Sunflowers by Kate Jones

Such was her overwhelming sense of making life comfortable for her child, she couldn’t even bear for him to wait for the sunflower seeds he was planting to sprout.

Watching from her wicker chair on the decking, she had seen the concentration on his face; his small fingers pressing down the oval-shaped seeds into the soft earth contained in the little brown plastic pot she’d bought him from the hardware store.

That night, after he’d gone to bed, she’d gone right out to the late night petrol station and bought one of the tall, fully grown sunflowers from the display by the cash registers.

Carrying it back to the car, it had struck her how unreal the plant looked in the artificial overhead lights of the forecourt. Almost like some kind of artefact taken from another planet.

***

This need, this desire, to please her child had come shortly after her discovery of her husband’s affair.

At first, she’d assumed it was a way of protecting the boy; making his world happy and comforting, whilst his parents’ marriage disintegrated.

Now, she couldn’t be entirely sure of her motives. She feared her need to please her child was in fact a need to make herself feel safe. A smile from her son became a truffle, a rare pleasure in the otherwise turmoil of her days.

She and her husband were still together – just. Each day, they began to make tentative steps toward a reconciliation, For Ruben, they told one another (for that was the boy’s name). To provide a happy and comfortable home for Ruben they attended marriage counselling and slept in separate rooms.

***

The boy woke in the morning to see the tall sunflower, head lolling forwards.  Removed from its original pot, it had been replanted in the brown plastic tub he’d planted his seed in the night before. The pot stood where he’d left it, on his bedroom windowsill, against a backdrop of curtains covered in pictures of toy cars.

The boy sighed and pulled the covers over his head. In science, Mr Walker had taught them how growing plants required three things: sun, water, and a whole lot of patience. He remembered the excitement in class as the tiny first shoots began to push through their experimental plants, standing in rows on the classroom windowsill. How those first shoots had taken two weeks to appear, and it had been almost the end of term before anyone’s flowers had begun to open.

Through the muffled air of his duvet, he heard his mother going into the bathroom. His father discreetly opening then closing the door of the guest bedroom. He heard the echo of the silence between his parents, as he prepared his look of pleased surprise for when his mother appeared, expectant, at his door with his favourite pancakes.

He thought of how he wished these two well-meaning grown-ups would separate and begin new lives, lives where he wasn’t required to make them happy.


Kate Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK, writing mostly flash fiction, essays and creative non-fiction. Her work has appeared in various publications, including DNA Magazine, The Nottingham Review, Feminartsy, The Real Story, and Spelk. She tweets here and blogs here.

 

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