When I greeted the cashier at Gardiland he seemed to not see me, turning away to shuffle some papers when I arrived. I waited awkwardly in his peripheral vision, though I was the only customer there. I’d come in polite and smiling; maybe that was why. Or maybe it was my pale hair, pale skin, freckles. Étrangère. Je m’en fou.
Some days I’m used to it and I smile on through; there’s room in my heart for even the most dismissive prejudice. He’s just having a bad day. But today I couldn’t bear it. I wished I looked different, sounded different, acted different. But I didn’t. I’m frustrated when I can’t make people like me.
Trying to shape the high front rounded vowels and velar fricatives perfectly, yet failing terribly, I asked how the rental of the grass-roller worked. Non, one-day rental did not mean pick it up one day and return it the next. That would be charged as two days; not one. What? That’s not what the neighbours had said.
I bought petunias to mend the section of garden that had been destroyed during the travaux. I’d plant something blooming where life had been removed. Please save the living ones; don’t worry about the dead ones, I’d begged, after they told me the garden would need to go. Amused, he tried to help me, as I frantically moved the plants from the spot that was to be excavated. Instead, cigarette side-mouthed, he’d inexplicably and cheerfully handed over the shrivelled crocus and narcissus, leaving the live plants to be killed by the machine. Tiens.
My little red button-flowers. I’d never known their real names.
I came home and cleaned up the broken pipes, tools, cigarette buts, empty bottles left by the men. I filled a wheelbarrow with soil from where the backhoe had pushed it to the edge of the yard, and dumped it in the void where my red button-flowers used to be. I dug furiously with my bare hands, in my red sandals and pleather jacket. The groceries still stood in bags by the front door.
I put the petunias in, quickly, one at a time, moving the dirt back around their stems, pressing it down. I was always rushing. I suddenly stopped. I love you, I whispered. I guess it might sound funny to some, but I often talk to plants. I’m sorry I’m so angry.
The dying button-flowers were lying in massacred clumps near the wisteria. I tenderly lifted them, plucked off their broken heads. I planted their wilted carcasses beside the new petunias. Maybe they would grow again.
I ran inside to tidy the house, cursing as I went. I had not much time. Upstairs, the prayer mat from Saudi Arabia was crumpled and dirty. I knelt to pick it up, shake it out. Instead I dropped down and sobbed, clutching it in my fingers. Please forgive me, I said to everyone, and to no one in particular.
A useless habit of mine, apologizing, when I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. When would I ever learn.
Weeks later, the button flowers would be shrivelled to the ground. I had forgotten to water them.