Mrs. Frost always gave unusual tips after I gassed up her Mercedes. Hard candy, a pamphlet on holistic medicine, a vial of tea tree oil she said I could use for an ear infection. One Saturday she gave me cosmos seeds. I choked on my thanks.
My brother used to mow around the cosmos in his field in Blandford. In-between burying his ATV in swamps and getting kicked out of the Blandford Tavern for the forty-second time, he mowed around the cosmos.
We were sitting in the giant teepee he constructed in his backyard, watching the New York Giants in preseason, and I asked him why he did it. He looked shocked. “They’re pretty,” he answered.
When we were kids he taught me how to throw a football. “It’s an art,” he said. He believed this even the day after his future ended on a field in Longmeadow, his right knee unhinged and the talent scouts already on the way back to their rental cars. He taught me so well I was always first or second pick when the neighborhood kids played touch football, even though I was a girl.
He had been west of me my whole life. The Berkshires were his stomping ground. I had stayed in the city, bought a house, and was afraid to leave. He told me many times the city didn’t make people like us happy. He was right, of course, but my cowardice had taken root.
Once, he walked into the station while I was behind the counter. White summer light followed him in. “Come up the mountain,” he told me. “I built a greenhouse.” When I asked him what for he beamed and whispered, “Pot.”
He followed me half-way out to the Mercedes that had pulled up to full serve. He touched my elbow. “You can do better then this,” he said softly.
“I know,” I said. And hugged him and said good-bye.
“Is that your brother?” Mrs. Frost asked as I lifted the nozzle.
“Yes,” I said. That was all I ever told her.
When she gave me the cosmos seeds the Giants were already hoping for a wildcard. My lawn in the city was burnt yellow with a few crazy tufts of overgrown green. And my father had already come to my doorstep to say, “It’s Ronnie,” and had tried to catch me as I fell.
There is no catching to be done. There is no teepee anymore, no greenhouse, and no art form. But there is an unopened packet of cosmos seeds on my kitchen counter. And there is a dusty lawn to cut, with just enough gas in the mower to do it.
And there is one more thing. I shut the mower off, squint, fall to my knees. In a moment I cannot see through the tears. The world is silent, and the single cosmos flower awaits its fate.
J.M. Cinq-Mars is currently lost in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, gamely serving customers while biting her tongue. Writing keeps the insanity at bay.