My grandmother’s garden is in bloom.
After breakfast, we sit on the steps in her backyard. The stone is cool beneath our feet. She kicks off her slippers and tells me that my heels are smooth. She points toward the orange tree and breathes in the citrus in the air. “Do you smell it?” she asks me with longing in her face. I stand. An aphid lands on my knuckle.
Santa Rosa is in bloom, and I hunt for honeysuckle vines. The neighbor’s tree tickles the sky, yellow and green, an oil painting. “It all falls in the winter,” calls my grandmother. I think she’s talking about the leaves but then I think, maybe not.
My hands brush the trunk of a tree with fire in its branches. I shout across the yard and my grandmother says it’s a maple. My fingertips recognize its bark—the softness of its skin, the roughness where it’s scabbed and scraped. “Hello,” whispers the tree.
Her rose bushes shed pollen and color. Lavender petals wink my way, and my grandmother hasn’t moved from her step.
If I asked her the names of every plant in her garden, she would tell me. If I asked her the name of every pill in her cupboard, she would also tell me.
“Orange tree,” she says. “African daisies. Pear blossoms. Azalea.”
She says, “Long time ago, your Uncle Dave told me if you don’t pull dead blossoms off the bush, it dies from sucking in the poison.”
Her mouth makes a slurping noise and I think about tubes and drains and I touch her arm. The wind chimes cry. She taps the top of my leg and I say something about the stone swans and sparrows that live in her planters and she says something about hens and roosters and laughs.
She complains her new hearing aids buzz in her brain and she pulls them out, cupping each piece in her palm like birdseed. She talks about lilies like she’s known them all her life and I see 83 years flit across her cheekbones and into her eyes and even though she’ll barely hear me, I say, “I can smell the oranges.”
She pats my arm.