The Summer of Forgotten Lore

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Those days, the ones I called the summer of reckoning, seeing things have become something of a chore. It was not a top priority, and there was not much to look at, to be honest. It’s not like our town is a hotbed of scantily-clad women by the poolside. We have beaches, alright, but you’ll be hardpressed to find them with women in various stages of undress. Nobody dared to skinny-dip even if the water was warm and inviting. Heck, nobody even dared to dress differently. We are a town of certain traditions and mores and whoever disobeyed will either be picketed by boisterous kids, or parroted by mothers who had an inkling for homebound gossips.

It was a record-breaking summer that I can recall with certainty. Heat indexes spiked up so high that you wish you were born a cactus, so you can’t be bothered by water. Because I was always dead-tired by the usual endless periwinkle blue, I covered my eyes with darkly-tinted glasses and salvaged my weather-beaten Discman and listened to all my CDs: Mazzy Star, Wilson Philips, Tori Amos, Shawn Colvin. My musical taste is as eclectic as I wanted it to be. I listened to them as if I’m seeing them, and everything depended on it. How I’ve gone about my day, how I tried to soothe implacable wounds, and how I rearranged my mental furniture so it can sit a feeling.
We were approaching midsummer when I saw her for the very first time. It was the first time that I ever cared about taking away my headphones to focus visually on someone. We wondered aloud every time we passed by her house, how dilapidated it looked from the outside, and the gardens about to turn into itself, degenerating, rotten, sick.
I mean dude, those rickety stairs have the word ancient written all over them, my friend observed. 

I bet you that house is haunted. I just had the creeps looking at it, I surmised. I have known full well that the house was not haunted because I saw someone drew the curtains from inside, probably to ward off nosy neighbors. 

Oh, did you see that? 100% sure those were ghosts! 

I tried telling them that no spectral things were happening, but my friends would not want any of it. I stayed a little longer, hidden between trees as she descended from their stairs. It squawked and moaned and maybe even tried to give up, but it held on. Her weight must have been so familiar that it can only sigh in resignation. I had to bite my tongue to silent a hilarious scream. If the house, in all its ramshackle glory, could pass for Atlas Obscura, she, in hindsight, could sweep a pin-up girls popularity contest. Today, despite the heat that settled on air like heat bombs, she decided to do full-on 60’s: big, OA bows on her head, polka-dotted skirt -like New Year came late or early depends on how obsessed you are at resolutions-, and the dirtiest looking shoes with socks- white, dirty white- an exact reflection of her skin. And to complete the ensemble, she was holding a gondola basket and started picking the pathetic flowers that outlined their garden. She walked towards the woods, whistling Julie Andrews. The hills seemed alive and starving as it swallowed her whole. I could not believe what I just saw. She was unconventional and in this town where everyone should stick to the routines no matter how aboriginal they could be, everything about her screamed different and diffident. And as someone who saw her first, she should be under my initiation.

I decided to go home and came up with a plan.

I basked in the sun one morning in my usual spot near their turf when she, laughable, ludicrous her, appeared muttering to herself. Was she on crack? It was so hot. My brain was melting, and I was sweating like some pig about to be skewered, but I needed to proceed with the plan. Still hidden from view, I sat cross-legged on the grass, fanning vigorously, spilled Coke soaked my Philip Morris stash which I hid from the deepest recess of my Jansport and waited for her next move. She was a creature of habit. She looked around, probably afraid that her little ritual will be disrupted. When she made sure that nobody could be observing her, she repeated what she did the other day. But this time, she did it methodically: cutting the stems, arranging them neatly, placing the brightest blooms on top, deep in the basket. Her gondola boasted jasmines, gumamela, some Vietnam roses, and some varieties that I could not identify. If she would be planting flowers, why can she start in her front yard?

There was something about her that teased, ‘ Come, pick me. Make fun of me. You are doing me a ginormous favor’.
So I did, of course. I mean, she left me with no options, right?
I was still in the carelessness of youth. I was half bad. Not that evil as some of my friends could be. But a little on the blindside. After all, I was doing her a huge favor.

It was Monday, the heat in full swing, and the perfect time to carry out my plan. If this plan backfired, then I inexorably failed. But I left my friends out of this. So there was no way that they will know that I planned on doing this alone. I saw her again, as I intended to, this time jumper overalls that reeked of mothballs I could swear of sniffing the mile over, in pig-tailed hair, and looked seriously stupid. I was not hiding this time. She had a genuine shock when she saw me. She came into my direction where I intentionally stood up next to a garden where wildflowers sprouted blossoms, and tall grasses swayed with the zephyr. Today, honey, there will be no flowers for you. Before she could pick the bunch, I had uprooted all of those with a sweep, and all the petals- crushed, shredded petals- fell from my grip. The stalks were limply and unrecognized. I saw her knelt on the grass, inspecting the shrubbery. From all the strewn leaves and discarded blooms, she found a solitary flower in the plants left standing, a starkly sad display. She noticed me holding the best of the lots; I let it drop, all of the flowers that had suddenly lost their charm. She picked it with renewed enthusiasm as she tended the battered petals with caring hands. There is an underlying reason why ‘Don’t pick flowers’ sign existed. When you take away flowers from the place that nurtured them, they somehow lost their luster.

And this strange girl can pick them to satisfy her whims and caprices!
So I beat her out of it. In this town, these flowers belong to the rightful people. Those who don’t dress outlandishly. Those who abide by the rules. Those who do not forget the lore.
She strutted away.
She, on a mission to get away as soon as possible.
I followed her. I, on a mission to carry out my plans.

Along the route, together with the denied flowers, she would cut some grass and made a little, awful bouquet. Five minutes worth of walking, her journey ended. What looked about the place was an anthill of sorts- only low-lying and seeming a little out of place. There she laid the flowers gently. She stayed for at least fifty seconds. Then as fast as she came, she was gone. She took a different route this time.

In my hideout, I witnessed it all. All of her intricate ceremonies, all of her lonely, careless surrender. Curious, I edged closer stealthily to the focal point and saw to my surprise, and still with this feeling I cannot place, a hastily made out epitaph written in spidery whorls and whirls:
In here, in this bed of earth, lies the body of my mother.
What lore, I forgot about them.


( image source: Pinterest

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