The snow-white hydrangeas will turn blue and fly into a million pieces, in a miraculous yet predictable process—almost science, but not what you’d think.
Through the thin lace of the kitchen curtain, I watch them—three-foot shrubs, planted by my mother, encroaching on the backyard. Nearby, two brown rabbits lounge, chewing dandelions, sucking juices from flower-stalk straws.
My mother, a gardener, meant well; but the only person I think of, when I spy those damn hydrangeas, is my sister-in-law—blue hydrangeas decorating the wedding, the day she took my only brother away. She grew up in a family that cut itself off from relatives, and I guess that tradition was her “something borrowed.”
Don’t bring a loving family to a broken one. It’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight. None of us ever saw him again—and I hear that I’m an aunt.
In May, the lacecap flowerheads of the hydrangeas came in yellowish green, unfolding from their stems. In June, petals unfurled and rinsed in hard spring rains. The corymbs were brighter white than I could’ve dreamed—
Clusters of blossoms as big as white rabbits—baby rabbits, at least—newly washed, dried and cuddled, on sturdy green stems.
Or snowballs from hell.
Or polar-bear fists, clawing at my heart through my eyes.
My mother visits, sipping tea in the kitchen while I glare out the window at the hydrangeas.
Foolishly, I express relief. “At least the hydrangeas aren’t blue.”
That’s when she mentions that, when she planted the unwelcome visitors, she dumped a bag of pine needles at the roots—to make the soil acidic. In time, the hydrangeas will turn blue.
Most hydrangeas stay white; a few in friendly, alkaline soil turn rose-pink. Only hydrangeas sprung from acid grow blue. How like my sister-in-law: a blue-countenanced perversion; the sad, visible result of an acid home.
My sister-in-law—adding acid, where I did not need any more color in my life.
My mother—always trying to fix things that do not need fixing, with pine needles or pleas.
I don’t want to hurt my mother’s feelings, or cut down her hope, so I will wait until after she dies. Then, I will go into the yard with this kitchen knife, and cut them from my sight, in a splatter of petals and weeping green stems—
and the real rabbits, brown-grey and blending with the earth, not stuck on green stems like party favors—
(and not effing acid-blue)
will enjoy a delicious meal.
Anna Kander is a writer in the Midwest. Her work has appeared in Gone Lawn, Leveler, Gnarled Oak, Hollow Tongue, Train, and other journals. Find her at annakander.com.
Image: Annie Spratt