The Flower's Gift This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   The sun's eye glimpsed the flaming red of the cowering petals, and made the red light dance and bounce over the hot, crusted earth.

And in this time so far away as to be unimaginable, the town was the quintessence of emptiness and barrenness. It was veiled in dust, and the iron-grey houses rendered the town a large, painful bruise on the face of the countryside. The people too, were like dust, their spirits pulverized by monotony, and penury, and defeat. And such defeat, for so many times had they struggled to conquer insuperable obstacles, to make their lives a little more interesting, a little richer and fuller, more meaningful. But each time they failed, the hope of happiness was diminished, until they felt there was nothing left to anticipate.

The boys and girls grew into men and women, and were joined by loveless marriages, brought about by habit and custom. And then began the ceaseless cycle of toil. Never mind that there was a whole world beyond the town, begging for exploration, for the people knew only what they knew, and had no time, or money, or spirit left for anything new.

The sun hammered down on the already dry ground and hardened people; everything seemed dingier and blander than usual. Yet even in the spring when gentle rains are supposed to caress the earth, the town was always brown, and grey, and grim.

And the people plodded through trying to survive each day intact, but each setback weakened their spirits.

On the hottest, most lifeless day of the year, when the people set out for hours of seemingly unbroken labor, someone noticed the bud. It was flaming scarlet, and a fresh, soft, green stem anchored it to the ground.

The first person to notice it showed his sad-eyed daughter, and she stared at it in wonder and skepticism, for she had never seen anything as magnificent and foreign. She raced to pick it, but her father shouted desperately "Don't! For it is a thing of beauty and strangeness, and a blessing from the gods." The man told his friends in a voice full of cautious pride, lest they accuse him of being precocious, which they did anyway. And they called him a liar, a terrible, stupid liar. "Look," he said, "look for yourself."

So they proceeded to the center square, with the man at their heels. And when they were close enough, they halted dead in their tracks and gazed. Someone desired to touch it, to feel its texture and color and radiance, but the others held him back, for perhaps this unknown object was haughty, angry, and vengeful, poised to strike anyone with the audacity to finger it. Or maybe it was a sacred object, in which case it must be preserved, and prayed to, and presented with the finest gifts the people could offer.

The on-lookers ran to tell their wives, and friends, and the wives told their friends, and the children overheard but pretended not to hear, for their parents' business was none of theirs. Soon a circle was formed around the curiosity, but at a safe distance, for perhaps it would lash spitefully at the one who dared approach. The next day, the townspeople awoke early, but this time they awoke with a purpose, to see if the strange object was still there. They rushed to the town center, and found that it was there, and that it had grown and opened; the color was even more vibrant than it had been previously.

The people brought it gifts. Many believed it would confer upon them luck, and fortune, and happiness. So they brought it the last of their sugar in precious vials that their grandparents had given them, for perhaps it stirred and ate while they slept. Yet others worried lest this red growth, red, the color of evil, and sin, and blood, cause them suffering and slow death. Or maybe it was an evil omen, a portent of imminent doom. These people prayed, and beseeched this unresponsive being to forgive them, "Please," they said, "for we meant to do no wrong."

And every day, the people ran to observe it, and each day, they would realize that it had grown, become a little fuller and brighter. Most were happy, because the advent of this unknown object was a much needed change. Those who were optimistic saw the blossom as a benediction, or a good omen of future luck; they were the happiest, for now they had something to live for, a reason to exist.

The widespread enthusiasm felt for observing the flower's change, and its grandeur, and the joy brought about by its advent carried over into their lives; it improved their jobs, and their relationships. They began to enjoy what they did, and there was an energy in the town that had never been present before. As people thought about what this beautiful thing was, and what it meant, they began to ponder other issues, to philosophize. And others were so impressed by its magnificence, that they sought to adorn their whole town, to transform its bleak, steel-greyness into something more pleasing. And a select few, a very gifted few, did not see its elegance with their eyes, but heard it with their ears, as a sublime musical composition. And they thought that the flower had brought them joy, for they did not comprehend that this new outlook, this newfound exuberance and courage and hope, had come solely from within themselves.

One day, the townspeople gathered around the flower, as had become their ritual, and noticed with astonishment that it was fully blossomed. It stood tall against the vivid blue sky, majestic and strong, like a king in all his glory, but fragile and gentle, too, as if the wind might topple it any moment. And the people were awe-struck, for it had certainly reached its greatest beauty. When they all finally dispersed, one of the younger boys, who had been hiding in a shrub, proceeded toward the flower, an evil twinkle in his eye. And he reached out a nervous, bony, finger to touch the soft redness, but when he realized that it was harmless, he covered it with his entire hand. Overcome with a sudden surge of bravery, he fingered the stem, and quickly, deftly, tore it from the ground.

When the people noticed its absence, they were devastated. They were frightened, for they thought that the one thing capable of making them happy had gone. And they cursed fate, and the gods, one another, and themselves.

But soon the townspeople realized that they could not, would not, revert to their previous vacuous existences. They found that now, almost everything they had begun to do differently, they still did. The only change was the loss of the radiant, scarlet blossom at the heart of the town.

A month later, on his way to work, a little old man perceived a gentle, frightened pink bud; he stared again, and then once more, to be certain it was real. And he called excitedly to a passer-by, who said yes, it is like the last one, only it is of a different hue. And the two men gazed over the land, and beheld many more. They were yellow, and orange, red, pink, and white. And they were reaching their infant leaves and petals to the sky.

And the sun's eye glimpsed the flaming, ardent colors of the petals, and made the colored light dance and bounce over the warm, lush earth.n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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