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Emissaries from the PostworldKatharine Haake

Katharine Haake
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Emissaries from the Postworld: Account F


One day a flower appeared where nothing ever was before. It had been so long since any one of us had seen a thing we weren’t sure what to call it at first.

Um, one said.

A-hem, another said.

Until one of us arrived at the word: flower.

It’s a flower, she said, the italics all hers, as if otherwise it might have been a railroad or rhinoceros. Words like that didn’t slide off the tongue anymore, not like fortitude and perseverance, not like grit. There was something so provocative and, in other ways so unmitigated about this flower—its bright yellow petals speckled with blue and veined with filaments of umber and a shade of paint we once called elephant—we found ourselves entranced.

Well, that’s how it was right there at the start.

The petals, which were large and ovular, had a kind of fuzz that rippled in the breeze, as if alive.

Of course, it’s alive, we said. It’s a flower.

We thought about this for a while, but what no one said was, like before, because what was so great about before anyway? Well, besides railroads and rhinoceroses, besides flowers.

And so we took to chatting amiably about it as we waited in our queues, each with a theory as to what it might portend—an end to strife, more of everything, rain. Some made cheerful wagers on when it might be joined by another. Others took to having little gatherings around it. You couldn’t really call them parties because not even the lighthearted among us indulged in such frivolity as that, but at four o’clock each afternoon, people gathered at the site bearing bottles of whatever they had left to drink and bags of their last remaining snacks to savor with the others as they visited together and revelled in the flower.

In all its speckled comeliness, one said.

Or fragrant bouquet, another offered, although this gave us pause. Did it even have an odor? It was hard to tell. Weren’t flowers supposed to smell sweet?

Like honey, one blithely remarked, for most of us remembered honey.

No, no, another said. Like honeysuckle!

Ha, still another said, honeysuckle is a flower. You can’t say that—a flower is a flower.

Then one of the least favored among us used a word we’d all forgotten. That, she said, is a tautology. She said it quietly but with the air of smug superiority we all disliked in her. Who used words like that anymore, words loaded with privilege?

Being the type to keep to myself, I wasn’t there, of course, but I heard about it. We all did. News of that word spread like what we once called wildfire. Still, we tried not to judge her despite what she thought of us. The flower had appeared. It was speckled and had a scent we found hard to describe—maybe bristly? That’s what we knew. That’s all we wanted to know.

Most of us had some books at home, but we didn’t read them. What for? But they were still useful as doorstops, or stepstools or the occasional barricade, and if you had enough of them to pile into an ottoman, you could put your feet up and kick back without anything taxing about it. So it is perhaps for this reason that none of us—neither the lighthearted nor the somber among us—were expecting it when the one who used words to flaunt herself above the rest of us appeared at the side of the flower one day with a book—a very large book, what we once called a tome.

Well, as soon as we heard about this, we all went there at once, even the very old, even the children—even me. When we arrived, she was already at it, the book opened out like a flower of its own beside the flower that was growing from the very ground we stood on and where she herself was kneeling with a mien of such fierce concentration that, by comparison, we were made to feel petulant and small. For there before us on the pages of the book were not words, but drawings—bright and colorful drawings of so many different flowers you could never believe them all!

The girl, on her knees, had a pinched crease in the skin bridge above her nose.

Harrumph, one said, bending in close to see.

But the girl kept intently turning pages as if she was thinking of something not us, maybe searching for a word, or a genus or a genome for this flower that had appeared where nothing was before. We thought about that nothingness and couldn’t stop the feeling that began to run among us, a kind of wonder: For how could it be possible that the world—our world—had once contained such flora, each plant so extravagant in color and form?

Such bounty, one of us marveled at last.

Ah, I sighed, yes—such surfeit.


Katharine Haake is the author of the eco-dystopian science fiction fable, The Time of Quarantine; the California hybrid prose lyric, That Water, Those Rocks; and three collections of stories. She a professor emerita at California State University, Northridge, and lives in Los Angeles.

This account is excerpted from Haake’s new book, What Happened Was, winner of the Nothing Exists Alone Climate Change Fiction Series from 11:11 Press (2024), and was originally published as part of a diptych, “Diptych: Flower, One,” in Lumina (2018), under the title “A Flower of Its Own.”