true, but she was too hungry to care.
"We don't have a phone," Sadie mumbled.
"What?" Alexa snapped.
"You said if he calls you you're not gonna pick up, but we don't have..." Sadie stopped when she saw Alexa’s irritation.
Alexa ignored her daughter, and continued to recount the details of the night. She told them that her date had wanted her badly, and that she'd teased him and taunted him. She said that he'd told her that she was beautiful, and that he'd never been out with a woman as beautiful as her.
April was despondent as she listened to her mother. She had started to notice that Alexa’s bravado and self admiration seemed at their highest right after she'd been rejected by a man. She just hoped that it wouldn't get any worse in the following days. Usually after she was rejected, her inflated confidence would build slowly, growing to staggering heights. Then it would come crashing down in an instant, and she would sink into a deep, inescapable depression.
As Alexa continued to talk, more to herself than to her daughters, the girls finished setting up the orchid's new home. Then they set it back onto the counter, looking at it proudly. Alexa lit a cigarette, kicked off her shoes, and frantically paced as she talked, becoming increasingly agitated. "Why do I always have to endure the most mindless conversations with these guys? They have no interest in my past, or anything that I've accomplished or achieved. They just want to tell me about themselves. But when I insinuate that the night may end in sex, they're suddenly interested in me! Neanderthals." She spit the words hatefully.
Now that their mom was home they finally allowed themselves to feel the level of their hunger. Their stomachs twisted painfully as April climbed onto the counter to reach the box of cereal that had just been placed in the cupboard. Alexa ranted, paced, inhaled, ranted, and exhaled, traveling in automatic circles like a windup toy.
They sat on the living room floor with their legs crossed, passing the open cereal box back and forth, taking handfuls, and shoving them into their mouths. As they quietly crunched the cereal, they watched their mom curiously as she ranted and paced the room madly. After a while, the pace of her words started to slow. Her cigarette ash had grown to a comical length, but the girls dare not interrupt her until she was finished.
They sat with their backs against wall and watched as their mom flung her cigarette butt into the sink and pulled a small bottle full of brown liquid out of her purse. She twisted it open, flung her head back, and swigged. Then she went to the refrigerator, pulled out the beer (the cheese that had been alongside it was now gone), and chugged half of it quickly. Then she walked over to the sleeping area that she had prepared for herself the previous afternoon and sprawled out on the mattress. Her tangled hair was splayed out on the pillow. She was still in her favorite red dress. Sadie walked over to her mom quietly, so that she wouldn't disturb her. She curled up next to her under Alexa's arm and closed her eyes, clutching Cuddles to her chest. "I love my daughters. You girls mean everything to me, did you know that?" She mumbled tiredly with her eyes closed. Sadie fell asleep next to her, and slept more deeply than she had in days.
April sat across the room and stared at her sister and her mother as they slept. She was irritated with her younger sister for being able to love and trust their mother so easily, but was also relieved that Alexa had come back. More than anything, she was relieved that they had food, no matter what Alexa had to do to get it.
She quietly shoveled one last scoop of cereal into her mouth, then silently crept into the kitchen and put the box away. When Alexa’s breathing was slow and steady, April gingerly opened her mother's bag and removed three dollars from her wallet, trying desperately not to make a sound. It was enough money to buy some sort of food with, in case Alexa left them without food again. But she hoped that it wasn’t enough that she would notice that it was missing. She pressed the dollars between the pages of one of her books, knowing that her mother would never find them there.
Alexa was depressed for a few days after her date. Although they had only been in the apartment for a short while, she started talking about leaving again. "I don't like this town," She said, angrily. "It's too small, and too far away from the city. How am I supposed to meet the right people to get my music produced in this crappy little town?" Alexa said to her children curtly, as if they had been the ones that had dragged her there. "I just need to meditate and find my center again. I can’t focus on anything right now. Then maybe I’ll do a tarot reading. I feel so lost. I was sure that this was the place for us!" she said. She retreated to the other room, emerging moments later with an answer for them, although the children didn't really care to hear it. "The cards told me that things are going to be better from now on, they're going to be different. The next place that we move to will be the perfect place for us. The tarot never lies, girls!”
But you lie to yourself, April thought.
“The cards showed me that I’ll find love in our new destination. Not sure where we’re going yet, but...isn’t it exciting, sweeties?" Alexa asked them. Sadie and April said nothing. It didn’t matter what they thought. They’d seen this side of their mom before. It never lasted.
Days later, while Alexa crammed boxes into the back of the dragon car, preparing for the move, Sadie inspected their orchid flower. The frail white blossoms had started to wilt and sag, turning brown around the edges. The blossoms hung feebly on their stems. She caressed one of the dying petals with her finger, wanting to bring it to life. She knew that it didn’t matter anyway. They would have to leave the ailing flower behind. Anything that couldn’t be packed in a box, or was too delicate to survive the move, had to be abandoned. Her mother had said that the flower had been around since the time of dinosaurs. She had learned a little about dinosaurs from watching a TV program at Johnny's. She marveled at the idea that this very flower had sprung from the same ground that the immense bones of these ancient monsters were nested in, far beneath the parking lots and apartment buildings. It had survived but the dinosaurs had not. It had lived through sections of time so long that her young mind couldn't grasp them. But it hadn't survived Alexa.
She remembered the day when her mother had brought it home. She had said that things were going to be different. Turning over a new leaf, she'd said. And she was right. Things were different. They were always different. She wished that things could stay the same. Just for a little while, at least.