Janelle Masters

It is fall and I'm talking long distance to my boyfriend in Milwaukee, we just finished talking sex talk, talk not virtuous but virtual because he's so far away and you know how you feel just after making love, when all of your breathing feels gracious, it makes a man sleep, a woman talk, seeming babble, but telling and so I tell this, how it happened this weekend in the gray and cold, how I dug bulbs up, which is the reverse of the way it should be, fall is usually the time to put them in. I dug them up for this reason. I'm moving and I want to take them.

My husband died almost two years ago, five days before Christmas. I was at home baking cookies and taking care of our three-month old baby when the accident happened. All of that is a story that will never finish. This is one part, how long that winter was, how cold, how dark my bed. But finally, those first signs came of the aching to be spring, and my husband had always taken care of the plants outside, those first hardy and brave. How he hated the time of winter and death, how joyous, enthusiastic, anxious, he was to end one season and begin again. I did not want to think of that, but of course I thought of it, over and over, like a round that just keeps repeating, such is grief. Finally, though, in grieving you do what you need to do, so I went outside and I began to take care of everything left from fall, and where the tulips usually were, more and more green leaves just kept unfurling, pushing up through the moist black dirt, mixed crystal frost, snow on faded, dried, rotting leaves, there, pushing relentlessly. Dozens more of them than had ever been, all new. I could not make my mind think what it meant for a moment, and then, stunned, I knew. Dick had planted them, these dozens of tulips, for me, because he knew I love them. I fell to my knees, from the shock of the answer, all that mystery laid straight before me, and maybe from reverence, too. I had always tried to help his winter depression by pointing out the season's beautiful cold quiet, the resting, the waiting for life to begin, the resurrection, and now he was reminding me, in a way I could touch, delicate yet strong curling fingers of green. The sobs racked out of my body, those tears that mix joy and love, gratitude and sorrow. I stayed there for a long time, how long before my frozen hands reminded me of my children warm in the house. When the flowers bloomed, purple edged in cream, I told our 7-year-old son how his father had planted them for us, and he said, "Oh, Mom, like a present..."

I have premature arthritis and so my friend on the phone wondered why I would spend hours in the cold, digging bulbs I could easily buy again. Not these. I will plant them at my new house, a smaller place I can take care of, with room for tulips. From the cold darkness, they will grow again, the sturdy sage green holding the buds, like black knotted eyes rimmed in cream, each day bigger, softer and full, until opening deep purple, blossoming gowns of brocade, satin living tissue, almost black purple. I have faith in this; this is my story. And this is how so far away, we talk of love, love that does not require bodies to be felt, love that touches and gives us back.

Janelle M. Masters is a mother, a fiction writer, a poet, a performer and a teacher of high school English. She holds an M.A. from Claremont Graduate University and a B.A. from the University of Nebraska-Kearney, where she completed the first honors program poetry thesis under the direction of Don Welch. Her poetry has been published in Whole Notes, Elkhorn Review, Nebraska Life, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner. Three prose pieces are forthcoming in Platte Valley Review. She lives with her two sons and two cats in Hastings, Nebraska.


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