|My story, The Flower Thief, appeared in a 2008 issue of the
Ink-Filled Page Anthology as the winner of an Indigo Editing
short story contest for their Spring 2007 Quarterly.
The Journal is no longer published, but Indigo Editing is one
of the leading editorial firms in Portland, Oregon, today.
| The Flower Thief
By Camille Cole
scraping dirt where grass had worn thin. She wondered if old lady Losey was home. Her eyes shifted in
that direction, but her head did not move. Maybe she would sneak over there to see if she could catch
sight of any movement inside the house. It was spring, and the tulips in the garden of the neighbor’s
yard were in full bloom. She and her mother and father had been living in her great grandparent’s
farmhouse for almost a year, but she had never actually laid eyes on Miss Losey.
She slid off the swing and stood still for a moment, straightening her pink and white striped dress,
imagining her Aunt Maggie’s beaming smile when she would hand her the bouquet of colorful blossoms.
In a flash, she saw her mother and father’s faces the night they told her that Miss Losey had complained
about her picking the flowers in her garden. They said that she was not allowed to go in that yard
again. If she picked so much as one more bud, there would be Hell to pay.
She missed her Aunt Maggie, one of the people she loved that had been left behind when they
moved to the country. She missed the woman who would bring Margaret into her warm kitchen whenever
she knocked on her back door. They would sing songs like Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s
Chowder while Maggie did the dishes and fixed dinner. Margaret wanted to give her some flowers
tonight when her aunt came out for a visit. She wanted to share what she had found here to be beautiful
As Margaret neared the Losey backyard, the brilliance of its garden twinkled like a million colored
stars. Red and yellow tulips shimmered in the faint breeze and afternoon sunshine, some wide open and
some waiting for their turn. The flower bed rippled across the backyard and around the far corner of the
house, like a curious parade of colorful clowns. She had never seen so many flowers in one place.
Margaret stood still at the edge of the yard where the weeds on her side ended and the freshly
mowed carpet of the Losey yard began. Barely taking a breath, she listened. A choir of returning robins,
cardinals, and little brown finches resounded from branches of overhanging trees where new, crisp
green leaves shaded the far end of the neighbor lady’s landscape. She scanned the terrain of the
forbidden garden. Her mother’s black cat sat motionless beneath the shrubbery on the far side of the
yard. If Margaret were caught, she could run toward the cat and claim she was trying to save it. If not,
she would grab just a few of the flowers and run as fast as she could back to her own yard.
She turned to see if anyone was looking out the windows of her house. Her mother would be taking
a nap, her father at work until much later in the day. The heavy velveteen curtains lay quietly against
panes of glass. There were no shadows inside. She looked back at the neighbor’s lawn. The cat had
disappeared. She took a step across the borderline and paused, teetering between the two worlds,
drawn to one and frightened of both. This terror pulled her forward into the soft green blanket of new
grass. A few more steps and she halted again, frozen in full view of Miss Losey’s dining room window.
She stared at the blank space of the glass, imagining the angry woman bursting forth.
She took off running toward the tulips.
Inhaling and exhaling between clenched teeth, Margaret began plucking the rubbery-stemmed
flowers. She hoped to get one of every color so Maggie could see the full delight of this magical world.
Too frightened to think straight, she harvested each bloom randomly and quickly. Sticky flower-stem
juice covered her hand, reminding her of the blood that had coated the side of her face when she fell
against the coffee table last week. She never looked up, nor did she see Miss Losey come around the
corner of the house. She only felt the hand on her shoulder and then her skin turn to ice. Tears filled
her pale blue eyes.
Margaret dropped the flowers and hung her head. The hand on her shoulder felt electrified and she
feared it would crush her skin and then her bones. She wept.
“Your name is Margaret, isn’t it?” A gentle voice demanded. The woman waited for her answer,
releasing her arm. In the silence between them the young girl sensed something about the mysterious
woman that surprised her. She looked up slowly, cautiously.
Miss Losey towered above her and Margaret raised her eyes to a weathered face topped with
striking white hair. The woman wore an apron that appeared to be covered with paint splotches instead
of bacon grease. Relaxing slightly, Margaret hung her head again and stared at the blades of grass
beneath her PF Flyers, the sneakers she had wanted so badly last summer that were now all worn out.
“Come with me, young lady.” Still, the voice seemed to lack the danger that Margaret had feared.
There was something inviting in the woman’s tone and in the feel of her warm hand when she took
Margaret’s in hers.
Miss Losey led the way past the garden and through a breezeway on the other side of her house.
The screen door creaked as Margaret entered a dark kitchen brimming with cooking aromas. It smelled
to her vaguely like dinner at Maggie’s house; maybe cookies, too. She wiped her cheeks with the back
of her hand; there were no more tears. Her heart sighed.
Miss Losey motioned Margaret to keep going, through the kitchen door and into the dining room. A
large, shiny wooden table took up most of the space in this room; light reflected through the curtains
onto the glass doors of a hutch cabinet filled with flowered tea cups and china girls in flowing skirts.
Margaret wondered if she would be allowed to touch these figurines. She paused and the woman
released her hand and moved ahead into the next room.
“Come sit here next to me, Miss Margaret,” Miss Losey called from the living room settee. The girl
followed her cautiously through the half-opened pocket doors. More light shone through crisp sheer
curtains, half blinding Margaret as she inhaled a new scent, something like the cloth doll with the china
head hidden behind the long dresses in her Aunt Maggie’s closet.
“I’d like to show you something.” Miss Losey said, once Margaret had scooted back against the sofa,
her feet straight out in front of her. She noticed that her knees were dirty. The neighbor lady stood up
and lifted a photo album off the end table. Bound in a deep reddish purple velvet cover, a golden
monogrammed “L” decorated the front of the book. Margaret eyed the glittery edges of the thick
cardboard pages as the woman nestled in closer to her and pulled back the cover and turned with
tenderness to a page where the album had been opened many times.
“Do you see this woman here?” A young lady with tightly curled hair and piercing eyes stared out
from the pages of the book, past Margaret. Her throat was covered in a high lacey collar and the
expression on the face of the woman in the photograph left no doubt about her determination. Her
image was framed inside an elliptical mat, embossed with gold leaf and swirling, hand-painted accents.
Though the picture was in sepia tones, the woman’s cheeks had been touched up, slightly, in a soft
shade of pink. Her eyes and crimson face made her look as though she might yet have something to
say from her hiding place.
“This was my mother, Lily. We lived in this house when I was a small girl like you. In the springtime, she
planted the flower gardens out back.”
Margaret looked up at Miss Losey and saw that she was staring off beyond the ceiling of the parlor.
Margaret thought that maybe this woman could see into the past by looking through the ceiling.
“She would work those beds from morning ‘til night.”
“Did you have any brothers or sisters?” Margaret asked Miss Losey in a soft and reverent voice.
“Yes, I had one brother, Ned. He and I used to play with your grandmother and her two younger
sisters, Maggie and Bell, out in the cherry orchards. We’d play there all day sometimes in the summer
time. Our mothers would pack us a lunch, but that was all before the accident.”
A banging sound in the kitchen tore the young girl and the woman from the story, from the past.
Again there came a loud knock on the outside of the kitchen door. Miss Losey stood and placed the
album on the sofa, next to the embroidered pillow; another knock snapped the air inside the house,
louder and more insistent this time. Margaret yearned to stay hidden in that room with Miss Losey. She
wanted the knocker to go away; she wanted to hear about the orchards, about her grandmother, and
about the brother Ned.
Her mother’s voice trumpeted through the screen door, her out-in-public friendly voice that Margaret
knew meant she was really furious and as soon as everyone was out of sight she would let Margaret
know all about it.
Was it too late to hide? The young girl’s eyes darted around the room. A bulky easy chair sat
diagonally in the corner. She could make a dash and hide behind the chair, but the two women
ascended like the drums of doom. Would Miss Losey turn her over to her mother? She looked up as
they entered the room.
Her mother smiled, but stopped short of entering the room. The sunlight that had previously warmed
the living room had faded, revealing dark and tattered furniture, a shabby rug. Margaret felt goose
bumps on her bare arms and began to rub the palm of her hand on the worn nap of the sofa.
“I’ve been looking all over for you. Do you know how much you worry me when I can’t find you?” Her
mother crossed her arms under her breasts. “The cleaning lady said she saw you in this backyard.”
Margaret’s mother glanced in Miss Losey’s direction and back at Margaret. “What have we told you,
Margaret, about coming into this yard and bothering this poor woman?”
Margaret stared at the floor to hide her shame and her tears, humiliated to have her new friend hear
her mother talk to her like this. She scooted down off the sofa, but held back, tracing the outline of a
large flower pattern in the rug with the toe of her sneaker. Her mother crossed the room in three long
strides and grabbed her arm.
Margaret looked back as her mother dragged her across the threshold and through the pocket
doors, meeting the cool blue eyes of the woman who had mysteriously befriended her. Miss Losey held
the key to secrets that Margaret hadn’t known existed just hours ago.
“I’m so sorry, Miss Losey. We won’t let the child bother you again.” Margaret’s mother grabbed the
screen door without letting go of Margaret’s arm, without waiting for an answer from the neighbor. The
door slammed loudly behind them and the mother and daughter flew in tandem around the side of the
house, along the narrow sidewalk. Margaret tried to stop, but her mother yanking angrily on her arm
causing Margaret to lose her balance and then land with a jerk into the corner of the tulip bed.
She looked down in horror at her worn out sneakers, her toe sticking out the frayed hole, as the
bright red and yellow blooms were collapsing into the dirt. Ripe flower stems snapped and delicate
petals settled into an injured clump. Her heart pounded as she jumped back and looked up at the
window where the woman with the white hair and the kind eyes stood watching. Margaret knew then that
she would be back. She knew that the next time she would knock on the door. She would ask Miss
Losey what had happened to her brother Ned. She would ask about the olden days and what her
grandmother was like when she was a little girl. She dreamt about the flowers that night, about the
mother of the neighbor planting them with care. She awoke with the resolve to never steal one of those
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