Post Classifieds

Summer in the Sunflowers

By Emily Holleran
On March 9, 2019

My parents had argued for most of the five-hour car ride, and were silent for the rest. I tried to get them to talk by asking questions about my grandmother, who I had never met, but was staying with for most of the summer. Both of my parents had no siblings, and they didn’t want to push the burden of me onto family friends. That’s just what I was now, a burden.

My grandmother had lived alone since my mom left the house, and my mom had tried to get us all to visit each summer, but my grandmother would always cancel for one reason or another. All I could get from my mom was that she had always been “a little off”, but she meant well and she “loved her sunflowers”. My dad would complain about how she never once got his name right, and another fight between them would take off. The only contact I received from her was a birthday card with no money, only her small signature.

My mom’s pristine Honda Civic rolled up a hill to a white colonial farmhouse that reminded me of my class field trip to Strawberry Banke this past school year. The workers all had to stay in character to preserve the “history”—that’s what our teachers told us. When a bunch of present-day 5th graders begin to harass people in bonnets and frilly shirts, it really took away from the whole “frozen in time” effect they were going for. My grandmother’s house, however, actually looked like it had been frozen in time, and it was creepy.

We passed a few houses on the way here, but I noticed there was a lot more land between the houses in Middlefield, Connecticut than in Rochester, New York, where I lived. I could feel my allergies build up inside my nose at the sight of the long, uncut grass that filled the front lawn. I hated the outdoors, and felt my hand slip into the front pocket of my backpack to feel around for my new iPhone—a bribe from my parents. The icon in the upper-left read “No Service”, so there was no Wi-Fi, and basically my summer was ruined before I even stepped out of the car. Well, it was already ruined with the announcement of my parents’ divorce and the even worse announcement that I would spend the summer with my elderly grandmother while my parents “sorted things out”. Not exactly the ideal summer, but then again, my ideal summer is spending the day in an air-conditioned room with enough food and videogames to hold me off for days.

“Well, here we are,” my mom said. She parked the car awkwardly close to the house since there was no drive-way. “It really hasn’t changed.”

“My ass is killing me,” my dad groaned. He opened the car door and began to stretch, his glasses almost slid off his nose onto the dusty ground. I looked up into the rear-view mirror and saw an expression on my mom’s face, that I had grown used to seeing lately, as she looked at my dad. My own plain face stared back at me with an emotion I couldn’t understand. My mom’s eyes shifted to me and she turned around in her seat.

“Wendell, fix your hair. You’re meeting your grandmother for the first time for God’s sake,” she said. She licked her hand and tried to smooth down my stubborn blonde cowlick, but I batted her manicured hand away.

“Mom, that’s gross,” I said.

“What’s gross is your attitude,” she scowled. My mother’s face always looked sharp, it made her big, brown eyes look out of place. They still scared me when they looked at me, as if I’d be eaten. “Wendell, did you take your allergy medication?”

“Quit babying him,” my dad said. He opened my door and pulled my duffel bag from under my feet. “Damn, Wendell. Did you pack enough things?”

“I didn’t know what to take,” I answered.

My dad grunted as he heaved the bag over his shoulder. It was clear that he didn’t put effort into his appearance for this visit. I felt like he specifically chose the sock and sandal combo to piss off my mom. His blue, checkered, button-up shirt was half tucked into his cargo shorts. He almost wore his hat that had the name of the construction company he worked for, but my mom ripped it off his head before we left. “How does a boy have so many things?”

“Don’t patronize him, Walt,” my mom held a stack of pre-made food she had prepared for my grandmother. She made sure she looked put together, and she reminded us at every red-light by checking her hair in every mirror.

“Cora, I’m not patronizing him if he’s a boy,” my dad said.

“Don’t patronize me, Walter. I know what gender our son is without you reminding me,” my mom glared at my dad. They kept up their back-and-forth arguments all the way to the front steps, and into the house.

I gently slammed my head against the leather back of the driver’s seat. The inside of the car started to get hot, and for a little while, I was wondering what my parents’ reactions would be if they found my overheated body in the car. I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea for many reasons, so I opened the door and swung my bulging forest-green backpack onto my shoulders. I liked the feeling that I had everything I needed organized in case of an emergency. With my backpack, I could be prepared for everything, even my grandmother.

I scrunched my face up in disgust as the cries of cicadas buzzed from the early summer heat. Who knows how many insects were hiding in the tall grass? Even more horrifying, I looked towards my grandmother’s house and hoped she wasn’t the type to let insects make their home inside a home. I took a step towards the house, but I heard a loud bark that sounded like it came from the grass right next to me.

“A dog….?” I mumbled to myself. I inched closer to the grass that reached my chest, but not close enough to go in it. I heard a voice that made a shushing sound, but I didn’t want to call out in case my parents walked outside and saw me talking to the grass. I stretched my neck to see where the voice had come from, but was knocked off my feet by a red beast that bashed my chin with its skull.

“Ow, what the he—ck,” I almost swore, but I was afraid my mom could somehow hear me with her omnipresent powers. A red bloodhound stood over my body and began licking me with its disgusting wet tongue. “Stop, I have allergies. Get off me!” I tried to push it off, but it was one sturdy dog.

“Augustus! Leave him alone,” someone tugged his collar and pulled him easily off my body.

The sun blinded me as I tried to stand up, to move away from the dog, but my backpack pulled my body back down in a squirming pile of limbs. I slipped my arms out from under the tight straps and lifted the bottom of my white polo shirt to wipe the slobber off my face, but when I saw how dirty my shirt was from the dog I started to gag. An obnoxious sound of laughter made me turn my head.

“Sorry, sorry. But, you looked like a little turtle, struggling on the ground,” a tall girl giggled. In her hand, she held the dog named Augustus’s collar, who now sat obediently at her side. She looked like a fairy, but an evil one…. a pixie? Her dark brown hair was pulled into tight twin buns, and she had on an oversized, aqua t-shirt that made it look like she wasn’t wearing pants—maybe she wasn’t. It had the word “Riptide” in white letters, and was underlined by the motion of a baseball that zoomed beneath the word, leaving a trail of waves. It also could’ve been a softball, I didn’t know the difference. My eyes panned down to the band-aids that covered her tan legs, she had more scratches on them now than I had in a lifetime.

“What’s wrong with your legs?” I asked.

She frowned and crossed her arms. “They got scratched up, obviously.

“Did your dog scratch them?” I glared at the panting animal.

“Of course not! Augustus would never hurt me,” She said, as she bent down and pet her dog’s bony skull.

“Well he hurt me,” I said.

“That sucks for you,” she said.

This girl was one of those annoying girls; pretty, but obnoxious as hell. I could tell she was the type to never lose an argument so I decided not to try to come up with a comeback that would probably sound stupid. Girls in the fifth grade had shown me that much.

“Why were you hiding in the grass like a creep? That’s a crime you know,” I said. I realized I was still on the ground so I stood up and began to brush the dirt off my tan shorts.

“Hiding in grass is a crime?” She folded her arms.

“No, but loitering is,” I folded my arms right back. I wasn’t actually sure if loitering was a crime, but I remembered reading a sign outside a Macy’s that said loitering would not be tolerated—to be clear my mom shopped there not me.

“I wasn’t loitering, I was…keeping watch,” She tilted her head as she decided what word would replace spying, I could tell.

“Keeping watch of what?” I hesitantly asked. I couldn’t tell if this girl was one of those girls how still like to play pretend. There was a girl in my grade that thought she was a horse, and another who believed she was a psychic, but would refuse to read minds at school because she, “couldn’t concentrate”. I wondered what this girl’s deal was.

“First, who are you?” She asked.

“I’m Wendell,” I replied, and immediately regretted telling her my name.

“WENDELL!” She did a spit take without a beverage, so it was literally just spit that flew out of her mouth, and transformed into laughter.

“Yeah, I know. It’s a stupid name,” I grumbled.

“Sorry, it’s not that it’s stupid. You just really look like a Wendell,” she wiped an invisible tear.


“No problem. My name is Salome, I like to be called Sal,” she placed her hand on her chest as she introduced herself, like I should be honored. I began to open my mouth to say something witty about her name, but she kept going. “If you make fun of my name, I’ll beat the shit out of you, okay?” She gave a sweet smile. “Now, what’s your relationship to the woman who lives in that house,” she pointed to my grandmother’s house behind me.

“She’s my grandmother, I’m staying here for the sum—,”

“You grandmother!” Sal jumped forward, pulling Augustus’s with her. I took a step back in case he decided to get jumpy again.

“Y-yeah,” I stammered. The sun shone on the left side of her face and illuminated her left-eye which was a brilliant hazel. I would’ve thought it was cool, but I also kind of wanted to push her face away from mine with all the strength in my body.

“Your grandmother is a witch, you know,” she smiled.

I tried to stare at her so much concentrated confusion that she would realize what she had said. So, this girl is the one who still believes in magic, I thought.

“Your grandmother has this field in her backyard,” she continued, “and in the past, children have gone missing in this town.”

“So?” I questioned.

“Well,” she leaned even closer, and I leaned even further away, “the field has grown for years, my mother says. She is always checking on them, even in the winter. People say they see her in the dead field, just standing around.”

“What’s ‘them’,” I asked. I couldn’t believe I was feeding into this girl’s imagination, but this was more about my grandmother that I’ve ever heard—even if it wasn’t true.

“The sunflowers!” she yelled like I was the one who sounded stupid. “Aren’t you her grandson? There’s a little valley of sunflowers behind your grandmother’s house.”

“Okay,” I bent down and picked up my backpack that was still lying on the ground. “I’m going to go inside now.”

“She’s hiding something, Wendell. She won’t let anybody near her sunflowers,” Sal called after me. The way she said my name, like we had known each other for years, sent a shiver down my spine, she was too casual. I kept walking towards the house, and heard her frustrated sigh at being ignored. When I reached the screen door to my grandmother’s house, I heard rustling and turned around. Sal and her dog were already tearing through the long grass at a break-neck pace. She seemed like the type of person my parents would tell me to not get involved with.

I opened the screen door to my grandmother’s house, and it shut fast behind me. I winced at the loud noise that echoed through the front hall of the house. I still felt the discomfort of a confrontation with my aloof grandmother, and now the girl’s “witch” accusations played through my head. What was she even trying to say?

“Wendell, is that you?” My mom called from inside the house. “Come meet your grandmother.”

“Coming,” I called back. I let out a soft sigh, and walked toward where I heard my mom’s voice come from. The hall had a polished dresser on one side, with a doily spread out on its surface. I stopped to look at the picture frames on top, most of my mom when she was younger. My mom’s blonde hair was so long when she was young, and she looked so happy. This version of mom seemed like a stranger to me. The woman next to her had the same sharp angles, so I assumed it was my grandmother—though a much younger version. I scanned the photos for a man that could’ve been my grandfather, but I doubted a picture of him would be displayed in the front hall. My mom had never met him, and my grandmother never spoke of him, so I wasn’t about to uncover the mystery in the first minutes of walking into her house. There was also my mom and dad’s wedding picture, and I almost laughed. That must’ve been nice to see when they walked in.

I came to the end of the photos and found one that wasn’t in a frame. It was an old photo featuring seven kids; the four girls were in old-fashioned dresses, and the three boys either wore overalls or rolled up pants. They all smiled and had their arms wrapped around the person next to them in front of a stalk of sunflowers. One girl looked like a younger version of my mom so I assumed it was my grandmother, and the girl next to her was…beautiful. I understood that the girl was probably now an old wrinkly woman, but she seemed to add color to the black and white photo—I don’t know, I can’t explain it. She was on the edge of the photo and her right arm was cut off, like my grandmother had tried to crop the photo. I flipped the photo over, to see what the date was, and I felt my stomach drop.

The entire back of the photo was scratched with the black ink of a pen, with the repetition of one phrase, over and over.

“I’m sorry.”

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