March Feature: “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” by Kristina Keeble

Annabelle was beautiful. I was always envious of her honey blonde hair that spun. Her plump, blood red lips took precedence on her innocent skin, protected by the wrath of the sun. Her voice was gentle, like a melody. She was smart. Not too smart, but strong like an ox. One would be surprised at how much she would accomplish on the farm before our brothers would even get started. That is why I was surprised when it happened to her. Out of everyone, I never thought it would be Annabelle.

Every time I think of Annabelle I cannot help but to think of my grandfather as well. Momma described him to me as a disloyal man, tall and thin. He had ash blonde hair and smelt of burning tobacco. Never amounted to anything in his life.  A few years after they had, had my Momma, he left. This was not unusual for him. He had multiple affairs throughout his marriage. My grandmother was a very sick woman physically, so I’m not sure if she ever even noticed his absence. She probably figured he was working on the farm, when in reality he had left those duties for Momma to take care of. My family grew up and still lives on the farm; Momma was their only child.

The very last affair he had altered everything for my family. Granddaddy was with this woman on the side for a couple of years. Momma always made up excuses for him when grandma would ask of his whereabouts. She only did this because she could not see her hurt emotionally like she was already hurting physically. One summer however, all of a sudden, grandma started recovering. Like a flower begins to bloom in its season, grandma sprouted up within weeks. Momma said that she had hoped and prayed grandpa would not return, just in fear of him leaving again. When he would come home to check on things at the farm though, he began noticing grandma’s improvement. They started spending more time together and Momma said she would catch them rocking in their wooden chairs on the back porch, talking about memories and sharing tender looks and touches. As much as she hated my grandpa, “it was nice to see momma smile again,” Momma said.

Momma said grandpa would still go visit his mistress, but those visits got shorter and shorter, and occurred less often as time passed. Eventually he decided to leave his mistress and return home to his family for good. Supposedly my grandfather wrote this mistress a letter telling her that he had loved her, but that it was time for him to stop being a child, and return to his responsibilities. He thanked her for their ruthless time together, full of lust and secrecy. He sealed it with a repugnant kiss and then laid it on her threshold with a sunflower on top, her favorite flower. My family is from Kansas so sunflowers are not hard to find. Little did grandpa know at the time how significant they would become to our family.

Grandpa came back and did not leave for a few days. Everything and everyone was full of happiness. Momma said even the wind sang. This lasted for a couple of days and then out of the blue, while grandpa and grandma were rockin’, grandpa just dropped dead. He literally fell out of his chair onto the porch and his life was stripped from him in an instant. Grandma said there was no symptoms or signs of anything negative in his body language or attitude before hand. Momma was playing in the field right before it happened so when she heard grandma shriek, and saw grandpa lying face forward on the porch, she without hesitation ran in to call 911.  On the desk beside the telephone lay a note and a deceased sunflower. The letter read: “Life’s most precious gift is to love and to be loved in return. Find this love before the last petal falls, or you will die along with it.” Chilled and confused, Momma threw it away quickly so that grandma would not see it and be worried. Momma convinced herself that it was just a bitter ex-mistress, and a terrifying coincidence.

A cause for grandpa’s death was never decided upon. It was rumored around town to have been a heart attack, but Momma and grandma knew there was something eerie about it. A few weeks later Momma said she noticed two huge sunflowers out in the field in back of the farm. They appeared over night and stood at a domineering 120 inches tall. The Head of the flowers displayed florets in spirals of 34 and 55 around the outside. The bright yellow of them seemed to encourage mental and physical stimulation just by looking at them, and brought an instant felling of optimism and happiness. Throughout the seasons they stood tall, never withering away, only loosing petals. Momma said that they did not understand how they were there, or their purpose, but they never felt the need to question it.

As time passed, Momma said that both flowers began to lose petals at different paces. Eventually one had lost all of its petals and became lifeless. On that same day, grandma passed away. Momma was sixteen. A few years later Momma met Daddy. They fell in love and on their wedding day Momma noticed that the other sunflower had vanished. The remaining sunflower simply disappeared as if someone were to walk away. There was no trace left behind, only a memory.

Not long after they were married, they had Annabelle. With Annabelle came another sunflower, blossomed overnight and full of life. After Annabelle was born, my two older brothers arrived, and then I was born. Each time one of us was born, another sunflower rose from the ground like they were anxiously awaiting our arrival. As we all grew older and wiser, our sunflowers lost petal after petal. You could always tell whose sunflower was who’s because of the number of petals still holding on to the head. As we grew, we each found love, all of us except for Annabelle. My oldest brother was the first to get married. On their wedding day his sunflower vanished also. He had so many of his petals left that no one even bothered counting them. Next in line was my other brother. He was a few years younger than the other but by the time he got married he had lost quite a few of his petals. Once again, his sunflower was nonexistent after his wedding day.

Momma and I began to worry about Annabelle. We would sit out on the porch where grandma and grandpa used to sit. We would discuss how we feared that Annabelle would not find true love before all her petals fell. We wondered what would happen to her. One night I asked Momma “Would she die?” Knowing the story of my grandpa and grandma it only made sense. She would respond with an uneasy and uncertain “No, baby! Annabelle will be just fine. And there’s no reason to worry, she will find love soon.” Momma’s face was a ghostly white and her eyes wet every time any of us would bring it up in conversation.

I was the youngest and Annabelle the oldest, so when my flower had just began losing petals, hers were scarce. I had never seen a sunflower as bare as Annabelle’s had gotten. My brothers began setting her up on blind dates. Daddy started hiring extra farm hands, young and attractive men who were hard working, in hopes that Annabelle would find one desirable. She was strange. Her beauty was unmistakable and her body was like an hourglass but she was never with a man. All the men that would come around fall hard, as if Momma and Daddy has pushed them off a skyscraper just by introducing them to her. Annabelle; however, was too stubborn to ever give up any of her independence for a man. She did not care about the consequences; she would not force herself to fall in love.

Her petals continued to fall, as did mine, and Momma and Daddy grew older and more cynical. That next summer though, we had a man come and shoe our horses. He was a new fella because the one we had used previously moved to Oklahoma to work for a rodeo full-time. His name was Gordy and he was quite the sight. He was tall, dark, and very handsome. His tan skin made his blue eyes pop and he had honey hair like Annabelle. When he pulled up for the first time Annabelle went out to greet him and show him to the stable. It was not long before I heard laughing and flirtatious clatters. This brought such delight to all of our hearts. I even heard Momma yell throughout the house, “Thank God! Thank God! There is still hope!” We had never seen Annabelle even smile in front of a man, except for Daddy of course.

They stayed out in the stable for a long while, much longer than needed to shoe our three horses. When she came in, glowing as if the sun was shinning down on her at that very moment in the midst of the dark and damp coldness of that house, I asked with a playful tone, “Annabelle, who was that?” She replied with an expected and confident answer, “One of Dad’s hired help.” I smiled at her and she quickly ran upstairs. She did not smile back at me but her eyes could not help but to do so. I was excited for my sister and relieved for myself. I just knew if she would give this man a chance, he would take her hand in marriage in no time, and her flower would vanish.

Gordy would make his way to the farm almost every day after that. He ended up quitting his job as a farrier and came on to work for Daddy full-time. I liked him a lot. I was still young and childish so he would come in and play with me whenever he was not working or with Annabelle. I would catch them holding hands, walking through the fields, and sometimes he would even be singing to her. Within two months Gordy sat Daddy down and asked for Annabelle’s hand in marriage. With eagerness Daddy gave him his blessing.

While this was happening, all of us failed to realize Annabelle’s sunflower was down to its last few petals. Life had seemed to pass quickly after Gordy came into the picture.  The day that Gordy planned to ask Annabelle to marry him, it rained relentlessly all day. He wanted to propose outside the stable where they had first met so he decided to wait until the next day. I think Annabelle knew he was going to because she seemed extra anxious and giddy that day. I also remember her having a hard time going to sleep. I heard her rocking on the porch that night. The wood squeaking back and forth mixed with the melody of the rain put me to sleep. That same night, Annabelle’s final petal fell. When I woke up, Momma and Daddy had already found her, face down on the porch. She was twenty-five years old. I immediately ran out to the field where our flowers grew and found hers undressed and lifeless. I fell to me knees and wept so hard you could tell my tears from the rain.

Her funeral was two days after. Afterwards, Gordy laid a handful of sunflowers on her grave and then left. He never said much to our family after that, but he did come back to visit ever so often. One time I walked out there to ask him why he would return, and he answered, “If I listen closely to the wind, I can hear her saying over and over again, ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’”