Marigolds

by Rebecca Karkkanen

We already packed everything last night, but somehow, toothbrushes and chargers seem to be able to wander off on their own, so we track them down all around the house. It’s my grandparents’ house. They follow us, trying to help.

“Have you checked the bathroom? I saw a tube of toothpaste there earlier.”

“I packed it already,” my sister calls from the bedroom.

“Oh!” I exclaim and rummage through my entire bag. “I forgot the adapter for my charger.” I search every outlet and find it in the living room by the sofa.

The scene is of organized chaos. Each of our suitcases are so bulging full that we have to lean our weight on them to close the zipper. I have enough clothes to last several months, even though we only stayed for three weeks.

It will be at least a three hour drive to get to Norrkoping, where my uncle and aunt live. We were hoping to leave at 11:00, but it is already past noon.

“Won’t you stay for lunch, then? You might as well.” My grandmother is trying to keep us for as long as she can.

“No,” my dad answers, “we’ll grab something on the way.”

“What about coffee? It’s already brewing.”

He hesitates. “Alright.”

All the suitcases are already in the car, so we sit down at the kitchen table one last time. My grandmother brings out the oat cookies and the cinnamon rolls and the lingonberry squares and lines them up in front of us. If we’re going to leave, we’re going to be rolling.

I snap out of my reverie with the ringing of the bell. Lunchtime. I linger in the classroom to avoid the stampede of the freshmen. They hoot and holler and carry on for a minute or so and the cafeteria fills with the din. When the hallways clear, I walk in the opposite direction. I’m headed to do a lunchbreak errand – what is starting to become a daily lunchbreak errand.

 Why was I thinking about my grandparents? The classroom was silent, filled with heads bent over their classwork, and it was easy to let my mind wander.

We moved away in 2011, and we go back to visit every two or three years. The memory was from the most recent trip, in the summer of 2017. I glance through the glass as I walk past the double doors that lead outside. Maybe it’s that this dreary rain is making me miss summer.

I arrive at the counselor’s office and walk right in. I belong here by now. Ms. Daniel is on the phone, her back turned. I stand outside and wait for her to finish before knocking on the open door.

“Hey, Savannah! Come on in. I was just about to email you, but good thing you came.”

I sit down, my backpack in my lap. Here we go again.

“I heard back from Greenville Tech,” she starts, and an unspoken finally passes between us. It feels like we are trudging through chest-deep snow for how slowly things get done.

“Every step is progress, right,” I say, and it’s cheesy, but I need it to keep going.

“Right. And don’t worry, we’re in this together.”

Pep talk finalized, she turns her computer screen so I can see it. It’s time to tackle today’s hurdle. I squint at the words and try to make sense of them. I’m looking at an email from Ms. Daniel to her Greenville Tech contact about my being accepted to the college. This has been the most recent dilemma, and it has been going on for weeks already. Under Ms. Daniel’s message is the reply from Greenville Tech. It was expected – I needed to send my high school transcript.

I try to not sigh too heavily. “How can I send my high school transcript if I’m not done with high school yet?”

Ms. Daniel shrugs and scrolls down a little. “Let me try calling.” The phone number appears under the signature.

I set my backpack on the floor and lean my elbows on my knees. Ms. Daniel has a bowl of mints on her desk and I eye them carefully. She notices – nothing escapes her – and nods at me to take one. I take three and put two in my pocket for later.

The dial tone is loud enough for me to hear and I subconsciously start breathing in sync. The mint is stronger than I expected and my mouth is filled with ice. The walls of her office are covered in drawings and posters and I let my gaze roam listlessly. “Embrace the moment” says one. “Never give up” says another with the picture of some famous person I don’t recognize.

I’m startled when the dialing stops abruptly and the call is forwarded to voicemail. The beep is earsplitting even from where I am sitting, but Ms. Daniel doesn’t flinch.

“Hello, my name is Ms. Daniel and I’m a counselor for Savannah here at the high school. I’m calling because I received your email about submitting a high school transcript…” Her voice is so sweet and calm. I don’t know how she does it.

We decide to send another email. “It says here your final high school transcript, but what if we can send your in-progress transcript?” It’s Ms. Daniel’s idea.

“It’s worth a shot,” I say with a shrug.

Lunch is already more than halfway over by the time I leave her office. My usual stop would then be the library, but we’re not allowed to eat in there and I’m hungry. I glance wistfully at the doors and sidestep the large whiteboard with “No food or drinks in the media center!” proclaimed in a fading red. I head to the cafeteria and the noise grows with every step I take. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the cacophony. That’s what happens when a thousand students are crammed into the same area.

I see some familiar faces and wave. It’s Meadow and Sarah, from my English class. Sarah doesn’t see me, but Meadow waves back. I consider going to sit with them but decide not to. Instead, I go to the benches by the window on the far side of the cafeteria. This is my third favorite spot in the whole school, preceded only by the library and the English teacher’s classroom. The sun usually comes in from an angle and warms my back when I sit here. But today it is raining, and the glass is cold.

Today’s lunch consists of a sandwich and a banana and a Ziplock bag of nuts. I make my own lunch to bring to school and it is usually whatever I could grab in the morning. As I eat, I watch the kids in the cafeteria. It’s quite entertaining.

In the corner, near the doors to the gym, I spot Samantha sitting with her group of friends. They’re having a lively discussion and one of the teachers on duty is keeping an eye on them just in case.

Samantha used to be my friend. Is she still? I don’t know. Nothing happened to destroy our friendship. There was no fight, no argument, no harsh words, no gossip, nothing. It was so gradual that I can’t even put my finger on when the change began. Sometimes I pass her in the hallway and I smile at her. Sometimes she smiles back. But we never talk.

She used to be loud and bubbly and energetic. And she still is, in many ways. Her voice carries across the cafeteria and I can hear her laughing. Still, something is different. Her laugh is more empty now. It is distant. She isn’t happy and I can tell.

It’s about three days later before I go to Ms. Daniel’s office again. Most of our communication is through email – short lines consisting of not much more than “Heard anything yet?” and the inevitable response “No, nothing yet.”

She’s waiting for me this time. I sit on the edge of the chair, there more to keep her company than anything else.

“I just don’t understand…” she trails off and scrolls through the webpage. There are a total of fourteen tabs open on her computer.

I am quiet for a moment, thinking, before I share my idea. “Could you just send the in-progress transcript anyway? And tell them that you’ll send the final one next semester when I’m done with high school?”

The whole point of this endeavor is to get into the dual enrollment program. Of course they must accept an in-progress transcript, I reason.

“I can try it,” she says, and starts typing.

I passed Samantha in the hall earlier that day. She sees me and freezes for a second, then keeps walking. I think I smiled but I cannot be sure. Hopefully, I did. A sign on Ms. Daniel’s wall says “SPREAD KINDNESS”.

There is a drawing of a flower on the opposite wall. It is golden and multilayered and reminds me of a marigold. My grandmother plants marigolds and dries them to make her own tea.

When we left, she stuck her arm through the car window and handed one to me. The car was already on and we were headed out of the driveway.

“You can eat them, you know,” she says. I know. It is not the first time she tells me, nor the second, nor the hundredth, nor the last. To demonstrate, she takes a bite out of the matching marigold she holds in her hand.

I cannot eat it. I nibble on one of the petals and it is bitter. Maybe it is the taste of the flower, or the taste of the tears running down my cheeks. I have left my grandparents twice before. Today I leave them again.