The Tulips on the Hill
The sobs and cries faded behind the little girl as she walked away from the house down the rutted, muddy road. She held a small spoon in her hand as if she had just stepped away from the dinner table. The dull brown dress she wore was splattered with blood. Tears streaked down through the dirt on her cheeks.
“The Steins. The Steins. The Steins.” she chanted. The Stein family lived just down the road. She marched forward thoughtlessly, like a puppet. Her eyes barely focused in front of her.
She arrived at the large wooden door of the Stein residence and paused. Her heart felt large and heavy in her chest, pounding and crowding out her lungs. She knocked on the door so lightly she could barely hear the noise herself.
The door swung open slowly and silently. The blind Mrs. Stein reached out with her arm and felt the air until her hand fell onto the little girl's head.
“Yes, Mama Stein.”
“Oh, my dear. It's time. Come in. Come in.”
She entered into a small living room. Mr. Stein sat in an overstuffed chair by a fireplace that was now purely decorative. He took a long drink from a tall, half empty green bottle by the chair and stood up. Sarah looked up at him but could barely see him through the tears that continued to run quietly down her cheeks. Mr. Stein scratched at the edge of his eye patch unconsciously.
“Evan," Sarah said to no one specific.
A loud wail came from Mrs. Stein, and although Mr. Stein stood tall and straight, he was visibly shaking.
“Evan!“ he shouted. Cries erupted from some room down the hall. "Evan!“
Mr. Stein stomped down the hallway in frustration yelling Evan’s name several more times. Sarah looked down at Mrs. Stein who had collapsed on the floor crying and took a deep breath to steady herself. She wiped tears from her face with the dirty sleeve of her dress.
Mr. Stein came back down the hallway carrying the crying ten-year-old over his shoulder. He tossed the boy into the overstuffed chair.
“Shut up!" he yelled at his son and the crying boy froze in the chair, eyes wide open in fear. Mr. Stein grabbed the bottle from the table next to the chair, took a small sip and handed it to Evan.
Evans cries turned to sobs as he looked up at his father and then he slowly took the bottle from him. Meeting Evan’s eyes Mr. Stein took a deep breath and lowered his voice. “it'll be ok” Mr. Stein said soothingly “it's ok.”
The boy calmed slightly and with great hesitation took a small sip from the bottle.
When the bottle left his lips the boy was coughing and flushed. Mr. Stein had moved behind the chair. He pulled up a long thick sailors rope and looped it around his son's shoulders pinning him to the chair. The boy was startled and struggled against the bonds. Mrs. Stein had grabbed a roll of cotton gauze and felt her way to place it on the table next to the chair. After knotting the rope, Mr. Stein reached over the chair and grabbed the boy’s hair and pulling his head back.
Sarah wasted no time. She approached the boy from the side of the chair to avoid his kicking legs and quickly climbed into the boy’s lap. Her tears had dried up although the tracks they had made through the dirt on her face were clear. A slow wide smile crept on to her face as she straddled his legs. His screams slowed to short, panicked breaths and he ceased his bucking as she straightened up. His eyes widened in fear.
The motion was so quick it seemed unnatural. One second she had the spoon in her hand up near her cheek and before the second was over it held Evan’s eyeball next to her hip. Evan’s breath stopped, and blood ran down his cheek.
Mr. Stein tightened his grip on the ropes and shouted, “Dress the eye!”
As prepared as Mrs. Stein had thought she was, she was caught completely unaware and knocked gauze to the floor where it unwound like a ball of yarn. She scrambled on her hands and knees until she found the roll. In the chair, Evan inhaled deeply and exhaled in one long, piercing wail.
Sara had already climbed down off of Evan so his mother could dress the wound. She pulled out a white handkerchief and dropped the eye into it the center. She pulled it up close to her face studying it, and as she carefully wrapped it up, she also used the handkerchief the wipe down the spoon. She dropped the bloody package in the front pocket of her dress adding to several round bulges already there. Mrs. Stein approached her from behind feeling along the wall as Mr. Stein addressed the increasingly hysterical Evan.
“Sarah dear? ...do you want to wash up?”
Sarah looked down at her bloodstained hands and then up at Mrs. Stein. The rag Mrs. Stein had tied across her face to hide her missing eye was wet from tears. Sarah reached up to her own face and discovered that her tears had started back up. She felt like she was waking from a dream.
“No thanks Mama Stein, I should be on my way.” The words caught in her throat, barely breaking through a tight sob. “It’s getting late.” It felt like there was a large stone on her chest.
Sarah barely made it to the hilltop before sundown. The bank of the hill seemed to get steeper every year, but once she had made it her exhaustion disappeared. Her breath instantly came easier. She stood and stretched and walked over to the bed of red tulips.
Some of the tulips turned toward her and blinked. Others tilted slowly but kept their sight pinned down on the village below. Still, others drooped limply toward the ground. She gently brushed each tulip as she strolled through the bed. At the first wilting flower she stopped and sat down.
She gently stroked the stem, and the flower swung slightly toward her dropping a petal.
“Shhhh. Shhhh.” She said, “It’s okay. You’re going to be all better.”
She ran her hand up to the base of the flower and gently pinched. The stalk shook beneath her hand, and another wilting red petal fell to the ground.
“Shh. It’s ok.” she kept repeating and fished out a bloody handkerchief from her front pocket. She continued to pinch the base of the flower with all the might her tiny hand could muster while she unwrapped an eyeball with the other hand.
She felt a pop and a foul-smelling black sphere, like a large, rotted grape fell out of the flower to the ground. She instantly held up the fresh eye and tendrils wormed their way out from the center of the flower to grab it. They pulled the eye into the flower where it spun to orient itself. The wilted stalk drooped low with the weight of the fresh eye, but very quickly the stem plumped up and turned a bright green. Even as the flower tried to lift itself to look at her, the petals had already regained their color and fullness. The missing petals had already started growing back.
“See? Shhh …. all better little one.” she cooed.
She slowly got to her feet and moved to the next dying tulip. There was a lot of careful work to do before the sun rose once again.
The tulip watched her go and make her way among the rows, and then it turned to watch the sunset, blinking, rejuvenated. It saw the deep valley in front of the hilltop; the small, blind village it was conscripted to protect, the abandoned docks, the cracked earth of the old, dried seabed and the dark red sun sinking slowly below the distant horizon.