The Sunflowers

Mikayla Murrin

        I took up the bundle in my hands and set out.

        Janie followed the same path, crunching lazily at a granny smith, juice dribbling down her outcropped chin. She didn’t wipe away the sugar water. Her tongue ran along her lips and she sucked at them.

        We walked on over the rutted ground. I hummed, concealed beneath the tallest apple trees I ever did lay my eyes on, and I’ve seen quite a few. These were leafy and wide as three of Janie layed down. Like the kind of fancy tree you’d see in a picture with a fancy boy climbing to just read in the sunshine. There were hardly any fallen apples rotting at the roots.

        But I kept my eyes trained on the unruly grass anyways, scouring for the stray fruit which would leave all my apples bruised when I tripped over it. I’ve never done much, but I have learned a few things about apples hidden in the grass.

        At the stone wall at the edge of the field with my apples unsteady and almost rolling, I placed the bundle at the wall’s crest, beginning to climb. Janie, having slid off to the other side, stuck her apple in her mouth like a roasting hog and reached out her arms for the parcel. I passed it to her and skootched off the backside of the lichened rocks.

        In the sunflower field I felt safer. No apple farmer to come running after us for lifting his crop. Just us and the sun and the sunflowers with their seedy faces. Janie tried to hand me the apples. I laughed a silent laugh, yanked a sunflower up from its root with some tugging and ripping, and ran along the row as she fell further behind, granny smith still smack between her lips, a pig on its spit.

        I waited at the edge of the woods, jumping up and straddling the wall on the far side from the apple orchard, leaning back on its stones and pretending to be a flower rolling my sunburned cheeks in the light. I moved my plucked prize and pointed her sky-ways for what would be her last hurrah in the sunshine.

The stem trailed over my feet and was sinewy, so I went to work sawing away with my molars (didn’t want to chip a front tooth because that would look trashy). Yet the stem only wilted there, and I couldn’t snap it. When I held the stem up it was still the same length, but with a crease in it and a dark, thinish part that I couldn’t make stand right again without it getting all limpish. Damn it.

        “Janie! Hurry on up! We don’t got all day!”

        And Janie, saucy as she was, and ever slower than me, sauntered through the sunflowers. Through them. Over them. Crunching down on them and flattening them to the ground.

        “Oooh, stop that now Janie! You’re gonna wreck 'em all!”

        Janie grinned and spat her half-eaten smith over the carcasses. Her cheeks sucked in for a second with the sourness.

        “You mind your own steps. They’ll be a springing back up. You just watch,” Janie stood there and trampled on the plants for a bit. Seemed content with herself.

        “Yuh.”

        She don’t understand yet that what you take’s got to be something nobody will notice.

        I rolled over the side of the wall and dropped myself into the damp of the forest. Felt like I could breathe again with all the wild chestnut trees to hide me.

        I just lay there in the unruly grass for a bit, not even fearing a beetle. I was cramping my sunflower a bit with the weight of my shoulders. My face pressed into the earth, smelling it, digging my fingertips in so the nails lifted up a little with the dark dirt at their tips.

        When I heard the voices I thought my heart might have just spilled all its blood into my chest. Like my skin was just a container and my innards were in free fall, swishing around my body and making me want to piss and puke all in one slosh. The cavity felt full. My guts drowning. I thought I could feel the puncture in my heart where it had all leaked out from.

        I peeked my eyes and held them a little over the wall.

        Farm boys. They might let her off being just boys and all.

        Three of them. Looking a lot like brothers beneath their wide-brimmed hats. I could see the freckles on their faces from here.

        Janie looked tense. Like those chipmunks when they're frozen watching you. All poised and rigid and ready to run; Janie had that look.

        I sifted through my mind space but there were no plans particularly present. I hit at my head and no idea would cross it—only made my insides shake around some more. Nothing. No idea. Couldn't distract them because they would just split up and catch at least one of us. I prayed then. I said just like this:

        “Miss Mother Mary, would you please talk to God for me? It’s important. Please help my sister Janie. Pretty please we’ll be so good and such and if you don’t it would be bad so please this one thing. Amen. Also, really please, I’ll give all those apples away for free to other homeless folk. Never steal again. Okay, now amen for final.”

        But nothing, and it was a perfectly decent prayer. The ambling boys were raising their voices, exciting each other. Janie seemed about ready to drop the parcel, but I sure hoped she wouldn’t try and run. Damn, please don’t run. Her eyes never even drifted over to me for help. They were just trained on those scrawny white faces like she might stare them off from her.

        Heart juice was falling swiftly from my eyeballs. Getting all caught up on my too-big nose, trying to slip out of there too. Maybe it would help dry out my insides a bit. Like the puncture in that coco-nut I’d seen at Miss Earnwhile’s place. I saw the cook take a big knife to it and strike it and drain the liquid out so fast in the backyard. I’m lucky I don’t have such a thick skin. The holes in mine lessen the pressure inside when they leak. My eyes just drain the insides that are my life when they start pressing against my skin and making me sick.

        But those holes just kept on dripping even when I suspended tears on the cloth of my sleeve. Salty. I clamped my eyelids together so it’d stop. Not so I couldn’t see Janie after she squealed, the boys making a dash at her like coyotes slobbering. I heard her thunk down into the sunflower field and their deep voices shouting.

        I grew scared that all the life might flow right on out of me if I let it fall. So I shut my lips real tight too, screwed them up so they were almost inverted, held onto my sides like it was a hug from the most loving mama the world ever saw. My nose kept dripping with my heart juice though.

        Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

        I was a careless child. Stupid.

        The cool of the woods began to freeze at my sweaty skin. Mosquitoes bit at my neck. My body was all squeezed in trying to hold itself up.

        After a time it got real quiet.

        A good while after that Janie walked on up to the wall, hoisted herself over.

        “Sorry. I done bruised the apples.” Her eyes were real quiet looking. Red at the hinges and chest all relaxed like she was too exhausted to keep her mind off the ground.

        “Well come on then,” I sniffled, “I been thinking we better figure something new out anyways.”

        We walked on into the woods, chestnut trees for cover, limp sunflower strangled in my white knuckles.