Note from Joanna: On Friday, March 23, at midnight, I’ll choose one lucky commenter from this blog to win a cherry blossom set (mouse pad, drawer scent, pencil and postcard).
Anya sat slumped to the right as her fingers pranced over the keyboard. Her headphones looked weird, tilted as they were. I didn’t want to disturb her or scare her, so I called her name. She didn’t respond. I tried again, and then my eyes flickered to the screen. She was playing Forge of the Ages, and her character was negotiating for a necklace.
I glanced at my cell phone. The bus would be leaving in an hour and a half. Her suitcase was sitting empty on her bed. She needed to finish her packing.
“Anya?” I prompted her again, but this time I went to tap her shoulder. That’s when I noticed the lumps running down the side of her throat. At first, I thought I was dreaming. The knots that covered her typically smooth neck were as big as large jawbreakers. How could that be real?
“Honey? Anya? Let me see you, sweetie.” This time I did touch her shoulder, gently, interrupting her concentration. She startled. Her hands flew up.
“Mom! You scared me.” She yanked down the headphones in a motion suitable for pulling off earmuffs.
“Come here.” I took her by the shoulder and guided her to the window. Maybe those lumps had been a trick of the light. No, there they were. Knots positioned the length of her throat from under her jaw to her collarbone. If her blouse hadn’t been buttoned, I would have probably seen more on their way to her chest. I pressed the back of my hand to her forehead. She whined, “Mooo-ooom.”
I turned her so that she was facing away from me. Kissing the skin on the back of her neck, I realized she was burning up. “Stay right there. I’m getting the thermometer.”
Detweiler sat across from six-year-old Erik at the dining room table. Between them sat a series of dominoes and the empty tin case with the logo “Mexican Train.” My husband looked up. “I’ll be ready to take Anya to school in twenty minutes.”
One foot on the lowest step and my hand on the rail, I hesitated. “That might not be happening. She’s running a fever. There are lumps on her neck.”
“Sounds like mono.” He shook his head sadly. “Mononucleosis is extremely transmittable. Even if she gets on antibiotics today, she wouldn’t be clear in time for the school trip to DC.”
“I know it. Let me take her temperature and then we’ll figure out what to do next.”
“Totally unfair and crappy.” Anya rested her forehead against the door window while she sat in the passenger’s side of the car. “This was supposed to be the best cherry blossom display in years. We had reservations to take tea at the Willard. I can’t believe it! Are you sure we can’t tell the teacher that I’ve been on meds for two days? I feel fine, Mom. Really I do.”
Reaching over with my free hand, I rubbed her shoulder gently. “Wouldn’t that be nice? We could just lie to Mr. Harmann, eh? No one would need to know about your fever. When all your classmates get sick, you could just pretend that’s surprise. You could go on and visit DC. Oh, maybe you could avoid little old ladies and old men and babies and anyone with a compromised immune system. If you wore a mask, carrying Lysol, wore white gloves, and went to bed earlier than everyone else, who would notice? It wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it? I mean, if someone climbed into your bus seat after you, well, gosh that’s the problem with public transportation, isn’t it?”
With an angry harrumph of her shoulders, Anya refused to face me. I could guess what she was thinking, and it wasn’t very pleasant. I turned up the radio.
Five minutes later, she pointed at a pair of golden arches. “Could we at least stop at McDonald’s? One of those shamrock milk shakes would taste great.”
“Of course we can.” I dreaded walking into the house and admitting to everyone that Anya was staying home. She had saved and saved her money for a seat on the bus going to DC. Taking photos of the monuments and the cherry blossoms was a high priority on her bucket list. Not that it mattered. All her plans would have to wait. Fortunately, we had a bottle of aspirin, antibiotics, and a coloring book that we’d picked up at CVS to keep her occupied. Unfortunately, those items were no substitute for a trip to our nation’s capital.
Anya was pretty good that evening. She hadn’t been looking forward to the long ride, because the school had decided to let two drivers alternate shifts and keep driving all night long. I could imagine how tired the sophomores would be as they drove through Virginia. But the long ride would practically guarantee the civics students that they would arrive as the sun rose on the proud marble markers. The photos should be glorious, which was why the civics and arts class decided to take the trip together. They’d been watching weather reports nonstop since the last week of January.
For Anya, the trip would be a non-starter. She slept all night and didn’t wake up until 10 the next morning. When she remembered that she would have been spending this morning in DC, she groaned and pulled her pillow over her face.
“Tell us about DC and flowers,” I suggested as a way to help her focus on things that were cool. “Come on, sweetie. I want to know.” I plucked the pillow off her face.
She rolled her eyes “Today is the peak day, which means that 70% of them will be in bloom. It varies every year, according to the weather. The majority of the trees line the Tidal Basin, near the monuments to FDR, Martin Luther King, and the Jefferson Monument. It’s illegal to pick a blossom.”
“How did they get there?”
“Teddy Roosevelt decided the nation’s capital needed sprucing up, but nothing was done until Helen Taft, President Taft’s wife, saw the monochromatic nature of the city as an opportunity to get involved in diplomacy. We’d had an ongoing trade and immigration imbalance with Japan, but a few wealthy Japanese businessmen actively sought a way to thank our country. Cherry blossoms are highly prized in Japan, but the first shipment of trees was teeming with bugs and had to be destroyed.”
I shook my head. “Wow. Talk about a rocky start.”
“The mayor of Tokyo was very embarrassed. The next shipment was bug-free. Because the trees only live to be about 30 years old, the ones blooming today are offspring. The blossoms are white and pink. Thanks to the efforts of the National Park Service, today there are 3,750-some trees that flower each spring, but I won’t be able to see them!” With that, she dissolved into tears.
“Why is Anya so sad?” Erik asked. “Because she feels bad?”
I explained about the cherry blossoms. “They’re only in bloom a few days. She’ll miss them.”
Erik pulled out his iPad and scrolled through several pages. “Look, Mama-Kiki. We can make cherry blossoms. See? Here are the directions, CHERRY BLOSSOMS. s
I glanced at them. “One problem, buddy. We don’t have tissue paper.”
“You always say, ‘Be creative.’ We have to be creative, right?” His chocolate brown eyes challenged me to live up to my own motto.
“That’s right. Tell you what. I think we have coffee filters in the pantry. Let’s go see.”
I was right. We found a package of the white circles. I sent Erik to get his watercolors. We spent a happy hour or so, coloring flowers and leaves. Because we didn’t have filaments to use for stamens, we dipped yellow embroidery floss into Elmer’s glue and frayed one end. The colorful mix dried on a dish rack set upside down. An hour later, we cut out the blossoms and assembled the branches. We also found an app that would put cherry blossoms on Anya’s DESKTOP. Then I discovered a 99 cent app that would create STICKERS.
While Erik finished arranging the branches, I made Anya a cherry milkshake. I put a handful of frozen cherries in the blender, added chocolate syrup, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and 8 ounces of milk. After blending it, I served it in a tall glass with a squirt of whipped cream on top.
Anya sat in her bed, sipping her milkshake and admiring the spray of cherry blossoms that Erik made for her. “Do you know what the cherry blossoms mean?” she asked her little brother.
“They mean spring is coming.”
“Yes, but they’re also a reminder to enjoy every day.” She put a dab of whipped cream on the tip of his nose. “Especially those days when I get to be with my brother.”
Have you ever seen the cherry blossoms? What does spring mean to you?