Rita already knows all flowers are not created equal. Hibiscus can’t be picked—they shrivel within hours. Yet the ancient film star tells her this and other well-known facts. Whites are separated from colors. Fruit bowls are just for show. Rita air-dries satin brassieres and panties, creamy stand-ins for Mrs. Hogue’s wrinkled skin. “Si, Señora,” Rita murmurs, as scripted, although she’s from Pakistan. Rita has truths, too. Bleach makes a house smell clean, even when it’s not. Sometimes precious things break. Windex can creep under glass, ruining photos. Everyone, around the world, says the same thing. So sorry, an accident.
The tourists say “bo-gen-villa.” They can’t pronounce Malinche either, so she goes by Mona. Today she’s babysitting Italian girls so dark they could be hers. She shows them how the vine’s cherry-colored leaves are imposters for the real flowers afloat in tiny trios, surrounded by barbs. Poolside, the children’s mother in a neon bikini flirts with a local at the floating bar. She pretends not to see them, even as her children shout “Mama! Mama!” joyfully. It almost sounds like Mona. An American stops to admire the girls, asking, “Are you the mom?” “Yes,” Mona says. “In Mexico, it’s madre.”
The white, red, and green of her neighbors’ shrubs remind Shallah of her flag’s colors. Something of their fragrance is of home, too. Mary-Jo offers a salt-rimmed cocktail Shallah dislikes but sips. “Do you wear a burka?” a man asks. “Chador,” she corrects. “And never.” The questions become more outrageous until Shallah sees she is here as entertainment. Escaping indoors, she smokes, skims a Vogue. A doleful beagle follows her outside again. She’s nibbling a taco when Mary-Jo screams, “Mr. Magoo!” They gather around the motionless dog, red blossoms hanging from his mouth. Shallah remembers war, finally places the scent.
'Tres Flores' was published in New Flash Fiction Review on 8 March 8 2019.
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