Excerpt from Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dog Flowers

by Danielle Geller

Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller X
Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 272 pages

    Apr 2022, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Our neighbors were inconstant. My grandmother's tenants were as poor as our neighborhood, and no one seemed to stay for long. She liked to tell the story of one of her tenants who dragged all his furniture, even the refrigerator, onto the lawn in the middle of the day. She couldn't get a reason out of him—he talked nonsense, raving about who knew what, so she called an ambulance. Later she found out his rotting teeth were the cause of his madness, but she found the story funny and laughed each time she told it.

I was too young to remember most of our time in that apartment, but in my mother's things I find a soft paper envelope labeled with her neat script: "Birthday Negatives, July 28, 1987." When the pictures were taken, I had just turned a year old. In some of the photographs, I wear a white jumper; in others, only a diaper. Over one shoulder I carry my favorite pink blanket, whose corner will rough and wear from the constant rub of a finger soothed by its exposed stitch. My mother and my father and my grandmother, Evelyn, are all here.

The way my father tells those early years, my mother was the one who hit him. Angry-drunk, she whipped him with the cord of an alarm clock, and then she called the cops. My mother and the neighbors and I stood in our gravel driveway and watched the police chase my father down the road, around the block. The dust settled soft and white.

The way my father tells it, my mother was wrong and the police were wrong and my memories were wrong, because I did not remember the violence the way he wanted me to. I remember my father's shadow in the doorway in the moments before he threw my mother to the floor. The way she curled up under the kitchen table and stayed there, sobbing, even after he was gone. She told me to get rid of his beer. I pulled the chair over to the sink and dutifully poured each can down the drain.

My mother stayed for years after that fight, after many fights, but I remember one of her early leavings. She took my sister and me to the women's shelter at the Salvation Army. The light was all cream and yellow. We caught head lice from the shelter's temporary beds. My grandmother convinced my mother to go back to my father, her son, the way I imagine she always did. Once home, my mother washed our long hair with the special shampoos and picked the nits off our scalps with a comb, but my father, impatient, went to the store and bought a new hair buzzer. I watched him lift the buzzer from its polystyrene cradle. I cried as he cut off all my hair.

Florida is unchanged and true to memory: fulgid sunlight and flat horizons, broken only by palm trees and scrubby pines. The parking lot at the JFK Medical Center sprawls confusingly, and I circle it twice. After I park, I follow a couple into the building, but as I step onto the sidewalk, a small bush rustles, and a curly-tailed lizard lands on the ground in front of me. I jump back, both startled and embarrassed. I caught lizards as a kid—even wore them like earrings, their small mouths clamped to my earlobes, their thin bodies wiggling against my neck—but this place, this lizard and I, have become strangers. I watch him for a breathless moment: his mouth open, his sides heaving. Then he darts across my path and disappears into another small shrub.

I enter the lobby through a pair of tinted glass doors and approach the officer at the front desk. He positions me in front of a camera and prints my badge on a sticky label, then directs me to an elevator down the hall. Inside the elevator, I inspect the photo on the badge: a grainy shadow you might call me.

I follow his directions out the elevator and down the hall to the critical care unit, quiet and cold. The curtain in front of my mother's room is open. Standing beside her bed, a nurse delicately washes her face.

I waver at the threshold, and when the nurse glances in my direction, she startles, as if I were a lizard landing on her path. "Who are you?" she asks.

Excerpted from Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller. Copyright © 2021 by Danielle Geller. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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