FLOWERS, SECRETS • by Kristine Ong Muslim

Home was always the most inappropriate place to start one’s life. There was only history there, and history could not change anything. So on the day the second last of the Conners died, Marion Conner tended a flower garden on the front yard of the family’s ancestral home.

This was the flowerbed where all her secrets grew names.

I don’t know, mother. It’s Joanna. She did it! I tried to turn him back, but his hands kept on sinking back to his body… I know why my sister did it, mother. She did it because it amused her.

There were dahlias, chrysanthemums, begonias, irises, and daisies planted in rows around a patch of ornamentals and smelly herbs. Perennials thrived in clusters behind the white fence.

Tell me, Bill, is it Anna? Don’t lie. I can see it in your eyes. Nobody can deceive a Conner woman.

There were faces amongst the petals she did not want to see. One of them was Bill’s face. The first husband. He was pleading, his voice hoarse.

Marion recognized Martha Deidre’s face imprinted on one of the hydrangeas. Martha, a thin-lipped and voluptuous woman who had gossiped about Marion’s family in the office, was shrieking in a tinny voice. The words were unintelligible. She had spread rumors long enough to be allowed to earn her voice back.

You see now, Marion? A Conner could only forgive but not undo. Once the words were out, you could never take them back. A spell was unbreakable, so much like the darkest magic of all. What is evil is something you cannot control.

Not this.

The garden buzzed like an empty tomb. Marion watched three bees gather. The very nature of bees was to seek and follow the trail of scents.

The drone of Bill’s voice was lost in the buzzing of insects, the rattling of the wind. His other woman, Anna, was the face on the sole sunflower Marion had planted. Marion wanted the sunflower seeds to hurt Anna’s eyes, to keep them closed most days so she would not have to meet the other woman’s gaze.

Marion knew that they had suffered long enough for their sins, yet it was impossible for her to undo their fates.

I promise not to hurt. Promise, promise, promise… I’ll never marry, mother. I’ll be alone for the rest of my life. I don’t want to hurt people anymore.

Marion tried to drown the screaming flowers with water from a sprinkler.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of the full-length poetry collection, A Roomful of Machines (Searle Publishing, 2010) and the e-chapbook, Our Mr. Flip (Scars Publications, August 2010). Her poems and stories have appeared in over four hundred publications worldwide including Boston Review, Contrary Magazine, Hobart, Narrative Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, and Southword. She has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award.

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