There once was a little girl made of mud and born in a field of yellow mustard.
She woke up one day to the singing of the mustard, opened eyes that were never meant to open, and saw the sky. It took a second for the colors to register, but when they did, she found she liked them and wanted to see more. Slowly, inch by inch, she pulled herself up from the ground and went to look around.
She never questioned where she had really come from, why she had, or whether she had been something or somewhere else before waking up. Even after she was old enough to think such thoughts, she wasn't interested. Mud is not, by nature, a curious thing.
So instead of asking tricky questions, she ran around in the field, playing with the thousands upon thousand upon thousands of mustard plants that were her family. She didn't need to learn how to run: she was born already knowing. When she ran through the field, the wind would, more often than not, run with her, bringing her presents from what it assured her were far away places. These presents (which looked like rocks, only they were smaller and smoother and easier to break) the wind dumped all around her until many were stuck in her head.
They're seeds, the wind told her. Wait a bit, see what happens. You'll like it.
The next day (or maybe it was the next-next day, or the one after that), she woke up with a head full of thick ivy hair and flowers that attracted butterflies. The wind was right: she did like it.
She never went hungry. During the day she ate the sunshine that always filled the field. She never was thirsty: her skin collected dew in the mornings and drank it all on its own.
Another night later (unless it was the one after that, or the one after that), for the first time since she'd been alive, it started to rain. The little wet dots didn't hurt her. It was almost like the dew. She rolled over onto her belly so that her hair was covering most of her and went back to sleep.
The mustard closed in over her, like a cocoon, keeping out the worst of the wet. When she woke up the next morning, the rain had stopped and she felt odd. She stood up and found herself farther away from the ground than when she had gone to bed.
There was a layer of damp mud missing from the spot where she had been laying. While she had been asleep, the rain had made more mud, and during the night, she'd used it to grow a little taller without even noticing. Mustard Girl smiled and hopped on her new, longer legs. They felt like her old ones, only more so.
After a few more hops, she went running to try them out.
For a very long time (unless it wasn't), these were the only things of interest to happen.
* * * * *
The first human people she met were kind. She knew because they kept telling her so.
A man and a woman came to her field and settled down in the mustard, resting on top of a blanket they'd laid down and eating food from out of a basket they'd brought with them. They opened their mouths and made noises to one another in much the same way that the birds did.
Mud was not curious, but ivy was. Ivy crawled and creeped and poked and now ivy was rooted into her head, encouraging her to do likewise. Which is why the Mustard Girl was sitting completely still a few feet away from the man and woman, listening to their talk intently. They didn't notice her. Sitting the way she was, with her ivy and flower hair covering up her front, she looked just like a pile of plants.
"What a pretty flower," said the woman. Mustard Girl didn't understand the words, but she knew what the woman was saying in the same way she knew what her mustard family was saying, or what the wind or rabbits were saying.
She frowned beneath her ivy and tried to match up the words to the intent while the man said, "Which one?"
"The big red one on that mound over there. Right near the top."
The man got to his feet, gave a playful bow, and went over to the ivy to pluck the red flower.
Mustard Girl jumped to her feet and leapt backwards, out of reach. The woman shouted and the man almost fell down. All the flowers in her hair flapped opened and closed in silent laughter.
"Who are you?" said the woman, getting up. "What's your name?"
She tried to tell them, I am Mustard Girl! but they didn't hear her.
"Honey?" said the woman, dropping to one knee to make herself eye level with Mustard Girl. "Do you understand me?"
Yes! she tried to say. Again, the man and woman just looked at her, as though she hadn't said a thing.
Mustard girl had thought they would be like the birds or the mice or the rabbits. Like the birds and rabbits and mice, she knew what they were saying, even if she didn't know the actual sounds. But unlike the birds and rabbits and mice, these people didn't seem to be able to understand her. She would have to make mouth-noises like them, then.
"She's filthy," said the man.
Mustard Girl opened her mouth to speak, but only bird noises came out. She closed her mouth and frowned, trying to figure out how to make noises like the man and woman.
"Do you think she's got family around here?" said the man.
"Doesn't look like it. There's nothing out here for miles. . ." The woman touched Mustard Girl's hand, only to draw it quickly away. "She's freezing!"
"Come on, let's get her to the car. We can take her home, clean her up, and then maybe get some answers out of this. It's illegal to leave a little kid out in the middle of nowhere, isn't it?"
So they made their decision. They packed up their picnic and, while she was still distracted trying to figure out how to make people noises, the woman wrapped the blanket around Mustard Girl and led her across the field.
The field ended right against the road. Mustard Girl had only gone onto the road once or twice before. Both times had been entirely unpleasant. There was nothing alive about the road. It was just a big dead flat thing made out of icky smelling stuff that dried out her feet when she walked on it on a hot day. She tried to tell them she didn't want to go onto the road, but the woman just scooped her up and carried her to the car parked on the opposite side. They opened the doors, put the picnic things in, and then dropped her into the back seat.
The car made her feel ill. It smelled like metal- which in and of itself wasn't bad, but it was cramped and came with a noxious burning smell that she didn't know, want, or like, but accidentally ate up anyways the same way she ate sunshine. By the time they pulled the car to a stop in front of what they assured her was their house and her new home, most of her flowers had started to wilt, though the couple didn't seem to notice.
* * * * *
The house of the man and woman was big and tidy with a hedge fence and short grass and a row and smooth rocks leading up to the door. The inside had clean white floors and even cleaner walls and furniture that smelled funny but was fun to jump on and climb around in.
The first thing they did before anything else was make her wear dresses. The woman, it seemed, had always wanted a little girl to dress up, and immediately went out to buy as many dresses as she could.
Mustard Girl actually quite liked dresses in theory, but the ones the woman wound up getting for her were full of bows and ribbons that caught on everything and kept her from climbing on things.
While the woman was out getting the dresses, the man went to work on Mustard Girl's hair.
"It's a rats nest," he said, bringing a pair of scissors out from the drawer.
It stung when he cut the ivy, but he didn't believe her when she told him it hurt. When he was done, she no longer had thick masses of ivy, but a small green braid with only one yellow flower she had convinced the him to let her keep.
The shoes were the worst. She cried when they gave her shoes. The shoes cut her off from the dirt. She could no longer hear the ground grumbling to her or the flowers singing or the wind whispering. All she could hear was the man and the woman and the noises they made which, now that she was used to them, she was seriously beginning to dislike.
"You're so dirty," they said.
She looked down at herself. No I'm not, she said.
They of course didn't hear her.
"Don't try on any more of those dresses," said the woman, going into a small room down the hall. The heavy sound of water running filled the air. "Not until we clean you up."
She screamed when they held her under the water.
Unlike the rain, which had been light and patchy and had been partly warded off by the mustard anyways, this water was a solid stream that wore away an entire chunk of her arm and washed it down the drain.
She bit the man and kicked the woman until they let her go, and she ran out of the house, dripping mud onto the white tile floor as she did.
* * * * *
She spent the night in the park, lying on the grass, her hair unbound and her shoes long gone.
She curled into a little ball and thought of her field. She missed her field. The grass here was friendly enough, but it had an accent and spoke in a clipped sort of way that made listening to it tiresome.
The longer she sat in the grass- the slightly stupid but eager to please grass- the more homesick she became.
When she woke up to someone tugging on her hair. Immediately, she remembered the scissors the man and woman had used and shot up, trying to pull away from whatever was holding her. It didn't work: whoever it was had their hand practically woven into her hair. Their fingers were too tangled to get away from without it hurting.
"What a curious flower!" the man holding her cried. He wasn't the man from before, the one with the woman. He was skinnier and scruffier and had little windows stuck to his face. Mustard Girl looked around to see the flower he was referring to, but there was nothing there but grass.
Where? she asked.
The man didn't hear her. Instead he pulled her up to her feet and started walking towards a car parked by the curb. She wriggled and tried to get him off, but the man didn't even notice. For the second time that week, Mustard girl was put in a car and taken to somebody else's home.
* * * * *
The house the man took her to was much smaller than the one the couple had, but it compensated by having not only a much bigger yard, but an entire second house behind the first. While the first one was small and made of stone, the second one was huge and made of glass. He pulled her out of the car by the wrist, apparently unaware of her complaints, and lead her down the path into the greenhouse.
The glass house was hot and humid and full of plants. They were piled on shelves against the sides and inside pots along the ground and on top of tables in the middle. Hundreds of plants, thousands of them, even. She'd never seen so many different kinds in her life. She hadn't known so many existed.
As one, they all screamed when she and the man entered the room. She winced and tried to clap her hands over her ears, they were so loud. It didn't help, partly because the man kept walking and so dragged her wrist away, but mostly because the plants were screaming the noiseless way.
The plants inside the house loved the man. They cheered when he passed. They yelled their love for him as loudly as they possibly could. If they could have, they would've reached out their leaves, vines, and petals to try and touch him. She had never felt so much love in the air before in her entire life.
The man didn't seem to notice. He was as deaf as the picnic couple had been. He lead her through the aisle, completely unaware of his adoring audience. When they got to the end of the aisle, he let go of Mustard Girl and went to a pile of clay pots piled up in the corner.
Why are you so happy? she asked the plants closest to her.
We love him!
She rubbed her head where he'd pulled her hair. As far as she was concerned, there wasn't much worth loving about the man in glasses.
"Here we are," he said, pulling up a big red pot. "This should do it."
He carried it over to a spot near where she was standing. Once he'd gotten it into a good spot, he casually turned around, picked Mustard Girl up from under her armpits, and lifted her into the pot.
What is he doing? she asked the plants. The man went to the corner again, only this time he got one of the sacks sitting by the pots.
He came back with the sack and tore a hole in the material. Inside the sack was funny smelling dirt, which he began pouring into the pot, around her feet. She stood patiently, wondering what was going to happen next. The ivy was starting to wake up again, and with it, her sense of curiosity.
When the pot was full and she was buried almost up to her knees, the man left again, only to return with a spray bottle. First he sprayed the top of her head, then went through the aisles and sprayed all the other plants.
Mustard Girl supposed that he was trying to be nice, but she wished he hadn't done that. She'd already had her fill of water that morning and didn't need any more.
When the man had gone to the other side of the greenhouse and was busy with the plants there, Mustard Girl pried herself out of the pot of dirt and snuck out the door. With any luck, the man wouldn't notice she was gone until much later.
* * * * *
It was around midday when she left the greenhouse. She ran down the street and then down the next and then down the one after that. She was just darting across the road onto the fifth street when a blue pickup truck almost ran in to her.
Mustard Girl cringed and instinctively tried to protect her head as the truck stopped mere inches away from her.
"Hey!" The truck door was thrown open, and a woman stepped out. "Are you alright?"
The woman rushed over to Mustard Girl and put her hands on Mustard Girl's shoulders, trying to steady her. "Are you alright? Oh my God, hon, you coulda been killed! What were you thinking, running across like that? Are your parents around? Jeezum, I'm so sorry- you had me so scared! Are you alright?"
The words flew out of her mouth almost faster than Mustard Girl could make them out.
I'm fine, she told the woman. It didn't even touch me. You can let go of me now.
The woman released her shoulders and anxiously ran a hand through her yellow hair until she was fiddling with her ponytail.
"Are you sure?" said the woman.
Yes, said Mustard Girl. And then, You can hear me?
The woman looked confused. "Of course I can. Why wouldn't I?"
Because nobody else I've met has been able to understand me.
"They must not have been listening right, then. I can hear you perfectly."
Mustard Girl thought this over.
Will you take me home?
"Home?" said the woman.
My home. The mustard field.
"You live in a field?" She took a step back and seemed to actually notice what Mustard Girl was for the first time. "A field. I guess that makes sense." It was the woman's turn to think. "Do you know where it is? If it's not too far, then sure."
I think I can find it, if you'll take me.
The woman went around to the passenger side and opened the door. She gave a little mock bow and grinned.
"Your carriage awaits, madam."
Mustard Girl didn't know what that mean, but she knew it was supposed to be silly. She giggled and got inside and a few moments later, they were off.
* * * * *
The woman's name, it turned out, was Lettie.
It was the third car ride Mustard Girl had ever had in her life, and by far the most pleasant. Unlike either the green house man or the couple, Lettie kept the windows rolled down and let her stick her head out to breathe if the smell got too bad.
The ride was not a long ride. Mustard Girl remembered enough of the way from the couple's drive to take them out of the suburbs. From there, whenever she wasn't sure, she would have Lettie pull over and let her out. Then she would go over to the grass on the side of the road and stand in it, trying to get a feel for where she was. The closer they got to her field, the more familiar the dirt felt, and the clearer the grass's accents became.
She didn't even wait for the truck to come to a full stop when they reached the field. As soon as it came into view, Mustard Girl squealed and threw open the door. She hit the ground running and was halfway to the field before Lettie had smashed the brakes.
To her surprise, though, the mustard did not welcome her home. They greeted her as they would any stranger- cheerfully and politely, but without any sign that they knew her.
It's me! she said. Don't you remember me?
Hello, Me! they said. Nice to see you!
No, it's me, Mustard Girl. I live here!
So do we!
She didn't know what to say to that. She stood in the middle of the field and looked around helplessly. A breeze crept across the mustard, bending them back in yellow waves and blowing her hair around.
You're back! said the wind. I was worried.
She smiled. At least somebody was happy to see her. Why don't they recognize me?
You left, the wind said simply. They don't have very good memories.
Mustard Girl crossed her arms, dropped cross-legged to the ground, and pouted. She knew mustard didn't have a very long memory, but she didn't think they could forget her!.
"Is everything okay?" said Lettie, coming up beside her. "What's wrong?"
They don't remember me, said Mustard Girl. None of them do.
Lettie sat down next to Mustard Girl. For a long while, neither of them said anything.
"What are you going to do now?" she said eventually.
Mustard Girl rested her chin on her knees and wrapped her arms around her. I don't know. I don't want to stay if they don't remember me.
"Do you have anywhere else to go?"
She thought of the couple who had tried to make her their daughter, then of the man who had put her in the green house. There are a few people who want me, but I don't want to go to them.
A few more minutes passed. For the first time, Mustard Girl noticed how small her field really was. Any one of the streets she’d run down that day were longer across than her field was. It had never seemed so small before.
"Well," said Lettie eventually. "I live on an orchard not too far from here."
Oh? said Mustard Girl politely.
"Yeah." Lettie leaned back so she was partly laying down, resting on her forearms. "Apples, mostly. But we've got some other stuff. And a big old field of wild flowers off by the hill."
"Mmhmm. Kinda like those ones," she said, gesturing to the few barely budding flowers starting to regrow on Mustard Girl's head.
That sounds nice.
"It is. Or at least, I think it is. And, you know. If you wanted to, you could stay there. Just until you figure out where you can go, I mean. If you want."
Mustard Girl looked at her warily.
Will you try and make me wear dresses with bows on them that tear and snag on things? Will you make me cut back my hair with shears and make me wear shoes? Will you try and wash me away with tubs full of water?
"Is that what those other people did?"
Yes. Except for the man with windows on his face. He tried to plant me.
The woman smiled.
"You'll have to wear something, yes, but no bows unless you want them. You don't have to wear shoes, and you only have to prune your hair in winter when parts start to die. That will make it grow back even better when spring comes around. And I'll never try to wash you away, I promise."
And where will I stay? Will you put me in a pot and fill it with funny dirt?
Lettie looked like she was trying not to laugh. "If you like. If you don't, you can sleep outside when you want to and inside when you don't. If you need something in the middle, then I can probably build you a tree house or something. “
Mustard Girl thought about this.
Okay, she said, getting to her feet. I’ll stay with you. Just until I can find somewhere to stay.
“Right,” said Lettie, hiding a smile. She got up and stretched. “Just until you find a place to stay.”
Together they walked back to the truck. The mustard bent in the wind, cheerfully waving them off.