'Atropa Belladonna' by Fiona J. Mackintosh

From three cars back, I see Sadie on the sidewalk outside school, her head bent over her purple phone like always. The Lord only knows how she’s my child. Connor looks like his dad and me, solid on his feet, well proportioned. He knows how to fit right in. Never had to teach him – he just knew. 

When my turn at the curb comes, Sadie knuckles her glasses up her nose and climbs in back, slotting her seatbelt in one-handed. She doesn’t meet my eyes in the rear view. 

“Good day?” I ask, putting on my signal to pull out. 

No answer, so I say her name like the therapist suggested, and Sadie looks up. 

“Nick Botarelli thinks Martin Luther King said give me liberty or give me death. Ha ha. He’s as dumb as a brick.” 

It was one of the Founding Fathers, I know that much.  

I’ve warned her no one likes a smartie-pants. All she does is look up every little fact. I’ve never seen her take a selfie or even make a call. Once I took the phone away from her for a week, tucked it way back in my pantie drawer to hide that ugly purple, but she didn’t speak a single word to me till I gave it back.

“Honey, it’s lovely out so I thought let’s go by the park and see if the hydrangeas are blooming yet.” 

Flowers are my thing. I work mornings at a high-end florist, no drug store carnations for us. I’m good at what I do – cutting stems on the diagonal, pinching stamens, stripping birthing petals off the roses. And choosing combinations that are easy on the eye.

I pull into a shady parking spot, and we set off down the dappled path, Sadie in front, shoulders hunched. Even from behind, I can tell she’s scrolling. After our plump and lovely little boy (he lost the baby fat eventually), I wanted a girl so bad, and when the doctor put her in my arms, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy. She had tiny, perfect mother-of-pearl nails, but her shining head was bald for months. I tried every kind of bow, but they always slipped off, and when her hair did finally grow in, it was thin and crisp with static. 

Sadie runs to the wooden bridge across the creek and hooks her feet onto the bottom rail and throws twigs down into the moving water. I want to shape her face with my hands, smooth out the nose, pinch the cheekbones, press her mouth on either side to plump her lips. She’s laid the phone down on the railing as she plays, and that shriek of purple against the soft mossy green of the trees hurts my eyes. She looks away, and I lose it. One flick of a finger’s all it takes. As the phone plummets, she lunges for it, but I grab my daughter’s waistband and hold on tight.

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