A string of deceased dandelions plucked from the dirt and tied end to end barely constitutes jewelry. But it finds meaning when given as a gift. And how much better a gift when given in Love. Any item a father receives from his daughter is a prized possession. Especially when the child is young and learning how to give gifts.
His daughter was a wellspring of Love. Stubborn, yes. But he never doubted that she loved him. She still had a child’s eyes, but the right brain of someone much older. Even walking down the stairs of the second grade bus she carried herself like someone weathered from independence. The spring flowers brought warmth to the overcast.
“Thank you for the necklace,” he said as she handed him the neck rope.
“You’re welcome daddy. I had to use 23 flowers to make sure it fit over your big head this time!”
“How thoughtful of you,” he laughed.
They began the short walk home down their country driveway to a little house just outside of town. He placed the yellow flowers around his neck.
“How was school today?”
“It was awesome dad! We did a scavenger hunt. The teacher told me to stop finding everything so the other kids could have a chance. It was my turn to hold Hershey during recess. He tried to jump into the road, but I held him pretty close. Landon gave me one of his chocolate chip cookies at lunch. His mommy makes the best cookies. They are soft and chewy and she always puts extra chocolate in them!”
“So you had the pie I packed you, and a cookie?”
“Ummm,” she looked around. “It was a small cookie!”
“Oh yeah I’m sure it was. Try not to tell your mother.”
A few steps in silence.
“I miss mom. When will she live with us again?”
“I don’t know dear. I don’t know.”
After winding around the last curve, the house, not much larger than the bus behind them, became visible through the trees. Drops of cold rain began to tap their faces.
“We can talk about that later. Want to ride the robot the rest of the way home?” he changed the subject.
Immediately she burst out a loud, “Yes!” and placed her little feet on his clown shoes. He continued the walk home, but with mechanical steps.
“We only made it to lunch time. I know you have recess in the afternoon too. Play any fun games?”
“Oh yeah! We were outside and I was playing tag with Mary and Landon and we heard a loud thunderstorm coming right toward us, but it was the train! We ran up the blue slide, it’s the tallest, and we watched it zoom past us on the other side of the fence. I could have touched it!”
He looked at the ground beside him, as if to speak to it.
“All the teachers,” she continued, “told us to hurry inside, but we acted like we couldn’t hear them because the train was so loud.”
“You acted like you couldn’t hear them? But you could?”
There must have been a train passing them too, because she didn’t reply. He let out a deep sigh, “Don’t mention the train to your mother either. She never wanted to send you to that school for that reason. Promise me you will be safe okay?”
“I will daddy! You don’t have to worry about me, I’m a big girl.” she said as she opened the door and slung her bag on the couch and ran to the kitchen. He set the necklace on the table next to the crayon sunset she had made for him the day before. The rain graduated from shower to storm just as they reached the front door. But he could still feel the rain on his body. The taps were now tiny fists punching him all over. But he was inside?
It didn’t make any sense.
He recognized the building. From the swing set it looked like a skyscraper. The vegetation had taken it upon itself to remodel the wall facing him with Earthen green exterior. It had only been four months since the accident, but the school looked as if no lesson had been taught in years. The train tracks matched the school’s decor.
Then it began. The thunder had woken a dragon seeking revenge. He sat up and swore at the school; at the architect who would build so close to the train tracks. He cursed those who had laid the rails and every conductor who had driven past. He stomped every dandelion he could see. Exhausted, he fell to his knees. Apologizing to anyone who would listen.
“I’m sorry,” he cried. “I did this. I should have listened to you. She should have gone to school in Carolina. With you. I’m selfish. I’m a selfish man. I lost the one I love because I’m selfish. And I lost my only child because I am selfish.”
A double thunder clap silenced him. He passed out face down from exhaustion. In the morning, the sun woke him. He found his overcoat and walked home.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
This continued for months. He would fall asleep in his chair at home and re-live a moment with his daughter. Some moments repeated; others he had forgotten. He had a problem of sleepwalking to that fatal scene, only to wake in a furious stupor.
It had been a year. He had taken the day off from work to celebrate the life his daughter had lived. After breakfast, the celebration turned to painful mourning. His ex-wife had refused to see him. Alone, he laid a bouquet of dandelions on the tombstone.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. These were the only words spoken that afternoon. The sorrow grew to anger. The narrow-eyed, self hating anger caused him to visit the school for what would be the last time. The setting sun made the hollow building look lively and inviting. But his anger blinded him to any recognition of beauty.
He began his ritual.
The school and it’s builder. Those who placed each plank and those who drove the spikes. The damn conductors. The dandelions. They reminded him most of her. Illuminated by the full moon, his vengeance, his therapy, would involve his heel on the head of every school yard flower. Behind his foot the force of a thousand freight trains.
Stomp after stomp. Flowers deceased. Sweat falling from his neck and coming through his long coat.
Three more, gone.
He lost track of the time. Not that time mattered. All that mattered was eliminating anything that reminded him of her.
The blue slide.
The rest of the schoolyard dandelionless.
He had exhausted himself, but there was no stopping. Not by his choice at least. But then dizziness seized him like police on a prison riot. He reached out for the stairs of the slide, to steady himself, but missed. The fourth rung made contact with the side of his head. A child's scream. A familiar dream.
A spring shower had rolled in. The obsolescent slide played a droplet sonata. The weight was gone. He felt warmth around his chest. A string of deceased dandelions plucked from the dirt and tied end to end.