Bloody Valentine’s Day Contest Honorable Mention
The Dandelion Wishers by Lauri Kubuitsile
“Paddy, you stayin’ til they come for me?” he asks again.
“I said I would,” I snap back and I’m immediately regretful.
He’s lying on the top bunk and I’m sitting on the only chair in the tiny cell, a metal one, ice cold through my thin dress pants. I wonder how he managed all this time in such a small space. I can just about touch opposite walls by stretching my arms out and standing in the middle. When we were boys together in the fields of rolling farmland, he was the one who couldn’t be held: not in the house, no matter the weather; not in the classroom, a drop out on the day he turned sixteen; or by society’s rules.
Jimmy-Ray —’that wild one’ — my mother used to call him, trying to frighten me from his side, but it only pushed me closer. I yearned for his wildness. Sometimes, when I was near him, I could taste the metallic, electrically-charged bite of it on my virgin tongue. I had a physical need for him. But he didn’t care one way or another. He was Jimmy-Ray, take him or leave him.
“You think her Ma’ll be there?” Jimmy Ray asks, in a quiet, whispery voice. He’s frightened, I think. Not frightened of what’s coming. He’s frightened that Silvy’s mother will be there to watch him die.
“They’ll let her come if she wants. Don’t know if she’ll want though.” I try to ease his worries.
My mind slips to a recurring memory, a worn one I think of almost every day. It’s of Silvy. She’s coming around the corner at the big Chap’s Supermarket in town. The sun is behind her so the details of her face are shadowed. She’s wearing a thin cotton dress and the outline of her body can be seen clearly through it. It’s erotic, both then and every time I’ve thought of it since, but the reason that it sticks in a permanent place in my mind is Silvy herself.
There she is walking, walking towards us with the sun pushing her forward, and at that moment, maybe it was the casual swing of her arms, or that gangly way she threw her legs forward, or the way she liked to tilt her head as if what you were saying was always absolutely unbelievable to her, I don’t know. I don’t know what it was, but that very moment, with the sun highlighting her body, making it the permanent measure of perfection for all women in my life thereafter, that moment I knew Silvy was someone special. She hadn’t even spoken yet in that deep, feathery voice. She hadn’t licked her lips the way she always did with a quick flick of her tongue. She hadn’t flattened me with her ideas so odd and unthought-of she could have been from another country, another world. She had only walked from the sun into our lives, mine and Jimmy Ray’s.
“You remember that first day, …” I wonder now if it’s right to talk about it. Thinking again I wonder when is the right time to speak about the things that have changed our lives, the purely truthful events, if not now, minutes before death? I continue, “That first day we met Silvy.”
Jimmy- Ray swings his legs over the side of the bunk, jumps down, and slides to the floor by my feet, stretching his long legs out in front of him.
“Sure I do, Paddy. Silvy was beautiful that day, maybe the most beautiful I’d ever seen her.” He smiles at me, his dark eyes sparkle, remembering. “She was a stubborn one though. Even that day, do ya remember?”
She came around that corner and stopped in front of us. We stood at our normal spot, leaning on Jimmy-Ray’s car. He said to her, “Whatya doing there, Honey?” in his sweetie sugar-girl voice. I couldn’t have said that, but Jimmy-Ray talked like that to all of the girls and they loved it. With his dark, wavy hair falling down to the middle of his back and his heavy-lidded dark eyes fringed with thick lashes, he could have said just about anything and the girls would have come running. But for Silvy that kind of talking was not going to work.
She stopped in front of us and turned, the sun lighting up her ice-blue eyes and thick, red lips, and she flipped him off.
She was like that. She was like a melt in your mouth chocolate truffle with a razor blade inside, and just like that razor-truffle, you wanted her no matter the consequences.
Tears fill up my eyes when I think of Silvy and us so long ago. I blink them away and try to think of anything else. Jimmy-Ray is tossing a tennis ball from one hand to the other. I watch and minutes slip away. How are minutes when you know you’ll only live for forty-seven more? Then what? Nothing. You stop.
I watch the tennis ball moving from one hand to another; hands that will stop. Those hands I’ve watch for so long, gone- to cold flesh, then bone, and then soil -and then nothing. I won’t remember them after awhile.
“Jimmy-Ray, are you scared?”
“I don’t know, Paddy. Maybe not. I’m kind of tired. Tired of waiting…of living, I guess.”
I slip to the floor too, the chair scrapes against the concrete floor, the metallic sound hangs in the air.
“Why Jimmy-Ray? People love you. Me, your mom. Don’t you know that?”
“I know that. But that doesn’t matter anymore, does it? You can still love me if I’m in a grave or here. Same kind of loving anyway.”
I look at my watch, something I’ve been trying not to do, but I don’t want the time to disappear without me keeping an eye on it for Jimmy-Ray. There’s only thirty minutes left. I can hear people outside the window. They’ve been there for days, carrying signs and singing songs, begging to save a man who’s just wishing to die.
Time is slipping away and I need to tell Jimmy-Ray something. The most important thing. The thing I think about every day, that fills my mind every night.
“You remember that day with the dandelions,” I start and I’m there again. In the cold dark cell, I can feel the hot June sun on my arms. I’m lying back on the musty grass along the river. Silvy’s sitting next to me stringing dandelion stems together, making bracelets and necklaces, one after another that she’s putting on her wrists, around her neck.
“What ya gonna be Paddy?” she asks.
Jimmy-Ray’s sitting on a tree branch hanging out over the slow moving river. “He’s goin’ to college, Silvy, you know that. He’s gonna be a lawyer.”
“I know that. I wondered what kind of person you’re gonna be when you start being you.”
I’d been hiding in the brightness of Jimmy-Ray for so long, I felt cold and naked when Silvy pulled me out. If she could see me hiding, could she also see everything else in my mind, in my heart?
“Silvy, you’re so full of shit, leave Paddy alone,” Jimmy-Ray ordered high from his perch.
Silvy picked up a dandelion gone to seed. “I’m going to wish my secret wish,” she said. Then she puckered her lips and blew the downy seeds up into the clear sky. I watch them fly higher than I could have imagined. Whenever they tried to settle, an updraft would push them up again higher. Silvy and I lay back, shielding our eyes from the sun, watching her wishes fly away to where they’d find a place to come true.
Silvy turned onto her stomach and leaned over me. She held a full white dandelion to my lips, her hand lightly touching my face.
“Paddy, wish for your world,” she said softly so only I could hear.
And I wished for every one of those seeds to make Silvy love me, love me not Jimmy-Ray. I blew as hard as I could. The cottony seeds flew up like rockets, up and up and Silvy lay back down and took my hand in hers. And I knew then, I knew for sure and certain that my dream would come true. Those dandelion seeds would touch the sun and come back carrying warm, sun-kissed dreams. I needed only to wait.
“That day, Jimmy-Ray, that day was the best one of my life.”
“Yeah, it was nice, that day.”
“I loved her Jimmy-Ray. I loved her my whole life, even now. And that day, that day I thought she loved me too.”
Jimmy-Ray holds the ball, his eyes looking down at it. “You know when you went off to college she cried. Cried the whole day. “
They’d both seemed so happy to me, standing next to my car loaded down with everything I owned, them holding hands and smiling. I’d promised I’d be back for their wedding in the fall. My heart broke as I drove away.
I thought of me gone, disappeared down the road, and Silvy turning back into the house, locking herself in her bedroom crying the whole day –for me. If I’d have known, what would I have done? Come back and married her instead? Betraying Jimmy-Ray? Would I have done that if I’d known it then?
Jimmy-Ray tosses the ball again, back and forth, back and forth. “How much time left?”
The time is going so fast. First Silvy gone, then Jimmy-Ray. What will I be without them, without him? What happens to the reflection when the object is gone?
I look at Jimmy-Ray and tears are rolling down his face, the ball still passing from one strong hand to the other like it’s counting off the seconds. “You know she always loved you, Paddy, don’t you?”
“That day, that dandelion day, Silvy also thought about it a lot. I think she was hoping you’d believe it all and come and rescue her. Rescue her from me.”
I keep quiet; I want to hear every detail of Silvy’s thoughts, every word she’d ever spoken in my absence.
“That day, Paddy.” Jimmy-Ray holds the ball, crying proper now. “That day I killed her. She was leaving me… coming to you.”
I can’t think. I react only. I grab his neck with all my might. I want to kill him. I want him to stop saying what he’s saying. How could it be that as I waited my whole life for Silvy, she waited her whole life for me? Jimmy-Ray doesn’t fight. He holds my hands like a lifeline, firm and loving. I could kill him for denying me Silvy, just as he had killed when he was to be denied her. I let go and fall back against the concrete wall, breathing hard.
Seconds, minutes pass. Only my breaths becoming regular and Jimmy-Ray’s sniffing, drying up his tears, fill the dank air. I hear footsteps, I look at my watch and I know they are coming for him.
I leap forward and grab Jimmy-Ray in my arms. I whisper in his ear, “I love you Jimmy-Ray. I’m sorry; I should have saved us, all of us.”
The keys clank in the lock.
“We have to go now,” the man says.
I sit listening as their footsteps disappear down the hall.
I lie back on the cold floor and close my eyes. The sunlight dries my tears while Silvy holds my hand. The sky is littered with flying cotton, their black seeds hanging at the bottom waiting to land somewhere far away where they will take root and grow again. As I watch, my eyes squinting against the sun, with Silvy’s small hand, warm and firm in mine, the seeds fall back to earth, one by one, and lay still in the green summer grass around us.