St. Mary's College of Maryland

The Mulberry Tree magazine is published by St. Mary's College of Maryland, Maryland's public honors college for the liberal arts and sciences. It is produced for alumni, faculty, staff, trustees, the local community, and friends of the College.

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Lee Capristo, editor
The Mulberry Tree
Phone: (240) 895-4795
18952 East Fisher Road
St. Mary's City, MD 20686

Cont'd from Embers by Kerry Graham:

***

And alone the hours passed. Barika lounged on the brittle couch inside, flitting her attention between a book and her phone; she was the only child Special knew who read for fun. Meanwhile, Special was outside with the cluttered collection of pots she proudly called her garden. She clumsily held in one hand dollar store purchases: her shovel and watering can. In the other, she carefully carried her first container of compost, a gift from her science teacher. Sanctity surrounded her. 

The sun dawdled, east to west, as she picked and sorted. Her neighborhood’s clamor—balls bounced, horns honked, sirens shrieked, voices raised—became a din while she nurtured blossoms and blades. This was as close to prayer as Special came: kneeling to bury deep the rawest questions, thoughts, memories and afterwards, in hope, wait for signs of thriving.

Later, Trey, the long and strong older boy from school sauntered down the alley, and Special felt her heart kindle.

“Special.” His grin magnetic. “How you doin’?”

“What’s up, Trey?” Special mumbled, tucking her chin.

“Yo, let me in to get some water, please? It’s hot as shit today.”

Eyes wide, Special quickly nodded toward the house, never before more grateful to have a sink. Trey grinned again as he slipped past. For moments whose length she could not count, she simply stared at the door through which Trey had entered. Suddenly, without warning, realization mortified her. Of course. She should have gone inside, too.

Special clamored to her feet and hurled herself into the kitchen, expecting to see Trey but finding no one. Then—muffled—thumping—abruptly. Stopped. She peered into the living room, the site of the sounds, and watched a long and strong silhouette push itself up from the sofa. Beneath the shadow laid Barika, stiff and still. A shield for her sister Special was not.

In an instant, the entire house recoiled from a wound fresher and sharper than the ache it had endured this morning.  Special thought not in words, but images; she saw, in hindsight, the embers, hazardously fertile with flame, which had haunted her family all these years. And that, finally, fiercely ignited. Today. 7/27.

Special stumbled back to her garden, no longer a sanctuary. As he left, Trey followed closely, coolly behind her, offering her a half-smile that she did not see. Again, Special was on her knees, but no longer by choice. She succumbed at last. 

More moments passed that Special could not count, but eventually Barika appeared at the door, her dazzle now dimmed. Never before had she so profoundly resembled their mother. Special violently resented this likeness.

“Can I help?” Barika’s voice sounded delicate enough to shatter. She crouched down across from Special, a pot exploding with daylilies between them.

Wordlessly, Special began to knead compost into the soil. Barika mildly mimicked her sister’s motions, lifting her chin only when their fingers intertwined in the dirt.

“You know ‘bout daylilies?” Special asked softly, nodding to the flower that was the bright color of burning. “They only bloom for a day. This one opened early this morning and it gonna close tonight.”

Special looked directly into Barika’s bleak eyes, tightly grasping her hands under the soil. “And a new one gonna bloom tomorrow.”