flowers to encourage
flowers to encourage
The morning starts as a holiday. Our jobs call and cancel until further notice. Yawning, we drink coffee in the dark of the living-room, immersed in the sound of rain drumming all around us. The night was sleepless and turbulent because of thunderclaps that shook our apartment and triggered car alarms.
It rains in buckets, in rivulets, in streams.
I have never seen so much water in my life.
The streets are unfamiliar—everything vanishing under a churning river—and we watch, with bated breath, an ambitious car venture out of the apartment gates and drift to the middle of the road. We predict he’ll be swept downstream, into the backwaters of backroads.
The car struggles around the intersection and retreats back to the apartment.
We laugh. There is no danger yet.
Flashing lights in the gray swirling clouds.
And still it rains.
We watch the news on my phone—cars completely submerged, kayakers paddling down freeway rapids, the downtown area transformed into a swirling sea from which skyscrapers poke out the top of their heads.
We watch as a woman in a white vehicle steers around a security barrier and into a submerged underpass ocean. A construction worker runs after her car, his mouth open in a silent shout. The light of her cell phone waves frantically as the car sinks slowly into the dark waters.
The car disappears and so does the light.
Eight people drowned that day.
Will I lose it all
These moments of clarity
When my demons come?
in the wake of our discussion,
we hurl insults like grenades,
like bomb vessels bursting, a
face-off at opposite corners
of the room, and rage rends
the air, lends the atmosphere
a note of storms clawing at
our beached bodies, a volley
of venomous spray, when you
tell me that everything i do is
mediocre and i retaliate with
the observation that nobody
likes you, you are friendless
and alone, always, then you
scream, you stupid cunt! and
the windows shudder with the
volume of our passing—please,
love, don’t remember this, i
towards you now,
closer and closer
with my mouth hanging open,
my mouth is a black hole
a maelstrom that
shatters my face apart,
a hole from
coming up to
grind you, it rises
from the crouched ladder of
a furious noise
it swallows up
Most beautiful of things I leave—
flowers fall to whispered husks
in barren fields, cold, gray,
the spiral of dead leaves
as smoke rises
from dirt mounds.
of an empty playground
groaning in the wind.
The echo of the last cry,
swallowed in the earth.
If you say “good morning,” he will look up
from his weeding, or whatever he is doing in
the fenced area of his front yard, look at you
as if he just caught you mid-squat in the dirt,
and turn his wrinkled nose away. If you knock
on his door to talk about his rusted Accord
blocking your driveway, you see his scowling
face in the window—his greeting, a middle finger.
He’s been known to throw things. The family next
door know not to say anything as they pass by
on the sidewalk; he will snarl at them, and nod
to Mr. Torkington, their pet Doberman.
His house smells like musty papers and
dog food. Scout troops are warned from
approaching his door, a girl fractured her
leg when he had chased her away from
his stoop with a rolled up newspaper.
Animal control makes annual inspections
of his house. One time a concerned neighbor,
startled by all the rabbits, called for a wellness
check. They came and took hundreds of
floppy-eared, snuffling rabbits away in crates,
while he hovered by the front door and sobbed.
Spring finds him kneeling in the fresh dirt of his yard
tilling the soil with a trowel, he spies a baby robin
gray and ugly, crying in loud braying cheeps
—sounds too loud for such a tiny body—he
uses the trowel to expose pink fleshy worms
in the muck and the baby bird hops closer,
dodging nimbly between each shower of dirt.
“You deserve better,” he says, clucking his tongue,
and scans the sky for more friends.
Dr. Heller never mentioned his problem, but everyone at the clinic knew about it. We were shocked by how normal he acted afterwards. He didn’t even take a sick leave or anything. A couple of days after his incident, Judy decides to bring in a vase of flowers for his office, some ugly artificial thing with a heavy cluster of lilies and roses and ferns. Dr. Heller thanks her and sticks his face in them and we all laugh because we think he’s fucking with us. Turns out, he thought they were real.
Judy later discovers him in his office and we can hear her screams throughout the building.
The clinic is in a state of excitement, the staff milling around. Everyone keeps saying that he was fine all morning. We keep saying, how could this have happened. We keep talking about what we could have looked for, the warning signs. We repeat how much we miss him. A get-well card circulates around the clinic and everyone signs it from their hierarchical order of importance—the surgeons, anesthesiologists, RNs, the receptionists, even the fat, ugly custodian who only creeps in after everyone leaves for the day.
We draw lots to elect a person to go visit him. Our clinic’s been a family for more than ten years and is heavily involved in each other’s lives. We take care of our own. (Only the receptionists get recycled out every so often for newer, younger candidates. We take pride in appearances here.) Also, everyone is dying for more news about the late and great doctor.
No one volunteers to go, so we draw lots. I get chosen. They all clap my back and say, sucks to suck.
He is a beautiful man. His forehead is taut, his eyes etch upwards at the corners. The sides of his nose are perfectly symmetrical lines. With a ruler, you can measure the alignment of his eyes to his ears. Even now, hunched forward with his shoulders drawn up so he looks like a turtle receding into a shell, his flesh is smooth and hard like plastic. He adjusts his position over the edge of the bench as if uncomfortable, and his hands are spread claws digging into the wood.
Smile Dr. Heller, I say and lean closer to him. I take a picture of us on my phone, me with a huge smile and Dr. Heller looking lost.
The sun is out, but it’s cold. The sunshine deceives us. We sit on a bench on the lawn. His personal caregiver is in a chair a few yards away from us and glances at us over the cover of her book.
He is wealthy enough to have escaped the indignity of sanitariums, where they throw together the psychotic and the mentally ill indiscriminately. He has that small mercy for him. His wife is filing for divorce now, I hear, and will soon have sole custody of the kids and house, a substantial fortune built upon the splicing and reconstruction of flesh. Maybe this is his punishment for tampering with natures works, sullied as they are. Maybe this is punishment for playing God.
I take his face with my hands and kiss him. I feel his perfectly sculpted lips with my tongue.
It’s ok, Dr. Heller.
You’ll get over this.
Everyone at the clinic misses you.
Remember Mrs. Lebowitz? She threw a fit when we told her you went on vacation. She says no other doctor in the city does skin as good as you.
It’s dark when I leave. The neighborhood is unsettling in its quiet, undisturbed by traffic or people. I miss the dirty mess and the noise of the city. The stars are like dim, sad echoes of the city lights.
But, if I crane my head, I can see the city lights glow like a distant fire.
The dogs are barking again.
I’m sprawled on a heaping trash nest of clothes and towels and papers and plastic bags. I stare at the ceiling. I’ve been staring at the ceiling for hours. My ceiling looks like the moon’s surface: sickly yellow-pale like old cottage cheese and riddled with craters.
Each bark is like a hammer blow to my head.
There are flies everywhere. My head is filled with buzzing. Blow flies and flesh flies and bloated house flies like black motors flying. They descend on the overflowing piles of trash. They dance in and out of the open drawers of the cabinets that lie upended on the floor. Everything in the room is crooked. The kitchen sink is clogged with stagnant ooze, where food chunks float on a sea of oily grease.
Someone runs above me, THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP
and the dogs chase after them barking, yelping, baying like the hounds of hell.
Things moving behind me, things moving in the mirrors and in the windows. There are voices, like swarms of flies, the voices are needles drilling the buzzing into my skin, and there are thousands of them. It fills up the back of my eyes. They are talking about me, but I can’t make out what they say.
The dogs are barking and barking and barking.
I’m standing on the table with a hammer and I swing that hammer over my shoulder and into ceiling. The dogs are going crazy as I bring the hammer harder and harder into the ceiling, punching holes, showering plaster on the carpet and into my hair and screaming face.
Have I been screaming the entire time?
Shouts from upstairs and I hear the neighbor’s big booming voice as if he’s right there in the room with me, “I’m going to fucking kill him!”
Stomping feet down the stairs, like an earthquake shaking my apartment.
I throw the hammer one more time at the ceiling, where it bounces off and thuds to the carpet, and I run into the decaying, stinking kitchen with the dingy lightbulbs and grab the wooden block of large butcher knives and carry it back to the door. I tuck it into my left armpit and my right hand lands on the doorknob like a distorted fly, separate from my body.
The pounding on the door intensifies.
The dogs are still barking. The room spins in a blurry funnel of colors and noises, and the neighbor is yelling something with his fists battering the door inches from my face.
The fly opens the door.
It’s warm here, with my brother and sisters.
We writhe inside the small enclosures of our eggs.
We are the half-formed: brown translucent pods jammed
side by side in the dark hollows of our host.
Soon, our brood mother says. Long, serpentine, beautiful. Soon.
And then—the drop.
We are the fallen, flung from the sky, clustered
in brown globules on the shadow of a leaf.
Come closer, slow-moving snail!
We entice you with our shiny ovals.
You are a languid giant sailing across the leaves.
And you take the bait.
You swallow us down your gaping slime maw, and we
travel down the dark length of you.
There we grow.
We grow in this new dark, forming long tubes, interconnected.
We dig our tendrils into your neural circuits and drive you.
We allow you to travel
To where you want to go—for now—
places cool and moist and dark
Running your creeping circuits around
dark undersides of mushrooms and rotten logs.
We are the broodsacs.
As we grow, we spread out into your eyestalks
preferring the left tentacle over the right,
As we grow, we grow fonder of you, our lumbering ride
and life source
As we bloom, we dance and pulsate in bright green and yellow spirals
You cling to the darkness, giant snail, always
but we draw you to the light and
the warmth of the sun, which catch our colors,
(we pulse in light only)
We draw the energy for our dance
The dance of death
Drawing the eye of a new feathered host
Down, sharp beak, spearing into the soft flesh of you
And we are drawn into a familiar darkness, down, down—
The cycle begins again.
the currents breaking in
that can’t be washed
the pain, though tossed
in still waters, is not lost: it
spreads in the black
absence of you
with the obstinacy
of rock-clinging things
how do I grasp these words
to cut through the gray matter
suspended into the silence
the mass of it rises
up slowly, blearily
if i surface,
i’ll lose my hold
and all these words
will be forced