There once was a patch of sunflowers (10 stems, to be exact) who divvied themselves upon either side of the walkway through a garden. Some said they were oddly placed, but the sun shined strongest right there along that path and as we all know, sunflowers not only need, but love the sunlight.
For weeks, the stems grew and grew and finally, one early summer afternoon, the first flower bloomed.
Her petals stretched wide as her face turned toward the sun and soon after that, other flowers upon other stems began unfolding too. Each flower was beautiful and strong, always turned towards the light which fed them–a stunning, vivid patch along that little garden path.
But as the weeks went by, one stem (the one on the far end of the patch) still had no flower—no face to turn towards the beaming sun. The stem just kept growing taller and taller, spitting out giant and heavy leaves in every direction.
By mid-summer, the other flowers began to droop (their time having passed) and still, the tall stem remained flowerless.
The gardener, curious about this large, barren stem, removed the old lifeless flowers from their shorter, less leafy stems. She wondered if this towering stalk would ever bloom? She pruned the other flowers, readying them for a new season. Day after day, the gardener checked on the growing stem at the edge of the harvested patch. The plant grew so tall that she could no longer reach or even see the top of it.
Finally, one humid morning where the heat laid in wet fog along the surface of everything, the gardener awoke to a beaming yellow crown, high above the otherwise empty patch. She ran outside to greet the soaring sunflower which was bigger and more beautiful than any flower she’d ever seen.
For days the glorious flower radiated her beauty—her face so large that she didn’t need to turn towards the sun for the sun reached her from every direction.
People came from far and wide to admire her. No one could believe that a sunflower could climb that high. She had been worth waiting for.
As the summer blazed on, so too did the wheel of time, and so the day came that this mountainous flower—the largest and most beautiful that had ever been—started to slump. Her time had come.
The sunflower’s strong stem began to buckle under her wilting weight, and so the gardener, with her best pair of shears, was forced to clip the crown from the queen of the patch.
The path through the garden was empty again, the only remaining growth being skeletal stems of their former, shining glory. Seemingly the end of an era.
But the gardener knows that this is no end. This is in fact the beginning! Because from the heart of every one of those sunflowers are the seeds of tomorrow.
What started from a single seed is now dozens! Dozens that will line the little garden path. Dozens that will ship through the post to friends and family who have bees and butterflies anxiously waiting for a patch of their own. And from there, an infinite number of sunflower seeds…seeds from flowers that remind us that we all move in our own time. We grow in our own ways. We find strength in our roots and inspiration in the light that feeds us.
…seeds from dried out and drooping death. Life goes on, our legacies and time taken to do what was right for us is built into these vulnerable, harvested seeds so that they may grow in awe inspiring ways.
…seeds which carry with them the pride and stamina and determination of those that came before them. Bury deep, your roots. Reach high, your ambitions. Be proud, your growth, even if it takes more time than the others.
For some… Summer is fruit drinks after being tanned, Walks with popsicles and toes in the sand. It brings surfboards with tiny two-piece fun For hours and days beneath that never ending sun.
But for me, no way, I’m not budgin’: For I am that notorious, summertime curmudgeon.
They run with joy, the summer folk With coconut oil on their skin to soak The kisses that the sun sends down Flipping over any summertime frown.
Except for mine, this frown ain’t turnin’: For I am that notorious, summertime curmudgeon.
Their speakers blare with top-forty pop While glasses clink and selfies swap From person to smiling person so hot I think I might want to join them…NOT.
I pull my shades closed, my Netflix a-runnin’: For I am that notorious, summertime curmudgeon.
An eternity it seems that the summer is here And in Texas it sometimes lasts all year. I should move way up north where there’s snow and big moose And I’m far, far away from tropical smoothies and juice.
But that requires effort; I’m too busy being shut-in: For I am that notorious, summertime curmudgeon.
Only a few more months, I can do this, I can. Then autumn will come: I’ll make pies with pē-kan! The leaves will turn colors and die and fall down And then it will not be me with a frown.
Until then, in ice-blasting A/C I’ll be bummin’: For I am that notorious, summertime curmudgeon.
Long are June afternoons
Where the sun floats in blurry
Waves above every shiny surface,
Where densely-leaved trees sway
Lazily as if to fan themselves,
Where clouds thinly sprawl in
Wispy, white brush strokes across
Windless, endless blue sky.
Long are June afternoons
Where wonder floats gently like
Wished upon dandelions;
Scattered pseudo petals soaked in
The desires of dreamers and blown
Into directionless breeze.
Where thoughts dangle like dying lilies,
Drifting down petal by once vibrant petal.
The black widow’s eight legs are sharp and shiny like daggers. Clearly, she’s sharpened them. In my left hand is the hose, still running—the water splashing heavily in the mud around my feet. Like yesterday, I look around for a stick or something similar, but as I shift my eyes, in my peripheral, I see the widow move a few steps in my direction.
I fix my gaze back on the widow who freezes: her legs stopped mid step. The sun beats angrily down on us—our shadows small underneath the high noon sun. Nearby, Bunny and Tee have lifted their heads from grazing in curiosity.
I think that surely, this is a different spider because King Ranch most certainly killed and dismembered yesterday’s identical black widow. I don’t know enough about the spiders to know if they travel in packs. If by some strange, cosmic force, this was the same spider, I’m sure she’s furious and ready for revenge. If this is a different one, perhaps a sister or a parent, then vengeance is in order. Whoever she is, she’s angry.
What I do know is that in this moment, I can’t blink. She would surely strike if given the split second.
I remember then that I already have a weapon: the running hose. I press my thumb over the opening, creating a pressured spray. The widow is watching this and I could swear that she, too, is looking around to plot her next move. Two of her legs curl in close to her and as quickly as I can, I turn the hose and spray her with everything I’ve got.
She clings to her web, all of her legs curling in tight. Her web is strong, unbroken by the pressure of the hose. I step closer and spray harder.
She retreats—scattering up the web and behind the circular handle where she’s blocked from the water. I spray still and step closer. To my right, from the corner of my eye, I see the same stick that King Ranch used yesterday and with full hose pressure going and my eyes fixated on the round handle behind which she is hiding, I fumble to reach the stick with my right hand. Finally reaching it, gripping it tightly, I release my thumb from the end of the hose—the water once more plopping into the mud below. Beads of water shimmer along the chaotic pattern of her web like twinkling stars.
She remains behind the handle. I can’t see her, but I know she’s there. My heart thuds in my chest as my eyes begin to dry out from having not blinked. Still, I hold my gaze trying desperately to see any movement in the shadows.
My eyes are watering now and the flickering drops on her web are too bright to handle any longer. As quickly as I can, I blink.
As the light enters my reopening eyes, a blurry shadow is scattering with furious speed down a dripping web and into the mud. I stumble back, the stick unstable in my sweating hand. She’s at a full sprint towards me—her eight, dagger legs reaching high and leaving small prints in the mud. As fast as I can, I pick up my boot, wait until she’s nearly reached me and stomp.
Mud splatters everywhere.
I twist my boot back and forth, pressing down as hard as I can—it sinking at least an inch down into the ground.
After a moment and another twist each direction, I slowly lift my boot. She’s flattened: her yellow insides mixing with the brown mud. To make sure, I take a step back and run the hose over her. The yellow and brown swirl together and slowly, her corpse begins to run lifelessly along a small river that’s formed—her legs curled tightly into her broken belly.
Closely examining the faucet and seeing no other spiders, I turn the running water off and carefully wrap the hose around the spigot. Using the edge of my boot, I push mud over the widow’s wet corpse.
Now, she’s dead.
It’s the following day and King Ranch, Little Foot and I have just landed from a three hour flight to Michigan to spend the weekend with King Ranch’s family. We’re thrilled to have a break from the heat, if only for a few days. By the time we make it to my in-law’s house, it’s nearly 11:00 PM, so with Little Foot tucked tightly into my arms, we settle in for bed in the room that used to belong to King Ranch’s sister.
Around the walls is hand-painted, forest green ivy sprawling in every direction. There are two framed paintings of fairies wearing water-colored dresses with dainty, reaching hands. The paintings seem old—their colors no longer vibrant but instead, dusted. Little Foot’s body relaxes into sleep and I, too, close my eyes: the last thing I see being one of the fairies staring hopefully up to the sky.
Although we’re inside, it’s quite foggy. A gray mist hovers over the brown carpet while the fairies on the wall twirl inside of their frames. This is the first time I’ve seen sad twirling—they are looking up to the sky with tears streaming down their pale, small faces. They spin slowly and clumsily.
My feet feel heavy, suddenly, and my body feels like it’s growing tall. I look down as the ground is inching farther and farther away from me. The fog clears and bright yellow goo begins to seep up from the brown carpet. I grow taller and taller, yet somehow, feel smaller and smaller when the brown and yellow ground beneath me disappears. I begin falling and falling fast. I reach for anything—the fairies still twirling slowly in their frames that are now seeming to follow me as I fall.
I look up and from the darkness, a red glow appears. It’s faint at first, but then brightens into a beaming red hourglass. Black lines drip and ooze like oil over the fairies twirling in their frames when I see that their heads have turned into small, pointed skulls—their dresses dangling off of skeletal bodies. They wail hysterically when I land in a net.
I try lifting my arms, but they’re stuck to the webbing beneath me. The red hour glass is too bright to look straight into and is growing. I look left and right but soon, even my head is stuck. The redness is so bright.
With a huge exhale, I sit up abruptly in bed, which causes King Ranch to startle awake next to me.
I gasp, “Where’s Little Foot?”
“He’s in the crib,” King ranch whispers, pointing at the wooden crib that my mother in law had set up. Little Foot was rolling over, I imagine, because of the noise. King Ranch says, “I moved him there like an hour ago. What’s going on?”
I’m panting. “I…” I start, but then the tears come.
King Ranch says, “Honey, what is going on?”
“Nothing,” I say, wiping my face. “Just a bad dream, I think.” My heart is thudding and my spine is sweaty.
“Come here,” he says, pulling me into a little spoon. He wraps his arms tightly around me.
I watch the fairies in the frames who are still and dusty once again. They look longingly to the sky.
We’re 1500 miles and several days away from being home at the ranch. The widow will have plenty of uninterrupted time. I shudder and watch the fairies until dawn.
Hauntings don’t happen in the summertime: they happen in the wintertime, right? In the summer, the trees are much too lush and kids are out of school, bobbing up and down in neighborhood pools. It’s light until 9 at night at which point the sun sets in a painted portrait of vibrant and far-reaching oranges and pinks. Hauntings don’t happen here.
Instead, hauntings happen in the wintertime—when the tree’s skeletal arms reach up towards a heavy, gray sky. Figures drift across the frosty ground when you exhale while shadows sneak in the edges of your vision. Frigid air creeps into your bones as the wind whispers in pointed, almost comprehensible warnings.
Hauntings happen in the winter, not the summer. Right?
It’s a mid-June afternoon in week 5 of no rain, although the humidity’s weight would suggest some is on its way. The warm washcloth through which we all breathe is heavy on the chest and hopeless for dry clothes. The donkey’s troughs need daily refilling as evaporation is working on overtime—mirages of microwaving water waving lazily above them during the day.
I keep an upside down bucket over the various faucet hookups around the property so the donkeys don’t hurt themselves by trying to scratch their faces on the metal spigots. For the first trough, even the plastic bucket is too hot to lift without gloves, so I do so very quickly, using the tips of my fingers to flail it up and away. As the bucket is flying to the side, something catches my eye by the faucet—a quick, chaotic scramble beneath the shadow of the blue hose. I lean in, but see nothing. A few, salty streams of sweat glide over my lips and drip off my chin into the dust around the faucet.
Round by round, I unwind the hose and walk it over to the first trough. As I approach the trough, whose water has managed to empty by half in only a day, I’m surprised to see just how much algae has formed as well when wait a sec, that’s not algae. I squint.
Oh god. That’s a squirrel.
I drop the hose and turn from the trough, acid bubbling in my stomach.
I peek back over my shoulder to confirm and indeed, that’s a bloated, belly-up squirrel in the trough.
I call for King Ranch who is working on the riding mower, “Honey!” He mustn’t hear me. Louder, I say, “Honeyyy!”
He drops a tool into the grass and lifts his head, his brow furrowed.
I say, “Squirrel,” pointing at the trough, “in the trough. Dead squirrel.” My stomach has folded in on itself.
King Ranch stands and meets me by the trough. After a long exhale that could mean frustration or grief, he says, “I’ll get the shovel.”
Later, after he’s buried the squirrel and I’ve cleaned out the trough, I turn on the hose and lay it in there to refill. It takes some time, it being a large trough, so I leave it and walk back to the barn. Well, it’s the back house, but I’m considering turning it into a barn. This is where a few weeks back, we found the dangling Rockstar rooster. [his story here]
Inside the soon-to-be barn, it’s dark and damp. Sulfur light enters through the slits in the rotting wood and in the rays, specs of filth float aimlessly. The ground is covered in a thin layer of hay and there are more wasp nests on the ceiling than I can count. A hodge podge of rusted farm equipment, wood scraps and fuel containers scatter about the edges of the room. I’m in here to decide if I think it will be too much work to actually proceed with my barn project when from behind a stack of wood, something moves. It’s too dim and dusty to see anything, but for a moment, I stare. Maybe it was a mouse? Or a lizard?
I take a few steps closer when a wasp dive bombs towards me—its buzz, loud and angry. I quickly cover my head and dart out of the house.
Across the yard, the trough is overflowing so I pull the hose out and start winding it back around the faucet. Again, something scatters in the side of my vision in the shade of the spigot. This time, I lean in closer, looking beneath the knobs. In the shadows, there is small movement: a chaotic shuffling. I look around for anything and behind me is a stick, which I pick up and poke into the moving shadow.
It wiggles and whines and then darts into the open.
A black widow spider.
I stumble backward, landing in mud that has formed from the running hose, and scramble to my feet, holding the stick out like a dagger. It shakes in my hand as again I call, “Honey!” I do not take my eyes from the spider hanging in a messy web that is barely visible. “Honey, it’s a black widow!”
I’m surprised at how plastic the spider looks. It’s shiny: oily black with a shiny, red hourglass. It looks fabricated. But it’s looking back at me, furious. I suspect that black widows don’t like the sunlight, and now, I’ve exposed her.
King Ranch approaches, wiping sweat from his brow with his forearm. He says, “It’s a what?”
I use the stick to point out the spider. He tips up his cowboy hat and leans in before he, too, stumbles backwards. “Holy shit,” he says.
He takes the stick from me and tries to stab the spider, but it’s much too quick. It darts in and out of the shadows, striking its arms up at King Ranch.
This duel goes on for a clumsy while before King Ranch defeats the black widow. It’s not a triumphant win, by any means. After a moment of standing over the curled spider corpse—a few legs having been dismembered during the fight—King Ranch says, “I didn’t want to kill her.”
I say, “I know.”
“But she could kill Little Foot.”
It’s the next day and King Ranch is at work. I’m out in the pasture checking the donkey’s troughs which thankfully have no bloated squirrels, although they do need to be topped off. Again, I quickly toss the bucket off the faucet and also thankfully, I see no scattering movement which could belong to a black widow. I plop the hose into the trough and walk back to the barn.
As I approach the front door of the barn, I hear shuffling coming from inside. I lean in and my weight snaps a stick that I didn’t realize was beneath my boot. When it snaps, the shuffling stops.
I slowly push the creaky door open and again, behind the same pile of wood, something moves. It’s a small movement: like a shift, although, I still can’t see what it is. I take a few, careful steps into the house before my eyes fully adjust to the dimness of the damp room. The movement stops and in front of the pile of wood, there is something small and round gently rocking side to side. I stand as still as I can, even holding my breath. Flakes float curiously in the rays of entering light.
After a moment and when the round thing stops rocking, I take another step and nudge the round thing with my boot. It rolls over and oh gosh. It’s a small skull. I take a clumsy step back and shake my head. Squinting my eyes, I look closer and yes, it’s a skull. It’s a skull whose face is pointed and small. A skull that could be that of a squirrel’s.
My heart is suddenly an unbearable weight in my chest as I run out of the house and out to the spot where King Ranch buried the bloated squirrel just yesterday. The whole grave has been dug up. All that’s left is loose dirt and a deep hole. I look all around but see nothing.
Sweat is pouring from my brow which is pounding with a frantic pulse when I realize that the trough is overflowing. Grabbing the hose, I wrap it around the faucet as quickly as I can, struggling for breath, when something catches my eye. I stop.
Hanging from the knob on the faucet is the black widow. She’s not in the shadows today: she’s out in the open and she’s staring at me. Her belly’s hour glass is even brighter red and all eight of her arms are spread wide and ready.