When Luisa’s grandparents were getting dressed for church, Luisa would sneak into the backyard garden to see the blue azaleas. She loved to touch their silky petals, press them to her nose, and allow the raindrops to trickle down her chin. She’d stretch out across the grass on her back and gaze up at the golden clouds in constant transformation, the dripping wine-colored leaves, and the tops of the trees way out of reach.
Sunlight spilled over her, flooding her tired body. This was her holy water. At sunrise the purple sky, completely exposed, seemed to invite her. She wished to place its coolness on her tongue, to receive it as communion, to taste the experience she lacked.
At eighteen years old, Luisa spent most of her summer alone in the garden, which she took care of by herself. Luisa would look at herself in the backyard pond, watching the koi fish swim through her reflection, unlike the other Catholic school girls she knew who would rather fix themselves for hours in their bedroom mirrors. She didn’t care much about being pretty: she liked her messy hair; it brought her closer to the wind and to the garden.
Luisa’s grandparents called to her from inside; “Are you coming?” Like any other Sunday, she shouted “No.” She didn’t miss the sweet incense and dripping candles, or the stained glass windows and untouched bibles.
Instead, she began to break off pieces of bread she couldn’t finish from her breakfast and tossed it to the fish. The fish in the pond swam for hours and hours, and when she got closer to them, they all gathered to the edge, popped their tiny faces up above the water for seconds, and begged for the white bread.
They could not understand her as she could not understand them; she was certain of this. It did not matter much to her. She loved to speak, and the quiet of the garden allowed her to talk without interruption. Once the fish were fed, Luisa felt it was time to rest. Beside the azaleas she sat, admiring the garden she had helped create.
“I’m trying to think of something to say to you,” she said aloud.
“And I wish I could talk to you about everything I’m feeling. But even more, I wish I could hear you. What does your voice sound like? I don’t know where to begin. Something’s pulsing, pushing, breathing, wanting to break free, but it’s all stuck inside of me.”
“I wish I could say more to you,” she said. “Everyone thinks I hate you.”
She heard nothing but her own heart answering back—the sound of flapping wings.
Luisa was lost in another daydream, listening to the sparrows in the garden when her grandmother called her from the backyard porch. After hearing her call, Luisa’s dream was broken, and she diligently walked up the little red wooden steps to meet her grandma.
“Your father’s on the phone,” grandma said.
“I’d rather not talk to him.”
“That’s fine. He just told me to tell you he’s been thinking of you. That he misses you and hopes to see you soon.”
“Okay,” Luisa said, staring down at an ant carrying a breadcrumb across the porch floor. The ant looked as if it could barely lift the crumb, but it trudged on, and then disappeared into a crevice.
“I love you,” she said, gazing at herself in the pond. The fish swam through her reflection once again, and she smiled, because if she knew anything at all, she knew she was good, and that today she belonged here beside this pond.
“I love you,” she said again, and the fish swam on.
“Are you coming?” Luisa’s grandpa asked her, dressed in his best suit and tie, his hair slicked back.
“No.” she yelled.
Luisa’s father came to her grandparents’ house to visit that day. He brought her a bouquet of red roses. Luisa loved wild flowers best, especially the kind that grew every spring in her grandparents’ garden.
“Thank you,” Luisa said, but she wasn’t sure how much she meant it.
“I’m happy to see you,” he said, looking away from her, and she said nothing at all, but slowly shook her head.
“What, what’s wrong?” he asked, gently tugging on the sleeve of his jean jacket.
“The azaleas died yesterday,” she whispered coldly.
“That’s okay, sweetie. They’ll be back again next year,” he said.
When he spoke, he whispered, and his cheeks reddened like the berries that grew on the bushes surrounding the garden. She knew he would leave soon. She knew the berries froze by winter. Sadness filled her, sweet and cold as those icy berries.
Luisa spent most of her time sitting in the garden, twirling her tangled hair, daydreaming at four o’clock in the morning while the rest of the neighborhood was still asleep. She stared at the spot where the azaleas once were, blue and vibrant. They had burst with the same energy she had shared: a love for the garden and the pleasant company she knew there. Luisa reached for the soil where the azaleas grew, and her finger touched a small puddle in the ground.
And that’s when she began to speak out loud, once again.
“I know you’re listening,” she said.
“I wish I could hear you. Do you speak softly, too?”
She looked down at an ant carrying an azalea petal on its back and digging a small hole in the soil. The ant dug into the moist ground, never dropping the petal. The delicate blue petal, carried deeper and deeper, was safely buried inside the soil.