Two baby orchids lay inert under Grandma's table in the front hall where Christian found them. We were both looking for Christian's glow-in-the-dark marble that I shot down the hallway. Sure, I meant to hit him, preferably in the tender hollow behind his chubby knee or if not there a direct hit in his arse would be funny, right in the centre of his cheek, leaving a big purple bruise. I smiled at the thought of him poking at his hurt, whining. But I missed and the marble cracked into the wrought iron leg of Grandma's figurine table instead.
"Shhh!" I hissed, addressing the table as much as my baby brother who shot off down the hall to retrieve the missile, likely to hide it from me. I glanced behind to check if Grandma and Grandpa were still behind plexiglass on the patio. Yup. Still talking to Mom and Uncle Peter.
I hiss after Christian (the pudgy bugger can move when he wants to): "Grandma and Grandpa will hear you and they'll wonder what you're doing under the figurine table!" Christian's reddened knees squeaked to a halt on the hardwood floor. I can imagine the squirrel in his head running on a wheel, as his brain ponders all possible punishments. In this time, I've caught up to him, dive under the table and find only two dumb fallen flowers underneath it. Crap.
"Grandpa won't do anything mean," says Christian. The squirrel must've got off the wheel and whispered this answer to him. "Grandpa's nice."
"Then it'll be Grandma who'll chew you out. You know she won't back down from a good wollop. Ole Beady-Eyed Beryl."
This puts Christian back into paralysis mode and I searched but the marble was no one to be seen. Maybe it was underneath Christian and I prodded his thighs and bottom.
"Sar-RII!" he whined, emphasis on the "ree".
"Stop being such a baby!" But I put distance between us just in case one of the adults came in. I looked around--if I were a marble, where would I be? Then I saw dust bunnies tumbling behind Grandma's stone lion in the front hall. Aha. I converged on it and looked back to see Christian pick up one of the baby orchids that had fallen from the vase above the table.
"S'pretty." He caressed the unopened bloom. "Sari, does this mean Grandma's flowers are sick?"
"No, dum-dum," I said, eating the floor with my eyes. "It means Aunt Monica's flowers must've been cheap. Not all of them opened."
"This one opened," he pointed to an open bloom still lying on the floor. "Besides, you don't like Aunt Monica anyways…"
I reached over to clop him on the head but he ducks, diving over the bloom and then: "I found it!" Christian holds the bloom up in his palm, tilts it and the clear marble rolls out. He screws up his face in triumph. I have to think of a new strategy.
"If you give it to me, Christian. I promise I won't hit you with it ever again."
Christian shakes his head violently. I scan the hallway, empty save for the glass table and the stone lion in the corner. I scoop up the two fallen orchids.
"Trade. I'll give you the orchids for the marble."
He stops shaking his head and starts chewing the inside of his cheek. He does this when he's thinking. Hard. I tip the scale.
"They're real pretty and they aren't cheap. I was just joking before."
Christian's grey eyes narrow.
"You promise not to hit me with it."
"Cross my heart."
Tentatively, Christian lets the marble roll off his hand unto the floor. I deposit both orchids in his pink palm. He stares at them, pinches the open one tenderly and places it in front of me.
"I only need one."
It's just like Christian to confuse sides in sibling warfare. I can't decide if he's being generous or if he has an agenda to let my guard down. I know I would. I tuck my marble between my knelt knees, pulling down my kilted skirt to act as camouflage all the while scrutinizing Christian. He stares at the flower sac like a newfound jewel, squeezes his it with part-awe, part-fright adorning his round face.
I look down at my orchid. It has unfurled perfectly, a child's hand with six petals dipped in magenta. I rub the petals, both inner and outside, to make sure they are real. Their velvet cloth rubs my fingertips back. One petal sticks its tongue out at me like a lower lip. I prod its stickier length that leads up to the stamen and I touch it cautiously. Unlike other flowers, there isn't pollen to dust my fingers. I try to remember something I learned in science class: there's something different about orchids. They don't have separate male parts or female parts; the stamen and pistons are one thick whole. It's a hermaphrodite. It breeds itself, inside.
I poke at the top of it again and the glans split and pop off like corn. I knew the flower had to be faulty in some way.
Christian still coos over his find. I watch, jealous, as he tries to pick the tight sac apart but his stubby fingers threaten to rip it. His brow furrows.
"Let me do it for you," I hold my hand to grab it.
I don't know why I care. Maybe I want to see if the flower inside is perfectly folded, like a tent. Or maybe it is sick, deformed and would I find this mutant flower more interesting than a perfect one?
"Please," I say. "You'll wreck it otherwise and where will you be?"
"Sa-RRIII! Leave me alone." He's squeezing the sac tightly, crushing it. I pluck the marble from between my legs and hold it up.
"I'll give you this if you let me open it."
More brow furrowing. I know he doesn't trust me but he wants to know. He hands it over.
The orchid is a white papoose, with the yellow-green end of a seed on one end and the flower's magenta tip on the other. I poke a gnawed but sharp thumbnail under the wet layer and lift. The unfurled petals are slick with wetness--like amniotic fluid--I lift one and drops of purple liquid drips unto my fingers. I stroke it away with a thumb. Christian is hunched above my hands as my digits unwrap another inner petal, and another, purple juice dribbling down my fingers. And it is beautiful, a six-sided star newly born in my palms.
"What do you think the purple stuff tastes like?" asks Christian.
I shrug. "Dunno."
"I bet it's sweet. Like honey." And with that he bends his downy head, sticks out his soft tongue and probes the open flower. I hold my breath until his head rises and his face is still quizzical.
"Doesn't taste like anything really."
But a claw wrenches into my armpits and digs in until the pain forces me to stand up. Grandma's above me, her beady ears flashing fury. Her other ringed hand raises and I cry out, "Don't!" but Christian takes the blow on his already reddened cheeks. He curls and sobs over his torn flowers. Grandma hisses "baby" under her breath. He's not a baby, you witch, I want to say but yell the phrase in my head instead.
"And as for you, young lady, you should stop encouraging your brother's perversions."
I suck in breath to calm myself and apply my best "good girl" voice.
"What do you mean, Grandma? It was only a flower."
About the author:
Canadian Nichole McGill is a writer of many media -- her collection of short stories (13 Cautionary Tales) was published by Toronto's Gutter Press and a short film that she wrote (The Waiting Room) made the film festival rounds in Montreal and Berlin. She runs the durtygurls reading series and is presenting beavering away at new work for screen, print and the Web.