First Place, Adult Short Story Contest
Delila Sharp’s lawn is covered in dandelions. They are yellow spots of color on the dying brown grass. She has never had a lawn before. This one is small, an almost-rectangle, from the crumbling steps of the little brown house to the sidewalk. It is hers. The dandelions begin to grow in the cracks of her steps, rebelling against concrete and humanity, and she is proud of them. She steps over them carefully on her way to work, and makes Adam do the same when he stays over. Adam has black hair and a small nose but large feet, a menace to dandelions and other small creatures. As the spring marches on the backs of ants toward summer, yellow turns white and petals turn to puff. Dandelions grow and die and grow a hundred times in the cracks and the dirt of her imperfect universe.
The left side neighbor, who has gray hair and blue socks and orange glasses, stops her one day to suggest she remove the weeds from the lawn.
If you weed, the neighbor says, your lawn will grow green again, like mine. Like all the other lawns.
Thank you, Delila tells her. I have no weeds.
The left side neighbor says, I can take care of it for you. It’s not hard.
No, says Delila. This lawn is mine. These flowers are mine.
They aren’t flowers.
That’s your perspective.
The left side neighbor, who was invisible during the winter, is out every day in spring with her flowers and bushes and young pear tree. She clips, she mows, she fertilizes, she digs. She is awake early in the morning, and back in the house by late afternoon. Delila watches her warily.
When it rains, the clouds make the sky dark and the rain makes the concrete dark and even her hair turns dark but the dandelions are never dark. They wave like so many tiny flames as the water and wind try to put them out. One morning she leaves the house and finds all the dandelions gone. There is the lawn, brown and firm and rectangle. But it no longer looks like hers. Adam comes out to find her sitting on the steps.
Why are you just sitting out here?
The dandelions are gone.
Adam does not really understand the correlation, but he says nothing and helps scavenge white puffs from the park down the road and blows small seeds into the dirt every day until the first bright blooms break through the brown grass.
It is only two days after that the dandelions vanish again in the night.
This time when Adam finds Delila, he is late to work. She is alone with the barren lawn, and the right side neighbor who brings her trash out, the two boys on their skateboards. It is a small world, the world from the front steps to the sidewalk, but it is her world and her yellow citizens are missing. When Adam comes home he tells Delila to put things in perspective. He says the stock market is crashing, the Iranians are building nuclear weapons, children are carrying guns in Africa.
There are so many terrible things. Things that could bring about the end of the world.
The end of the world doesn’t mean as much to me as the end of my world.
Isn’t it all the same?
It is not the same.
The dandelions come back quickly this time, and Delila watches the bees return to circle them.
I’m allergic to bees, Adam tells her.
She pats his cheek. I’ll protect you.
He smiles with his lips pressed together. That’s easy. No dandelions, no bees.
Just walk down the front path and don’t disturb them, she says.
Why don’t we just weed the lawn? I can pull them up tomorrow.
Roses attract bees.
Roses. They attract bees. Daffodils. Tulips. Pansies. They all attract bees.
If they weren’t dandelions, if they were roses or daffodils or tulips or pansies, would you tell me to pull them up?
Those are flowers. Dandelions aren’t flowers.
Why not? They are round and yellow and bloom in places other flowers can’t. They are pretty, and strong. Why aren’t they just as good?
Adam looks at her and he is still smiling, but it has cooled, and Delila presses her face to his chest so she doesn’t have to see it.
Anna comes from Boston, her black hair twisted back, wearing silver shoes and a red silk scarf, and every evening she tells Delila she is not getting enough vitamin D. Anna is the younger sister but she is an engineer while Delila reviews unpopular bands on the internet. Anna’s apartment has a dishwasher and curtains and a vacuum cleaner while Delila has a cracked toilet, cardboard covering the living room window, and dust. Anna stays only two nights, complaining of allergies. Delila knows she will tell their mother.
You need to get control of your life, Dee.
I’m not in control?
All I know is you need a plumber, half the light bulbs are out, and your lawn is covered in weeds.
They’re not weeds. They’re just as pretty as other flowers.
You’ve been here eight months. Maybe it’s time to come home.
This is home.