There was a buzzing noise coming from within her. It seemed to get louder as she neared the dusty radio on the counter next to the cash register. The roaring din sent vibrations through her whole body, and she heard clicks and shrieks coming from the speakers. She looked around, wondering what was going on. Bags of chips were sitting on the shelves; milk and drinks were in the refrigerators; everything seemed to be normal. The subtle vibrations lapping against her skin soon became sharp, invading her fingers and toes. The other customers continued to shop, minding their own business. But she spotted the cashier staring at her, concerned.
Does she hear it too? she thought. She walked over with a gallon of milk, expecting the cashier to tell her it was all a joke.
“Can I help you with something else, honey?” the cashier asked.
Laura choked out a “no” and retrieved a crumpled $5.00 bill from her pocket. She staggered out the store, leaving the change and milk on the counter. The sizzling heat made beads of sweat run down her forehead. Dragging her feet to the steps of her front door, she felt dizzy and confused, as if she were in a trance.
What was that buzzing noise? she thought. The soft jingle of keys snapped her back into reality. When she opened the door, the blast of air was like a cool drink to her lips. Wiping away sweat, Laura suddenly remembered the milk.
“Laura! Did you buy the milk? I need it for the casserole I’m making for dinner!” her mother called from the kitchen.
“Uh, oh no, shoot! I forgot! Sorry, Ma,” Laura called out, heading into the living room.
Her mother’s head poked through the doorway. “What? I can’t believe you! I reminded you before you went to school! Now I have to go get it. I didn’t water the garden yet so make yourself useful for once!” her mother yelled while storming out.
Laura glared at the door as it banged shut and tramped into the garden. White and purple petunias, pink lilies, yellow orchids and other beautiful plants littered the soil. Laura usually admired her mother’s precious garden, but today she wanted to scream at her, to tell her it wasn’t her fault for forgetting the milk. The fiery heat added to her frustration, and anger poured out of her like a tiny dam exploding from the weight of the ocean. She was never useful to her parents, never perfect like her older sister.
She lashed out on the innocent flowers, kicking and screaming. Then a gust of wind pushed her down, knocking her out of breath. Her stomach began to churn and bile worked its way up her throat. Her head was buzzing again, just like in the deli. Her body ached all over, as if it had formed bruises. Stiff and pained, Laura slowly got up and saw the mess she had made of her mother’s garden. A whimper escaped from her lips as her knees fell. She gently gathered the dead flowers and torn petals in her hands.
Tears sprang from her eyes as she remembered why her mother cared for these flowers so kindly. The small plaque in the center with a picture of a smiling teenage girl with light hair and light blue eyes was her older sister, Mary. The plaque was still in its plastic casing; she had died only five months ago. Laura’s tears splattered all over her summer dress. They overflowed into puddles, dripping down her chin onto the dry soil. The pain lifted away her hatred and frustration; she felt calm for the first time since the accident. Holding the limp bud of an orchid, she closed her eyes and pictured her sister watering the plants in her pink gardening gloves, smiling at her. She felt nothing but the flower resting in the palm of her hand.
Her mind went blank for a second. Then an explosion of colors and images of water, fire, wind and earth sent her head reeling. Her fingers became warm as if someone was touching them, then burning hot. In her mind she saw the image of the sun. The simmering colors blinded her. She could feel its radiance against her skin, flooding her body with sweat. She opened her eyes and looked down at the orchid still lying in her hand. Her shoulders hunched as she kneeled despairingly.
“Laura! Did you water—Oh my god!” her mother gasped from behind her. Tearful, Laura glanced back to say she was sorry. But the look on her mother’s face was not anger or bewilderment but jubilation. Her eyes, too, were watery and she was covering her gaping mouth. Laura snapped her head the other way and saw the garden. The flowers were so vivid and fresh, almost as if they had just sprung from the ground. All had their petals and leaves; they stood up tall with their buds facing the sky. The soil was dark brown and damp, as if Laura had just watered it.
Laura watched the soft worry lines dissipate from her mother’s skin and, for the first time, she saw how closely her mother resembled Mary. Her mother bent down to touch the petals and let out a giggle, a laugh that had been nonexistent for the past five months. Laura crawled into her lap like a young child, resting her head on her mother’s chest as tears gently cascaded down her cheeks. She could feel the presence of her sister in every bloom that danced in the cool breeze, and she knew they were going to be okay.
Monica Chin, Age 17, Grade 12, Baruch College Campus High School, Silver Key