Welcome back to the continuation of my short story, Under the Flowerpot. This is the last installment. Enjoy!
Every time Kendu opened his mouth to say something, McKenna feigned interest in the woman sweeping dirt away from her pink door with a fern leaf and the tiny child clinging to one of her legs. The little girl’s copper pigtails bobbed up and down with her mother’s movements, and she grinned at McKenna, her eyes sparking. A spark of recognition registered in McKenna’s thoughts, but she didn’t know why.
As she wandered farther along the road, the overhead plants appeared more wilted than the first ones she’d seen, and her footsteps cast dirt into the air that was so dry it could have been a desert. Nothing green moved.
McKenna stopped and stared at a black and yellow bumblebee that flew to the top of a blue ceramic container, transformed into a little round man with a belly like a beach ball, and went to work peeling away brown, shriveled stalks from the broad-leafed plant. A towering cone-shaped flower that rose above him had withered into something that resembled a dried cob of corn. His mouth folded down at the corners, and filth caked his hands as if he’d been working non-stop for days.
A glance at the other houses revealed similar circumstances, withered greenery, dead flowers littered everywhere, cracking pots and people scurrying around to repair one thing or another. Their expressions were all equally grim.
“What happened here?” McKenna forced herself to look at Kendu. “It was so green and healthy back there, and the vines moved, but … everything’s dying, isn’t it?” Her hand went to her stomach, uncertain why it suddenly hurt.
Kendu stared up at the glass ceiling that didn’t shine as brightly with sun as it had a few moments before. “We can’t turn on the water ourselves, and there are so many predators beyond these walls, it isn’t safe for us to try to carry water back from the lake. Your father died as he was watering the section we entered back there. The rest has been without water for a few days longer.”
“Is this my fault, because I took so long to get here?” McKenna glared at the moth man, unwilling to get sucked into the guilt trip she was on.
“No.” He slid fingers into his hair, something near panic in his voice. “I promised your father I’d wait until you came. He found happiness here, and wanted the same for you. Life out there is harsh, but in here….” Kendu stopped in front of McKenna and grasped her face in his warm hands. “I know it must be hard for you to come here, and you’ll need some time to accept what we are, but we won’t survive much longer like this. If our host plants die, then so do we. We need you, McKenna. Won’t you help us?”
Was that how the Shyll had sucked Dad into their world for days on end? Care for us, or we’ll die? Well, she wasn’t as gullible as dear ol’ Dad. Hell no. She still wasn’t convinced the insect people weren’t a delusional dream she could wake up from with a good mental slap. In fact, that seemed like the only explanation that didn’t have her two steps closer to the loony-bin door.
McKenna shook her head and backed away from Kendu, away from the forlorn faces of the people who picked up chipped pieces of clay from their homes and raked up once beautiful blossoms that had turned into wizened blobs of faded color. “I know what you’re doing, so just stop it. Dad might have fallen for all of this crap and lost his mind in the process, but I won’t. Now, change me back!” Please let me wake up.
Kendu nodded, and instead of the anger that McKenna expected, a deep sadness cast gloom into his features. “I guess it was silly of us to think you’d care after what we did to your childhood. You must have a good life out there somewhere.” He turned, his shoulders wilting as much as the vines winding around the yellow container beside her. “Put the two halves of the spinning top back together, and you’ll return to your normal size. He did love you, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Although she didn’t want to, she couldn’t help but watch him walk away, her throat swelling with guilt. Kendu approached a small group of men and women with every color of hair, wearing the same strips of fabric he did. When he shook his head at them, they all let out cries of grief.
Unable to tolerate the weight of the world she’d found, McKenna turned away from the gathering Shyll and went back the way she came, concentrating to keep one foot moving in front of the other instead of turning around. Part of her wanted to take the look out of Kendu’s eyes, but anger kept her rushing away from him. She didn’t know how she’d get back to the ground, or how she’d manage to maneuver the two parts of the toy back together, but she had to get away before she started to believe all of it.
Once she made it back to the green part of the village, the vines once again slithered against one another like cats scent marking. Their yellow and white blooms dropped petals around her like soft rain, caressing her bare arms and wafting her with their sweet perfume as if they too wanted to entice her into staying. No! They were just plants. Weren’t they?
“You’re Neil’s daughter,” a soft voice called.
McKenna recognized the pink door before she remembered the woman with the little girl attached to her leg. “Yes.” McKenna didn’t move any closer to the woman with her long, fair hair and twinkling blue eyes. She imagined butterfly wings protruding from her back, but had no idea why the image came to her.
“You look so much like him.” Offering a smile, the butterfly lady limped to the end of her stone walkway with the girl perched on one foot, until she stood a few feet from McKenna. “I’m Meera, and this”—she ushered the girl forward—“is Naya.”
McKenna studied the urgency in Meera’s stare, wondering what thoughts went with it. Was she trying to tell McKenna something? Why wouldn’t she just say it? Unable to decipher the look, McKenna turned her attention to the grinning child. Another young girl stepped out of the flowerpot and came up behind Meera, gazing at McKenna with the same eyes as her little sister, the color of storm clouds, a dark, slate gray. A mirror of McKenna’s own. And Dad’s.
“This is my other daughter, Nadine,” Meera said.
“No!” Gasping, McKenna stumbled backward in an effort to escape the truth that stood before her. “He didn’t.” She shook her head and cleared the lump from her throat. “Please, tell me he didn’t.”
Meera reached her hand out as if to comfort McKenna, but dropped it down by her side. “After your mother left, Neil and I … we loved each other. He tried to break the oath of silence so he could bring first your mother and then you here, but each time he tried, he fell ill.” She placed her delicate hands on the shoulders of the two girls. “These are your sisters.”
Tears streamed down McKenna’s face as she imagined Dad raising his new daughters, while she spent her evenings and weekends alone, cooking for herself, learning how to sew because there was no money to buy new clothes. How many years had she spent wishing on stars that she could have had a sister to share that time with, to tell her secrets to, to crawl into bed with when thunder crashed outside?
Kendu’s words haunted her mind: you must have a wonderful life. Truth was, she had no life at all. She worked alone in an office and went home to an empty apartment. McKenna had avoided anyone who’d tried to get close to her out of fear they’d leave her in the end. Just like Dad.
As she stared at the butterfly woman, she realized the Shyll could never leave her. Their entire world existed within the greenhouse, as fragile and worn down as she was. They needed her. She’d never been needed before, and a new sense of purpose bloomed inside her. The sisters she’d always wanted stood before her, their lives in her hands.
Meera had said Dad fell ill when he tried to tell her. Had his efforts killed him in the end? All of the old hurt leaked out of McKenna’s heart in a steady stream down her face. The two girls each took one of her hands in theirs, tears wetting their rosy cheeks, and something warm touched her shoulder. McKenna craned her neck to look at Kendu, who stood beside her, his hand drawing back from her.
“We’re your family now, McKenna,” Kendu said. “We can’t undo what we did to your childhood, but we would heal you now if you’ll allow it, as you’ll heal us.”
The emptiness inside her absorbed the surroundings, the vibrations from the blue vines that coiled around the entire group like an embrace, the hope rolling off Meera and her daughters, the kind moth-man who gave her a sort of comfort and warmth she’d never had. Other villagers gathered around them, their expressions welcoming and without judgment. If McKenna chose to leave, they’d accept it and let her walk away. If she did, they’d all die. Something fierce twisted inside of her. She wouldn’t let anyone or anything hurt them. Instead of shocking her, the thought brought a strange sort of peace.
The future didn’t seem so empty anymore. She only had to embrace it, to let go of the anger and hurt and doubt. She belonged with them; something in her soul knew it to be true. Somehow she would be all they needed her to be, would accept her just as she was, and she’d never have to return to her empty apartment and dead-end job. All she’d ever wanted lay within the very place she’d always hated. Insane or not, she no longer cared.
I forgive you, Dad.
McKenna slipped her hand into Kendu’s and managed a smile. “So … when are you going to teach me how to fly?”
And that concludes Under the Flowerpot. I hope I entertained you for a while.