Arms full, Mark stands wedged with the screen door at his back. He shifts the brown bags, propping them up with his knee against the door while he tries to maneuver. Heddy sits at the kitchen table watching her husband and sets her jaw even before she hears the key turn in the lock.
The kitchen fills with fresh damp air.
“I guess I don’t have to ask where you’ve been” she says, her tone flat, looking at him over the rim of her coffee mug.
“Not if you can read or if you have any common sense. I know you can read,” he says. The bags say “Central Hardware” in big red letters.
The April sun falls in tidy squares on the speckled green linoleum and on the formica table where just moments before Heddy sat listening to the house tick. A mug of coffee sits surrounded by a shoal of plant catalogs.
“Were they crowded?”
“The first sunny weekend in a month? Jammed. You know how it gets. Maybe not. You hardly ever want to go.”
“I guess I don’t.”
“Your friend Martha Ann used to be a hardware junkie. She loved to go in and talk up the hard goods.” Mark leans against the counter, the bags on their sides behind him. “She sure liked men.”
“I remember,” she says. She picks up a catalog and opens it. She does remember. She’d walk into a room and the two of them would be in there laughing, and when they saw her they’d shoot each other a look about as subtle as a supermarket tabloid headline.
“Whatever happened to good old Martha Ann? I don’t hear you talk about her much since that week she spent here last summer.”
“Were there any good sales on garden things?”
“Yes, she liked men, all right,” Mark says as though he’s bringing a basket of kittens to a kindergarten.
“Sometimes at this time of year you can get a good buy on peat moss and stuff,” she says, then asks, “What was it you said you went for?”
“I didn’t say. You were still sleeping when I left.”
Heddy had not been sleeping. She tries to concentrate on how her hand feels in the sun. And then she says, “I haven’t been sleeping well.”
Heddy studies Mark’s face, finds nothing, but decides to turn to a safer topic anyway. “Let’s see what you got.”
“You’ve been talking in your sleep again. Bad dreams.” He doesn’t want to let this go.
“You noticed,” she can’t keep her voice even. She’s heard herself screaming in her sleep, felt the terror in her moans.
“You’ve been keeping me awake,” he says.
“Loving as always.” He used to wake her when she had nightmares, hold her in his arms until she slept.
“That’s me. Devoted.”
Heddy walks over to the coffee maker. It’s nearly empty, but she says, “Coffee?
“I stopped at the diner for breakfast.”
“Those hash browns and eggs will kill you.”
“Don’t hold your breath. Not in your life time.”
Through the window Heddy sees the bright golden arcs of the forsythia and thinks that they hold all the sunlight of spring in their wild curves.
He peers down at what she’s reading. “I see you’re back to mooning over catalogs.”
“You know I want to put in perennials, ones I can count on every year. Like the forsythia that was here when we came.”
“Why can’t you be happy with marigolds and petunias? Other women are.”
What other women, she wonders, the ones with children? “If we had put in the bulbs when I wanted to we would have had daffodils and tulips and crocus now for years.”
“So? That’s your favorite song. If we had done this, if we had done that.”
Neither of them says anything for a while. Mark paces, and stands again at the counter. “You’re the original Miss If-coulda-shoulda. Heddy-if-coulda-shoulda. Has a ring to it, doesn’t it?”
“And I want to plant babies breath and roses. And chrysanthemums for fall.”
In her fantasies she plants and replants, landscaping the yard to perfection. She wants lilacs and hydrangea, big old-fashioned blue hydrangeas, and she wants a peegee hydrangea that would start white and then turn pink and bronze in August. She would make arrangements of the dried flowers.
“How impractical can you get.”
She looks out at the bright tangle of forsythia swaying in the wind, graceful as a girl.
It is at this moment that Heddy decides she wants to be buried in the back yard, planted in full sun. She tries out a series of locations. She imagines Mark amiable, cooperative, docile, as he digs one grave after another for her.
She smiles at the thought.
“What’s up with you?” he asks.
She can’t explain. “What did you buy?”
“Stuff. Lots of stuff. But look at this.” He rummages through the bags and pulls out a pair of clipping sheers. “Look.” He releases the safety catch and holds them in the air to cut through imaginary branches.
“Vorpal,” she says. “Very vorpal.”
“What?” Mark doesn’t understand.
“Snicker snack,” she says, not caring, pleased to have thought of it. “The vorpal blades.”
“I can hardly wait to get to that forsythia. I’ve wanted to do this for years.”
“Mark,” she says, then stops. This is the first time he’s said that he wants to cut the forsythia. She’s sure.
“Look, when I get through it’ll be a big yellow ball just like the sun. You’ll see. Come on. Bring your coffee out and keep me company.”
Heddy remembers her vision of an amiable Mark, willing to bury her over and over, no matter how many times she inconveniently resurfaces. To bury her easily and calmly, wherever she wants.
She stands by his side shivering in the still chilly air. Mark leans into his task, breathless. Through her tears, the blur of golden branches seems like flames. The sheers flash in the sun. The branches fall cold at their feet.
About the author:
Miriam N. Kotzin teaches creative writing and literature at Drexel University where she directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum , Slow Trains, Smoke Long Quarterly, Littoral, Storied World, The Glut, Toasted Cheese, SaucyVox, HiNgE, The Beat, Yankee Pot Roast, edifice WRECKED, The Rose & Thorn, rumble, The Quarterly Staple, Southern Ocean Review, Dead Mule, Word Riot and Xaxx. Her poetry has appeared in many print and online publications.
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