Extant

“Do you want me to read to you, LB? Your books made it over from the other office.”

I shook my head no and imagined standing, slowly, and wrapping myself into the long, grey curtains separating his office and storage space. It was some last resort I’d use to force his understanding, though I didn’t move an inch. It is what children do when adults stop listening, stop seeing them. They act out their grief in ingenious ways.

He stayed with me through my silence; he turned away to the light. I could feel that he didn’t know what to do, that he was at a loss for how to continue on.

Then, finally, mercifully, he left me there.

“You know,” he said, “I really need to work on my plants. I wasn’t expecting to do this today, but some of them are hurting.”

“Do you think you might want to help me?”

I nodded and stayed stock still on the couch watching his every move.

“There are all of these dead leaves that need to be cut away, and then they all need to be watered.”

He moved like he was very, very tired. The sadness I’ve always felt in him followed close behind like a child waiting for instructions. There was some weight across his shoulders keeping him from standing tall, from allowing himself his full height. He looked old and sad and beautiful and fragile.

His hair kept falling into his eyes.

“Did your mother keep house plants?” he asked.

I said nothing. I wanted to say everything. I wanted to tell him that she’d been too sad to try and keep anything alive.

“Do you have plants in your home?”

I told him that I did. That I had a fern that nearly died until I moved it right up against the window in the room where I write. Now it was reaching, I told him, and saving itself.

He disappeared behind the curtains and came back with a red pot, a blue watering can.

“You shouldn’t over water them,” I said. “That’s the worst thing you can do.”

He swept the dead leaves into a pile, then placed them inside the red pot. He walked back to his chair, sat down and looked at me.

I told him that the philodendrons were beyond the point of survival, he said they could be revived.

I miss talking to you, really talking to you, I said wordlessly; I hoped he’d heard me.

There were voices outside, women working in some capacity and laughing and beckoning me back out into the world.

“Goodbye, P.”

“See you next week, LB.”

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