by mickharris

standing in the sun for this long means he has to stop often to wipe his brow on the collar of his shirt, awkwardly

pulling the material taut across his chest to reach his face

she never stops digging to watch him exactly

but he can tell that she smiles a little by the way she turns her head away

focusing on the earth at her feet

instead of the shovel and the widening hole


his mother, digging a hole

his mother, doing anything with her hands

that is not gesturing with a wine glass or 

a delicate embroidery needle weaponized 

when her words just won’t quite do


it still surprises him that she is out here with him

but then again, it shouldn’t, not after the months they’ve spent together

over plans, pushing scraps of paper labeled with 

latin classifications

over the garden schematic

like a bizarre half-game of chess


he’d offered to dig, he’s a boy after all

and though slender at best his shoulders are wide and he can put a bit of muscle behind the tool

but she took it out of his hands in the shed with a shake of her head

and stepped into the sun just so

it would strike her hair and turn it to fractal, feathery black


he can tell by the stretching skin on the backs of his hands and his exposed arms that he’s already burning even though it’s been an hour, maybe less

but six holes are dug, heat flickering close to the ripe ground

and he lifts the first rose bush carefully, high, to unwrap the burlap around its precious roots

she stops digging to watch, leaning on the shovel head,

and he moves slowly

letting her see

that he cares about it, that he won’t break it

not like before


he remembers the heat most of all, of course, it was a fucking wall that grabbed all the air out of your lungs and scraped your skin raw and new

but then there was the way the lingering smoke hugged the ground and the spectral bushes

and when you stepped out past the veranda and the unscathed flagstones 

you could taste the vinegary death-sweet petals

deep in your throat


she gestures to the second hole, not the first

he didn’t bother to look at the tag, just grabbed the closest plant, and of course it’s the wrong one

but he sets it down where she points, scattering dirt over his shoes, and holds it steady

as she slides the first shovelful of dirt around the loosely clumped base


(he’d thrown the torch down on the lawn and he would be willing to bet he could still find the scorched path where it’d flickered and died

but then nothing clicks until he woke up in bed, bandaged, smeared with something cool for his burns

and stared at the ceiling for two weeks before mustering the balls to go downstairs to see if she was still around

she wasn’t, of course, she’d left almost as soon as the fire was out

but he managed to oppress himself with his spite and guilt without her help)


he shakes his head a little and moves back into the quiet and hot afternoon rhythm

of planting, moving, keeping busy

without speaking about it

for other mothers and sons

it might not matter now that they were making something new

all could be forgiven

but this family shit is new for both of them

and sometimes he catches her standing in front of the french doors at night when the moon is high

hands curled around her elbows, back straight

mouth one solid line

staring out where the old growth used to be


i’m sorry, he blurts, letting the bush go so it can settle into its new home


she stops now and looks at him and her eyes are narrow and he still wants to run or fling something awful into that perfect face like i’m sorry i didn’t get the whole fucking house, too, you evil bitch

but he can stop that before it bubbles out because it’s not that fraught, anymore

it’s slicker and cooler and not that simple

so he waits, and lets her look

for once


she tilts her head a little, hair falling to brush one slim shoulder 

and plunges the shovel into the ground in a single stroke

i am sure that you are, my dear

shall we continue?

and just like that it’s done, she turns back and points to another bush for him to lift into the first hole, and he’s moving before he realizes the moment is over, lifting and settling the plant into the depression



is a strange thing

never quite finished

just circumscribed in shaky sorrow and

old and bloody fear