Mama holds us close, long roots circled deep.

Safe with me, she sprays. Her scents hang just a moment then float thin with breeze.

I’m at edge of mamacircle, so I see him best. Leaver, I breathe.

Don’t say the name, Mama warns.

He’s just a black speck under far trees, so I open all eyes upstalk to see better.

The speck moves into full sun, and I see he has strong roots furrowing earth and a big full sunhead.

We pull close in to mamacenter.

Why’s he back? Sister Third asks.

Where’d he go? Brother Second sprays.

Why’d he leave? a new bud asks. She hasn’t heard the story.

Mama stays quiet. She scents sadness and fear.

My roots find a rock deep down and grip it tight. I only know Leaver through storytime. Evil Leaver. Betrayer. He talks to birds. He leaves Mama. But now he’s back.

Leaver takes his time. His roots dig strong, raise long high furrows. His stalk sways forward, back, forward.

Sunsoak time is over. Bug scents fade. Still he closes in. I see sky lights when he’s close enough to scent.

Hello. Like he hasn’t been gone so long. Like he didn’t hurt Mama so bad.

We hold scents tight.

His sunhead is wide, leaves browned at the tips, like he’s soaked too long.

He moves closer. New bud squeezes stalk eyes shut.

But Leaver doesn’t scent angry or mean. He scents excitement.

Long trip, he scents, and then he sprays something new. I don’t know what it means. It hints adventure.

So many new soils, he sprays. I’ll story.

Mama won’t let him story, no chance, I think.

High steep hills full of stone, he scents. Water rushing in rivers impossible to cross.

Why then? Mama’s scents are ringed with tension.

The wonder! His scent is thick. The huge wide land. Beautiful deep soils, perfect for seeds.

No one leaves mamafield, Mama scents. No one leaves Mama.

Mamafield depletes, Leaver scents.

What he says is true. I can feel it at the edge of mamacircle. The soil is better further out. More food, more worms.

Mamafield is always home, she scents. She makes Leaver sound wrong.

Will run out someday.

Someday is never.

Someday is sooner than tomorrow.

You spoke to birds! I’ve never smelled such anger from Mama.

Leaver doesn’t answer. He migrates his eyes away, starts digging outcircle.

You leave! Mama sprays thick in the air. You leave now.

We pull roots away from Leaver. He pulls outcircle and even further. He moves until I can’t scent him anymore. Sun dips below edge of mamafield, so I close stalk eyes. Maybe he stops, maybe he goes.

What is his story? We crowd close, fill the dirt of his passage. What did he do?

He leaves home. He leaves mamacenter.

But we know there’s more to the story.

He talks to birds.

Everyone is so still I can smell the hopping of a night bug.

Tell, whispers new bud. Tell, tell.

I feel Mama’s roots around my own, guarding, protecting.

Even from start, even when a bud, Leaver moves further from Mama than Mama wants. Leaver digs deeper, Leaver argues when Mama says sleep. Leaver argues when Mama says soak. Then, one day, birds attack.

My new leaves curl inward at talk of birds.

Evil birds, Mama scents. Birds dive down straight from sun, dig claws into stalk, pull seeds from fruit. Fruits broken open and bleeding. All those seeds. All gone.

My sunhead shrinks down.

All those seeds, all dead. The sad from Mama is so thick. But Leaver, he talks to evil birds. We all breathe it in: disbelief, anger, outrage.

How does he talk, Mama?

He talks with vibrating leaves, pushing air. She scents disgust. Leaver is so low, so vulgar.

And then he abandons. I give him his name: Leaver. And I have you beautiful, good children, my last seeds. You do not leave. You do not betray.

Leaver must go! Second sprays.

Send him back to his bird friends. Third scents pure anger.

You tell him, Mama scents to me. You are oldest, first seed.

I finally scent Leaver at far edge of mamafield, past where I have ever dug. I don’t feel safe so far outcircle, but he’s traveled alone for years. He’s been so far outside we wouldn’t even scent his death. And that’s what he deserves.

The sun is full gone, so I move slowly, keep eyes closed. No need to waste energy for Leaver. I feel nightcat brush my stalk and I hold still until it’s gone.

When I get close, Leaver scents before I can tell him Mama says leave.

I find field, he sprays. Perfect beautiful field. Earth soft and deep without stones. Worms plenty.

Why do you talk to birds? I scent angry. Birds are enemies.

First I follow birds because I try to get seeds back for Mama.

Talk with vibrating leaves. I make sure to attach disgust to the scents.

How else?

Mama is right. Leaver is evil, like birds. Impossible to win argument with Leaver.

Birds don’t understand, Leaver scents. I vibrate leaves to push air. But birds don’t talk back.

You don’t get seeds back, I scent.

I follow birds. I follow and follow. I travel over many hills. I grow weak, my stalk thin, no time for soaking. But I lose them, the birds. They fly too fast.

Birds are evil, I scent.

One day I find new bud, he scents. New bud from seed. Seed dropped from birds. This new bud is our brother.

Not possible. Now he lies. Brothers and sisters grow only with Mama.

But Leaver goes on. His scent is true. He is my new brother. I help him out of shade into full sun.

Why is new brother not here?

World is big, he scents. Many fields.

I don’t understand. And then I do.

Other mamafields? I scent.

Little brother follows me. We find another mamafield.

Other Mamas. I do not believe. There is only one Mama.

You know what else?

I don’t want to know what else, but he goes on.

Anyone can flower.

It’s too much. It’s too wild, too strange. How can it be true? Everyone can flower? Seeds can travel far and become new buds without Mama.

You can flower, he scents.

No one flowers but Mama.

You could make flowers and collect pollen.


But something inside me scents: yes.

You could make new buds.


I think about little flowers. I think about the sweet smell of pollen and how it sticks to my leaves. I’ve dreamed of little flowers along my stalk, but I’ve never told Mama.

Leaver sniffs for my reply, but I don’t have one.

My own flowers, I think. My own seeds, my own buds.

Leaver pulls his inward roots in, his outward roots out.

Where do you go? I scent. I’ve forgotten for a moment, so strange are his stories.

I leave, he scents. That’s what Mama wants, true?

It’s night, I scent. But he keeps moving.


He stops digging.

I’ll talk to Mama. Maybe she wants to hear his crazy story. Mama will make sense of it. I’ll talk to Mama in morning.

My eyes are open when the first good ray falls on world’s edge. I want to go incircle, but still I wait until the grasses release their first scents.

I move in through my brothers and sisters, touching roots gently to wake.

What is it? Brother Fifth scents.

Does Leaver leave? scents Sister Fourth.

It’s all right, I tell them. I talk with Mama.

Mama’s eyes are open when I reach center. Does Leaver leave?

Soon, I scent.

That’s what Leaver does, she scents. Because Leaver doesn’t love Mama.

Leaver says some things. He says he follows birds that day. He sees birds drop seeds. He sees new brother. From dropped seed.

How many seeds destroyed that day? She doesn’t wait for my answer. Fruit torn apart. Seeds drying and dying on mamafield. I can barely understand the words for the pain attached.

It’s all right, Mama. I scent comfort. Leaver says new brother lives. Maybe other seeds live.

No brothers and sisters grow without Mama.

Leaver says new brother found new field.

No field without Mama.

I can go look. I don’t tell her about other Mamas and how Leaver said anyone can flower. I think of traveling up and down the far hills. I think of tasting new soils and seeing new skies.

I’m thinking of all those new smells so I don’t realize at first that Mama has not answered.

What, Mama?

My own bud. My first alive seed! She’s spilling anger and hurt like a new bud. You betray Mama.

No, Mama. Not betray.

You vibrate leaves in air now too?

No, no, I scent. But really I mean yes. Because I’m thinking about following birds and seeing new mamafields. I feel ashamed. But I want her to understand. Leaver says birds take fruit and drop seeds and seeds become new brothers and sisters.

You believe Leaver?

Leaver has seen and smelled.

You defend Leaver. You defend birds. Birds kill my seeds. You don’t love Mama.

I do love Mama. This is truth. I love Mama and I love my brothers and sisters.

If you love Mama you will not go. You will not believe Leaver.

The scents are deep with challenge. This is where I tell her I will never leave. That I will dig in the mamafield until I am old and all my leaves are long and wide and have soaked in all their sun and my roots can no longer dig. Until my stalk shrivels and my eyes shut fast. And then my brothers and sisters will push me into the shade trees and I will sink slowly back into the earth and all my pieces will become dirt.

But that is not what I want. I want to look over the far hills before I become soil. I want to see the rivers and the stone mountains and dig in the fields that Leaver has found. Maybe I even want to vibrate my leaves and try to make talk that birds can understand.

My hesitation speaks. I have not said please Mama forgive me. I have not said Mama I will never leave you.

Her hurt and anger hang thick around me.

I know what she’ll spray at storytime. That I betray her, that I talk with birds. That evil Leaver tricked me to leave. And when the birds come again, she will say it is because me and Leaver told them to.

I want Mama to love me, I want her to say everything is all right. I want her to understand. I almost say I’ll stay just so she’ll stop the anger and hurt scents. Instead, I send roots out and pull myself away from Mama.

All my sisters and brothers give me path. They won’t let their roots touch mine.

When I reach the edge of the circle I keep going. Leaver is further out than before, but he is still. He is waiting for me.

I move and move until I’m outcircle. All around me is wide unworked dirt. It’s more difficult to furrow. But the soil is richer here. Even just a little ways out from the mamafield there are plants I have never scented before.

I feel so lonely for Mama. But I also feel strength inside me, new and free. Someday I’ll find new mamafields. Someday I’ll pollen. The sun is full out. My path is clear.

I feel the flowers inside me, waiting to bloom.

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Corie Ralston's writing has been found in Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, among others. She has a full time job as a staff scientist as Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and is also the managing director for the Speculative Literature Foundation. In general, she works too much, daydreams too little, and always wishes she had more time. She can be found at and on Facebook.

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