Welcome to PJ on her TKnC debut...
Yellow flowers floated in a bowl of water by the bed. Starla’s mother dipped a ladle into the bowl and held it out. “Drink,” she said.
With big brown eyes, little Starla looked up at her mother, pursed her lips and shook her head, “No.”
Lightning flashed as thunder gobbled the mountain. Starla strangled her doll. Her mother pinched Starla’s nostrils shut. When she gasped for breath, her mother shoved the ladle into her mouth.
She gulped. The salty liquid with bitter aftertaste coated her tongue.
Hail bombed the tin shed out back and shattered her bedroom window. Starla dug her nails into her thighs and bit a scream in half, swallowing its tail, all that came out was a whimper.
“See, better already,” her mother cooed.
This was the game they played. Whenever Starla was scared, she was forced to drink the flower extract. Her mother was what people called a “hippy-chick”, a firm believer in herbal medicine. She died after ingesting a poisonous mushroom. Nine year old Starla discovered the body, clutching her throat with one hand and a bouquet of monkey flower, mimulus, in the other.
Starla, having no other family, grew up in an orphanage. She never experienced being part of a foster family. The social service worker always blamed her age. Starla knew that was a lie; she was simply too weird to be placed in foster care. She rarely spoke, habitually wet her bed until she was sixteen, and a habit of biting her tongue ‘til it bled. If she came near a yellow flower, she broke out in a cold sweat and curled into a ball, fetal position, until someone either removed her or the flower.
In spite of emotional disorders that limited her socialization, Starla graduated with honors, valedictorian. After extensive therapy, her peculiar ways became more subtle. Able to control her fears with the aid of medication, she entered the workforce at Brandle’s, a never been kissed twenty-two year old beauty. During her first three months of employment, she hid in her cubicle and got more work done in four hours than her co-workers accomplished in three days. Promotion was inevitable, but with it came attention, glass walls, and claws of envy.
Colleagues helped Starla move into the corner office with large windows overlooking the courtyard and a glass wall so she could keep an eye on the office help. As the new supervisor, she was in charge of billing and receiving. This rapid climb up the corporate ladder did not go unnoticed by Gina, a woman who had boasted the supervisor position was bound to be hers when George retired. Starla’s mathematical skills and high production rate dazzled Mr. Brandle. Gina stormed out of the conference room when he announced Starla’s promotion.
On Starla’s first day in her new office, she received a bouquet of congratulatory peach roses from the company. A petite blonde delivered them with a smile and a note that read, “Congratulations. You’re an asset to our family. Sincerely, Henry Brandle.”
Family? I’m part of a family? Starla stared at the card, repeating the words. She smiled and buried her nose into the bouquet.
“Thank you.” Starla whispered to the delivery girl.
An hour later the same girl arrived with a larger bouquet. Starla backed away as the girl approached with this bright arrangement of sunflowers, daisies, mums, every color of the rainbow, including yellow. The girl sat the bouquet on Starla’s desk next to the roses and gave Starla a strange look as she exited.
Starla paced around her desk, staring at the flowers, reaching toward the card, then pulling her hand away before she got close enough to pluck it from the plastic prong. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut the heads off all the yellow flowers and catch them in her waste bucket, then scurried to the break room and dumped them in a large trashcan. Gina was sitting at a table by the drink machine, eating, as usual.
“What are you doing?” Gina stood up and looked down in the trashcan, smacking, mouth full of fried rice at ten in the morning.
“I’m allergic to the pollen of yellow flowers. It’s no big deal.” Starla noticed the container of rice was labeled, George Latimer. George had retired three days prior.
“Just the yellow ones? That’s weird. Not a certain flower, just all yellow ones?” Gina shoveled another spoonful into her mouth and stared down at the decapitated blooms covering a mound of shredded paper like a casket spray.
“Yes. I know it sounds strange, but yeah, just the yellow ones. I need to get back to work. You taking an early lunch today?”
“Nah, just on break.” Gina glared at her and scraped the bottom of the container with her spoon.
“Okay. Well, I emailed you a list of companies t hat need to be contacted today before you leave. They are all over three months past due. I suggest you call them directly, instead of just emailing like you did last month. I mean, the emails weren’t effective, so let’s try this route.”
“Yeah, I’ll do my best.”
“There’s no reason you can’t finish the list today. It should only take three hours; it’s not a long list. Anyway, I need to get back to work.”
Starla exited and went to the restroom. She felt her chest tightening and nausea setting in. She doused her face with water and tried to catch her breath. Gina walked in and scowled.
“It’s okay if I pee, right? Not gonna take time off my lunch break for that are you?”
Starla frowned and stormed out of the bathroom. She went into her office and dug around in her purse for her medication, took two pills and did some deep breathing exercises. She saw Gina return to the work area and duck behind her cubicle wall.
Over the following two weeks, Starla received eight bouquets of yellow flowers from a secret admirer. People began gossiping about how she threw all the flowers away, how odd she acted when they arrived. She couldn’t hide her reaction, the cold sweats, the gasping for breath. She told Mr. Brandle about her “allergy” and he put a stop to the flower deliveries, making the receptionist screen all floral arrangements sent to Starla.
Someone had a habit of eating other people’s food from the break room refrigerator. There was a memo about it and a sign posted on the refrigerator door. Starla knew Gina was the culprit, the secret admirer and the snack thief, but she didn’t want to stir up drama, so she opted to keep her mouth shut.
The next week, Starla began receiving bouquets of yellow flowers at her apartment, always from a secret admirer. She decided to do something about it. She had been pushed to the limit, given no choice. She prepared a batch of stir fried rice with sautéed mushrooms and left an unmarked container of it in the break room refrigerator. She saw Gina sneak away at her usual ten o’clock break time. Starla watched the clock. She went into the break area twenty minutes later and found Gina gasping for breath on the floor, just like her mother had done after eating the salad Starla packed in their lunch basket the day her mother died. Starla picked up the container and hid it away in her purse, dumping the evidence in a street-side garbage can as she ran errands for Mr. Brandle. When she returned, Gina’s body had been discovered and the police were swarming the building.
Starla didn’t attend the funeral, but she pitched in for a flower arrangement purchased by the Brandle Family. Yellow flowers, Gina’s favorite color.
P.J. Ray is a musician, saxophonist, with poetry and fiction recently published in Elimae, Everyday Weirdness, and Wigleaf, among other small press zines.