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It is spring, and the trees swish the wind around like hula hoops on their slender waists.
I used to have a hula hoop.
Only the whistling of their hoops generates sound. Everything else is quiet or dust-coated. Sometimes both. My lips are cracked into slits that I repeatedly lick in attempt to mend, thinking of water. But I don't want to go inside yet, so I wait. I look at the ground, pretending little shoots of grass are peeking out like they did so long ago. They are late, many years late.
Somewhere far away, I like to imagine that flowers are blooming. Flowers don't bloom here anymore. It's too dry and arid. We used to have flowers in our yard, carnations and orchids and pansies with petals dripping out of their centers. But they were far before my time. I miss them.
My throat cries out for a drink again, but it is a feeble whimper against my roaring curiosity.
Because in my hands is a single seed, as real as the ground beneath me.
I hold it lightly, careful not to disturb the peaceful slumber of the plant inside. But I cannot keep my finger from tracing its lines in awe, imagining where it could have came from. It is deep brown and milky cream, with a chocolate candy cane stripe pattern over its shell. A small drop of hope.
Inside, mother calls. But if I go to her she will ask where I got it and she will not believe me anyway. That is all fine with me; I am used to her askings. But if she were to hold it, she would know it was a sunflower seed, and she would try to find more so she could eat them all. But I won't let her have it. It is my seed, and it is going to grow into a beautiful flower. It will not go down my mother's throat.
Safe, I tell the seed in the whisperings of the wind, trapping the words inside my head so only it can hear, You're going to be safe.
Now it is the nearly Dark hour, and I have an asking for my mother.
"Whatbe Yellowbloom?" I ask her in Sandspeak. She is wiping the flats we eat our meals on. They are round and pale white little moons. She can only dust them off with her rag because there is no water to put in our cans. Even our cupped hands are empty. She turns to me and sighs at my asking, tapping her chin as her eyes roll skyward, looking for assistance from the ceiling.
"Yellowbloom..." she sighs at the memory. She speaks in Sandspeak also. We used to speak another way-- english, I believe it was called-- but I do not know what an english is because it is so old. Our family has been alone in the dehydrated world for so long that our words grew shorter and shorter, until it was another way of speaking entirely. I learn words from the old wordbox I found in our room with lots of pages, but my mother still does not know anything besides Sandspeak. Besides, our throats are too raspy for sentences anyway.
She says it was yellow and bright with a black center, but as the words pour warmly and passionately from her mouth like honey, I hear the flower's eye tearing gold, its sturdy, thick stem kissing a brown-ness I have only seen in stories. I am curious now; we never had sunflowers in our garden. Outside wind blows dust around in circles, then pursues it, like a dog chasing its tail. Mother questions my asking. I tell her it was just a wondering. She nods, sweat making her shine in the remaining light. She is a goddess in its glare. The light does not grant me this image; my sweat is a bleeding of the soul, sapping away my will.
I quickly excuse myself to my room around the corner. It is merely an extension of the main room, as all the other rooms are. It could be called small, perhaps, but there is nothing for comparison, so it remains the largest place I have seen. Ours is the only house left, the only one resisting the slow general crumbling that has eaten away the homeland (or whatever was here before). Once there I take my private item off the edge of a glass-lined hole rounded by exposure, which seems an impractical addition to the house (it is beaten senseless by sand). My mother and I share everything, save for our private items, which we agreed to leave alone unless given permission. My only private item is a oval-shaped decoration. My mother told me it resembled some food she used to eat, a shelled oval with yellow and white inside. But mine is much more elegant than food; it is adorned with tiny flowers--roses, I remember--and vines crawl over its surface with splayed leaves reaching outwards. It is very fragile and quivers at the touch.
I soothe its trembling shell with my hands, wiping them on my shirt beforehand. Then I grip it by the sides and try to pry it open. It refuses to budge. I try again and again to no avail. I need it to open. I sigh loosely and gaze at it. I give it one last look, admiring its surface.
Then I smash it against the wall.
It shatters in an explosion of the sun, burning with the light's reflection. I watch as shards rain to the ground, too selfish to wet the dehydrated floor as they go. I take the remainder of my private item and tuck it under my shirt, minding the jagged edges, and go outside. I fill it up with sand and put it back in its place, the item gaping wide for all to see.
I go back to the main room. "Mother," I say, "my water."
Her eyes draw close to confer, brows furrowed. "Now?"
I swallow dryly. "Yes."
She goes to the basin and turns a handle. The spout coughs, then pours water. She is quick to capture it in a bowl, turning it off after just a few seconds. My mouth opens on its own in desire. She hands it to me carefully, judging my expression. I clear my face and nod, heading back to my room.
I put the seed from my pocket into the broken container, planting it two feet below the surface. The seed sinks down comfortably, swaddled in sand. I take out the bowl of water. My hand wavers as I pour it over the sand, wanting to pour it down my own throat, but nothing spills. I inspect my work. The sand is not as good as dirt, but it will have to do.
I go to sleep without dinner to cease the restless thoughts of water prowling through my head.
I wake in the darkness with a flat by my resting place.
I eat the food on it--a meager assortment of canned fruits and a thin slice of meat--hungrily. It is less than yesterday, but I am still gracious. I go to my private item and fish out the seed.
It is still dry.
The sand will not work. I give a long sigh.
It needs soil. Real soil.
I go past my mother as she sleeps, watching her body rise and fall like the tide. There was an ocean here once, an ocean that gave this place life. Now she is my ocean. I kiss her forehead and leave with my headscarf, heading for the vast shore that threatens to dry her out. I will not let it. She will live. The flower will live.
We will live.
Outside the wind is roaring, spitting harsh grains of sand into my face as I pull the scarf down over me. I stagger forward with the private item in my hands, clutching the niches of its decorative vines. I cough out rough sediments as I push forward, but many still crunch in my mouth. The wind batters me in every direction. It is screaming now. It is mad at me. It is mad at the seed, which betrays its destruction by being alive, being desperate to survive. It makes grabs for the seed but it will not have it. It will not have it.
It will not--
I awake again.
Green brushes my face, painting me with dirt.
I sit rigidly upright in shock.
My hands dig into the ground. It is soft and wet.
Next to me is my private item. I carefully remove the seed inside and place it in my pocket, dumping out the rest of the sand hastily. I scoop the dirt into the now empty container. It complies peacefully. It doesn't trickle away from me like the sand does. I pack the seed back into the dirt and watch as it sinks again, finally satisfied.
I look around now. I do not know where I am, but it is beautiful. The sun is tender on my bare shoulders, coaxing warmth into them. The breeze does not bite me; it instead drifts around my body like a current. Grasses tickle my feet for the first time in years. I imagine toddler's feet, toes wriggling into the grass like worms. I imagine myself, patting the dirt with my chubby, useless hands as mother straightens the lopsided rows I've made. I remember this place now. I remember.
I recoil instantly, shading my eyes from the intruder. His brow burrows into his forehead.
"Annie? Annie Fisher?"
"Yes," I croak, my voice like death. His eyes widen and he digs something out of his pack. It is a water container. I stare at it, mesmerized.
"God, I'm so sorry," he says, but I am already snatching it from him and forcing it down. When I am done I retch, then look up to him.
I know him.
He is a promise.
"Annie, I promised your m--"
"Oh. Then, um, I..." he scratches at his discomfort.
I stand. "I need more water."
"Yeah, I can-- I can do that," he says, turning sheepishly to guide me into the unknown. "I can do that," he whispers to himself.
I follow him into the sun, the seed burning in anticipation.
Safe, I tell the seed, damp with perseverance, We're going to be safe.