This soil has felt the palms of generations.

This soil has felt the palms of generations.

[Written by Ava Ahmann (she/her)]

[Image Credits: Jeremiah Sim (he/him)]

Content Warning: Mention of blood/injury

The blood glints blue in the moonlight, seeping into the narrow cracks in the concrete. Rivulets work their way down the back of the boy’s neck, staining the neckline of his shirt. He tentatively touches the source of the liquid and rises slowly, dusting off his jeans and getting his bearings. Picking up his broken board, he hesitates briefly, despite his overwhelming feelings of annoyance and betrayal, before he stomps on it. The board splinters beneath the sole of his foot. He picks up the two pieces and slips through the chain-link fence, out onto the dead-end street. The yellow of the streetlights coats everything in a sticky gauze. In the ground, the blood seeps ever deeper, coating the soil in metal. 

The baby enters the world screaming. The doula’s weathered hands expertly massage the child’s chest, inducing a sense of calm before placing the child back into the expectant arms of his mother. Slipping out the bedroom, her bare feet gliding on the wood floors, the doula makes her way to her cellar. She reaches for the switch, moving it decisively upwards. The slow flickering of the grow lights, just a blink at first, then a sustained glow fills the space. The scent of earth, and the whisper of water play ever so lightly on the senses. The rows of plants tower above her small frame, and as she peers at them in the light they seem to gaze back, and a whisper reaches out from the corners of the room. They are awakening to her presence and returning a greeting. She reaches her desired plant and cuts it at the base of the stalk, grasping it firmly in her palm. Turning on her heel, she moves towards the light at the stairs and shuts the door behind her. Clutching the plant in one hand and her scissors in the other, she moves quietly through the rowhouse. The sounds of sirens and barking dogs meet her ears as she passes her front porch. Moving to shut the screen door, the sweet smell of grass and the glint of fireflies beckon her, and she stops briefly to feel the humidity of the night. She looks across the street to the lot that houses her pallet, where she grows her vegetables and fruit. A lone figure stands under the lamppost, she watches him as he turns and heads up the road, the back of his shirt a vibrant red. 

Under the earth, a chemical reaction is occurring. A certain humming, slow yet building ever so slightly as the dirt mixes with blood, and blood with water, and slowly a stem begins to form. It moves upwards, growing with unimaginable speed, till suddenly a red flower erupts from the surface, fierce-looking with hundreds of petals. 

When morning dawns, the doula arises early and after a breakfast of black coffee and oats, heads across the street to her pallet. On her knees, she practices a new form of life giving, coaxing her tomatoes, lettuce, peas, strawberries, and basil, her small slice of Eden into fruition. On this side of the river, there are just three grocery stores, leaving over one hundred thousand people who live here with few options. The doula started her garden out of necessity as much as interest, for the same reasons she helps women give birth, a sense of community and survival. Her ancestors had worked the lands out of force, but now she has chosen to reclaim her space, bringing the mostly grey concrete lot, blemished with cracks and raised textures, to life. Her neighbors join her, filling the space with laughter and sustenance, the very things that keep the human heart beating. 

The red flower hovers above the concrete, cracks proliferating from where its stem meets the hard manufactured ground, the epicenter of its own private earthquake. It doesn’t take long for the flower to catch the doula’s eye, and she turns to it with interest and the intent of giving birth to something new. It grows rapidly, rocketing from the ground, at first a foot high, then as tall as the doula herself. The residents take an interest in the towering flower and a collective is formed around its protection. The flower has caught the eye of interlopers as well and soon hordes of young people make the journey to 56 Douglass lane, waiting impatiently and loudly to take a selfie with the gigantic flower, its red leaves complementing their ever so intentionally crafted Instagram aesthetic. If they can get away with it under the watchful eye of the collective, they will carve their initials into its stalk or slash a few meaningless phrases: “A wuz here,” “xoxo,” “K+T.” 

The flower makes the area appealing, and suddenly, the doula’s little slice of heaven is disrupted. The lots where she worked alongside her neighbors, manage to be purchased, because a plot of land in concrete can be sold to whoever is the highest bidder. The natural order of experience and lifetimes of working with your hands in the dirt fall by the wayside when someone is ready to pay you twice your monthly salary for a patch of space. The doula holds out, working at night when she can to avoid the throngs of people, or early in the morning before the voyeurs appear. They ask questions about safety and housing prices, never about the plants at which they work to tame. Taming natural things never made sense to the doula, yet she watches them prune too early and cut carelessly, preferring order and familiarity. They fill their pallets with non-natives, cookie cutter flowers they transfer mindlessly from plastic containers to the bed they’ve filled lazily and unevenly with the expensive mulch they had read about on an online blog. 

The boy hadn’t skated at night since the accident, and he certainly hadn’t ventured back to the dead end road with the lot where he had cracked his skull. The doctor had given him sixteen staples, and his mother an admonishing look as the metal pierced his bone. As he turned down a dead end street, the flower towered above him. He had heard from his cousin that the lot was a different place now, but the sight of the flower proved disorienting. He slipped under the barbed wire again, and walked tentatively towards the tree-like stem of the flower. Shivering, he pressed his hand against the stem and leaned in. The flower smelled sweet yet in turn, bitter. Suddenly, the boy felt himself wrapped up in a glowing light, as if he was enveloped in yolk colored silk. His feet were lifted from the ground as the flower began to speak, telling stories of old, and introducing the boy to the palms of Rio, the White Pines of Wisconsin, the grape trees of the Elqui Valley. The flower explained the interconnectedness of it all, of the ancient order of things. The boy began to weep, slowly at first and then a steady flow of sorrow, of responsibility, of compassion. 

When he awoke, a soft hand pressed his temple and when he opened his eyes, he gazed into the deep pools of dark irises. He propped himself on his elbows and glanced at the spot where the flower had once been rooted, in its place was a single red petal. 

“Come,” implored the woman, “You have much to tell me.” 

Leave a Reply