Forget Me Not
by Michèle Leblanc

I came on like a light, so charged with energy I must have glowed in the dark. I hadn't slept this well in months. On the bedside table, 4:59 flicked to 5:00. As if deep in a dream, Adam let out a low, mournful sigh and rolled away from me. I slipped out from under the rumpled sheet and sat on the edge of the bed, vaguely wondering what made this morning different. Then it hit me: the baby had slept through the night. Or else something terrible had happened to her. I bolted down the hall.

The pale red glow of impending sunrise bathed the nursery and lit up the eyes of the Jungle Book menagerie dangling above the crib. With the summer blanket loosely twisted around her plump little legs, the baby was breathing noisily through her nose, her strawberry lips loosely puckered around her thumb. I made a mental note to ask the pediatrician whether I should try to wean her of that. When I drew the blanket away, her eyelids fluttered—damn!—but the heavy fringe of brown lashes relaxed and settled back onto her peachy cheeks.

I tiptoed out and went to check on the triplets. They too were still dead to the world, sprawled atop their spaceship beds like fallen superheroes on some interplanetary battlefield. From the door, it was impossible to tell them apart but for their comic book pajamas.

The house itself seemed to be dozing, under the spell, perhaps, of the ceiling fans lazily stirring the air in every room.

Still unconscious, Adam had pulled the sheet over his head in spite of the heat. From underneath came the familiar bumblebee buzz I'd found so sweet when we were still teenaged lovers.

Stealing into the bathroom, I closed the door and peed sitting close to the edge so the flow wouldn't tinkle. For the first time in forever, I had a two-hour head start on the day. And I would spend it on a solitary sunrise stroll, something I hadn't done since my med school years.

I pulled on yesterday's clothes, straight from the hamper, and popped my birth-control pill. Dry-brushed my furry teeth—vacantly staring at my reflection in the shower door—and drew my hair back into a hasty ponytail. When I turned to check myself out in the mirror, something caught my eye. Something dark. Something peeking out of my right ear.

Grabbing a hand mirror, I leaned in. What was that? I blinked. Twice. Held my breath. Looked again. And felt an irresistible urge to reach for a washcloth, a swab, anything, and to have it out. For there, cradled in the cavity of my outer ear—that seashell-shaped bowl so aptly named concha—grew what looked like a tiny flowering plant.

As I gaped at the minuscule blue flowers, each with a yellow dot in its centre, the scientist in me coolly whispered, "Hey … exhale … chill out … this could be interesting."

Small mercy, there was nothing in my left ear.

Even as my shaking hand reluctantly brought the mirror up again, I prayed that my eyes had deceived me, that the vision had been just that—a misfiring of my overworked synapses; or, at least, that this was some weird medical condition I could deal with rationally.

The flowers still peeked.

Should I run screaming into the bedroom? Rouse Adam? What if—? I gripped the edge of the vanity to steady myself. Took a deep breath. And another. And another. What was this … anomaly? How—? When—? Or was this yet another one of those bizarre dreams I'd been having lately between jabs at the snooze button? Pinching myself only resulted in a blue welt on my thigh—I bruise easily—but it didn't make the growth go away.

I stood in front of the mirror for a long time, torn between the urge to yank it out like a weed and the need to get to the root of this … phenomenon. At last, my scientific mind taking over, I decided that a walk would surely help me clear my head.

I pulled the elastic from my ponytail and put on a silk headband on my way downstairs, rifled through the study for my Audubon Field Guide to Wildflowers—a gift from a patient—and let the front door click shut behind me.

At first it felt kind of strange, strolling the streets with flowers growing in my ear. Yet, it was also oddly … familiar. Like the first time you wear contact lenses. Or a wedding band. After a while, you sort of forget about it.

In the horizontal light of dawn, potentiality permeated the streets. Air conditioners purred coolness into slumbering houses with curtains still drawn and porch lights glowing faintly. A marmalade cat was light-footing it home after a night of gallivanting, while robins and cardinals fought for airtime to advertise their superior genetic material.

While my brain struggled to make sense of my predicament, I wandered into a park and sat on a slatted bench across from some empty swings. With the sun behind me now, the bench and I cast an elongated silhouette on the grass at my feet. I watched my shadow raise a cautious hand to its ear, where it hovered like some ungainly butterfly. Was the hum of the world growing fainter?

A benevolent breeze ruffled the pages of the wildflower book on my lap, an invitation to browse the colour plates. And there it was—the flower in my ear—right between the Greek Valerian and the Wild Blue Phlox: Myosotis scorpioides, True Forget-Me-Not. "A plant with several tiny, light blue tubular flowers with golden eyes," read the text, "found mostly in warm or temperate regions." Well certainly my ear was both warm and temp—

OK. I must be losing it …

But now the hands on my watch reminded me that—certifiable or not—I had to get on with my day.

"Rise and shine everybody!"

I put the baby in bed with Adam while I wrested my superheroes from their Star Wars bed sheets, and soon the growth in my ear took a backseat to the daily morning frenzy: eat breakfast, get the triplets dressed and off to school, make myself presentable for work, kiss Adam and the baby goodbye, and wonder for the billionth time whether he really really meant it when he said he thoroughly enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad.

By the time I boarded the commuter train, I'd almost put this morning's curious awakening out of my mind—until a woman across the aisle began to glare at me over her morning paper. My hand flew to my ear. But there my neatly knotted silk headband wove a soft curtain between the outside world and my extraordinary secret. Then, as I pressed an iPod earbud a bit deeper into my left ear, I realized that its twin, dangling on my chest, was pumping out a thin, metallic allegro. With a contrite grin, I stuck the bud into my pocket.

The clinic was already bustling. Slipping into my white coat, I quickly reviewed the day's schedule: it was going to be a busy one. Good. Perhaps my subconscious would work it all out for me while I applied my conscious energy to the act of healing others. Still, every time I peered into a patient's ear, my mind wandered back to the tiny flowers that had sprouted in mine.

Between appointments, instead of writing up my consultations, I searched the Web for clues. But the National Library of Medicine returned only apologies—We're sorry. No results were found on the site for this search.—no matter how vague or how precise my query, while Google stubbornly ignored all notions of flowers growing in the ear and urged me to search instead for flowers growing in the heart.

At lunchtime, in the cafeteria, my assistant cut in front of me in the checkout line and whispered she'd observed my many trips to the washroom. Was I all right, she wanted to know. Short of telling her that I'd repeatedly dashed in there to inspect my ear, I ventured to ask whether she'd noticed anything different about me today.

"Well," she said, "now that you mention it … I didn't want to, um, say anything … but that new blush you're wearing? It's a bit much …"

I shrugged and handed the cashier a twenty. I don't wear blush.

"I'm ho-o-me!"

Kiss the husband, nuzzle the baby, hug the triplets: a prelude to the daily evening frenzy. Check the boys' homework, get supper, bathe the baby and tuck her in while Adam washes the dishes and gets the superheroes into their costumes. Do two loads of laundry, prepare three identical lunches for tomorrow, catch up on email, work a bit on the menu for Saturday's dinner party, make myself presentable for bed …

Under the cooling spray of a midnight shower, I tried not to think of the Forget-me-nots. Scrupulously scrubbed my calloused feet with the pumice stone. Gave my legs the closest shave ever and exfoliated every square centimetre of skin. Lathered on some decadent passion fruit-scented bath gel. Treated my curls to a shampoo that promised renewed strength and vitality.

When at last I chased the suds away with the handheld showerhead, my eye caught something dark racing down the length of the tub. And with a sigh of bittersweet relief, I watched the tiny cluster of Forget-me-nots swirl once, twice, three times around the rim, and disappear into the drain.

That was yesterday.

Now it's five o'clock again, and again the baby slept through the night. Like yesterday, I awoke feeling uncommonly alert and refreshed, and eager for an early-morning stroll.

But I'm lying here instead, watching the ceiling fan stir the summer heat. Every few breaths or so, Adam hums like a bumblebee. And I'm pretty sure that if I glance back at the spot where the bedsheet ends and my bare stomach begins, the Forget-me-nots now growing in the hollow of my belly button will still be there.

Having taken her leave from a Dilbert corporate world, Michèle Leblanc today blissfully channels multiple personas: self-employed communications consultant, corporate writer in both official languages, fiction writer, travel writer, photographer, spouse, sister, friend, and slave to two fat cats. In 2006, she published her very first piece—a travel vignette—in The Gazette and The Globe and Mail. "Forget me not" is her first published short story. Her current projects include several travel articles, lyrics for songs composed by her better half, and a collection of short stories about a girl growing up in Québec in the sixties.