My Mother’s Other Children

by Andrea Marcusa

My mother’s garden ringed the backyard with budding day lilies, hardy English primroses, and a color wheel of Clematis, Nasturtiums, Zinnias. Each spring she eased her Gardenia plant from its winter indoor pot and planted it on the garden’s edge.
She rose early to care for her charges, weeding, watering, feeding, long before I felt the sunlight on my face, slipped out of bed, and called for her. I’d spot her from my upstairs open window and see her kneeling before tender Violets and Babies Breath and hear her clucking and cooing in a dreamy peace.
Down the steps I’d bound to her side where I watched her work until I grew weary and hungry and tugged on her skirt to come inside. But she stayed there with her colorful charges, mesmerized as they nodded and danced in the morning breeze. “Come inside, Mommy.  Breakfast,” I’d say.  But I was no match for those graceful shapes, their silken petals of pink, crimson and plum, heavy with fresh dew and smiling in the morning sun.
My mother’s flowers never whined or stamped their feet. Or woke her at night for cups of water. With peaceful stares, they contented themselves with a soft breeze, sitting pretty. They offered beauty with no backtalk, no demons. Just shape, fragrance, color, and the soothing feel of cool dirt in her hands.
I think she preferred her garden to people, even me. And while she was alive, I never thought to ask her why.
If wild orphans arrived and took root in her soil like Creeping Speedwell and Hairy Bittercress, she yanked them out and told anyone who’d listen, “Be sure to get rid of weeds when they’re small; Or when they’re grown, they’ll take the whole garden over.”
I spent a lifetime killing the weeds in my human garden. But despite how hard I tried; a few hearty and wild ones remained. Even after I’d grown up and lived on my own, I couldn’t bear to see the clouds filling my mother’s eyes when she spotted those I’d missed.  I’d leave our visit, unsettled and unsure of what she’d seen in me. If I’d known, I’d have surely ripped out that part of myself and burned it.
I guess we love the world in whatever way we can.  My mother loved her garden.  Loved the rich soil, the tender shoots, the carpet of quiet color that greeted her each morning.
It takes a certain kind of patience to nurture seedlings into a flat of blossoming purple and yellow pansies and a rugged toughness to prune a frostbitten rosebush to its roots.
It takes another kind of tending to raise a happy child. Some days, I think she did her best. In time I’ve come to understand that she and I were different. I’m sure I would have thrived with her had she known to plant me in a proper soil or if I’d been born that hardy type that’s bred to flourish in all conditions.

Andrea Marcusa’s work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Cutbank, River Styx, River Teeth, Citron Review, and others. She’s received recognition in a range of competitions, including Glimmer Train, Raleigh Review, New Letters and Southampton Review. For more information, visit: or see her on Twitter @d_marcusa

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