General Fiction, Short Fiction

 Black Flowers by Michael Ventimiglia

Being home hurts. It’s a subtle sort of pain that isn’t always obvious, but it’s always there just the same. The aching starts the moment I cross the state line and it won’t stop ’til I cross it back over. I guess that’s just the price of having a past, having to live with it.

The kinda hurt that comes on is familiar. The consistency is almost comforting. I don’t know. I’ve always likened the feeling to a nostalgia of sorts… a welcome ache disguising the truth of this place. An ache that grows sweeter with time and makes the truth that much harder to hold onto. It’s a simple equation: the more time passes, the less of the past is actually left. I suppose that’s why I embrace the hurt, the echoes of pain that linger in bones that never set right.  “At least it’s something real,” I tell myself.

Too many folks out in the world will tell you this sort of pain and suffering makes you special. Builds character. They’ll tell you all about the virtue in suffering, the secret righteousness that only agony can uncover, but that’s fast food ideology. There’s nothing special about pain. You’re welcome to believe otherwise, but I was brought up different.

Mama used to call us her little black flowers. Kind of a strange thing to call kids, but it was kinda special, too. Least I thought it was before I understood it was less a term of endearment as it was a mark of sorts. A small part of a larger creation myth only me and my blood belonged to. I don’t know if mama made it up herself, or if it was something she was just passing down to us, but me and my blood had our own mythology, and every night, after dinner and before prayers, mama would tell us the tale from the beginning:

Most folks come from Adam & Eve, and I suppose we do, too, but in a different way… our own way. After the garden, flesh and blood were left to inherit the Earth. But God had different plans for us. We weren’t confined to clumsy bodies like they were. We were meant to be the Earth itself.

See, God poured his essence into little seeds and buried them deep in the Earth. And there, they’d be safe from man’s wayward reach. For years, the seeds thrived nestled deep in his blessed soil, but y’all know nothing good can stay forever. And just as the serpent slithered into the garden, so too did he claw into the wider world.

From Hell he dug his way up through layers of rock and crust and dirt, searching for new souls to claim. And as he tore through the fertile Earth, so too did death follow. Everything withered in his wicked wake. A trail of rot and canker reduced all the vibrant hues of God’s creations to the deepest pitch of black. And deep in the Earth, his decay came upon those seeds and turned ’em to midnight.

Now, while God never let the devil reach the surface, the serpent’s reach was long still even underground. From under the cover of dirt and worms, he called out to anybody listening. And while his words were lost to most, there was one present who harkened.

Brother Cain heard his new master’s call and was all too willing to oblige. Using the very Earth that God created to nourish his own creations, Cain drew his brother’s blood from stone. And as Brother Abel’s body fell lifeless to the ground, his blood seeped into the blackened dirt the devil left.

And in this dirt is where we were made. The seeds would be cultivated by blood and death. They could no longer grow divine. Instead they would grow like flesh does. Stripped of all heavenly intent, these midnight seeds gave way to black flowers.

From there, she’d go on about all the awful ancient sins that made up our blood. Every so often, her voice would crack a little. A slight tremor shaking loose a lump in her throat. She never did break though. Sometimes tears would well up. Sometimes she’d hang her head in her hands. But she never broke. I never had a doubt she believed every word she spoke.

Mama’s conviction really did a number on my brother. She had a way of reaching him like nothing or no one else could. I think that’s what made it easy for her to take things too far. She’d push and push and rile him until he’d snap and say something stupid. And that’s when the beatings would come.

Understand mama was an Old Testament woman, and understand how that shaped her fury. Hellfire belts. Brimstone fists. She imparted to us the lord’s righteous wrath in all sorts of ways. My brother could never stomach the bumps, bruises, and beatings like I could. He couldn’t even take seeing me on the receiving end of her beatings. I’d beg for mercy and fake my penance just to get him to stop his screaming. That’s just how it was. Day in. Day out. We all played our parts.

I never wanted to come back, but the funeral’s tomorrow and there’s nobody left to bury her. My brother never saw a full decade & I’ve seen damn near too many, so here I am. Have to say, I thought it’d feel… stranger, stepping back into all of this, but so much of my memory’s still tied up in mama’s myths. There’s barely room for anything else. I think that’d make her happy. I think all this would make her happy. It’s what she always wanted. To be returned to the Earth we grew out from. To be together again, a little garden of black flowers.

Michael Ventimiglia

Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay 

6 thoughts on “ Black Flowers by Michael Ventimiglia”

  1. Michael
    Who needs a Wicked Stepmother when you can have the real thing? The image of Satan’s work in the mother’s head is remarkable and dangerous. It all led to sorrow and quiet in the end. Very strong work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Michael,
    Brilliantly told.
    It is unnerving, atmospheric and the reader can’t help but feel the two kids torture.
    As Leila has already said, this is a very strong piece of work.


  3. Fine writing. And I also took it to be a thoughtful contribution to a theological puzzle. Calvin suggested that we should travel in this world through a veil of tears in the hope that we will eventually be among The Elect. But what about those with no hope, Calvin? What about The Black Flowers? Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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