You're Scaring Me, Sunflower by Caroline Sasso
I like the idea of dying in a tragic accident. I like the idea of people in my hometown saying, “What a shame! How sad!” I like the idea that they wouldn’t find my body. I like the idea that people would bring my family casserole. I like the idea of the whole of Dallas, people I didn’t even know, coming to my funeral. In a morbid way, I like death.
We’re on a mountain pass, steep and rocky. I would even call it a shortcut. The kind of thing I would love to walk barefoot at midnight if I could. It is barely wide enough for one person, but I want to drive on it anyways, I want to be dangerous.
It is almost like Pippa isn’t even in the car.
My reckless driving isn’t entirely intentional. I am, in fact, distracted by something. I am singing my favorite song with Pippa. My eyes are closed, I never like to pay attention to the road. I really, really don’t know why Pippa encourages me to drive her. “Eyes on the road,” Pippa says without really meaning it.
“Yeah, yeah, eyes on the road, got it.” I close them again. It’s invigorating, this feeling, almost like I can sense the road. I swerve, Pippa lets out a halfhearted scream, grabbing onto my arm.
“I’m sorry,” I say quietly, clearing my throat. “I’m sorry.”
Pippa says nothing.
I look over at her and know that she doesn’t want me to apologize, that she is enjoying this too. “I’ll drive more carefully next time.”
The mountain pass gets more narrow, and my eyes are open. But I am bored, I am so, so bored. I look over at Pippa, she is too. Perhaps she even misses me swerving. I look ahead, one swerve and we would drop, we would fall right off the cliff side.
But I can’t do that, not with Pippa in the car.
Pippa notices the drop too and she inhales sharply, nervous. “It’s okay darling, we’re not going to go off the edge,” I said as my hand jerks to the right, guiding the car right off the edge. Pippa screams.
‘It wasn’t my fault, not really.’ I think on the way down. My body was telling me to, my body was insisting that I drive the car off the cliff, and it refused to consider other options. My body is still telling me that this is right. My body wants to die.
It’s a strange feeling, falling off a cliff. Pippa is screaming, I think, but I can’t really hear it. It’s more like a ringing than anything else. I’m pressed up against the seat, eyes forced open. I am looking at the scenery, or what I think is the scenery. It’s green, I can tell that, but other than that it’s just, blurry. I’m not even really thinking about the fact that we’re falling.
We hit the water.
Let me explain myself, there was a reason we went in the first place. There was a reason we left Dallas, Texas. And no, it wasn’t a matter of people with armadillo guns and ten gallon hats and thick accents calling us bad names for gays in the streets. Truthfully, we didn’t have to put up with any of that in Dallas, even though we liked to joke about it. It’s more complicated than that, just like the reason I drove the car into the river.
I used to cry when Pippa texted me good morning. Before Pippa got therapy, before Pippa got better, back when Pippa used to tell me the most frustrating things in the middle of the night about how much she hated herself. Back when Pippa wouldn’t let me compliment her. Back when me saying I love you made everything worse.
Pippa hated therapy, at first. But it did get better. Pippa’s reclusive, but she’s no match for a therapist. A therapist’s job is to tie you to a chair and force feed you mental wellness. They’re trained to deal with people like her. She told me everything, once she told me how she felt tied up, I replied by telling her that wow her therapy sessions sounded kinky and sign me up. I always stopped joking when she told me to. Contrary to popular belief I am not an awful person. I actually thought that there was something I could do to fix her.
I’ve always been too much of an idealist.
Pippa relied heavily on her meds, a little too heavily, in fact. Never skipped a dosage. I used to tease her that she didn’t want medication at first, and now she’s practically a druggie. She burst into tears. I always forgot how hard it is to tease her about these things.
Pippa’s parents thought, no, wanted to believe so badly that she was okay that they convinced themselves that she had been cured. They took Pippa off medication and ended her therapy sessions.
She asked me to get her out.
I had just turned sixteen, I had my driver’s license, and the color of my hair changed every few weeks, we wouldn’t get caught. I said yes. Not only for Pippa but also for me. It was truly thrilling, like we were in some kind of badly written lesbian fanfiction.
I think Pippa liked to ride with me. I just think that she didn’t like that I didn’t know where I was taking us. I’d always been bad with maps. And besides, it seemed useless to choose a destination when all Pippa had told me is that she wanted to leave.
“How much longer, Paisely?” she asked with a yawn.
I licked my lips, she had just woken up and this was the first thing she decided to say to me. I suppose when you’ve been driving with someone for over a week you stop coming up with creative things to say. “I dunno,” I gazed out the window, “I don’t really want to stop driving.”
I paused, giving her a little time to rest her hand on top of mine. “I’m just scared of what’ll happen if we stop, y’know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh well, it’s stupid anyways.” I turned my attention back to the road, taking my hand away from hers and placing it back on the steering wheel.
“Maybe you write too much? Coming up with poetic monologues like that.” Pippa cleared her throat, “after all, we’re just driving.”
“Everything can be poetry my dear.” She said nothing, looking down at her hands. I had bored her, I could tell. “Can we stop sometime tomorrow? I want to dye my hair bright green. I’ll get you hot chocolate while you wait for me if you’d like.”
“I like it red,” she said quietly.
I cocked an eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t like is when I dye my hair.”
“Yeah, well, maybe not. But I like it enough when it’s red.”
I sighed. “Remember how much you hated my red hair?”
“It’s faded now.”
I laughed and she smiled. “You’ve said every color will look shitty!”
“So I can’t trust you!”
Pippa inhaled sharply. “Please don’t say that.”
“I’m just teasing,” I looked over at her with a smile, “I love you more than anything. You’re the only person I trust.”
Pippa looked a little calmer now. “Can we stop to pee?”
Pippa can’t see me, it’s dark, and it’s cold, and she can’t see me. Did I do this on purpose? I don’t know anymore. I reach out for her hand but can’t find it, touching the console of the car instead. I can hear her breathing at least. ‘Who knows how long we’ve both wanted this?’ I want to say. Instead, I say, “it’s dark, and cold.”
Pippa responds calmly, “can you swim?”
“It’s dark, and cold,” I whisper again, clearer this time.
“Can you swim?”
“It’s dark, and cold.”
“Darling please,” She says. I turn to her, cocking an eyebrow as if appraising her, suppressing a giggle. “Can you swim?” She asks quite seriously.
“Yes,” I look out the window of the car, into the water, “but I’m not sure that I want to.” The car is filling fast, the water at our ankles. Pippa says nothing, she has nothing to say. I’m happy to fill the silence, “It’s quite funny to be in a drowning car,” I say, “y’know I’ve always been afraid of drowning, but this, this is just wonderful!” I look at the roof of the car, “Oh boy did Salem had the right idea when they were drowning witches! Everything is so cool, so dark.” I laugh again, “I love it. I just wish I had a cigarette, that would make this day all the better!”
“You’re not in your right mind Paisley,” she says, panicked, “you’re just…”
“Just what? Finally coming to terms with the fact that I am a piece of shit!” My laughter is uncontrollable now, “why don’t you understand darling? You of all people should understand! This is the place where the world stops, this is the place where I can be a piece of shit and nobody’s going to care because nobody can care. I’ve transformed…”
She is silent for a long time. “Are you going to swim to the surface?” She finally asks.
“Why would I?” I shrug, “all that’s up there in the world is West Virginia, and also sex, but mostly West Virginia.”
“Sunflower,” Pippa’s voice cracks, “please stop.”
“Why should I stop? Why should I do anything for anyone? Why should I…”
“Because you’re scaring me, you’re scaring me sunflower.” I stop talking, looking down at my hands in shame. I’m delirious. “Now, please, please tell me that you’re going to swim to the surface.”
“Are you going to swim to the surface?” I ask, almost to myself.
“Only if you do.”
I thought about this. Maybe if Pippa stayed she could find my hand. Maybe if Pippa stayed we could drown in a car, limbs messy and entwined. Maybe if Pippa stayed they wouldn’t be able to tell her corpse from my corpse. Maybe if Pippa stayed we would go to hell together. Yeah, that would’ve been nice. “You can’t stay,” I say, not really sure I mean it, “you’re swimming to the surface with or without me, Pippa. I want you to make it to West Virginia.”
“I don’t want to go to West Virginia Paisley!” Pippa says, suddenly upset. She is incoherent, speaking through sobs, “I… I… can’t go to West Virginia without you, please, I…. I… help.”
Her screams break me in a strange way. “West Virginia,” is all I can say, “the land of dreams, West Virginia.” West Virginia is forgotten. West Virginia is church, and we are westernized people that had once found comfort in it but now have little desire to go. I could go somewhere better than West Virginia. Oh west Virginia, drowning is an ode to you. I look over at Pippa, who is still crying. I inhale sharply, grabbing her hand.
The water is at our necks.
“We’re going to have to swim soon.” I say calmly, “if we want to, that is. Once the car fills to the top the pressure will be equalized and we can open the doors.”
“So… so you’re going to come with me?” She smiles slightly through her tears.
“I don’t know,” I say, “I was just trying to calm you down.”
“Then maybe I won’t come either,” Pippa looks down at my waist, at my still buckled seatbelt, but says nothing. Instead, she pulls something out of her coat, handing it to me and curling my fingers around it. I look down at my hands to see a sunflower, wilting, but still very much alive. “For you, Sunflower,” Pippa whispers, “you are a sunflower.”
“Can I leave you alone in this world?” Is all I have time to say before we are submerged.
“We’ll reach West Virginia by morning,” I told her.
She woke up. Lifting her head off the window and looking lazily at me, “why are you awake?”
“It’s two am, why are you awake?” She asked.
“I’m driving dear,” I replied bluntly.
“Oh,” she said, thinking for a second, “do you want me to drive?”
“No darling,” I made a dismissive hand gesture. “I won’t fall asleep either way. And I know how much you hate driving, especially when you’re, y’know, like this.”
“I’m fine,” she growled.
“I won’t argue with you,” I sighed. “I don’t quite have the energy for that. But you can’t drive a car when you’re tired,” pause, “give me that at least.”
“Shouldn’t you be tired?”
“No.” I looked out the window, “I don’t feel at all like sleeping. Not when I could be driving. Not when I could be here with you.” Pippa said nothing, “you look peaceful, this is the only time I ever see you that way.”
Pippa decided not to answer. “You decided we’re going to West Virginia?” She asked instead.
“Yes, I did. You were sleeping so…” I looked over at her, catching a glimpse of her frown. “Do… do you not want to go to West Virginia?” I asked, she said nothing in response. “We can go wherever you want to go, Pippa. It doesn’t matter to me.”
“I don’t want to stop driving.”
“Decided to listen to my poetic nonsense?” I teased.
“It’s not nonsense,” she said, gravely serious. “I just don’t always understand it. So when I do, it’s important.”
“It’s important that we don’t stop driving?” I asked.
“Oh,” she said, “you’ve changed your mind.”
“I suppose I have,” I said, almost to myself. “I think I want to go to West Virginia with you. I think I want to have a house, and I think I want to have a dog, not a big one or a small one, just a medium sized one. Like a bulldog.” I laughed, “I think I want to marry you.”
“We’re seventeen,” she said. “We can’t get married.”
“We can wait a year, we can wait however long we have to. West Virginia is the promised land!”
“West Virginia is just a place,” she said. “Just like the car is just a place.”
I laughed in disbelief. “West Virginia isn’t just a place, it’s the place, it’s our place. Besides, didn’t you say you wanted to go somewhere?”
She ignored my question. “Can’t the car be our place?”
“No.” I frowned, “I wanted that too. But the car keeps moving. The car will run out of gas, or die. What we have, it’s permanent. It’s not good in a car.”
“Why do you always argue with me when you say you’re not going to?”
It’s weird the things you remember underwater. It’s even weirder the things you remember underwater when the woman you love hands you a wilting sunflower. I remembered how when Pippa figured out sunflowers were my favorite flower she would bring them to my house every time she came. I remembered how Pippa never forgot, not once. I remembered how I wanted to make the sunflowers she gave me last as long as possible. “For you,” Pippa would always say, handing me eight sunflowers carefully wrapped in paper.
“You’re just in time, my old ones are dying!” I would always respond with a smile. Then I would cut the stems, wash the flowers, go get a vase from the attic, and put them in my room, all while she stayed close to my side. Pippa liked to watch me.
It was a while before Pippa told me how she got the sunflowers. Perhaps she was afraid that if I knew I would go and get them myself, and that I would no longer have a use for her. “Tom thumb restocks them every other day,” she said, “I always go and get new ones at 6:00pm on Wednesday or Thursday. They’re cheap, y’know?”
I never got the chance to ask Pippa if she’d ever seen a sunflower die. It’s a sad state of affairs. The petals go first, rotting off and falling to the table, then the center, then the stem. Pippa would always make me throw away the dead sunflowers before she went up to my room. She said that sunflowers reminded her too much of me, and that it was her worst nightmare that one day she would find me dead.
I remember the time I told Pippa that she smelled like lavender. She didn’t acknowledge it, she just told me that I smelled like sunflowers. “I don’t know what sunflowers smell like,” I said to her.
She shrugged. “I don’t either.”
“Then how do you know they smell like me?”
“I just do,” she said. “Sometimes when you’re not with me I kiss sunflowers instead of you.”
We were young then. Pippa was difficult and I was annoying. She would never tell me what she meant and I would never leave her alone about it. As we got older, Pippa became stubborn and I became terrifying. I used to scare her terribly, telling her that I could say whatever the fuck I wanted to. She would always say, “you’re scaring me, Sunflower.”
That was pretty good way to shut me up.
It’s funny, really, how Pippa called me Sunflower. Sunflowers dry up in the light, I wanted to say. I never said anything, she was defensive. I honestly think that Pippa was killing me. I honestly think that even though I was growing towards Pippa’s light it was drying me out. I was forcing Pippa to watch herself kill me. Maybe that’s why she was always so afraid? Maybe she felt like she could save one dying Sunflower. I’m not beautiful anymore, not really, all my petals have fallen off, my stem is wilting. Yet she still loves me, and I love her, please don’t get the wrong idea, I do. It was once my dream to be in West Virginia with her, it still is, in a way. I look down at my buckled seat belt, hand not moving.
If I am a sunflower than she is an orchid. Her light became something like death.