Fiction ยท 12/29/2010

Moss

When Otis died, the rain started falling. At first so lightly my windshield wipers squeaked even at low speed. But then the drops fattened and multiplied, and people took to hiding beneath umbrellas. I merged with gray, bought a thick slicker, and cursed my man for dying.

I stopped going out. The night-and-day ting-ting-ting on the window held me in a trance.

Our apartment flooded. I lay prone on our bed while wetness crept up the wall. Soon warm rainwater seeped into the box springs. I saved myself the wade to the kitchen by drinking from the flood. My frizzy-haired reflection wavered over the surface as I leaned over the edge of the mattress and sipped. Otis’s face was nowhere in the water.

I waited.

Trees sprouted from the television. Vines covered the pictures and paintings Otis left behind. The walls disappeared into a pulsating lushness.

The sheets grew moist and heavy. My feet and hands pruned. The wool blanket oozed a rich, feline smell. When asleep I felt the world bob and list, felt the pull of currents and tides. But the water never covered my body. Maybe it had stopped raining, or maybe the bed floated.

Soft, green moss crept up my shins and spread over my thighs. I drank floodwater and snacked on moss. A bright red mushroom sprouted from my navel. It grew fat and heavy, but I knew not to eat the intensity of its color. The air smelled salty and I drifted upon the inland sea and thought only of Otis.

A web of white fungus wove my hair into the bed. Fish nibbled at the algae coating my elbows and from time to time I’d eat fresh trout. The ceiling dripped and its drops tickled my nose and lips with a water so fresh that I never thirsted. Thoughts slipped from my ears and joined the flood. Gulls called from somewhere.

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Not even a splash warned me of the approaching fingers. Sharp nails thrust a bitter tablet through my lips. It dissolved slowly on my tongue. I retched a dry retch day after day until the bed stopped bobbing and the wet faded from the wall. The lake receded, draining Otis away with the numbing water.

The sun glared and burned my eyes open. Demands clawed until they dragged me along. Thirst returned, thoughts formed, and the vines shriveled to reveal Otis’s face smiling from its place on the wall. Otis sequestered behind glass.

A voice insisted I get up, get out.

Every day the nails and the tablet. Every breath so dry and harsh. I’ve relearned to walk and nod and stock cans on grocery-store shelves. Have learned this vacancy, its corners and cracks.

At night I close my eyes and hear a gull calling from somewhere.

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Cortney McLellan currently lives in Baku, Azerbaijan. Her stories have appeared in such journals as cream city review, Storyglossia, Monkeybicycle, and Opium.