Tilda Always Did Love Her Flowers
by Christina Dalcher
Tilda emerged an awkward little thing, a toad of an infant with the poise of a plough horse. She had a flattened nose, two fish-bowl eyes, and nine fingers, which made her—
“Seem as if she had been hit with a shovel,” said the midwife.
“In dire need of spectacles by the age of five,” predicted the father.
“Incapable of working a needle and thread,” thought the mother, looking years into Tilda’s future.
The mother considered her daughter’s failings through a thick veil of ether. Tilda lacked the trifecta of grace, comeliness, and utility, and lacking those husband-worthy qualities, she would ever be—
“A tragic burden,” said the midwife.
“An expense,” calculated the father.
“An embarrassment,” thought the mother, conjuring images of disastrous garden parties and spilled tea and the whispers of bustle-bottomed lady guests whose sons shifted uncomfortably on parlour settees.
A miracle became—
“Necessary,” said the midwife.
“Imperative,” insisted the father.
“A thing best left to God,” thought the mother, meaning the miracle, not the baby, but possibly meaning both.
After the photographers propped her against black draperies, affixing papery wings which would later be tinted with soft pastel pink, placing a crown of white roses on the small, ill-shaped head, Tilda looked—
“So lifelike,” said the midwife.
“Better,” claimed the father.
“An angel,” thought the mother, imagining her baby in heaven’s robes because imagining her baby wailing for milk on a stoop in the cold of a January morning was, simply, unimaginable.
With the daguerreotype’s silver fixed and gilded and all development arrested, with Tilda’s fingers forever hidden in a mass of posies, with her eyes glued taut and pleasingly almond-shaped, the onlookers regarded the infant and created her story—
“A lovely creature from the moment I brought her into this world,” said the midwife.
“The apple of my eye,” remembered the father.
“What brings me the most joy,” thought the mother, “is knowing how dearly Tilda loved flowers.”
Christina Dalcher is a linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Find her work in The Airgonaut, The Nottingham Review, and New South Journal, among others. Her debut novel VOX will be published by Berkley Books (Penguin Random House) in September 2018. Laura Bradford represents her. Find her online at http://christinadalcher.com and @CVDalcher on Twitter.
Image detail from the US Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalogue, cph 3c25962.