Once there was a woman for whom flowers bloomed whenever she had a loving thought. James said they’d been with him as long as he could remember, clover springing up at his feet, morning glories wisping their way up into his bedroom at the orphanage. “So I knew you were thinking of me,” he said, as matter-of-factly as if he’d told me there were twelve months in the year, nine planets in the solar system.
The hurricane crashed the following day, and the island drowned its final time, what was left of the fishing cabins carried off on a wave, dolphins reclaiming the sandbar as their own. We drove through the night to get away, calling Deputy Harris and our families from a payphone to tell them James was alive, that he had, in fact, managed to escape. We repeated his story quickly, as he had told us. How he faked his own death so Doge wouldn’t follow him, making sure someone saw him go into the water. How he got away on a raft made of sugar cane he’d been making for weeks instead of working, storing it underwater by piling stones on top. It had taken him four days to reach the island.
We stopped when we reached Montgomery, where Artie and I were married at a Justice of the Peace, and where a pediatric doctor looked James over from head to toe and declared him remarkably healthy, given the circumstances.
We drove on to Nashville. I had my father put the down payment on a cottage just outside of downtown. He seemed a little surprised that I turned out to be one who would cash in on skipped support payments after all, but I didn’t care. The house was new and bright, with no garden and few trees except for some wild muscadine vines and an old magnolia tree. We enrolled James at the local elementary school, and I watched and waited for something horrible to rise in him, some darkness to swell that had been planted in his years of mistreatment. It did not. He was smart, and funny, and brave, and kind, and if he was a bit wary of us at first, within six months he would place his small hand on my cheek while I read him stories before bed, as if to confirm, Right here is my mother.
Our second son, Alan, was born when James was nine years old. Here was the bright and dark of our lives in those years: each little milestone we celebrated, each step taken, each word learned, a small pang twisted in my heart as I mourned the years lost with James. He felt this too, and would sometimes grow sullen, slam doors, yell louder than was seemly. Well, rightly so, I would think at such times, how very valid is your rage. I tried to make space for his feelings and would wait for the storms to pass. And they did. James remained unfailingly good, would come from his room and apologize for his temper, would give his brother a kiss on his forehead. The beauty of my life would catch in my throat, would make my eyes fill with tears. It was so much more than I’d hoped.
Arthur opened up his own practice, specializing in taking recycled frames and giving lenses to those who couldn’t afford a new pair. When Alan was old enough for school I enrolled in a ladies’ college and studied botany. After graduating I began working for a local nursery, creating specialty breeds. My bulbs were shipped from Alaska to Africa: red striped irises, blue lilies, white roses flecked with gold. In the evenings after our sons were asleep Artie and I would hold each other close in love, and this had the magic of a prayer, a prayer to go on living like this forever.
Which is not to say our lives were perfect. There were hurt feelings, arguments, dirty clothes, kitchen counters left uncleared, backpacks and mismatched socks left on the floor. Still, I would weigh these problems against the great trials behind us and beyond, all the suffering in the world, and I would feel the supreme blessing of our lives, the sheer joy of being able to love my family, to hold James’s hand in mine, to watch him grow.
And so the flowers bloomed. Roses, pansies, irises, daffodils. Snapdragons in the spring and camellia in the snow. Magnolias the size of dinner plates and asters, each petal no larger than an eyelash. Flowers bloomed in winter and in drought and when my sons would laugh and when my heart would rise up just looking at them. They bloomed in the dark of night when only Artie and I were awake, in the mornings for no reason in particular, on Sunday afternoons sweet as rain with all of us home, the windows of our house open to a cool breeze. The blossoms formed and bloomed, they bobbed in the wind, dripped with rain, glowed in the sun, and all of this I knew was love – no more or less miraculous than love.