“Lisa’s Garden” by Jennifer Hudak

The first time flowers sprouted from Lisa’s body, she was just a girl, sitting in front of the TV while her parents fought in the kitchen. Lisa was used to their raised voices, used to dishes clattering on counter tops and glasses shattering on the linoleum, but they’d been arguing more since they moved out of the city to this house with a yard. This time, when Lisa’s mother threatened to call a lawyer, her father wrested the phone from her and hurled it across the living room, where it hit Lisa in the back of the head. The pain was abrupt and shocking. Almost immediately, a patch of dandelions erupted from the center of the emerging welt, pushing through Lisa’s hair and blossoming sunny yellow before rapidly disintegrating into white tufts. Her parents stood, stunned into silence. Her mother held out a hand to catch one of the floating seed pods and burst out crying.

“I’m sorry,” her father said, his voice shaking. “I’m so sorry.”

* * *

The second time, she was in history class. They’d started a unit on World War II, and her teacher showed them a black-and-white video depicting tanks and airplanes, cities turned to rubble, trains carrying human beings to factories of death. Her classmates, bored and sleepy, watched the video with glazed, uninterested eyes. Lisa hunched over her desk and remembered her first Hebrew school teacher, an old man with a faded number tattooed on his forearm. Before she could stop it, a row of bleeding hearts burst through her skin, rising from her arm in a tangled offering of bowed blossoms. Lisa ran from the class and hid in the bathroom, where she tore the plants out by their roots and stuffed them into the trash. When she returned to the classroom, the teacher had stopped the video and the students were reading silently at their desks. But they paused to look up at Lisa with amazement.

For a semester, she was known as Peace Girl. Her history teacher printed out a photo of hippies stuffing daisies into the barrels of rifles and hung it on the classroom wall. The school nurse asked to examine Lisa’s arm, touching the smooth, unblemished skin as if looking for stigmata. Students whispered when she walked the halls and slipped notes into her locker. Lisa felt roses prick beneath her skin but she kept them hidden, and eventually, life went back to normal.

* * *

Lisa meditated. She listened to calming music. When she felt the flowers stirring beneath her skin, she practiced her breathing techniques. And for many years, this worked. Lisa’s flowers hibernated beneath her skin, unseen, like seeds in winter.

But the summer when swastikas were painted on billboards all over town, when mosques were vandalized and a bomb threat called in to a refugee outreach center, Lisa decided to attend a march. None of her friends wanted to make the drive downtown, so she went to the march on her own, and gripped her sign, and shouted call-and-response slogans until her throat was hoarse and desperate.

Across the street, counter-protesters gathered. They hurled insults and brandished weapons and threatened to burst through the flimsy barriers. Their hate was a boot poised to stomp on a spider, a forest fire ready to burn.

A wave of unease passed through the marchers. Those closest to the front line girded for a fight; others looked wildly around for an escape route. Fear and violence coated Lisa’s tongue like dew.

When the flowers burst from her skin this time, Lisa did not try to stop them. They grew out of every pore, each hair follicle. Foxglove rose from her scalp; lily of the valley sprouted from her arms and larkspur from her legs. A bright red amaryllis burst from the center of her chest. She grew like a garden in the middle of the marchers, and this time, she let her garden spread.

Morning glories twined around her fingers and snaked out in all directions, wrapping around tender torsos and encircling wrists and supporting weary legs. The blue flowers and snaking vines awoke something in the other marchers. One of them opened her mouth and screamed out a mountain laurel. Another grew wolf’s bane instead of hair. An old woman standing in front of Lisa clenched her fists and sprouted a giant hogweed from each shoulder.

Together, the marchers linked arms like twining branches. Their toes plunged into pavement like roots, planting themselves deep into the earth. All of their flowers wove together in a riotous, poisonous hedge, thorned and bristling and dripping with oils.

When the counter-protesters broke through the barriers and charged, they tore at stems and branches and vines, but recoiled when bubbling rashes spread on their arms and necks and faces. They wept from pollen-pained eyes and cradled thorn-pierced hands. Thirsty roots fed on the blood of millions of scratches and reached out of the earth in search of more.

As the counter-protesters ran, the marchers erupted into millions of eager blossoms, cross-pollinating their strength. Lisa breathed in the heady, toxic scent of her garden and laughed with relief. She had never been Peace Girl. She grew nothing but anger, beautiful and vicious, and it seeded a fierce new world in them all.

Jennifer Hudak is a speculative fiction writer fueled mostly by tea. Her work has appeared on both the Locus Magazine and the SFWA recommended reading lists, and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Originally from Boston, she now lives with her family in Upstate New York where she teaches yoga, knits pocket-sized animals, and misses the ocean. Find out more about her on her website, JenniferHudakWrites.com.