Saturday, 26 June 2021

'The Last Spider Lilies of Chester County' by Janna Tinley Miller

Water burbles white and angry, sucking our paddles into foam before the river flattens between angled boulders and wide shores. Spider lilies float in clumps, nearly drowned to white-winged tips. What we came to see – endangered flower beds growing smaller every year.

Essie steps from bobbing kayak to thigh-deep swirls while patting a petite tween hip.

“How can they bloom when submerged?”

I shift my paddle. “They flowered before the spring floods.”

“Will they survive?”

I look to her hands, clenching and unclenching. “We can’t help them.”

As a routine, Essie fills her pockets with opportunity: puffed seeds squashed flat, rusty keys, and crumbs of broken pots. Small thefts, mostly unnoticed. Now she picks a rock from her toes and holds it to the light.

Under sounds of a river morning, a truck revs its engine on a bridge beyond the bend. Essie lays down in the water to block the sound, her fingers sticking up like the white spiralled blooms nearby.

“Jeez, it's cold.” But she leans back again anyway, hands reaching over her head. Away from me.

When she stands, two bulges protrude. Balanced. One for each hip.

We get home and she strips for the shower. I pick her shorts from the bathroom floor, reaching inside each wet pocket before the wash. The yin and yang of us.

One side holds a river rock, smooth and sterile. From the other, I pull a lonely lily bulb, the paper casing thin and crumbled into dust.

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