Nobody came to my eighth birthday party.
It ought to upset me but it doesn’t. As I sit in my quiet backyard staring at the wind weaving its way gently through the old oak that had stood as long as I can remember, I don’t feel sad. Even as my parents gather up the unused plates with rainbows and unicorns around their rims, the untouched pink and yellow balloons, and the uncut cake, I find that I feel quite good. Happy, even. I had not particularly looked forward to this party. The noises of children make my ears hurt, and their constant need to run makes me dizzy. Other children are exhausting. They’re like strange, exotic animals I do not understand. Given a choice, I much prefer the gentle songs of the wind, and the dances of the leaves. There is a daisy in the backyard I tell my secrets to. Plants, I find, make for better company.
Mom has a particular look on her face. I can’t remember what it’s called off the top of my head, so I squint and try to get a closer look. I wave my left hand. The flapping motion feels good and helps me think. I try to remember what Miss Katy taught me. I look at her face, I think about the angle of her head, I try to think about today. I think the face she’s making is Disappointment.
“It’s always going to be like this,” I hear her say to Dad. “It’s always going to be empty tables and no friends and her sitting there staring into space.”
I like that thought. Being alone with my trees and flowers forever sounds heavenly. I go back to watching the trees as Mom and Dad finish cleaning up and head inside. I know they’re watching me through the glass doors leading to the living room. They watch me a lot, and I think I must be very interesting, especially today, since it’s my birthday. People who are ordinarily dull seem to become extraordinarily interesting on their birthday. Why else would everyone gather to watch them do things that are totally normal otherwise, like eat cake and open boxes? It’s really very funny. And confusing. I would prefer it if things were not confusing, and I tell my daisy this all the time. In fact, I think I’ll go tell my daisy right now.
I get to my feet, dusting off my birthday dress with all the extra ruffles and ribbons that are meant to make me extra interesting on my interesting day. I walk to the back of the yard where my daisy stands, with its little white petals all proud in the sun. I kneel carefully down next to it.
“You know what?” I say, whispering because daisies don’t like loud noises. “Today is my birthday. It’s super important, or that’s what Mom told me. I’m the most important and interesting person in the world today.”
My daisy blinks twice. The light in the middle is sometimes blue, sometimes yellow. Today it’s blue. I like to think that when it’s blue, it’s happy.
I go see Miss Katy again after the party where nobody came. She shows me new toys, which she always tries to do. I try to explain to her that I don’t need new things, but she doesn’t seem to understand, so I show her by sitting in the corner of her little room and lining up the same blocks I do every week. The blocks are simple and make sense and I try to teach her this. She doesn’t understand and keeps trying to show me the new things, which are brightly colored and shaped like animals. Why would you make red plastic into animals? A pig is not red and a horse is not blue. It makes much more sense when they’re perfect, simple cubes I can line up. I try to teach her this, too. Miss Katy is very pretty and very nice, but I don’t think she’s very bright.
Mom keeps making that face. I think she must be Disappointed that Miss Katy just isn’t understanding me, so I show her my Happy face, so she knows I don’t mind. I’m going to see Miss Katy again next week, and every week, the same as it’s always been. I’ll have plenty of time to teach her.
Miss Katy tells Mom I’m “making no significant progress.” Those are big words but I think they mean I’m the same as I’ve always been, which sounds nice because I like the way I’ve always been. Mom seems Sad on the way home. She smiles at me when I tell her I love her, but her eyes are wet. I’m still not very good with faces, but I know wet eyes mean Sad.
I say goodnight to my daisy before going to bed. I’ve eaten the same meal I did yesterday and the day before — strawberries, chicken nuggets, and fries. Mom tries to give me some carrots, but Dad says gently, “let her eat what she wants, it’s her birthday.” Dad knows that I don’t like “different,” but today he also looks Sad.
I ask about the weather as I always do. There’s a rainstorm coming and I’m worried about my daisy. I tell Mom we have to protect the daisy. I tell Dad daisies don’t like too much water. I tell them we have to build it a little house, or cover it with a blanket, or at least put out an umbrella. I tell them for a long time, first with my indoor voice, then my outdoor voice. Finally, I fall asleep. My forehead is damp and I’m tired from using my outdoor voice for so long. I drift off hoping Mom and Dad will remember to cover my daisy.
When I wake up the sky is still dark. I look at the clock on my nightstand and the numbers say 3, followed by two dots, followed by a 1 and then a 5. I don’t remember what this means. I did last week but I don’t this week. I do remember that if it’s still dark outside, that means I’m up “too early,” which means it’s before when Mom and Dad get up, which means I should wait. But waiting is hard so I get up out of bed to make sure they are up, too. But first, I must check on my daisy.
I open the back door and go outside — there are extra locks on these at night but I know how to work them. I step outside. The sky is black and heavy-looking. Not a single star in sight. Flashes of light come and go behind thick clouds. I hear thunder rumbling. It reminds me of the old car in Mr. Nygar’s driveway across the street — loud and grinding. I watch the flashes of light and noise move across the sky and marvel at how I’ve never seen lightning and thunder move in formation before.
I spot my daisy in the dark. With its flashing blue center, it’s not hard to find. Especially tonight, since there are two.
Now there are three. I step closer and see three daisies, each with a beautiful, luminescent blue light in its center, blinking in rhythm.
A fourth daisy sprouts out of the ground and unfolds its petals. Then a fifth, and a sixth. Then five more, then more than I can count.
I’m standing my backyard surrounding by perfect white daisies, each dotting the night with its blue light like fairies and fireflies. They’re all turning this way and that, shining their lights all around me. I’m so happy I forget to move. I stand among them bathed in their lights and feel as if I’m part of this magical garden.
“Wow,” I breath.
Every daisy swerves toward my voice. Suddenly, I’m colored in blue from head to toe as they shine their light on me. I spread my arms to show them I mean them no harm. I love them, after all. Well, I’ve always loved the first one, but what kind of host would I be if I didn’t love its friends, too?
Then the nearest one — my daisy — speaks. I don’t understand what it said and I think it must be the language of the trees.
“I beg your pardon?” I say, because that’s the polite thing to say when you don’t understand someone. The daisy stops and makes a sort of gargling sound. When it speaks again, I understand it.
“Language sync complete,” it says. “Local life form identified. All ships belay progression.”
“Scan complete,” the next daisy says. I don’t understand what scan means but it appears the daisies are happy. They all blink their blue lights and stare at me.
“Please self-identify,” says my daisy. “State name if applicable.”
“I’m Edie,” I say. “That’s spelled E-d-i-e. Edie Simpson. I live at 324 Paddock Lane and . . .”
“Intelligent life form confirmed,” says my daisy. I am so happy I do not know what to do. My daisy has never spoken to me before. “Commencing analysis for higher life form qualification.”
The daisies all begin to making whirling sounds as they look at me. I imagine they must think I’m one of them, an extra tall daisy. I let them look at me.
“Do you speak for your kind?”
I do not understand this question.
“Repeat — do you speak for your kind?”
I still do not understand, so I say “I beg your pardon?” again.
“Analysis at 30% completion. Please be aware that atmospheric cleansing has been ordered on your planet of residence. This process will eradicate 99.9% of multicellular lifeforms to allow full ecological reboot. Crew ships will arrive on planet surface to begin process in T-minus 8 minutes.”
I still don’t understand, but I think my daisy must be very intelligent to know so many big words. I don’t know that many words.
“That’s so nice,” I say.
“This process, per Intergalactic Ordinance 24A-1S, may be halted should the planet house intelligent residents who protest in favor of its current state as opposed to post-cleanse. In addition, it is also possible to opt out of cleansing should the current residents lack form of transportation and housing during cleansing and reboot.”
“Analysis at 75% completion. Do you speak for your kind?”
I think about this question. I think about how Miss Katy taught me to think about sentences I don’t understand one part at a time. My daisy is asking me a question. It is asking do I speak, which I do. It is also asking me if I speak “for your kind.” This part is not so easy, but I think hard, and I remember Mom. Mom at the shop, or the restaurant, or school, or the doctor’s.
Please excuse the mess. She’s autistic.
I’m sorry. She has autism.
She doesn’t understand. Please be kind.
Please be kind.
Kind means nice. When she asks for “Kind,” people are nice to me. And I am nice. The daisy asks me if I speak because I am kind.
“Yes,” I tell the daisy. “I speak because I am Kind.”
My daisy blinks. “Analysis complete,” it says. “Higher intelligence demonstrated. Identifying trait — kindness. Planet 83-Delta representative established — Edie Simpson. Edie Simpson, you now speak for your kind. Do you wish to commence atmospheric cleanse and ecological reboot for your planet? Do you protest the change?”
I do not understand “protest,” but I understand “changes,” and it sends a shiver through my spine. I can feel my head filling with a buzzing sound at the thought of the word “change.” I flap my hands rapidly, which sometimes works to clear the sound. I shake my head and stamp my feet. My daisy is staring at me, and so are its friends. I have to explain, I think as my head buzzes. I have to explain what a bad word that is. Change is not kind. Change is a word I don’t like. It is a word Mom calls “trigger.” A word I can’t stand because . . . because . . .
I open my eyes. I didn’t realize I had closed them. The daisies are turning off their blue lights one by one.
“The 83-Delta representative has protested. Atmospheric cleansing cancelled. All ships return to station for further instructions.”
The daisies are leaving now. One by one they blink out, whither, and fall to the ground. Overhead, the thunder and lightning begins to rumble away into the distance until they’re nothing more than a mumble behind the clouds.
Only my daisy is left now. It stands alone at my feet as a light drizzle begins to fall. I kneel over it and shield it from the raindrops. It’s still blinking its blue eye sleepily, but I know it’s happy to know I’m there.
“Good-bye, Edie Simpson.”
I wake in my bed and the first thing I do is look out the window. Torrents of rain are pouring out of the gray sky, as if the world is washing itself after . . .
I’m not sure. After all, nothing special happened yesterday. Nobody came. I peer out through curtains of rain, looking for daisies and don’t see a single one.
I dash out of bed and run downstairs barefoot. Mom and Dad are in the kitchen and look up as I run in.
“My daisy!” I exclaim. My head is starting to buzz with panic. I stamp my feet and slap the sides of my head to clear it, searching desperately for the words. “I — rain! Yard! My daisy!”
I feel Dad’s strong arms around me. He squeezes me tightly in his embrace and I feel better.
“It’s alright,” I hear him say, “look what Mom has for you.”
Slowly, cautiously, I open my eyes. Mom is standing in front of me. In her hands, she’s holding a small, perfect flower pot. In it is my daisy, safe and dry and smiling at me.
“You were out there sleeping next to it right before the rain got going,” she says gently, handing me the pot. “So we moved you both in here.”
I hold the pot in my hands. My friend the daisy is sleeping. There are no blue lights in its center. But that’s alright. It can sleep inside now, with me, away from the rain and thunder. I hug the pot tight. Mom and Dad hug me. I tell them I’m Happy. Mom’s eyes are wet like they’re Sad, but she is smiling like she is Happy, too.