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Marie's Gold

by S Kang 3 months ago in Short Story

People say she was addicted.

My history teacher---her name is Ms. Sanders---said that the marigold flower was first discovered by a French woman named Marie. Marie-gold. Marigold. Trudy says it's true: Marie found a bunch of them growing in her backyard one morning---back there, where she rarely ever went, behind the tall bushes that she rarely ever watered. And when she found them, she spent the rest of the day hacking down those bushes with a rusty axe and weeding all the other flowers in the garden to make room for more marigolds.

There were rumors that she was addicted to their smell, Trudy said. Like being addicted to---and she whispered now---drugs. I nodded. Trudy isn't a history teacher. A primary source, Ms. Sanders would call her.

Marie ground the marigolds into powder and poured that powder into everything. Her morning tea. Her hand cream. And every day, she became more beautiful. Her pores closed up in two days. Her skin looked like a coat of beige paint. Her eyelashes grew. Her friends and neighbors would ask her, what's your secret? and she would bring out an old jar of marinara sauce that had been washed clean and, in it, was a yellow powder. Oh là là, what is it? they would ask.

She began to sell packets of it. People called it Marie's "Gold" because of its color. Those who used Marie's Gold---people called them the Maries. The rest of us who couldn't use it---we didn't have a name until a twelve-year-old girl named Miranda in Medford died trying to swallow that gold dry. Then people started calling us the Mirandas. The gold didn't work on Mirandas. Once, one of them poured an entire packet of Marie's Gold into her shampoo and washed her hair with it. She woke up with patches of bald spots and an itchy scalp, and she itched so hard that, by the end of the day, she was bald. Another Miranda another time sprinkled half of a packet into her candles and lit them all at once. After only a few hours, she couldn't smell them anymore. She emptied the rest of the packet into the candles and blew them out and lit them again, but she couldn't smell them anymore! She went into her doctor's office, and he had her smell everything in there. She couldn't smell his egg sandwich, or his cologne, or the bottle of rubbing alcohol---it didn't even burn her nose when she inhaled. I'm sorry, he told her, but it seems your nose is broken. I think Trudy wanted to laugh.

You were lucky to be a Marie, she said. And she said the word "Marie" in the most pompous English accent. Maries could pour an entire packet of Marie's Gold into their shampoo bottles and wake up the next morning with remarkable and extraordinary hair. That's how one of those loony magazine articles put it: remarkable and extraordinary. Trudy rolled her eyes. It was funny, though. Men held doors open for them. Called them Miss. Let them cut every line and paid for their groceries. Ridiculous, she said and picked at her nail polish. A bright red. People were obsessed with the Maries. Worshipped them. The Mirandas---ha! No one paid for our groceries.

When the marigold flower became popular, its powder was sold in every grocery store. It came in little jars that were tucked onto shelves between other little jars of mace blades and marjoram and matcha. Then the marigold flower began to disappear, and it could only be found in apothecaries and on Craigslist. In 1741, the Steller's sea cow was first spotted in the northern Pacific Ocean; all of them were hunted dead by 1768. What happened to the marigold flower was kind of like that, Trudy said---except that what happened to the marigold happened much faster. Fifteen years after Marie discovered a patch of marigolds growing in her backyard, the entire species was declared extinct. She should've used the axe on those marigolds, Trudy said and fiddled with the bandaid wrapped around her right pinky.

There was an international effort to gather all the Maries and their loved ones and move them somewhere safe. Each family was assigned a government agent who followed them around during their packing and carried their remaining stash of Marie's Gold in a locked black briefcase. But, apart from the Maries' stash, what remained of the gold---a couple miserly jars---appeared one day on the black market.

The black market relocated every thirty minutes. In the morning, it was in an alleyway behind a Walmart in Nevada; in half an hour, it popped up across the country, perhaps somewhere in Indiana or South Carolina. Passersby called in tips about a suspicious black tent that was set up in, usually, an abandoned lot. I've read about them, I told Trudy.

No one knows how many Maries are left, she says. For a while, new Maries came forward every couple of weeks. When the FBI questioned why they hadn't come forward earlier, they all said that it had taken a while for the Marie's Gold to "kick in". The rest of us only wished we'd beaten them to it.

Now Trudy rose from the couch, where I'd been sitting across from her, and stood in front of the bird cage. Parakeets. I thought they were cute. How did you find out you were a Miranda, I asked. She stuck a finger in the cage and wiggled. I stirred some of that gold into my coffee every morning. I thought it didn't affect me at all. It didn't kill me or make me go bald or make me pretty. I didn't think I was a...Miranda. But I...um...A parakeet nibbled at her finger. I became...pregnant after th---DAMN IT!

She jerked her finger out of the cage and dark blood trickled from it. Would you hand me that box of Kleenex behind you? I handed her the box. It happens, she said and wrapped her finger with a tissue. I, uh---she peeled it back and winced a little---anyway, I, uh, yes, the marigold went extinct. She sat on the couch again, her right hand tightly wrapping the tissue around her finger to stop its bleeding. She seemed to forget about the pain when she then said, oh, they were so beautiful. She smiled and leaned back onto the couch. Sometimes I went to the market and didn't even walk out with the gold. Only with bunches of marigolds. They were cheap---a cent per bunch, probably---since regular people didn't know how to turn them into gold. Her finger had stopped bleeding, so she tossed the bloody tissue onto the coffee table in front of her. You could only admire them, and no one really cared for that.

You were saying that you'd become pregnant and then the bird bit you, I said. She laughed, either amusedly or hysterically, and I jumped. Yeah, sorry, I, uh---I said that but I don't really like talking about that. She became all nervous and cleared her throat. Her eyes darted around the living room. It's okay, I said. It's just---I don't really talk about that, you know? I nodded. She ran her fingers through her hair. Her blond curls bobbed down and up. It's okay, I said again, but she cleared her throat and shook her head nervously and said, It was some...time ago. She cleared her throat again. This...a man had just called in a tip about a black tent. You know those ones I was talking about?...Next to this bus stop. I was a member of some, uh, group obsessed with finding these black markets. A bunch of Mirandas....Hah. She scratched at her ankle.

I turned a corner and passed a--a man. This guy---he was smoking a cigarette. Or something. Hey, he said, but I kept walking. I have the gold, he said again, but I said I don't know what you're talking about. I turned and he turned, too, and we were facing each other. Don't bother looking for that tent---I bought the last of it. And then he held out this black velvet pouch like those ones you put jewelry in with the drawstring. I don't know what you're talking about---

Now Trudy put her face into her hands.

He asked for my wallet and my car keys and he asked me to tell him where I'd parked my car. So I gave him the stuff and told him I'd parked at a McDonald's about a mile that way.

I nodded. She couldn't see me nod. I couldn't tell if she was laughing or---

I knew---God, I knew the gold didn't help me, but I thought it could help my daughter, you know? I was due in a--a week. A week. And I--I'd heard the Maries, after they went into hiding, never worked a day in their lives. Never had to think about saving up for a vacation every two years at some...rundown...motel. They had it so easy---you understand, right?

This time I said yes.

I stirred it into my coffee the next morning. And poured some of it into my shampoo and took a shower. When I got out, I started feeling this--this...twisting pain in my stomach....I knew there was something wrong with my baby.

She stopped. It was the middle of August, and she had told me at the door that she was sorry her house didn't have any air conditioning. Only refrigerated water. I wondered now if taking a sip of refrigerated water would help either of us.

There was a big mirror in my bathroom. The pain was...excruciating.

Her parakeets nibbled nervously on the cage bars.

And I watched in that big mirror as my--my stomach---

I remembered now that my mom is a trained therapist. "Never cut them off", she says. But I'm not a trained therapist. What, I said. Your stomach what---

My stomach shrunk. It--it shrunk and it kept shrinking and the pain was---God, it was making me so dizzy and---Damn it! Until my stomach was---

She was speaking so quickly now and slurring half her words---

Until it was flat. Until my stomach was completely...flat.

She curled her hands into fists.

I was due in a week.

She trembled. Her knuckles turned white. As if the skin was going to rip open.

And then she was...gone. She was gone. And then the pain stopped.

I thought about saying "I'm sorry" and leaving. I could barely breathe in the hot air now, and I wondered if I'd make it to the door. Had it been this hot five minutes ago?

I found a marigold growing in my backyard, you know? Last year, yeah....Right by the damn peonies.

She loosened her fists.

And you know what I did. She chuckled and lifted her head to look at me. Her eyes were swollen but there were no tears. The sweat on my back itched. Her voice became hushed. I plucked that thing from the dirt, and then I---and then she stomped her foot loud with her boot. Her parakeets flew up. I dropped it under my foot and stepped on it. She stomped her foot. Again. Louder, this time. And again. They fluttered their little wings violently.

And again.

I don't know if Trudy's house was as hot as I remember it. It was humid. And I remember wet rings forming around our glasses of refrigerated water. And the photograph of a marigold Ms. Sanders put in her PowerPoint. The parakeets. They flew in circles at the top of their cage. And Trudy's bloody finger. The bloody tissue on the coffee table. Her white knuckles. Her voice. It was sad. And Mabel---that was her daughter's name.

Short Story

S Kang

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S Kang
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