Fiction · 07/01/2020

Hydrangeas

It’s a summer party, Fourth of July. Sweat rolls down your neck. You sip lemonade. Hot dogs char on a grill. Like much of the land-owning gentry, the host dug up the milkweed and aster and planted hydrangeas. This particular type is blue and sterile and useless to bees.

“Nothing says Cape Cod like hydrangeas!” The host says. Except, they don’t. Aside from the smooth and oakleaf variety, most of them aren’t from the East Coast, and hydrangeas don’t talk.

You eye the weeping eagle on his t-shirt. He waxes poetic about the historic dunes, which aren’t historic. Forests halting erosion were axed by Europeans. Roots clung to the precious soil. Nutrients filtered through quartz. Settlers turned the woods into boats. Sand suffocated the trees, which died from fungal infection. Now dunes loom over sleeping dreamers, ready to consume shanty towns.

You throw back a beer. Someone throws a badminton racket near your head. You excuse yourself and end up in the garage. The shelves are lined with fertilizers and pesticides. You imagine the host loves his lawn but doesn’t know why. Chemicals leach into the wetlands and poison wildlife. You wonder how many men go deaf from cutting grass. The blades sever insect bodies and dandelions. Invasive beetle larva gorge on turf roots. Their winged bodies take to oak boughs. They defoliate the flowers.

Outside, a woman at the dessert table says, “American as apple pie,” but the apples are from Central Asia and the potato salad is bland. You leave the party and walk towards the ocean’s edge. The once pungent scent of salt has been neutered.

Everything is a lie. You wander the beach, wondering how anyone knows anything about anything. You spent your adolescence in a box of falsehoods. You are less than a dot in a cosmic timeline that never ends. You are a poorly trained dog dependent on a fragile balance. You watch boats bob in the bay. They leak gasoline into dying harbors.

Fireworks light up the sky. Dogs howl and hide under furniture. An Akita breaks loose from his master and is snatched by coyotes. You keep walking. The croon of an endangered loon is muffled by a stereo system. Club music blots out peepers, whip-poor-wills, and saw-whet owls. A sun-burnt man cries “Murica’” as he lights off a Roman candle. Scrub pine crackles in bonfire after bonfire.

In the morning the dumpsters overflow with trash. Beach chairs, unicorn floaties, styrofoam coolers, and bags of chips bleed from waste bins. The sign the recycling committee posted is obscured by garbage. Seagulls fight over junk food. Wrappers whip about on the wind.

You wonder how anyone ends up anywhere and decide to get coffee. A restaurant overlooks the water. Locals pick up trash. You overhear a man say crazy people trap themselves on peninsulas, so they have nowhere to run.

You think this is silly but remain silent. The TV says ocean acidification and overfishing will collapse the scallops industry. You take your coffee to a bridge and watch crabs crawl over sickly oceanbeds. Their shells will soften. Jellyfish will rule the earth. The rank smell of deep fried haddock wafts through the air.

Your arms and legs feel distant. Stalks pumping blood on timescales you don’t understand. Artists paint lighthouses, exhaust drips from pipes, ice cream melts, bands play, gulls swarm, seals scavenge, plovers rush to the shore. Construction workers rip up oak trees to build houses. Sparrows and squirrels flee. It’s happening all around, all the time—dredging the landscape of your mind and leaving you displaced. Aster and milkweed rot in the wake of grass and sterile hydrangeas.

+++

Gabrielle Griffis is a multimedia artist and musician. She studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she worked for the Juniper Writing Institute. Her fiction has been published in XRAY Literary Magazine, Gone Lawn, Cease, Cows, decomP, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod. For more information, check out her website at gabriellegriffis.com or follow her on twitter @ggriffiss.