by Tim Gilmore, 6/17/2012
The little boy, and no one can know his name, loved to play in his father’s garden. There were about two dozen houses at that time, clustered around the king’s road, and the little boy wasn’t going to live to be a man. This one wonderful summer he spent wandering about on the edges of the swamp in the middle of the houses and exploring the mucky edges of the river.
He found small white flowers and extricated them and brought them back to his father’s garden and planted them among the crops. His father pretended not to notice, didn’t tell the boy they were lovely flowers, but didn’t tell the boy he even saw them either. In a while, the boy had filled his father’s garden with wild blooming things from the edge of the river.
One particular flower that he found was very much unlike any of the others. It wasn’t pure white, nor red or pink. It contained a multitude of petals and most of them appeared to be different colors from the rest. Some petals were pink, some orange or red, some purple or lavender. Some petals were white. Some were deep violet like something warm or something cold in the night. The boy called it the rainbow flower. He searched up and down the banks of the river, but he could only find one. He never saw another like it.
This flower he planted by the street beside the dirt path to the front door of the cabin. It didn’t take long to attract notice. Soon the ladies from down the street came by to look at the strange small flower, and they brought their husbands, then the man from the dry goods store came, and all the townspeople said they had never seen a flower like it.
It bloomed all that summer and into the fall. It bloomed through November until the first freeze. Then the bloom died with the plant. The boy waited to see if it would come back with the spring. He waited anxiously. He thought he could give his whole life to this plant. He loved it. He wanted to nurture it. He hoped to take care of it and tend it daily, season after season, throughout his childhood and adolescence and his manhood. But the flower did not come back. The plant showed no sign of life, but the boy didn’t forget about it. With all they had to do to survive in this godforsaken settlement, the townspeople nevertheless didn’t forget about it either. But the plant did not come back, and the boy lived five more years and died from yellow fever.
Still the townspeople would not forget the flower, because they would not forget the boy. In their minds, the two would always be associated. Now when they watched for the flower to come back, year after year, they watched as though they were watching for the boy to come back. As long as the original people lived, they remembered the boy and the flower, though they naturally did so less often as they grew older. When they themselves were gone, there was no one to remember the boy and there was no one to remember the flower. The settlement that was was gone, and the settlement it had become was fast seceding to the settlement it was becoming.
New generations were strangers to the ones who had lived here prior to the ones they were replacing. Looked at through the dimension of time, all permanent residents were transients, and larger numbers of transients called the town their home. The town became a city and grew outward and grew taller. Buildings burnt to the ground and new ones were built to replace them. Fires and cars came and people in fine clothes and hats filled the town and its buildings that grew ever taller. Then, strangely, at once, those who could moved to places far outside of town that were now town. Where that little boy had once lived so long ago that it didn’t exist, perhaps never had, unremembered, undocumented, unknown, now a building of steel and glass rose 42 stories above the ground. The building lit up five mornings a week with electric light and filled up with people, then became dark and lonely in the late afternoon and on Saturdays and Sundays.
One Saturday morning when two women came in to the office to do some extra work, they met on the sidewalk. They were sleepy, did not want to be here, with Styrofoam cups of coffee in their hands. As they were approaching the building, Louisa took Helen’s arm and pointed to the ground to something she had just noticed. A small flower neither of them had ever seen anything like had sprung up through a crack in the sidewalk overnight. It was small enough that Louisa had only seen it at the last second before nearly stepping on it. The two women were captivated. They knelt down to look at it. The flower contained a multitude of petals, orange, red, pink, lavender, purple, and white. They wondered how it could have come to grow and blossom there in the crack in the sidewalk on this sterile city block.
It was too late now to know about the boy. There was nothing left in the world by which to discover knowledge of him. The two women knew nothing of what previous buildings and lives had existed in this place. There was no way to know that this was the only flower of its kind in the world, that this was the same flower that had bloomed for the boy five years before he had died in a previous century, that this plant spent most of its life entirely dormant, that it only grew to bloom, and that it only bloomed once every 145 years.
The old man neglected to tell his granddaughters how he knew these things and they neglected to wonder. This was a story whose contents were impossible to know.