He remembers when the flowers pinched the grass and sang the biographies of the bees with each hiccup of the wind. He’d run into the field with his sister and float through the daisies like bubbles and then plop right into the flowers’ big yellow eyes while jesting about who could run quicker and who was their mama’s favorite.
Polly had been born seven minutes after him. Every movement and sound she made reminded the world that she would always be seven minutes behind him. Her brain didn’t move as swiftly as his, and her understanding of the world was tangled like a plate of spaghetti. That’s how their mama always tried to explain her differences; she had a spaghetti brain while everyone else had a waffle brain, and that was okay because spaghetti was just as delicious, if not more. They just tasted a little different.
Nothing kept Polly from enjoying the world, despite her differences. His best memories were because Polly made life vivacious and free. She blew with the wind and breathed like the trees. She gave life to every soul who knew her, especially him.
Things were different now though. Life had been simpler when they could run free in the fields and play hopscotch on the driveway. Now, the world had spun backwards. Chaos ensued after the evil of the world was tempted out of hiding in the name of politics, and now they were under attack for simply existing. Their mama never told them exactly who was out to exterminate them, and perhaps that was the fault that led to Polly’s death.
Polly didn’t understand why the sky boomed in the distance and why everyone ran after the fact. She couldn’t comprehend that people existed who failed to see the treasure within a human heart. She was a helper and a nurturer, so the moment she saw that tangerine splatter in the distance, on the one day they decided to sneak out of the house while their mama ran errands, she ran towards it to tell the plane to stop. She thought it would listen. It didn’t.
He couldn’t run after her in time. Polly ran like a swarm of ants out of a hill towards the flood of people trying to escape the explosion. She thought she saw someone trapped in the flames, so she ran to help. He couldn’t save her.
After Polly died, he stopped paying attention. The world had taken the most special person in the universe, and after the fact, it may as well have stopped turning.
Now, he looks out across the rubble that used to be their hometown. Weeks have passed now since the bombing ended. People are dead, literally and figuratively, tossed up in the debris that used to be homes or schools or shops. Only a select few remained. The rest were exposed into what they really were—a conglomeration of brick, cement, and wood that now dotted the landscape like needles. The airstrikes certainly didn’t end after Polly’s death. They kept coming until everything was demolished. Luckily, most of the townspeople had been safely evacuated in time after the first couple of strikes. They were lucky and unlucky, all at once.
They are back in town now. He walks through the debris with his mama, sorting through the wreckage in the hopes of finding old pictures and keepsakes. That’s all anyone could do anymore. They all just looked.
He stops flipping through insulation for a moment to look out toward the field where he and Polly used to play. The flowers and the grass are gone, and the trees that lined the outskirts of the field are strewn about the dirt. The earth has been raped of its beauty, and it lies vulnerably for everyone to be reminded that not all the earth’s creations are beautiful. Some creatures survive for destruction.
He closes his eyes and tries to picture the flowers and Polly’s face giggling among them. He feels warm tears swallow his cheeks. He opens his eyes, shakes off the image, and begins sifting through the wreckage to take his mind off the horror.
After collecting what they could for the day, he decides to take a walk. There is no fear of destruction now that all has been destroyed, so his mama lets him go. He wanders through the sea of debris and watches as other families collect whatever belongings they can salvage. He admires the pain on their faces. He knows he shouldn’t feel delighted to see their broken hearts, but it reminds him that he isn’t alone, and that somehow makes things better.
In the middle of what used to be the road, he stumbles upon a can of spray paint. He picks up the can and wipes the dirt from the nozzle. The can is dented on the left side, but the weight of it says there is still some paint left. He was never artistic, but the can seemed to be something worth keeping. It had survived the devastation.
He takes the can and hugs it as he runs as fast as he can past the families in the neighborhood. He hopes no one will stop him and claim that it is theirs. This was his beacon of hope. No one can take that from him.
Once he gets far enough to the outskirts of the town where few people are wandering about, he stops running, squatting to catch his breath, and he once again observes the can. He looks ahead and notices half of a wall standing. He can’t tell if the building had once been a home or a business, but he figures it doesn’t matter. Nothing belongs to anybody anymore. Not really.
He approaches the wall and stares at the ash in the crevices of the brick. He hates the ash for being there. He knows it was a product of Polly’s demise. It couldn’t help but to have been born of the explosions, but he hated it all the same.
“Polly didn’t deserve this,” he scolds the ash.
He lifts the spray paint, presses the stiff nozzle, and moves it in shaky lines until a black flower paints the surface.
He steps back and admires the flower and pretends it is Polly. Now, she would be the central focus of the wall. Her memory was a far more important symbol of what happened than the ash that colored the cracks. Behind the wall lies horror, but amid it, the flower shines, and if he stares long enough, the world becomes a little more beautiful again.
He smiles and begins making his journey back to his mama, spray painting flowers on all the remaining walls along the way. He swears he won’t stop until he can resurrect Polly’s field.