Because it’s springtime, my father’s looking for mayflowers. We’re hiking the ten acres of woods behind his house. Though we’ve done this trail together a million times, he stops at a tall beech tree swaying in the breeze, its limbs reaching for the sky, and scratches his head. Kneeling down on the knobby tree roots, the grass and undergrowth wet with morning dew, soaking into the knees of his pants, he pats the ground.
“Right here, they were always right here, remember?”
“Sure Dad.” His thick glasses ride down on his nose, and on this cool morning, a clear bubble of snot drips down and merges with the dew drops on the blades of grass.
“It was right here.” He digs at the brush, using his fingernails to claw back the wet earth, and I’m reminded of the first dog we ever had, Beau, a small nervous terrier who liked to dig, his nose trained to the ground, dirt spraying behind him. Dad claimed Beau was obsessed. Now, it’s Dad who’s obsessed, trying to find those delicate white, five-starred wildflowers, their golden-sun centers winking at the beholder, hidden beauties in the woods.
I let him look. It breaks my heart to see him down there. Once, he and I brought a small bouquet home to Mom. I was four or five then, and he was just beginning to show me the ways of the forest. The trees and trail were his cathedral and religion. He never went to church, but Mom didn’t say a word. Every Sunday as we left the house, he’d call out, “Say a prayer for me!” and she’d laugh, but I knew she kept her word. When she died, I visited him every day, though he often put up a fuss.
“I’m not incapacitated, I can do for myself.” The house was quiet. I knew he often went out and lost himself in the forest.
He takes off his hunting cap, scratches his head, puts it back on. Then he looks up at the smooth stalk of the tree.
“Dad. Maybe this isn’t the place.” His head snaps around.
“They’re here, goddammit! I know they are!” I watch him dig. Soon, he’ll give up, and we’ll meander back home, me leading the way, though I’ll pretend I’m the one who’s following. He’ll talk about mayflowers, how pretty they are, the prettiest in the forest, and how Mom loved them, though I won’t have the heart to tell him that really, she loved store-bought roses, and on the special occasions he’d bought them, she’d complained, and secretly boasted, at their expense.
He’s forgotten that in the morning I’m driving him to the nursing home, the car already packed with the few necessities he’ll need. I won’t tell him there are no mayflowers to be found there. But next spring, I’ll come back here and pick a bunch, and when he asks where I got them, I’ll answer, “You and me, in the woods, remember?”
DS Levy lives in the Midwest. Her fiction has appeared in many journals and has received Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction nominations. She has had work included in Wigleaf's Top 50 2021, and Long List 2022. She was a finalist in the 2022 Jeanne Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award at The Florida Review.