Amaryllis, This Is Phyllis

Amaryllis With Bird. 4”4, mixed media, 2022

This is the whittled-down version of a longer, more violent story.

Marguerite is a shabby town, and I say this with all due respect, but love is too strong a word in this instance. I’d sit on the stoop of the rental most evenings and silently consider the questionable life choice of moving to a dead-end town with little or no professional prospects.

Something attracted my attention as I sat there one night and observed the tip of my cigarette glow against the oily landscape. Squinting toward the back, I watched some movement evolve into a giant black bird. When I say ‘giant,’ I mean pre-historically so. That thing was as big as a hatchback. It perched on a cyclone fence that could never have held its weight for hours, rustling its feathers the way ordinary birds do, but for the most part, it just sat there, unmoving. Hours later, the bird took flight and, within the expanse of a minute, faded into an inkblot on a pale peach sky. I called in sick an hour after my shift had started, and the manager fired me. Good riddance, yet the thought of being stuck in Marguerite without employment was daunting. The only thing I could think of doing was to have a nervous breakdown if you want to know the truth.

Wriggling anxiety laced up my spine at the thought of being destitute. Through a haze of Camel Lights, I began to piecemeal together a plan. It occurred to me I’d seen a shovel out back. I jumped up to retrieve it and dug out a massive heap of neglected daylilies that had withered to parchment. There is something to be said for graciousness, wouldn’t you agree? I believed the gesture would get me in good standing but never considered that giving for the sole purpose of getting is a hollow courtesy at best. I dumped the mess in a wheelbarrow and began to walk toward Agnes’ house.

‘Why, thank you, Phyllis.’ Agnes called out when she saw me standing there, alone, covered in dirt and dragging the sacrificial perennials behind me.

I hauled the lilies out of the wheelbarrow, set the clump on my hip, and put my arm around the detritus like I was carrying a toddler. ‘You are very welcome, Agnes. Can you use any of it?’ Taking some liberty with our newly sprouted pleasantries, I used my free hand to unravel the stalky brambles that weaved the front gate shut, wiggled it a bit, and shimmied through. ‘Certainly. How kind it is of you to think of me.’ I put the lilies down, managed to separate three single plants from the web of roots, and lined each one up against her front step.

I said, ‘Agnes, would you mind if I asked a question?’

‘I suppose not. Come on up here.’ I did as she said and embraced the front porch view, including the dry rot around the windows and door. ‘I know why you’re here, young lady. It’s about the clouds.’ Then Agnes started to talk about it.

‘There isn’t much to it, really. I see things, as I guess we all do, in the clouds.’ She said. ‘Sometimes I see a bounty. A heavy, charged cloud can suggest a pregnancy. Or money.’ Agnes paused. ‘I might see an ominous thing. A dark cloud in the shape of a bird.’

‘A black bird?’ I had to ask. If Agnes noticed a change in me, she didn’t say.

‘I’ve lived here, and I don’t regret it. I worked hard to keep ideas out of my head which could hurt me, feelings planted by dark forces.’ I’m sure she thought I had some idea of what she was talking about, but I didn’t, except for the part about the bird. The mood had shifted from small niceties to something else entirely. ‘You grew up in Marguerite? How nice.’ The tail end of my words constricted in the back of my throat. ‘Yes,’ Agnes continued, ‘I grew up in this house. My family loved me.’ Then she peered up, in-between the soffits and into that bleached sky. ‘I guess you want to know what those clouds are saying about you, am I right? She stopped to catch her breath. When she did finally speak, Agnes seemed to consider her words carefully.

‘You will not like this one bit. Someone sees you. It isn’t a good thing. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. However,’ She hesitated for a beat. ‘It is unending.’ Her gaze rested on something behind me. After a moment, she blinked. ‘Well, that is a tough one.’ Agnes waved her hand dismissively like she was swiping at a fly. ‘Go on home now.’

How awful to trudge back in that relentless heat. Once I’d reached my destination and pulled the wheelbarrow around to the side of the house, believe me when I say that I was desperate for any sounds of life in the trees or burrowed underground and away from such stagnant air. There was no birdsong, no crickets. Just dead. Then I heard it. It landed right in front of me.

The great wings of the beast folded over my head, and I saw the whole of the world, vast and seamless, like a solar wind burning me to dust. I was gone, barely visible. Unending. When I woke up, I was flat on my back in the middle of the road with rain pelting my face, Amaryllis was with me, and I’ve been strapped with her ever since. The end. That’s the short version, anyway.

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