Fourth Grade Science Lesson, Chickasaw City, Alabama
by Kathleen Latham
When Rylee’s class plants papery, brown bulbs in mason jars, she’s sure nothing will come of it. Olivia Hewett told her flowers are born looking beautiful, and she should know because she lives in a house with a bedroom all to herself. Rylee lives with her mama and little brother in the Housing Authority where nothing grows but washed-out patches of grass for dogs to pee on.
“Why can’t we have flowers?” Rylee asks her mama.
Mama rolls her eyes at the question. “You wanna spend five dollars on somethin’ be dead in a week, or you wanna get two roller dogs and a Polar Pop at Circle K?”
At school, Mrs. McCarty says they need to be patient. Olivia Hewett says they need bees. Rylee takes notes in her science journal and waits for the experiment to fail.
Brown lump, she writes. Still nothing.
But then roots appear. Tiny white tendrils snaking against glass.
Worms? Rylee writes.
Next, green shoots, straight as a pencil.
The shoots make her fidgety. She tries not to think about them, but at recess she finds a weed with white flowers growing by the fence. She pinches some of its dirt and sprinkles it onto her bulb for good luck. Doesn’t tell Olivia.
A week later, the class arrives to find thirty-one tulips lined up on the windowsill like ladies waiting to dance. Rylee touches hers to make sure it’s real.
Petals like wax, she writes. Purple as nail polish.
The flowers fill her with a hopefulness she can’t define—each of those funny-shaped husks hiding something wonderful.
She saves the petals when they fall off. Keeps them hidden in a plastic bag behind her pencil box. Takes them out from time to time and cradles them in her hand like a promise.