When we were eight, your dad loved baseball and wanted to coach. Boys and girls could play on the same team then, so we sat in the outfield and made chains of clover, tying tiny knots in the stem of one around the blossom of the next. Afternoon stretched to evening without anyone ever hitting a ball our way. We swatted our gloves instead at honey bees swarming the clover on our necklaces and crowns. The flies we caught at dusk blinked to light our fingers: fleeting, precious jewels.
When we were ten, I waited while you cut the grass wearing shorts and no shirt. The mower echoed between oak and maple; the songbirds quieted. I heard your yelp over the machine’s growl, and you slapped at the air as you ran to the house. A splatter of bees smeared against the glass door into ooze. Your pale skin swelled into crimson pillows across your bare chest where the stingers pierced. Neither you nor the bees noticed me watching. You put on your blue flannel shirt, jeans and shoes, and poured gasoline into the nest in the ground. You dropped a match and the bees, some flaming, rose into the smoke. The birds sang.
When we were twelve, we sold flags for the Fourth, a fundraiser for Little League. Rubina lived in the house between us, and signed our order form in her garden. Musk of red geraniums blended with citrus of white daisies into an exotic perfume, mellowed by the sweetness of blue forget-me-nots. Rubina smiled and shaded her eyes. “I’m happy here,” she told us, smoothing her headscarf. “No one tells me what to do, where to pray, how to dress. I’m proud to be American now.”
We found her there when we returned with the flag, her face swollen, clasping a bouquet of dead-headed geraniums, the barbed stinger of a yellow jacket deep in her palm.
When we turned eighteen, my birthday only a day behind yours, we registered to vote. We’d be old enough next election. Your parents drove you to the base and let me ride along. You wore crisp fatigues and scratched at the stubble where your hair had been, like an insect bite you couldn’t ignore. Heading down our street, mounds of red, white, and blue flowers bloomed. We passed the Little League flags in the lawns, and you sat taller. “It’s worth fighting for,” you said. Your mother’s eyes glassed with tears.
Then you kissed me goodbye.
You write of the beige sand and buildings. The only color you see bleeds from your injured friends. The only scent you breathe a perfume with the acrid tinge of sulfur. Bombs burst in the air and you are afraid.
I hope you take care and come back whole, unstung. I hope you remember crowns of sweet clover and catching fireflies. I hope you remember me.
Georgiana Nelsen is a business lawyer in Houston, Texas. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online in several publications, most recently in Tiferet Journal and Bending Genres. She spends her writing time mostly wrangling with the characters of her novel. Find her at @rosespringvale on Twitter, gsnelsen on Instagram, Georgiana Steele Nelsen on Facebook and occasional updates and book reviews at sunrisesandsuch.blogspot.com.