by Brandy Wilkinson

What would you do if I died? my mother asks me. Die too, so I could be with you, I answer. My mother gasps and says no baby no, but I can see that I have made her happy.

My father spends Saturday mornings walking each inch of the yard with a canister of herbicide, the long spray nozzle spitting poison on every yellow burst he passes. It will be years before I realize that my whisper-and-blow dandelion wishes are to blame, but he knows. And he says nothing.

I am the last student left on the sidewalk. The crossing-guard’s eyebrows rise in concern. Who was supposed to pick you up, honey? she asks. I lie. My mom told me to walk home today, I say. I just remembered. I scuff down Sycamore, forehead dotted with sweaty-hot humiliation. Behind me, the clackety purr of an old boaty Buick, the flick of a wave and an unfamiliar smile behind the wheel. One block. Two. My neon shoelaces drag the hot concrete, but I do not stop to tie them. I turn down the next street and I run.

The payday loan place next door is running a safety drill, but none of us know that. A woman yells a man and a gun and my father locks me in his windowless office. I do not know how long he is gone, but I live an entire lifetime before I hear his key back in the door. It wasn’t real, he tells me, and I want to believe so I do.

The single yellow bulb over the stovetop is the only light in the kitchen. Four shiny-taped cardboard boxes and a new comforter, still in its zippered plastic, sit ready at the back door. My mother is crying. I feel like this is the last time I’ll ever say good night to you, she says. That night I sleep on my bare mattress with an afghan blanket that never covers all of me at once.

Every floor of this London hotel looks the same: scab-red carpets edged with curling vines, walls and doors all a wide smear of beige. I went to the lobby to buy water and now am lost. The elevator doors open and close and nothing feels familiar, and it smells like Old Spice, like my dad. I have been abroad for weeks and this is the first time I feel homesick. Later, over the phone, I tell my father and he seems surprised, says he hasn’t used Old Spice since I was young.

Twenty-nine hours after my first contraction, she is born. I am exhausted and allow the nurses to take her while I sleep. I wake a few hours later, guilt rooted and blooming in my chest. I do not leave her again for months.

My father never helps me garden, so I’m surprised when he kneels beside me and begins sorting through the tiger lilies. He pulls out two handfuls of prickly lettuce, but only the parts that grow above ground. You have to dig them all the way out, I tell him, and as I say it I remember: I saw us like this, in a dream in which he flew away, a rapture. He a seed head on the wind; me still kneeling in the grass, hands full of wet wormy earth and the weeds he’d only half-pulled from the dirt.

Brandy Wilkinson is a writer and mother living in Indiana. Her stories have appeared in The Nottingham ReviewLost Balloon, and Ellipsis Zine: One. She can be found on Twitter @brandy_wilk.