Wendy Gist is the author of the chapbook Moods of the Dream Fog forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, 2016.
Pre-publication orders available soon (Feb. 22 – Apr. 15) via finishinglinepress.com.
When Dandelions Scream
By Wendy Gist
Madeline watched from the bleachers as a lion devoured her mother, Jill. Just six months later, on her fifth birthday, her father, Jimmie, was shot twice in the spleen by a deranged clown high on bath salts. He bled to death before the ambulance arrived at the Hendricks Brothers’ Circus.
A year passed and Madeline learned to bide her time picking dandelions. She skipped along Weed Field Trail each day searching for the yellow pop of flowers. The road connected the 1920’s adobe casita where Madeline lived with her grandparents, Grandpa Bob and Grandma Jean, to the dirt path leading down the juniper-dotted hill to Lake Saint Augustine.
The child wiggles her bare toes in Lake Saint Augustine, atop the depths, as a concert of rainbow trout, bass, and catfish glides through the cleansing waters below. Cattail fluff swirls over Madeline’s head like ten-thousand tiny cotton candies twirling over a blue backdrop. She remembers her mother’s screams, the blood-sopped blouse, the chunks of black hair dangling from the lion’s gaping jaws.
The girl’s Border collie, Mario, steps into the lake, then back out, as if concerned about breaking the No-Wading rule.
Memories of Madeline’s father flash on top of the lake, the poor man shot by a grinning circus clown and then collapsing onto a hot-pink acrobat landing mat.
Splash! A ruddy duck paddles by, disappears with a dunk, playing hide-and-seek.
A sun-cooked rock soothes Madeline’s clammy feet as the wind lifts her long, black hair into the sky. She observes the water birds. Mario, if he were able, would herd ducks, even if it meant swimming in deep water. Instinctual that way.
The dog whines.
Summer sprouts small miracles around the child. She listens, examines the lake-lapped shore.
Mario, pacing the edge of the water, whimpers.
At Madeline’s thumb the earth has given birth to a dandelion. She jumps to her feet and gathers more and more of the edible weeds, which will be tossed later into Grandma’s famous healing salad. Grandma Jean, each time they prepare the salad together, chuckles about how the serrated dandelion leaves resemble green cockscombs.
Madeline gathers even more of the fluffy flowers for Grandpa Bob’s Sunshine Dandelion Wine, a drink he and Jimmie once shared by the kiva in winter. Orange wings of a tiger swallowtail butterfly flap before Madeline, her eyes as round as tortillas, dark brown, and dripping tears. The butterfly lands on a catkin of a bluestem willow in front of the child. Madeline squeezes a handful of buttery dandelion heads in a tight fist and heaves them into the lake. She mutters, “Lion.”
The summer prior to Jill and Jimmie’s deaths, two men paid an unexpected visit to Madeline’s grandparents. Dust curled behind their GTO muscle car, candy-apple-red, romping up the hill to the timeworn casita.
A tall, skeletal man with a rubber lion mask held the barrel of a snub-nosed .44 magnum revolver to Grandma Jean’s temple. He nudged the muzzle under the earpiece of her silver eyeglasses. The other, a short man sporting a latex clown mask, pressed a knife to Grandpa Bob’s heart. Madeline hugged Bob’s hairy leg, clutched a forage basket of hunted dandelion blossoms in her fist.
The lion-man snarled, “Your son owes us gobs of dinero, and if he doesn’t pay we will take something dear to you. We will keep taking until the debt is paid.”
“Understood?” asked the clown in a punishing voice. A bull rider’s oval belt buckle shone at his abdomen, at its center the name ‘Hendricks’ etched into the silver. With a twitch of the wrist, he slit the surface of Bob’s sagging brown skin. Blood oozed.
The tall man reached down with tattooed-fingers and pulled a single dandelion from Madeline’s basket. He pressed the flower into Madeline’s hair, at the right side, just below the center part. The blossom slid down and tangled in silken strands at her shoulder.
Madeline relaxes into a crossed-leg position on the dandelion field blurring yellow near the shore of the lake. She blocks out the horrific images of her parents’ deaths and becomes one with the soothing sounds of birds, water, and wind. The child tilts back, massages the backs of Mario’s ears, and says to the clouds, “Clown.”
A shadow falls over the girl and her dog.
And that is when, for the first and last time, Madeline heard the scream of the dandelions.