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Editor's Commentary on "Petals"

 , June 07, 2020

With tight prose and vivid, evocative imagery, Srikanth paints a tender portrait of an infirm older woman who has recently endured a car accident and lost her beloved bouquet of flowers. As she sutures her forehead, the author invites her patient to share her story: “You can tell me about it, if you want,” she writes, referring to the accident and its aftermath. This invitation leads to a poignant exchange, transforming a simple laceration repair into a chance for Ms. Maxwell to open up about her recent hardships.  

The details tell us so much. The rigid plastic of the surgical collar reminds us of the magnitude of the injuries this woman has suffered. We picture the red of the crushed tomatoes—their color echoing that of blood—as well as the “carnations, and roses, and big yellow sunflowers” that make up the grocery store bouquet.

The piece has a natural symmetry to it. The author begins by suturing Ms. Maxwell’s laceration, in essence putting her back together, and ends by recreating her destroyed bouquet, bringing a burst of color to her sanitized, white hospital room. This final scene reminds us of Ms. Maxwell’s mortality. She lies in bed, staring up at the fluorescent lighting above, her posture mirroring that of a deceased person. But this scene is just as much a celebration of life. The author arrives with a replacement bouquet: a collection of wildflowers picked from an empty lot. She has removed the wilted leaves, leaving only the most vibrant blooms. These flowers, like the carnations, roses, and sunflowers that came before them, are ephemeral; soon they will lose their scent and color, Srinkanth reminds us, underscoring the transient nature of beauty and of Ms. Maxwell’s life.

Phoebe Prioleau