You never liked sunflowers.
You’re hesitant to use the word phobia. To vocalize your unease in such exaggerated or dramatic terms might signal a cry for help, an absolute farce considering how inoffensive the “threat” is. But that’s what it is, isn’t it? A phobia. The back of your tongue feels like a sponge being squeezed when Mary asks if you want to visit Freeman’s Sunflower Fields.
It passes your mind to lay it all out for her. Look your wife in the eye and confess the general malaise you’ve felt around sunflowers since you were a boy, maybe laugh a little at the irony of growing up in the Sunflower Capital of the World, and say, “No, let’s not go.”
Mary says she wants to talk to you about something very important. Says it would be the perfect place to do it.
Her voice sounds like there’s wet cotton balls lodged in your ear holes. Most of what she says escapes you until you find yourselves here, sauntering down this dirt path, bisecting a vast expanse of green stalks and bright, yellow heads.
“Mary, this is maybe the fifth time we talked about this,” you say. “I already told you we need to think a lot more before making a decision.”
“Then let’s stop thinking…”
She recounts the same arguments and reasoning spoken so many times over the past month. The walls of sunflowers, seven or eight feet tall, tower over both sides of you. Coronas of lush, yellow petals lure your eyes to their faces.
Then, the dread sets in.
Those huge, brown discs stare back at you like sets of inhuman eyes. Insect-like. Hundreds of little florets spiral in a flawless geometry towards its center. Like an asymptote, they never quite touch it. You breathe heavy, your heart palpitates, and you can’t look away, entranced as if your entire being is convinced there’s something profound there.
“Please, sweetie,” she says. “Let’s stop thinking about it and just do it.”
That’s because it’s you.
You recognize yourself in that circling void. An asymptote. Every word you’ve ever spoken never quite touching the intended meaning. Every action you’ve ever taken never satisfying the original fantasy which motivated it. As if existence itself is a state of constant frustration.
A sense of foreboding yanks at your legs like undertow, but you’d rather drown than make a scene. You look back at your wife and realize she’s been silent, awaiting a response.
Before you can begin, you hear a soft chuckle. You look down and see a child, still in the androgynous stage of infancy, wearing blue overalls, tugging at the cuffs of your pants and laughing. You can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl. A bunch of smaller flowers are clutched in its other hand, proffering them up to you. It wasn’t a foreboding undertow yanking your leg, after all.
“Thank you, they’re wonderful. How about we find your parents,” you say. “Mary, we’ll talk later, okay?”
The both of you search around for the child’s parents and yield no results.
The days and months pass too.
The child is in protective custody. The state allows you to visit four times a week before the adoption process is complete. You learn it’s a boy and marvel at how much he begins to look like the both of you. You both dreamt of naming your first born Ambrose before the painful discovery that conception wasn’t possible. Before Mary advocated for adoption. Before you told her you’d have to think about it more.
Before you understood this was what your inner asymptote was reaching for all along and said, “Yes.”
You don’t fear sunflowers anymore.
In fact, you visit the fields once a year to thank them for their gift.
I wrote “The Gift of Flowers” to enter into a Writer’s Digest competition, which asked contestants to write a 650 word story based off the photo below. I’m not a particularly competitive person (unless we’re playing 2K… you don’t want that smoke), but I am a sucker for image based writing prompts.
My story wasn’t selected, but I liked what I wrote, even if the word count restriction forced a sudden ending.