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Creative Non-Fiction: 'The Four Worst Things about Deadheading a Hydrangea.'

Written by Ellen Brickley

The third worst thing about deadheading a hydrangea is that the heads weigh almost nothing. As you clip them off the plant and toss them aside, they blow all over your garden like flaking footballs. If you don't pick them up, they look like hedgehogs – brown and curled and highly textured. This wouldn't be a problem, if you weren't frightened of hedgehogs. It's quite something to be in your own garden and find yourself scared of what you just clipped with a tool that has 'Sword' written on its pouch. You hang the pouch from your jeans, like a gun holster.

          (The fourth worst thing about deadheading a hydrangea is looking up how to spell hydrangea when you decide you need to write a personal essay about it. When a flower dies, writing a personal essay about it is no longer optional. You can't leave symbolism like that alone.)

          The heads weigh almost nothing because they've dried out. The petals are brown, fragile, like old letters or cigarette papers, festering things in drawers. You have so many old fragments like this – bus tickets, boarding passes. You keep them because you can't keep anything else, not really. The dead petals remind you of a box that lived in your bedroom when you were a kid. Your parents brought it back from Abroad. It was made of tobacco leaves, all wrapped around the wood and sealed under glass. It lived in your parents' room til the glass broke, then you got it. The old tobacco leaves felt like you imagined papyrus when you were in your Ancient Egypt phase, when you made lists of what should go into the pyramid with you. That box, lined with red velvet, has left you with the idea that cigars are delicate things from far away that must be treasured, not fat, stubby rods made of capitalism. You have a photo, somewhere, of your college friends in their rented tuxedos, smoking cigars at a black-tie ball. Black-tie balls at college exist for only one reason – to make sure you have photos of yourself and your friends looking young and beautiful, so you can look back on them, happy and sad, when you're old enough to have a hydrangea. A Debs ball or a prom is one thing, but if you like your schoolfriends, then you don't need to keep photos in drawers so the thin printer text on their backs can yellow. If you're the kind of person who keeps photos, you were unhappy at school – therefore, you need a black-tie ball at college, with a new cast of characters, with possibility and magic. You may also need the photos if you ever have to self-publish a crime novel. One of them can be the cover, rendered in black-and-white so you and your friends look like the kind of timeless people who get to kill things and have feelings about it rather than serve jail time..

          You think of cigars, when you chase the hedgehog-hydrangea heads around your garden. When you catch the heads, you stuff the fat remnants of what used to be pink and pretty into the pile of clippings and hope the assembled mass of cut branches will hold them down. If they blow all over the street, your neighbours will know it was you. You are the youngest couple on the street, the ones who are allowed to be bad at having a hydrangea. 

          The second worst thing about deadheading the hydrangea is the little cuts you get from shoving the heads down among briars.

          The worst thing about deadheading a hydrenga is that if you're deadheading a hydrenga, you're forty, and that means someone you love is dead. 

About the Author

Ellen Brickley lives in Dublin, Ireland. Her personal essays have appeared in BansheeSonder, and Trasna and her poetry in Dedalus Press anthologies Local Wonders and Romance Options. She is a grateful four-time recipient of funding from the Arts Council, and occasionally teaches personal essay writing. 

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