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Volume 16, Issue 2: Flotsam

Thistles

Nathan Wilson

My daughter stands, slender and beautiful. Her veil is up and she is smiling, laughing, craning her neck like her mother. Her mother was doing that in the first picture I ever saw of her.

It is a beautiful neck and I am dreaming. Lucia is only eight months old, supposedly sleeping down the hall from me, but actually thumping her feet loudly on the firm crib mattress. She may go back to sleep.
Behind her I see the rock wall that leans against the upper lawn. It is a rock wall that I helped set for my own sister's wedding when Lucia bulged beneath her mother's bride's maid dress more than twenty years ago. Unless she's nineteen. She doesn't look nineteen.
The wedding lawn is different. There is some shade. There was never shade. Twenty years has helped the willow tree, and the orchard, and those things that we're apparently going to plant some time.
I am trying to stare at her face, but she will not stop moving it. She is hugging women, older women, women who my mind has trouble recognizing. Some are missing. She bends over and receives a kiss and a smile from a wheel chair, and I see her flowers. Her bouquet. Only they aren't really flowers, at least not as commonly understood. They are large thistles, bound together, wrapped to protect her hands, and bulging their purple armored heads. I smile. I do not know my daughter yet, not this well. I only know that she is laughter. She is laughing now, dressed and beautiful as she is, a prophetess. Her self, a foreshadowing. Only I cannot imagine a bride that could call her shadow. She carries the purple fall of man, tied up with string, to grace her presence like flowers.
Her cousins were married here. I'm sure of it. At least I tell myself I am. Some things I dream, others I make up. They must have been. But then there's the issue of seasons. Some of them, maybe one, has been married in the church. The church. I construct one quickly in my mind. But here, certainly, my daughter is not the first of her family since her aunt, for whom the wedding lawn was shaped.
I am cheating now. I am not watching the dream. I am not having a dream. I am writing one. I am painting a beautiful future, or destroying one, hoping the brush is not really in my hand. But it is. I can tell, because there are no dandelions.
I look down at the grass around my feet and see that I am not wearing rental tux shoes. But I am not looking for my shoes. I am looking for my curse, the thorns, and thistles, the dandelions that I've seen this dirt spit up through double layered tarps. They are nowhere.
I do not want to have ruined this. I concentrate on the turf beneath. I would like a dandelion there, because I would like this to be the world in which I live, not the one in which I rule. The dandelion will not come. I glance again through the crowd, pick a woman and try to change her. I shorten her hair. I change its color. Then I look back at the grass. The dandelion will not come. Of course, if this dream is not true, then I cannot make it so through spreading weeds. I may as well begin flying and be done with it. No wonder there's no groom.
But I do not begin flying. I wander on. This is a real wedding. I will shake hands. The dandelions will come. Hands are shaken. Conversations are ignored. Yes, isn't she though? And then I see her coming.
She is lovely. Any father can imagine his daughter beautiful, but I cannot have imagined this. I cannot design this face. She smiles a smile that I have seen her wear while kicking on her back, and then she lights her eyes. She does a thing, old and familiar on this day, but unknown to me yet. Her arm comes up around my neck and she whispers in my ear. Her lips are on my cheek, and then mine upon her head.
She pulls away and wears a different smile. Lips tight, one cheek climbing.
"You didn't shave," she said. My arms find their way around her. I look at her hands.
"I think this must be real," I say, and she laughs. "In my world, I would never give you thistles."
"You know I wanted them," she said, and I believe her. This daughter of mine that I will meet someday, would carry weeds at her wedding. She would bind the Fall of her fathers and smell it for a picture. It is an old wound, one long healed and healing. Like a story I might tell over my sweet wine toast, a story of some battle from her childhood. And then we would all laugh and smell the thistles.
A tuxedo is walking up behind her. This is real. It is not mine. I shake a hand and pat an arm. I do not look. I will know when he is ready. They drift away, and I remain, standing on familiar dirt. I want to find my wife.
She is sitting hundreds of people away. I can see my mother beside her. Both smiling. I wander through a sea of future friends and reshaped old ones. There is my wife. I stand and stare at her. I stare at her smile, and the laughter in her eyes. I watch her crane her neck to pass her smile on. Her daughter wears white as well as she did.
My wife and my mother both look at me, and I look at their hands. They both hold clusters of dandelions.
"Your grandson," my wife says.
My mother smiles. "Your father can never kill the ones up in the lilacs."

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