Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month simply: spring flowers. This tale takes a darker twist on that theme and comes to you from Val Muller, author of the YA reboot The Scarred Letter—fighting for the truth in a world that lives a lie.
The Lavender Peony
By Val Muller
Maude Stevenson hated parent-teacher conferences. It seemed teachers wanted to meet about everything these days. She dreaded the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month—conference afternoons, when the teachers cleared satanic little slots in their schedules to call in parents to address the misbehaviors of their children. Not to mention the need for two afternoons of daycare.
The sitter had cancelled, so Rose would just have to come along. “What’s this about, Rose?” Maude asked her daughter.
Rose sat in the back seat, mixing a concoction in a paper cup. She’d been playing in the back yard since school let out, and Maude allowed her to take along the concoction of ground leaves she’d made. “I don’t know, Mommy.” Rose shrugged and then looked out the window, her second-grade mind already distracted by spring’s burgeoning flowers.
“Did you hit someone? Say something rude? Did you forget your homework or cheat on a test?”
Rose shook her head. “I don’t know what this is about, Mommy. I try to be a good girl.”
Maude sighed and pulled into the school parking lot. The clock on the dashboard blinked 2:43. The meeting was for 2:50. Somehow Mrs. Spencer had the conferences timed to the minute like that. 2:50 exactly.
As she got out of her car seat, Rose asked her mother, “Do I have time to pick a peony from the school garden?”
“Are you allowed to pick peonies from the school garden?” Maude asked.
Rose shrugged. “No one will miss just one flower.”
Maude looked at the clock. What else were they going to do for the next seven minutes? “Alright,” she sighed.
Inside, Maude knocked on Mrs. Spencer’s door. A smile greeted her. “Just two minutes,” Mrs. Spencer announced from behind her desk.
Maude looked at her watch. 2:48. Really, now! Maude craned her neck to peek into the classroom. It was empty, otherwise. Rose was busy playing with her peony, which now sat in the paper cup, chanting to the flower. To be a kid again—and be able to lose all sense of time to imagination. Her mind too tired to entertain itself, Maude checked out the artwork lining the hallway. The children had been given a coloring page with spring flowers. Some of them also featured animals—frogs, deer, chicks, bunnies.
“Honey, where’s yours?” Maude asked.
Rose shrugged. “Mrs. Spencer didn’t want to hang it up, I guess.”
Maude didn’t have time to respond. Mrs. Spencer called her in. Inside, the woman sat behind her large desk. She motioned to two chairs on the opposite side. Each chair was meant for a second-grader. Rose sat, her legs comfortably resting on the floor. Maude sat, her knees angled up awkwardly. Her hands hung nearly to the floor.
Mrs. Spencer seemed not to notice.
“I’ve called you in,” she said, without further introduction, “because of some concerns I had for Rose’s flower story.”
“Her flower story?” Maude asked.
Mrs. Spencer kept that same smile. It had all the semblances of caring and warmth, though it was missing those qualities in actuality. The teacher’s eyes reflected that same mannequin-like quality. Maude shivered. “You must have seen them in the hallway. I hung all the appropriate stories out there.” She held up a blank sheet. It contained the outline of a rose garden with an owl perched overhead. She flipped it over. A series of blank lines graced the back side.
“The children were to color the picture and then write a narrative about what is happening in the picture.”
Mrs. Spencer smirked. “You know—a story. Some children wrote about a gardener. Others wrote about helping animals or saving the environment by planting more greenery—you know, to offset carbon footprints. All stellar examples of stories.”
“And I take it my Rose’s story was a less than stellar example?”
The teacher’s smile faded. “Mrs. Stevenson, I had to hold myself back from contacting School Counselling about this little tale.” She opened her desk drawer and slapped a sheet of paper onto the desk. On the bottom corner was drawn a red frowny face.
“What on earth could Rose have written about that got you so upset?” Maude asked. She looked at her daughter, and Rose offered a knowing smile. Maude raised an eyebrow.
“This story of hers—The Lavender Peony—is about a flower that—” She glanced toward the door and then lowered her voice—“kills people.”
Maude bit her tongue to keep from laughing. “Just a child’s imagination, I’m sure.”
“Mrs. Stevenson, the level of detail is alarming. She’s got potions in here—lists of ingredients I’d never heard of. I had to Google some of these. Wolfsbane and hemlock. It’s witchcraft, I tell you. There’s got to be somewhere she learned of all this. In the story, the main character makes a potion and spreads it on a flower, and the flower has to thus obey commands. And the main character instructs the flower to kill people. There are three murders in this story, Mrs. Stevenson. Three. Little Rose over there could be the next school shooter if we don’t watch out.”
Maude felt the humor drain from her face. “Mrs. Spencer, I’m sorry that my daughter’s story offended you, but to compare a little girl with a vivid imagination—to compare that to a school shooter is beyond asinine. It’s insulting! What should we do, call the Inquisition, and then the police? Or should we just send her to a shrink? Are flowers now considered a weapon? You know, Mrs. Spencer, I thought long and hard about whether to homeschool Rose, as I did last year, and now I’m beginning to regret my decision to send her to public school. I’d like to talk to your principal.”
The panic registered on Mrs. Spencer’s face immediately. “Let’s not be hasty here, Mrs. Stevenson. Perhaps there was just a misunderstanding.”
Maude allowed her eyes to travel deliberately from the paper on the desk to the hallway. Knowingly, Mrs. Spencer nodded, took four pieces of tape from her desk, and shuffled out to the hallway. Maude stayed seated and watched her hang Rose’s flower story prominently above the rest.
Then she turned to her daughter. “I told you, Rose, not to let out the secret recipes.”
Rose shrugged. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I thought she’d think it fictional.”
Maude shook her head. “You never know who you can trust, Rose. This better be the last time.”
Rose puckered her lips, holding up the peony. “Shall I?”
Maude nodded. Rose stood slowly and placed the peony in the center of Mrs. Spencer’s desk, bits of the leafy concoction clinging to it.
The lavender flower caught the light from the classroom window as Mrs. Spencer watched her two guests exit the room. It was only after they left that she noticed the flower sitting there rather audaciously—as if it had its own personality—a peace offering from a little girl that nonetheless sent shivers down the teacher’s spine long after its pedals had withered and the offending Rose had been promoted to the third grade.
The Spot Writers–our members:
RC Bonitz: rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie:https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Tom Robson: https://robsonswritings.wordpress.com/