Vlael had seen a picture of a woman with a flower in her hair in a pre-Fall magazine. The woman, leaning against a heavy stone balcony, overlooking a vast city, was smiling. She wore a white dress. She was the second most beautiful woman Vlael had ever seen. Vlael's mother was the first. Once she'd seen the image, all she could think of was giving a flower to her mother, but it couldn't be any old flower. She wanted to grow one, specially for the purpose. She couldn't have told anyone why it had to be one she grew, but such is the way with many things in life.
Vlael dribbled water from her can around the flower. She'd planted seeds some months back, and now the first buds were starting appear. With every splash of water that hit the dirt Vlael's frame shuddered. She feared for the flower's survival every hour of every waking moment. She thought of little else. At five years old, there wasn't much else for her to think about. The flower's health was her sole concern. She would sit and watch it for hours at a time. Or play near it, encourage it, pay it compliments--tell it how pretty it was, how good it was doing, how one day it would make her mother even more beautiful. She shooed bugs away. Unless they wouldn't be shooed. Then she killed them without remorse. A bug's life, or her mother's happiness: it was a simple choice.
Two weeks later Vlael grabbed her watering can and headed out the door as she'd done for the past few months. First she would check on the flower, then fill her can at the stream for watering. Today she dropped her can. Her mouth fell open. She dropped to her knees. Her little body trembled. It was everything she'd hoped for, and--somehow--so much more. This was her doing. She'd planted the seeds, pushed the dirt over the hole, patted it down (firm, but not too hard), splatted water on top, and cared for it every day. She'd dreamt of the flower, and of it in her mother's hair. And here it was. An entire bright universe open before her. She stared into life itself. Like gazing at the sun, but there was no pain looking at the flower of gold, orange, subtle hints of delicate blue, and red. The edge's of her lips curled up into an amazed smile. As much of a smile as she could manage in her overwhelmed state. The colors swirled a kaleidoscopic pattern. All else faded. She was wholly drawn into the moment.
A bee alighted on a pedal and broke Vlael's trance. The bee wriggled itself in the flower's pollen, then took to the air. It was the first bug near the flower that she was happy to see. She watched the bee as far as she could follow and sent it wishes of a safe trip.
Vlael pinched the flower's stem, bent it back and forth, and snapped it off. She beamed. She walked to the house, cupping the flower with one hand and holding the stem with the other. She went into the kitchen where her parents were making breakfast. Wonderful smells danced their way to her button nose. Boiling grain cereals, sizzling meats, fried and scrambled eggs, browning bread. She walked up behind her mother and tugged on her dress. Not white, but that was alright.
"Oh, hey, be careful. We're working--oh, what's that?"
Kaia bent down. "I see that. It's beautiful." She smiled.
"For your hair."
"You didn't want to watch it grow anymore?"
Vlael looked at the flower then at her mother. Realization flitted at the edge of her mind. It wouldn't grow? It was done growing? What did that mean? That it would...what? What would happen if she were to stop growing?
I'm a little girl, I'm always growing. I eat, I play, I rest, I sleep, and grow. What would happen if I didn't? What if I stopped drinking water? I couldn't play? I couldn't see my mommy and daddy? Where would I be?
Tears were pushed from her eyes as Vlael blinked. Her heart grew heavy, her stomach sank, she didn't like these thoughts. The idea of never seeing her parents again was...no. That was dark and bad and scary and--no-no-no. That was too awful. Nothing? Everything gone? How would...But then...If there...No! Her jaw trembled. She shook her head. Is that what she'd done to the flower? What about the bee? The bee would never see the flower again? What if they were friends?
Kaia held her daughter. Was this her introduction to death? How was she supposed to help her? Could she? She tried to think back to the first time she'd fully understand the concept. Ha, as though she did. Not in the least. And after The Fall, when there'd been more death in a half dozen years than every war in history combined. More than six billion lives lost. Maybe more than seven billion. No one knew for certain how many were lost. Lost? Bah, what a stupid word for those killed. They were dead, simple as that.
But nothing about death is simple. How will I explain this to her? How can I? How do I tell this perfect being, my precious Vlael, what is means to cease? And she's...What is she saying? What about the--
"F-for you. I p-picked...Growed and p-picked it for you...Like the picture and the lady in the city on the castle she's a princess I think and you are and you're so pretty mommy and I wanted you to have it in your hair and I-just-wanted-you-to-be-pretty-and-you-are-but-theflowerandIlove--" Vlael began to sob.
"Grew." Theo said. He flipped a series of pancakes, one after the other. "You grew the flower, baby. Not 'growed' it."
Kaia shot her husband a stare. Are you fucking kidding me right now?
Theo caught it. Oh, o-o-oh. He joined his wife and girl and wrapped them both in his arms. "Hey, it's okay. You can grow another flower, huh?"
"Of course you can." Kaia said. "I'll wear this one in my hair, just like the princess...there. See? Like this? Good? Mm?"
Vlael grinned and nodded. Already her thoughts were on the next flower. She would take even better care of this one. And the next, because of course there'd be another.