By Evan Mielke
Our first trip, knelt over a Rafflesia arnoldii, Katherine told me it was the best thing she’d ever smelled. Later, when we kissed, our feet rooted in the steamy peat of the East Garden, she changed her mind.
“You’re better then that flower.”
“Which one?” I smirked, “there’s over twenty-six thousand here.”
She scowled, miming exasperation, the tops of her pale cheekbones almost touching orbital. Nibbling the tip of her tongue, she tugged my ear with her fingers.
“I’d hope so.”
She snorted quietly, her carbon sheen-black hair bounding to restrained laughter. I shook my head in mock derision.
“Thanks a lot.”
Our second trip into DC, legs winding spindly viney underneath the lumbering trunk of a Ceiba pantandra,Katherine told me she loved me.
“We should probably leave.”
She started to sit up.
I nudged her softly in the ribs, right below her perfect kidney-bean right lung. Spluttering, she fell back to the porous, woodsy ground, collapsing at my side with a pillowy thwump.
She settled back into the damp moss, neohalogen-electric-green tendrils grasping at her soft-pink forearms.
I wiped a spot of mud from her nose.
“Just a few more minutes.”
Nodding, she pressed her forehead to mine.
And we laid there, muddy toes pointed at the silent boughs, leaves like great, unfurled palms pressing our shoulders deeper into the saccharine loam.
The rustles and muffled murmurs of the tourists pureed with our sticky breath, dribbling over our brows as tepid sleep.
Our third trip to the US Botanical Gardens, fingers wrapped vice around Molly’s stroller, Katherine told me her head was going to explode.
Knuckles mashed to her temples, she shrieked.
“More of, more of, more of! Seven different problems! Gyrated fly free for four species! Tzuh-tzar-za-za-za!”
I reached out to catch her as she crumpled, her heart-shaped knees snapping back at Satyr-like angles.
Lowering Katherine to the limestone path, her silver flecked blue irises spasmed in frozen neural arcs. Hacking, she rocketed flecks of black-hued mucus into the oxygen-rich air.
And then I blinked.
Molly had stopped crying, Katherine, breathing.
They laid her out in an aluminum drawer, the y-cut in her sternum stitched like a scarecrows breast, her de-oxygenated blood slick slick greasing the curling drains.
A stamped sheet of pulpy, cream drenched paper said it was a fungal infection.
In tactile tones, the coroner informed me that Cryptococcus was common, the middle-class of the microbial world.
Swiss cheese temporal lobe, sea-sponge Brocha’s area.
Molly didn’t seem to understand. I tried to tell her, my syllables crackling like broken lightning.
She didn’t listen.
While I thumb through the papers, the notary hawk-eyes my half-half pyramidal de Grisogono Meccanico dG S25D.
If it had a surname, it’d be Opulence.
The notary rips his eyes away from the timepiece, sliding another piece of thick stock in front of me.
“Here. And here.”
He points towards a pulsing “X.”
I sign, the pen swirling between my thumb and pointer finger.
His cracked lips spit something again, but I can only hear It.
“This is crucial. This is your interest rate, this is your gain, this is your loss. This is the neat, tidy, financial synopsis of you. 4 percent return for the quarter. Not too damn bad.”
The notary asks again.
“Mr. Haebach, do you have any questions?”
I shake my head. It stops.
The notary unclasps his briefcase, slipping the papers into a manila folder. He stands up, nods curtly, and walks out of the study, his loafers click-click-clacking on the fat marbled marble floor.
“Please, let’s eat.”
I should have people for this. There’s no need to sauté the polenta myself.
I drizzle another tablespoon over the popping maize.
Sniffling, I flip another single-served pad into the pan. My voice burns through the hazy air.
“It’s the same fucking thing.”
It doesn’t say anything for the rest of the morning.
But when I plunge ragged bits of dripping fat and brown-seared caramelized meal down my throat, I can feel It.
It’s sitting Pasasana style in my groin, and with each sizzling splash of hot hash-smashed corn, I can feel Itshudder.
When I’m finished, I leave the plate on the table next to the others. Satire, I tell myself: a thimble-full of spit in the keen eyes of materialism.
Fifteen thousand double pedestal Bernhardt Manhattan, sugar ground juice stained three-dollar plates.
Coasters and placemats won’t do, it needs impression. Each slip, each condensation rings a roadmap of past culinary success or saffron-induced failure.
I alternate sitting in each of the ten chairs.
Sometimes I sit at the head.
Katherine would have liked to sit next to me. She was right handed, so I think it would have been best if she sat to my left. That way, we’d be closer.
Molly would have been to the right.
At first, she’d need a booster, but through teething and rainbow-ball-bouncing plastic lawnmowers, she’d earn her chair.
Molly’s wear on her mahogany finish would lag behind Katherine’s and mine, peaking through play-dates and junior high, contracting at varsity soccer games and college visits.
Ours would be a steady timeline. Jean button divots and belt notched supports, sandpapered smooth concave bottoms. Fractured layers of Katherine’s tissue light, sun dribbled dinner rolls ground deep into overlain cherry fibers.
But these chairs all look the same, like a family of ten lives here.
There are only two of us.
The next morning, It tells me to snap open the dutifully unpolished sterling medicine cabinet.
“You need those, those.”
My fingers fumble, wrapping around the base of a multi-pivot trimmer.
“It’s just a haircut. You have to look good.”
At fifty-six, I’ve never cut my own hair. I always figured it was like plumbing, something people outsourced. If you skimped, you looked like shit, or your home smelled like it. Whichever was worse, that was personal preference.
It doesn’t try to guide me.
“That’s it? You’re going to tell me what to do, then leave?”
It chuckles, multifaceted oranges detonating in my peripherals.
“You worry too much. Let it go.”
I flip the razor on.
The battery wheezes as I finish. I toss it in the steel billeted trash basket.
“See, look how much better.”
“I do seem more, mor–“
Aptly, it fits. The oxidized cabinet tells me that my eyes seem wider, the dark brown of my irises scaled in lightness. My ears feel light; humidity worming it’s way over the top of my tight shorn skull. Cut down to the inch, there’s almost no grey, just spiraling bands of Helleborus orientalis-black hair. It was all very, ver-
I can feel It grin in my gut; Its spindly roots shifting as they throb along my spine.
It strums at C6, like It’s starting a sound check. Chortling, It begins to sing. Greens and silvers strobe in my forehead.
“Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white”
It stops. The colors stop. I take a deep breath, my lungs oozing. I can feel It inhale with me.
“Just one more thing, then we’re ready for the big show.”
I think I was aware of It for the first time, hours after Katherine’s funeral.
But the first few years, It only talked when I was asleep. Saran wrapped visions and quarter-time dreams etched with disjointed, alien thoughts.
When It finally spoke, I wasn’t surprised. I knew It was there.
“We want food.”
It was the voice inside my head with a razor tone, a cooler tempo. It was a different person.
I asked It questions, but It didn’t answer.
“Who are you?”
“What’s happening to me?”
“Will I be okay?”
After some time, I gave It what It wanted.
Spare ribs and pecan pie. Freeze fissured stone crabs and gold-greased grains. No alcohol, though. That was important.
Then, It got chatty.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Everything will be alright.”
“Your sarcasm is not appreciated.”
“You know what else isn’t?”
“I am afforded the luxury of not caring.”
“And I, a doctor.”
“Go for it.”
The neurologist told me everything was fine. “Sweet brain sparks.”
All the while, It laughed.
“Let it, let, let it go.”
“Why am I still eating? You told me how it was going to end. What’s the point?”
“I’m not going to let it happen.”
My fingers skate along the carbon steering wheel. It takes my right hand, fingers fumbling blindly at the black-oxblood bucket seat. My thumb finds the trigger-guard, the rest of my digits wrapping around aluminum and molded poly-plastic.
I dig the dime-wide nose of the Kimber Custom TLE/RL II .45 into my left forearm.
“The shark, dear.”
I didn’t have much choice about bringing the gun. It decided for me.
“Alright, I understand.”
“No you don’t.”
My tendons tense around the grip. I can feel It, overwhelmingly; a great, spitting mound of meaty, flailing worms. It cooks with fury, snaking elastic feelers into my chest cavity.
It grits Its words, annunciating each syllable.
“You just. Don’t. Get it.”
It flicks at my aorta, clenching my heart with sinewy tendrils.
I start to black out. The Kimber falls to the floor, aluminum on aluminum splitting through the ambient air. Starving brain cells fog the windshield. My scalp crackles with hot-magma plasma.
The Aston Martin DB9 lists to the right, scraping against the curb. It loosens Its grip.
I choke, leveling out the wheel. It steals my hand again, plucks the Kimber from the floorboard and flips the safety on.
“This isn’t an option. We have an arrangement. You get your meeting, I get my progeny.”
Molly doesn’t answer the door immediately.
“Just relax, she’s coming.”
My bowels feel like they’re filled with putty.
A voice muffles from inside the house, airy and young.
“Jus’ a minute.”
The bolt retracts, the rubber seal scraping along the frame as the door slides open.
Same hair, same eyes. Smaller, though.
“Look, a child.”
“Can I speak to your mother?”
The little Katherine bites her bottom lip, nods and spins around, cupping her hands to the sides of her mouth. She takes a deep breath.
A voice calls back.
Mini-Katherine eyes me, furrowing her brows.
“Who are you?”
“That’s a good question.”
Before I can respond, Molly walks into the entryway.
“Becky, honey, don’t ask questions like tha-.“
She stops. Molly puts a hand in front of “Becky.”
Her voice is glass.
“She seems upset.”
I hold my palms up submissively. The Kimber shifts in my back pocket.
“Look, I just wanted to give you something.”
Molly guides “Becky” gently away from the door.
“Mommy has to talk for a minute.”
She steps forward, out on to the gray-washed, triple stained porch, shutting the door behind her.
“I want you gone.”
I rub at my cheek.
“Molly, I did the right thing.”
Her eyes harden.
“Is that what you came here for? To tell me what you did was noble? That you were saving me?”
“You can’t change anything.”
I reach for my back pocket.
“Molly, after your mother, I coul-.”
Her voice booms outward, warm fury tidal-crashing on the benign double-ply porch.
“You couldn’t what?! You couldn’t raise your daughter?!”
It bubbles inside, cackling.
“Nothing, nothing, there’s nothing you can do.”
I hold out my hand, a bi-folded slip of paper pressed dejectedly between two fingers. I can feel It restraining itself. It wants to take my hand, It wants to reach for the Kimber instead, It wants to so badly and It seethes and seethes and seethes. But we have an agreement. It still tries to dissuade me, god bless Its putrid souls.
“Don’t do it, don’t do it.”
Molly takes the check, her pupils dilating in shock as she reads the number.
Molly shakes her head.
“This doesn’t change anything.”
“Let’s kill her.”
The US Botanical Gardens haven’t changed that much, even in thirty years.
I walk around the limestone path, making my way to the wide swatch of Rafflesia arnoldii’s.
I lean over one, inhaling. It smells like Katherine.
“That looks delicious.”
For once, I agree with It.
After a few minutes, I trudge to the tropical arboretum, skirting off the limestone slabs.
The Ceiba pantandra hasn’t changed.
Matted leaves, I lay down heavily, my body feeling dual imprints where there are none. The thick trunk cradles my head.
“I told you I’d fight it.”
“We had a deal.”
“Yes, yes we did.”
“It’s been a pleasure.”
I let It take my hand. The Kimber cocks softly.
A burnt-orange cluster of polyps splits through the skin above my left shoulder.
Carpenter ants have nothing to fear at all
We are a painless birth
An effortless race
A billion to one