Robyn Ryle

Robyn Ryle started life in one small town and ended up in another just down the river. She teaches sociology to college students when she=s not writing and has stories in Bartleby Snopes, WhiskeyPaper, Cease, Cows and Pea River Journal, among others.  You can find her on Twitter, @RobynRyle.

 

The Rosebush in the Corn (January, 2014. Issue 42.)

The first day Elmer spotted the bright yellow dot from far across the field. He was listening to the Bruce Springsteen channel on satellite radio in his tractor cab and he thought it was a tennis ball lost by one of the boys. He stopped the tractor and climbed down to find a flower in the middle of the corn.

“It’s a marigold,” Grandma Ruthette said. She crushed the petals between her fingers and held them beneath the baby’s nose; she squeezed her eyes shut and squealed.

“Why do you have gloves on, Grandma?” the five-year-old asked.

“My hands are cold, honey. Always cold.”

“Must’ve gotten mixed in with the corn seed somehow,” Elmer said.

*

Next were gladiolas. A circle of them that would have gone unnoticed, except Leah ran out of gas at the little bridge across Woolper Creek. As she waited for Elmer to come, she spotted a spike of purple among the narrow leaves of corn.

“I said to myself, ‘What is that?’” She rubbed at the top of her thighs where the leaves had drawn long, red welts. “I hate corn.”

“Gladiolas.” Grandma Ruthette smiled at the arrow of a flower Leah brought back. It sat in a mason jar on the table. The prettiest of the bunch–white petals flecked with bright red.

“Like it was splattered with blood,” the five-year-old said.

“Like the flash of the brightest firework,” Grandma Ruthette said.

“It was a whole little circle of them. All different colors.” Elmer shook his head.

*

Saturday was Jacob’s soccer game and Leah’s piano lessons. They ate dinner out at the picnic table under the water maple and Elmer told Leah’s boyfriend the story when he came to pick her up He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and smiled. “That’s odd, Mr. Petit.”

The next day, all the men at Orshlen’s Tractor Supply Store knew about the flowers in Elmer’s corn field.

“Crop circles aren’t good enough for you, eh, Elmer?” Orshlen looked at Elmer sideways and spit into the dirt. The men around him laughed.

Elmer didn’t know what the next flower was. He tore it out and threw it onto the pile of grass clippings and topsoil behind the barn. When it came back the next summer, his wife said it was bee balm--an underwater sea creature of a bright red flower.

*

Then just plain daisies. Even Elmer knew a daisy when he saw one. Easy enough for him to believe they were weeds, though nothing like any weeds he’d ever seen in his cornfields. The herbicide was supposed to take care of all that.

He called the 1-800 number off the stack of papers he signed when he bought his seed each year. “That’s impossible,” a woman’s voice said when he got through. “Our seed is guaranteed.” It sounded like an accusation and when she offered to transfer him to the legal department, he hung up.

In the field, he got down on his hands and knees in the dirt. No footprints or shovel marks. Just the strong smell of earth and roots–a smell he had forgotten. He brought his nose down close and inhaled.

*

“A hydrangea bush?”

Elmer nodded. He had called his uncle, a retired extension agent. Elmer stayed away from the cornfield most days, but the hydrangea bush appeared right where the rows bordered the driveway. There it was as he glanced out his truck window on the way to work. He saw the blue and thought of robin’s eggs.

“A hydrangea bush takes some effort. Some planning.”

The five-year-old stood in the yard and brushed his face up against the soft petals. In the rocking chair beside him, Grandma Ruthette slept. “Are you asleep?” he whispered.

“Just resting my eyes.” She lay the soft wool of her gloved hands on the boy’s head.

“Hard part is keeping it from wilting.” Elmer’s uncle pushed his toes into the dirt around the bush. “How’d they do that?”

“Can you eat the flower?” the five year old asked Grandma Ruthette.

“No, honey.”

“Can you eat the corn?”

“Not anymore.”

“Can I eat the dirt?”

“Go right ahead.”

*

It was a miracle anyone saw the rosebush at all. It was hidden deep inside the field, but the five-year-old found it with his dog. His small hand barely stuck up above the top of the corn when he waved it in the air.

Grandma Ruthette wasn’t there to tell them what it was. She wasn’t in her rocking chair under the water maple. His wife found her still in bed. Her skin was cold, but there was a smile on her wrinkled face.

Elmer knelt beside the rosebush and the early morning dew soaked his pants through. “All this was beautiful once,” he whispered.

“Grandma, Grandma!” The five-year-old ran into the house with a rose held high.

When his wife took off the wool gloves, rich, brown dirt fell into a pile on the floor.

“A Peace rose, Grandma.” The boy stood inside the door and stared at the still body. “Your favorite.”