Sharon Abbot lived in a house overlooking Penobscot Bay — she loved the view but was terrified of the sea. The sea was untrustworthy, as far as she was concerned, always moving, always changing for no reason she could fathom. She much preferred her dependable garden; she knew when the delphinium would sprout, how to store the dahlia tubers, where to plant begonias.
Her husband, Tom, was a commercial fisherman, a fact that Sharon had found amusing when they first met. The Abbots were a family of fishing folk, as they liked to call themselves, a long line of seagoing men and women who could read the swirls of clashing tides. When she’d asked Tom why he wasn’t afraid of the sea, why he kept fishing even as friends and family drowned each year, he’d laughed.
“She’s in my blood,” he said. “I couldn’t stop if I wanted to.”
Sharon found his vocation less and less amusing as time went on.
The spring that Nicole Abbot turned three, she plucked a dandelion from the front yard. She held the delicate stem in her chubby fist and offered it up to her mother saying, “I love you with this flower!”
Sharon had never thought of dandelions as anything more than weeds to be eradicated. In her daughter’s hand, however, it was the most beautiful flower in the world. It became a tradition — Nicole would bring her mother the first dandelion of spring with the declaration of “I love you with this flower!” — a tradition that Sharon looked forward to all winter long. She took the annual lovegift as a sign that Nicole preferred the steady earth to the erratic sea.
As soon as Nicole was old enough, however, she joined her father on the family’s fishing vessel, the Jolly Roger.
Tom said proudly, “She’s an Abbot, that’s for sure.”
Sharon said to Nicole, “The sea is too dangerous.”
Nicole replied, “I wish I could explain it to you.”
Nicole opened her laptop and brought up a video. Sharon watched the animated water flow in from the Atlantic, pour through Penobscot Bay, and churning at the rocky shore just down the hill from their house. Nicole spread out maps and charts, explained depths and navigational symbols. Sharon watched her daughter run her finger along the longitudinal lines as lovingly as Sharon dog-eared pages in seed catalogs.
She knew she’d lost her daughter to the sea.
Nicole smiled. “I’m just an ocean current away, Mom.”
When Nicole joined the Coast Guard, Sharon was sure the dandelion tradition had died. It had just been a child’s game, after all, she reminded herself. Nicole had a life and career of her own. But on a rainy morning in April, a card came in the mail from New Jersey. Inside was a smashed dandelion with “I love you with this flower!” written in Nicole’s hand.
Sharon laughed out loud and hugged the flower to her heart. Her Dandelion Girl hadn’t forgotten.
In the coming years, dandelions arrived in February from Southern California, in March from Michigan, and the biggest dandelion Sharon had ever seen in May from Alaska. Sharon ran her finger over the cards lovingly and put them away in a box on the shelf next to her gardening books.
On a glorious autumn day, as Sharon raked leaves, Lt. Commander Saunders and a military chaplain pulled into the driveway. Nicole’s cutter had responded to a fishing vessel taking on water in heavy weather south of the Pribilof Islands. Nicole had boarded the vessel with her team, to set up a pump in the engine room. Unfortunately, a wave rolled the vessel, trapping Nicole in the compartment. Her body had gone down with the ship. Unrecoverable.
The Coast Guard truly regretted her sacrifice.
Sharon left the leaves in the yard.
She didn’t prune the shrubbery.
She didn’t put the garden to bed for the winter.
One day in January, as Sharon walked past her bookshelf, she broke down. She didn’t know why this moment was different than any other moment, but she threw her gardening books against the wall. She screamed. She clawed the carpet. She pulled the box from the shelf and tore it open. She ripped the cards into small ragged pieces. The dried flowers fell to the floor in shreds. Tom knelt beside her, crying as well, but Sharon shrieked, “This is all your fault!” and hit him with her fists.
He retreated from the room.
She stared at the remnants of the cards and flowers.
How could she possibly live without her Dandelion Girl?
She gathered up the pieces and held them to her heart, rocking back and forth. She had only thought she’d felt empty before; she was truly empty now. There was nothing left. Not even a patch of ground where she could visit her daughter and leave flowers.
Spring came in spite of Sharon’s sorrow, and she woke one morning to find a single dandelion waving to her from the front yard. Sharon stomped across the lawn and yanked the flower up, held it in the palm of her hand, ready to crush the petals.
But she couldn’t do it.
Instead, Sharon walked down the hill to the rocky shore. If she swam far enough, dove deep enough, would she see her daughter again? She didn’t understand the currents the way her daughter had, however. She would never find her way to the Bering Sea.
Sharon tossed the dandelion into the swirling tide. “I love you with this flower,” she whispered.
The dandelion bounced on the water’s surface.
Sharon spirit sunk. She’d hoped for a sign that Nicole was still just an ocean current away. Bitterly disappointed, she turned to leave.
Then a motion caught her attention.
Below her, the current swelled and caught the dandelion up in its watery fist, offering it back to Sharon as a lovegift.
Elizabeth Beechwood has been featured in Every Day Fiction and The Redwood Writers’ Anthology: Beyond Boundaries. She is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program and lives in the Pacific Northwest.