Violets & Peppers
Skin like white typing paper. Blue veins shouting from a thin layer of translucent flesh, pulsing from aqua to purple. Eyes as ambivalent as the sky on a hazy, sunny day.
From the moment of her birth, she wore layer upon layer of cotton. At first, her parents simply wrapped her in blankets, with gauze around her face. Then, her grandmother on her father’s side made special outfits — always out of black cotton, trimmed with embroidered violets. The black, her grandmother reasoned, would give her more protection than any other color. The flowers…they were just her grandmother’s favorite.
They never her named her. Her parents. They never knew what to do.
At three, her grandmother took her.
“You’ll never give her the love a Pepper deserves,” her grandmother told her father and mother.
In the room next to the room filled with African violets, her grandmother had prepared a place just for her. A dark, unlit room. Windows covered with aubergine velvet curtains. A canopy bed draped in sheer plum curtains, sheets as dark as night just before dawn.
In the dark of her room, she saw the softest, most comforting light she’d ever remember: the radiance of a black light illuminating the ceiling of her room, bringing to life hand painted pictures of birds, flowers, and words, which she’d finally read on her own some years later.
Her grandmother taught her to read. To grow violets. To paint. To do all she needed to survive without ever having to go far from her home.
The basement was a gymnasium and a grocery store — always stocked to the fullest. The computer stored the lists and the codes for the delivery service. The house was, for the most part, self-sufficient: recycled water, solar power, hydroponic gardens — well-tuned for a life without contact from the world beyond its walls.
Her grandmother, nevertheless, did have her leave the walls once in a while. The first time was on a moonless night deep in the summer. She lifted her eyes to the sky and impulsively tried to touch the lights that shone down on her. Her grandmother giggled and explained the stars.
They walked a bit through the dense wood that surrounded her grandmother’s home, until they reached a body of dark, rippled glass — that was the first time she’d see a lake. They fished that night and the next day had sunfish for breakfast.
Later, her grandmother taught her to turn the fish bones into food for the plants.
When her grandmother died, just after her ninth birthday, she did as she’d been taught and let her grandmother ‘rest’, draped completely in a special cover her grandmother had left for just this occasion. She locked the door to her grandmother’s room and let her grandmother stay there.
Every day after, she followed the words on the ceiling of her room, which she knew by heart, but liked to read to herself each night before bed, nevertheless.
She brushed her teeth and washed her face. She gave her used water to the violets, trimmed the dead, turned them, checked the lights.
She ate a simple breakfast of bread and apple butter. She read her books. Ran her run. Checked the hydro garden. Read some more. Checked on supplies and ordered what was needed.
She ate her dinner. Then she was allowed to draw. Crayons were her favorite thing. Crayons and watering the violets.
Some nights, the moonless ones, she’d leave for the lake and catch a fish or two.
Every night, before bed, she brushed her teeth and washed herself, saving the water for the hydro garden.
One day, she turned ten. She knew she was ten because of the calendar in the computer.
That day, she opened her grandmother’s door. She was ten. It’d been nearly a year. It was time to open the door, just as her grandmother told her.
The room smelled of the air that first night she’d gone fishing with her grandmother. She was startled by the smell. She expected what she smelled with the fish she prepared for the plants.
She had to open the special cover she’d put on her grandmother when she died. That was what she’d been told to do, and so she braced herself for what she knew would be below — what her grandmother told her to expect.
Hesitantly, she pulled the black shroud from the foot of the bed — she wanted her grandmother’s skull to be the last thing she had to see.
Slowly she revealed not a skeleton or the liquified remains of a rotting corpse or even a swarm of maggots and flies — no, she revealed a garden of African violets. Each larger and more lush then the last.
When she reached the top of the bed, where she thought she’d have to see her grandmother’s skull, she found this note:
My dear, dear Noir,
You have been a gift to me and so I leave this garden, one last gift to you, as my grandmother did for me decades ago. Continue to keep watch over us and you will reap a life so startling with joy and surprise, you will never question why you were chosen to be here. Follow the words on my ceiling, and you will discover the next steps in your journey. From there, you will know in your soul what to do.
My deepest love, my undying gratitude for you,
Noir sat with the flowers, the note, and the words on the ceiling till the sun went down, the new moon rose, and the tree frogs began singing. Then, she took each violet, one at a time, and moved them to the African violet room, nestling them among the others, till the room billowed and curled in a relentless, violasceous spectral rush.