Lily of the Valley
On Wednesdays she likes to pretend that she’s a tree by dressing in all brown. She puts in little green clip-on extensions in her bark colored hair, in order to match the long swaying branches of her friend Willow.
Every recess, Lily walks up to Willow and says hello to her first. When it rains and recess is held inside, Lily usually plays next to her teacher’s desk with the rocks and woodchips in her pocket if none of the other kids invited her to play with them.
“Swshhhh,” says Willow.
That’s tree speak for hello.
Lily smiles at this acknowledgment and stands next to Willow. She shakes out her hair so it’s completely covering her face, and she laughs—the Daffodil family, that lives next door to Willow, told a funny joke.
Lily stands there, occasionally making small talk with Willow, while all of the kids play tag and foursquare. It’s not like she minds talking to the kids in her class, but they can sometimes be mean, and Willow and the Daffodil family and the family of Grass couldn’t be mean to her. Tomorrow, Lily will be a Daffodil, then on Friday she will be part of the Grass family. She will never be only a kid.
Ms. Olsen calls in the students from free time. She is always nice, not like her classmates. Lily gives Willow a big hug. Her rough bark sticks to her cotton shirt and this is how Lily knows Willow wants her to stay.
“Lily! Lily, it’s time to come inside,” shouts Ms. Olsen.
Lily reluctantly backs away from Willow and waves to the Daffodils. Lily slumps her shoulders and walks towards the old, red brick building. Ms. Olsen’s young face crinkles up into a familiar smile, the same smile that Lily’s parents give her when she talks about her best friends.
“Did you have fun, Lily?” Ms. Olsen asks.
“Yeah. Willow was sad when I left, but she’ll be okay. She says hello.”
“Well how nice. I’ll be sure to say hello to her before I leave today.”
Lily gives a big smile to Ms. Olsen and walked inside the door.
At least she understands.
Lily hates math, but she has to learn it for the placement test that’s coming up. She thinks it’s stupid that sixth graders have to take a test to decide what math class they’ll get into for middle school. She also thinks middle school is stupid, because it doesn’t have recess and that’s Lily’s only chance to see her friends.
Ms. Olsen starts to erase the lesson off of the chalkboard, and Lily realizes that she’s been daydreaming this whole time, leaving her no notes to study with. Lily sneaks a few peeks at the red-headed boy’s notebook to at least copy some of them down. His name is Andrew Zucker and he sits next to Lily and he is the one kid that tends to be the nicest in the class. Lily could just ask Andrew for the notes, but she’s done that too many times this week and doesn’t want to take advantage of the one kid that’s always nice to her.
She scrawls down as much as she can, which isn’t much because of Andrew’s rotten handwriting, before he flips his math notebook closed. But before Lily looks away, Andrew catches Lily’s eyes on his notebook.
“You know, you could have asked to borrow them.”
Lily feels the blood run to her cheeks and she starts to feel a little sick.
Andrew slips the notebook in Lily’s desk.
“Just be sure to give them back by tomorrow.”
“Sure,” whispers Andrew. He gives Lily a half smile, different than the adults’ smiles, and turns his attention back to Ms. Olsen. Lily can’t wait to tell Willow about this.
Ms. Olsen puts on her happiest face and begins talking. “So class, before school ends, we have one last thing to discuss! The Spring play!”
The sound of twenty-five groans fills the classroom in unison, but it doesn’t seem to affect Ms. Olsen. “Everyone must participate, so be sure to sign up for a few parts that you would like to try out for! The list is next to the door.”
As if on cue, the bell dismisses the students. Lily pulls a pen from her desk and walks over to the list.
The spring play is “Alice in Wonderland.” Lily loves watching that Disney movie, especially the part when Alice meets the flowers that sing a pretty song to her. She can watch that part over and over again. The only part that Lily doesn’t like about the movie is that the flowers are mean to Alice at the end of the song, and Lily knows that flowers would never be so mean.
Lily looks at the list, confused. Ms. Olsen sees her face and walks over.
“What’s wrong, Lily?”
“Where do I sign up to be one of the flowers?”
“Well almost the whole class is going to be a flower, Lily. Don’t you want to be something else?”
Lily chews on the end of her pen and thinks about another part that she could be.
“Could I be the tall, white, rose bush that looks like a tree, the one the cards have to paint red?”
“You don’t want to be someone else? Like Alice?”
“No. I really want to be both the flower and the bush,” Lily says matter-of-factly.
Ms. Olsen gives that same smile and gives in. She gently takes the green pen out of Lily’s hand, writes the words “rose bush” at the bottom of the list, and draws a line next to it.
Ms. Olsen hands the pen back to Lily and says, “There you go. All fixed.” Lily’s smile beams up at Ms. Olsen. She quickly writes her name down and runs out of class to get her backpack. She has to go home to rehearse!
Martha sits at the kitchen table with her aged hands around a warm coffee mug. She’s usually alone around this time of day, until Lily comes home. Sunset Valley is a very quiet town with little to do. This is why the house is always tidy, because Martha had nothing better to do.
Martha looks out the window and sees a little brown figure running up the black pavement. A small smile dances on her lips as she rises from her seat. The chair’s creak and the door handle’s clicking happened almost simultaneously.
“Hello, Lily. How was sch-“
“Not now, Mom! I have to practice!”
The flash of brown rushes past Martha and stomps all the way up the stairs. Martha laughs. Lily always makes her happy, because she is so carefree and has no concern with how others perceive her. Martha goes to the oak cabinets and takes out the bread and peanut butter, then walks over to the fridge to pull out the strawberry jelly.
She spreads the peanut butter and jelly with care and cuts the sandwich diagonally into four pieces. She follows the same path that the brown flash took. She walks towards Lily’s room and peaks through the cracked door, seeing Lily’s brown shirt lying in the doorway. Her daughter is now in a green shirt and rummaging through her box of hair clips. She pulls out a few that are white roses and starts to stick them to her shirt. Then she just stands there—as still as a rose bush.
Martha, feeling like she’s spying, knocks on the door and pushes it open.
“I have PB&J!” Martha says brightly. Lily moves slightly and looks at Martha and a smile forms on her lips.
“Swshhsshh,” is Lily’s reply
“So, why do you have your clips on you? I thought today was Willow Wednesday.”
“Swshhhhwshhh,” Lily continues to say.
“Lily?” Lily’s smile turns into a pout and her hands move to her hips.
“Mooooom, I’m practicing!” Lily whines.
“What are you practicing for?” Martha sits down on Lily’s bed, setting the sandwich down beside her. Lily joins her.
“I’m going to be the white rose bush that gets painted red in the Alice in Wonderland play!”
“That sounds great, dear,” says Martha with the pretend genuine smile that mothers are natural experts at.
Lily’s smile is so big and bright that Martha swears the sun is small in comparison. She couldn’t just tell Lily that isn’t a proper part in a play, could she? Lily would be so sad. Martha keeps quiet and just prays that Lily wills make some friends from this. Martha wishes nothing more than for Lily to have friends and play dates and sleepovers. Lily comes home every day and goes out and plays in the backyard until dinner is served. After dinner, she watches TV with Martha until it is bedtime. Martha does not know how Lily can do the same thing every day. Martha hopes that with this play, Lily will start to bring home other children to play with.
Martha sits in a chair, hands wrapped tightly around the handle of her worn purse, and her legs start to bounce. She feels alone in the school’s auditorium even with the other parents surrounding her.
Please, God, keep her safe from the children’s mean words. Let her be happy.
The lights start to dim and the curtains start opening. A hush falls over all of the families and the beeps of video recorders ring silently throughout the room. Martha is only going to record Lily’s scenes, because that is what she requested before she ran off to put on her flower costume.
Martha watches the little girl who is playing Alice pretend to fall into a rabbit hole that the parents had to imagine was there.
Lily could have done this role. She loves this movie, why didn’t she want to be Alice?
Alice finds the singing flowers and Martha turns on the video recorder. Lily is a violet. Martha quickly finds her purple daughter and crosses her fingers with her free hand. Lily’s smile is bright enough to light the whole stage and sings loud enough for everyone to hear. Martha smiles and uncrosses her fingers.
Look at how happy she is.
Alice is chased off by the flowers and Lily and the rest of her classmates run off stage.
Martha settles back into her chair and takes a deep breath. She is proud of how well Lily did and she can now rest. Martha glazes over and barely focuses on the play until Lily comes on stage again as a rose bush.
Martha can see that Lily is trying really hard not to smile as she stands more still than Martha thought was possible. The children dressed as cards and Alice all start singing “we’re painting the roses red” as they take real paint and start to paint the flowers on Lily. She starts to let out little giggles which make the other students on stage laugh, too. Chuckles are also heard around the auditorium from all of the parents, including Martha.
The scene is then over and before Martha knows it, Lily is taking her bow with the rest of her class. Martha shoots up from her seat, letting the purse on her lap fall, and starts to clap loudly. The moment before the curtains began to close, Martha could see Lily talking to other students and a smile was on all of their faces. Martha could not contain her happiness when she was slowly walking out of the auditorium. She wants to give Lily has much time as she wants backstage to giggle some more with her classmates.
Martha stands alone in the foyer of the auditorium with the smile still plastered on her face when Lily comes prancing up to her.
“Did you see me, Mom? Was I good? Did you get it on camera? That was so much fun!” Lily starting speaking faster with each word and Martha wondered if she would take a breath anytime soon.
“I did see you, Lily! You were fantastic! When we get home, I’ll show you the recording so you can see for yourself!” Martha says with the smile on her face growing, but then Lily stopped bouncing around quite so much and looked down at the floor.
Martha’s smile started to drop. She asks, “What’s wrong, sweetie?”
Lily continues to look down as she mutters, “Well Andrew, Christina, and a few other kids want to go out for some ice cream now and I told them that I would go with.”
Martha’s smile comes back to life. “Well you should go! It would be rude to back out from a promise! Just be back by 8!”
Lily looks at Martha with that bright smile of hers and runs off into the crowd of kids and adults.
Martha looks up and closes her eyes and a single tear falls down her aged face.
Yes! She said yes!
Lily weaves through the crowd of adults and kids to find her way to Andrew and Christina and the others. She can’t wait to go out and get ice cream with her new friends. Lily’s head is in the clouds thinking about how awesome it is that she made some new friends. All of this daydreaming made her forget how fast she is running, so she has no time to stop before running into Andrew.
“Ow!” Says Andrew in a loud voice.
“S-s-sorry. So sorry,” was all Lily manages to mutter.
Andrew lets out a small laugh, “It’s okay, I barely felt anything. Just be sure to be more careful next time.”
Lily lets out a nervous giggle and nods.
He is so nice.
Her cheeks starts to turn as red as his hair again, so she quickly rushes he hands up to her cheeks.
I hope he doesn’t think I’m weird.
Christina, the blonde girl who played Alice, bounces up and starts to talk to Lily in a kind voice, “Hey, Lily! Did your mom say that you could come with us to get some ice cream?”
“Yup! I just have to be home by 8!”
“Okay. I’ll let my parents know. Let’s find the others and get going before all the good flavors run out!” Christina looks between Andrew and Lily with a very genuine smile for each of them.
Lily follows Andrew and Christina and helps them find some of their other classmates and they all walk out of the school together. She has a huge smile on her as she turns to the big and familiar willow tree. The wind blows and it makes the branches and leaves wave. Lily gives a small wave back.
I knew Willow wouldn’t mind.