Eight Years After Dorothy
It is a sunny autumn day. Although mid-October, it is warmer than any other year Saguaro can recall. From the wooden bench where she and her father are sitting, Guarie can look into the forest and spot the reds, yellows, and browns of autumn, the fallen leaves scattered on the ground. The trees are not yet bare, and if she closes her eyes, she can smell their wet, woody scent, mixed with the familiar whiff of paint.
Guarie loves her backyard, especially the weathered rope swing that hangs from a high branch in the middle of the yard. In the grass grow scores of dandelions, some bright yellow, others now spheres of furry dried seeds.
Her backyard is large and borders the forest. Her father’s work shed stands nearby, and opposite it are the stalls and pastures of the Animals. Their house is narrow and barely two stories high and is graced by a weathervane on top of its arched, barrel roof. Its style is unique among the other houses in Cascadia because her father designed it himself.
“Try to be especially nice to your mother today,” her father says.
“Why?” asks Guarie. “Is she all right?”
“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with her, Guarie. I just know she’s been rather distant lately, and I’m sure your kindness will help.”
Guarie nods. Her mother has been “distant” before. It usually occurs when the conversation turns to Oz.
She and her father are painting the carved wooden Animals her father gave her for her birthday. Guarie is working on a Cat, painting its nose pink. Her father is working on a Frog, doing a much smoother job painting it green than she had on her own. Her Frog looks like it was caught in the rain with its paint running in many different directions.
Guarie considers her father. According to her parents, he was human before becoming a Scarecrow. Her father was trying to protect her mother from some bad men, and her mother had to turn him into straw to save him. Later, she was able to alter the spell so that he became only a half Scarecrow. His hair’s texture now resembles the coarseness of straw, and his brown skin is etched by the pattern of stitching that held him together as a Scarecrow. Faded dark markings still stain his face, shadows of the Scarecrow he once was.
Guarie motions towards the black paint. “Can you paint my face so it looks like yours?” she asks. Her father frowns.
“I’m not sure that that would be good for your skin, Guarie. But you know what we can do?”
He picks up a smaller paintbrush and dips it into the black paint. Then he takes the Frog he was working on and begins to paint its face. The Frog’s face soon resembles his own. A black triangle adorns its nose, the arches of its eyebrows are exaggerated, and its lips are black. Her father has even drawn the same black teardrop on the Frog’s cheek.
Guarie cannot help it. She dissolves into giggles. Her father glances at the Frog again, and a moment later, he is laughing, too. She is so distracted by the Frog-Scarecrow that it takes her a moment to realize that her mother has approached them from the pastures.
Guarie’s first thought is that her mother looks even more somber than usual. Her parents are quite different in that her mother can be very serious, and her father rarely is. Yet there is something about her mother that is especially solemn today. Perhaps it is her stiff posture and crossed arms, but Guarie can understand what her father was saying earlier, something that becomes even more evident as her mother walks closer.
Guarie has always seen her mother as beautiful, even though, according to her father, her mother refuses to believe it. Her favorite trait about her mother is her emerald green skin. Green, after all, is Guarie’s favorite color, and the green skin looks so good against the black of her mother’s clothes. Her sweeping black dress and black boots are typical of the outfits she usually wears. But today, her mother’s long dark hair is pinned in a bun that makes her look quite formal.
Considering this, Guarie lingers on her mother instead of turning back to paint.
Guarie is surprised when her mother does not approach them further. She can understand why her mother is sometimes standoffish since she is the same way. But her mother is not usually aloof with her own family. Despite her concern, part of Guarie hopes her mother will not come and join them. She is having so much fun with her father that she would hate for it to stop.
Just as she is about to return to her painting, her father looks up and waves. “Elphaba, come join us!”
His tone is upbeat, but somewhat forced. Her mother hesitates, and a part of Guarie feels relieved. “No, it’s all right,” she says. “I don’t want to intrude.”
Guilt strikes Guarie. Is it wrong to prefer to spend time alone with her father?
“Elphaba, come on,” says her father. “Guarie’s been wanting to show you what we’ve been working on, haven’t you, Guarie?
Although she never said any such thing, Guarie can tell from the way he nudges her that she is supposed to answer. “We’re painting the Animal figures.” She holds up her Cat to demonstrate. “Daddy’s are much better than mine, though.”
She expects her mother to tell her that hers are good too, something she would have done on almost any other day, but her mother does nothing of the sort.
“That’s nice,” she says. Guarie turns back to her father, hoping he will interject, but he seems caught up in his own thoughts, so she jabbers on.
“They don’t have clothes, though. Daddy and I don’t know what to do about them, and since neither of us can sew, we thought…”
Guarie trails off. Her mother’s eyes are dark and cloudy, and her expression is similar to her father’s. She does not look as though she is even paying attention.
“Saguaro,” she says, “you need to clean your room. It’s been messy for days, and you shouldn’t be out until it’s finished.”
Guarie is startled by this abrupt change of subject. “But I don’t want to! Daddy and I were having fun. I don’t want to stop.”
Her mother sighs. “Saguaro, I asked you to do it now, not later. I’m not in the mood for an argument.”
“Elphaba, don’t you think she can wait a few hours?” her father asks, as Guarie crosses her arms and scowls. “I promised her we could finish the Animal figures today. I’ll make sure she cleans her room later.”
Her mother glares at him in such a way that Guarie is not sure she is supposed to be witnessing this scene. Her father seems to recognize this too, because he touches her shoulder.
“Guarie,” he says, “would you mind bringing the Cat and the Frog in to dry?”
Guarie simmers with defiance. She wonders if her father is just trying to get her out of the way, but there is a softness in her father’s words that she forces herself to accept. “You can come back,” he says, and, nodding, she retreats to the house.
Inside, Guarie puts the Frog and the Cat on the dining room table. She is so quick to put them down, eager to hear the rest of her parents’ conversation, that it does not occur to her that the paint might stain the wood.
Guarie rushes out of the kitchen and opens the door. Her father, taller than her mother, appears to be trying to hold her, but Guarie’s mother is shrugging him off. It does not seem that they have noticed her yet, so Guarie waits on the porch.
“…you’re reading too much into this!” her mother is saying. “I was only asking her to clean her room! How does that make me a bad parent?”
“Oh, so this has nothing to do with the way you refused to approach us, even when I asked you to?” says her father. “I may be brainless, but I’m not a fool.”
“I was just trying to give you time alone!” her mother says. “You saw her expression when you suggested that I join you. She didn’t make much effort to hide it.”
“Is that what this is about?” Her father’s voice is tinged with disbelief. He steps back, having abandoned his attempt to comfort her. “Elphaba, I’ve told you before. She doesn’t love me better than you. Children go through stages of favoring one parent over the other. Her behavior is perfectly normal.”
“Well, it’s not as though you’ve been doing anything to stop her. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was your plan. ”
“So I guess you were also planning to steal her away from me a few months ago when she followed you around everywhere you went,” her father says sarcastically. “Or when when she was five and she insisted that only you tuck her in at night, or back when she was just a baby and you refused to let her out of your sight? It’s not just about you, Elphaba; it’s about both of us, and I swear to Oz, it’s normal!” She blinks when his voice softens with his next words. “This isn’t about jealousy or messy rooms, Elphaba, and you know it. Now, tell me. What is this really about?”
Guarie gasps. She never stopped to consider that her mother might be upset about something else entirely. But instead of explaining her mood, her mother turns around and sees Guarie. Brown eyes meet brown. As they examine each other, Guarie finds herself thinking that she has never seen her mother so sad.
The sadness does not last long. A moment later, her mother’s eyes narrow, and she turns back to Guarie’s father. “Nothing’s wrong. You’re perfectly right; it’s all normal. I’ll leave you two be. Guarie, you can clean your room later.”
With that, she stomps away in the direction of the Animals.
Now that she and her father are alone again, Guarie wishes her mother were still there. She can sense that the truth behind her mother’s mood is very important, and Guarie is curious about what it is. From the way he is looking after her, she knows that her father does not believe her mother, either.
Glancing in her mother’s direction, Guarie says, “Is Mommy mad at me?”
She expects a pause, a hesitation, something, but her father plunges forward without a beat. “No. The last person in the world she’s angry at is you.”
“Then what is she mad about?”
This time, she hears the hesitation. The pause is so long that she is afraid he won’t answer her.
Finally, he says, “Crow girl, you know that your mother and I are from Oz.” His nickname is from her middle name, “Crowse.”
“Of course,” says Guarie, repeating the little she has heard about her parents’ pasts. “Didn’t you leave after Auntie Nessa died and the Ozians started to dislike Mommy’s skin?”
“Well-yes.” Although it is a confirmation, her father wavers, then plunges ahead before she has time to analyze this. “You have to understand, Guarie, a lot of things happened to your mother in Oz, some of which she still needs to share with you. These things-” He stops and studies her face.
She is not quite following him, not quite understanding where he is going, and her father seems to sense this. “Crow girl, I’m going to tell you something, something you might not understand for a long time, but I’m going to tell you anyway, okay?”
“There was a lot that happened to your mother in Oz, and even I don’t know it all. She had a difficult childhood, and the Ozians’ reaction to her was somewhat life shattering. Sometimes your mother acts in unusual ways, ways that you and I can’t understand, all because of her terrible past. Are you following me?”
She isn’t really. She wants to understand, but at the same time, she likes how open her father is being with her and does not want him to stop. So she nods, and her father smiles. “I knew you would understand.
“One of the reasons it’s so hard for me to see her like this is because she was so different when I first met her. Her experiences with the Ozians hadn’t happened yet, and even though she’d had a hard childhood, she was so optimistic, so determined…” He smiles wider at these words.
“You mean she wasn’t always like this?”
She is alarmed when she looks up at her father’s face. His eyes are now just as sad as her mother’s.
“No. She used to be very different. I see so many ways the two of you are alike.”
“But I don’t understand,” Guarie says. “Why did she change? Isn’t she happy now?”
Her father seems to take this last question very seriously. “Guarie, I’m afraid I can’t answer that. I’m…I’m not sure. I don’t know whether she’s happy or not.”
If the world could crack in two, it would have done so at that moment. Her father knows her mother better than anyone, yet he can’t even answer such a basic question?
“You don’t know?” she asks.
Her father forces another smile and shakes his head.
Before she can digest this, her father continues. “I think she is happy to an extent, and I can’t begin to tell you how much happier she has been since you were born. But you’ve got to understand, Crow girl, that no one is completely happy. It’s just not possible. That’s life, Crow girl.”
What about me?
The question rises within her as her father’s voice trails off, his arms now wrapped firmly around her. For the first time, she begins to think above and beyond her seven young years.
Guarie is not happy for a lot of reasons; how can she be, when she doesn’t have any friends? Still, she never realized that her parents might not be, either. She can tell, from the strange expressions her parents give each other, that there is a lot she does not understand. She is often in the dark, trapped with no answers, as if shut in a room with no light.
The only thing her seven-year-old mind can come up with is that this unknown side of her mother is important. This has to be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Maybe if she finds this puzzle piece, she will not be left out any longer. Maybe she will be able to understand the strange expressions her parents exchange. And maybe, just maybe, when her mother gets upset again, she will understand.
Her father catches her attention. He has walked to the grass and is bending over something she cannot see. When he comes back, he is holding a furry, round dandelion, which he places in her hand.
“Make a wish,” he says softly.
So she does. She wishes, blows, and watches the fluffy seeds float away.
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