First Fruits to The Mother.
by Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm
May 26, 1994
“Oh, my rose bloomed. My first rose. Ooh,” I said to Mimi. Mimi is my other voice who lives with me inside my head since I live alone.
The Winter of 1993-94 had been so hard, so hard. Glaciers had covered the land while temperatures fell to 20 below zero. The wind blew, the snow fell and night prevailed.
But now the first rose bloomed. Yellow, it was, with streaks of ruby at its base. The petals seemed to open in my brain as well as on the rose’s stem.
I watched the procession come to visit my first rose. Bees. Moths. Butterflies. Ants.
“Like a birthday party for a queen,” I said to Mimi. Looking up, I saw my neighbor.
“First rose?” she asked smiling.
“Mm,” I said and turned away. I did not want to share my pleasure with her.
My neighbor did not have a rose. Or any other flower for that matter.
Children! What she had was children. And where she put them in her little house, I’ll never know. Children trampled into bricks what little soil she had. Children cried and screamed and laughed into the night and mangled whatever peace she had. Children ate all her bread and milk and oranges. And sometimes, I saw them biting her fleshy arms. “Was that teething? Or passion? Or hunger?” I wondered.
I lived alone, of course, clean and orderly. The only thing that did not fit was all those children next door. They knew not to come in my kitchen with their muddy feet. They knew not to touch my yard or fence. If their frisbee flew over to my place, they left it there. They never looked at me with their hungry eyes because I always looked away.
I was surprised when the doorbell rang. There, on the stoop, in a frayed striped t-shirt and cut off denims stood one of the children. He looked up at me and smiled but I looked over his head at the house across the street.
“Here,” he said. He handed me a piece of cake, yellow cake with blood red frosting on a plastic plate.
“It’s my Mom’s birtday,” he said. “Here.”
I took the plate. I hate the feel of plastic. It makes my skin melt. I hate yellow and red together. The colors are pus and blood to me. I gagged. “Thank you,” I said.
He just stood there.
“Do I tip him?” I wondered.
“No,” said Mimi,
“Then whatever does he want,” I asked Mimi.
“It’s his mother’s birthday.”
“People give gifts on birthdays.”
“I don’t want to give her a gift.”
“I see,” said Mimi and disappeared and was silent. I felt very lonely with Mimi gone but the child still stood on my stoop.
The glacier came back and spread itself between me and the child. The wind suddenly came up. The temperature dropped and he shivered. He was only wearing that frayed t-shirt.
My rose swayed and looked like to fall. “My rose will freeze,” I thought. “I must bring it inside where it is warm.”
I reached inside for my clippers, at the same time placing the yellow and red birthday cake on the hallway table. I reached down to my rose which bloomed outside my doorway. I did not even have to move. Just swivel right, then left. I cut my rose, at an angle and brought it to my nose.
“Oh, my rose, you could have froze,” I said to my rose, like an idiot.
The boy still stood.
“Tell your mother Happy Birthday,” I said.
He looked at me, his face grave.
“What is wrong with this child” I wondered. “Is he sick? Well, he can’t come in. And I won’t feed him.”
“Go home, now,” I said but gently. I wanted to be inside, warm, away from all this cold and ice. I wanted to put my rose in my milk white bud rose vase. I wanted this child to go away.
I don’t know why, then, but I shoved the rose at him. The thorns on its stem pierced his finger and a blood bubble formed on his sallow skin. He ran then, through my garden and out the gate. Shut the gate and ran next door, crying all the way, “Momma, Momma, Momma,” like some forlorn foreign train whistle.
I closed the door and leaned against it, weak. Then I slid down and lay on the floor in the hallway. I felt the wind come through the crack of the door, first frigid. But then, just cold and finally the air was softer. I lay there then, just cold and finally the air was softer. I lay there for the longest time, till Mimi said in my head, “Get up now and eat the birthday cake.”
I sat up and there on the hallway mahogany table was the yellow cake with red frosting. I ate that cake with my right hand and licked the red frosting off my thumb and forefinger. Then I sat some more and sucked my thumb.
“This just won’t do,” I said and thrust my thumb from my mouth.
Mimi said, “Now get up and take the plate to the sink and wash it.”
So I did. That, at least, made sense. As the water flowed over the plate, I looked out my window. My neighbor was standing on her porch, clutching my rose to her huge chest. Children hung from her arms and skirts and ankles, like bees about a honeycomb.
“Thank you,” my neighbor called. “Thank you for the birthday rose.”
Mimi said, “That was a nice thing you did. Giving the first fruits to the Mother.”
“I did not,” I said.
“Yes, you did,” said Mimi.
“Well, I won’t do it again,” I stated.
“Yes, you will,” said Mimi.
Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm