Notes From the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference: 'Wildflowers'

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[Editor's Note: This is the latest installment of 'Notes From the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference,' a biweekly series of story and art that artist Amelia Garretson-Persans has created for Country Life. Trace its roots by reading the previous entries.]

When Joseph Avens drifted into the classroom he brought with him the scent of timothy grass and clover. He was there to give a presentation on the secret thoughts of North American wildflowers. In life Mr. Avens was a botanist; in death he had gained the ability to understand the language of the flowers he once studied.

“Naturally, you’ll be curious to know what goes through the mind of the famously private houseleek. Of course, you’ll recall that it was once called Jove’s Plant, the popular belief being that if one planted it on the roof, the house would be safe from lightning. A houseleek can take years to blossom. I waited four years for the one atop my tomb to flower. When it did I could hear it faintly whisper, ‘Sub tuum praesidium, by thy protection, sub tuum praesidium.’ I listened to this vain sweetness for days before I was moved to blow on it with my cold breath and let it rest.

“The flowers of the Wallpepper plant wink their long lashes alluringly at the lonesome wanderer. They are a distinctly feminine flower. I sat and talked with them for a long time — they were alternately concerned with sharing the secrets of other flowers and asking me to pick them and let their poisonous leaves blister my skin.

“Bloodroot, though the rouge native women once made with it spoke volumes when found on the collars of European explorers, is a largely tacit plant. When I lean down close to its daisy-like blooms, all it does is hiss and hiss.”

Outside, steam rose from a defrosting meadow. Mr. Avens had a breathy way of speaking that made his words seem urgent but insubstantial. I leaned my head against the cold glass of a nearby window and tried to picture the faces of flowers.

“The flowers of Forget-Me-Nots take their work very seriously. Their minds are scarred like the bark of some old trees with the names and dates associated with a million heartbreaks. If you let them they’ll recite them all, and if you beg off before they’re through, they have a way of frowning that is both pitiful and unsettling.”

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