Some relative rescued the peony from a construction site where they were building Montgomery Mall back when Jimmy Carter was president. Dug her up roots and all from the spot where a future Orange Julius would sit. Brought her home in a cardboard box like a stray shitzu that had wandered too far from home. Gave the peony to Mildred or maybe Mildred got hers from someone else in the family. By the time I made my way into the clan, the plant had been divided so many times everyone had lost track of who had inherited a piece and from whom.
We got our cutting from Uncle Jim. Planted her in the front bed next to the sidewalk. That first year I mowed her over before she had settled in. We asked Uncle Jim for a second chance. Planted that cutting in the same spot, undaunted by the possibility of a curse.
As soon as the weather turned warm, the boys sailed their blue bicycles and silver scooters down the small grassy slope in the front yard and over the patch of dirt where the peony lived. They were too impatient to wait for the promise of something beautiful. My wife and I yelled stay off the lawn and this is why why can’t have nice things every spring like two lunatic lesbian Mr. Wilsons. We shook our fists and watched starstruck as our sons’ soft manes turned into golden comets as they sped by. Then the oldest left home and the other two traded in two wheels for four, exchanged haste for sluggishness.
Yesterday, the first bloom of the season opened. A white scalloped sun wearing a splash of crimson in the center like a streak of lipstick. Queen, was the only word I could muster, until I stumbled on my old voice. Get the hell out of there, I whispered to no one now. If I have to tell you again. My words dandelion seeds scattered in the wind.
Rae Theodore is the author of My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys: True Stories for Gender Rebels and Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender. Her stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Reckon Review and Barren Magazine. Rae is the winner of the 2020 Joan Ramseyer Memorial Poetry Contest and past president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Raelives with her wife and three impertinent cats in Royersford, Pennsylvania.