My yard is alive with French marigolds, the dark orangey red ones with a brighter orange woven in. Their variegated petals are hardy, their flower faces reaching toward the sun. I am glad the bees like them. I’m still eating honey, and I like knowing I’m offering them something in return. This is the third fall, I think, I have had them in my courtyard garden. Last year there was a bush of them in the vegetable garden that grew as tall as me. For months I watched and wondered if it would ever bloom. This year I let them take over the path to my front gate. They cropped up on one side of the stepping stones and creeped west. I didn’t have the heart to take them out. I walked around them, put another stepping stone beside them. It was easy to do. Over time their steady growth and sprawl had them all but blocking my exit, but by then they had hundreds of buds. I couldn’t pull them up. Now I carry my bike over them. If my landlord brings me a new stove, I will try to tie them back, try to save them. If I need to I will cut them and fill every vase and glass jar in the house with marigolds.
They are volunteers, grown from seeds I brought back with me from Ajijic. They make me think of Rodolfo and Ana. I think of my first frustrated conversations about watering the plants at the Aldama house. I tried to get them to come on certain days, so I wouldn’t have to water so often. It was supposed to be their job. I remember watering the big pot on the downstairs patio with the hose. I had never seen French marigolds get so huge. The gigantic bush fell in place with the exotic air, with the rockets set off by the Catholic Church to celebrate a saint, with the bands of musicians roaming the neighborhood on Mother’s Day, serenading their women in the early morning darkness, with the cry of “Tamales” a song in the late evening, the vendor pushing the stack of metal steamers in his wheelbarrow over the rough streets. And then, without knowing, without seeing it come to pass, it all became just the way the world was. It became my world.
I remember Ana carrying water out to the pots of marigolds on the upstairs veranda. I remember collecting the dead blossoms handful by handful in a brown paper gift bag on the kitchen table. I remember walking home from Ana and Rodolfo’s on my last night there, crying in the dark, the pain surpassing anything I could have imagined. My marigolds are blooming now, in perfect time for the Day of the Dead. I will put them on my altar, and they will talk to me of Ajijic. They will speak to me of Ana and Rodolfo, remind me how they went from strangers to family in so little time, how it broke my heart to leave them. The flowers tie me to them, remind me of the two of them walking me home on the cobblestone streets, past midnight when I’d had too much to drink, the three of us singing the last song we’d danced to in their upstairs courtyard, the French music still playing in my head. I will save this year’s blossoms, and I’ll save next year’s, too. And on quiet October nights they will sing to me in French, walk me home, drunk and boisterous in the warm night air, keep me safe. They are my Mexican marigolds.