a close up of a green leaf with drops of water on it

Affection Tree

Nils Blondon

Ambulance lights painted the sidewalk.

“Just tell me what you can, okay? Take your time.”

“Can I call his mother?” I asked. The moon looked like a heart with clouds around it.

“No. We don’t advise that.” He grimaced at the moon. “I mean, next thing you know we have her driving over here all hysterical, then she runs a red light or two and…you know, we’ve got another issue on our hands.”

His partner smiled and wiped his lips as if to correct himself. “It happens all the time.”

Gowned paramedics laughed in front of the house, playing with a cat that had meandered over from the laneway. They picked it up, passed it around, smiled, and rubbed its neck. They retrieved the gurney from the ambulance and carted the gurney up the steps. I sensed that none of it was real. That my body was elsewhere, that what I had seen and felt was a monstrous projection of some nameless dream. As I stood, situating myself in this dream, the cat curled between my legs and into a dying bush.

“You’re not in any trouble, obviously. We just want to make sure we have the details.”

“Can I sit?”

He looked at his partner. His partner looked at the house, radioed something unintelligible, scanned the ground. They stared at me. They stared at Ian’s room, and I followed their gaze. The open blinds, the crack in the window webbing across the glass. He would stand there, watching, hand on his half-open mouth.

“We can’t find an ID up there. What was his name?”

They were pale gray from the heartbeat of the moon.

“He didn’t have one,” I replied.

“Didn’t have?”


“Did he have a name?”

“Ian,” I replied.

Pages flipped. Pens scratched paper. Cops retook their places in the light.

“And what was his relationship to you?”

I looked up. There was nothing in the sky. I looked at his room. Fingers closed the window and drew the blinds.

“Friend. Best friend.”

The cops thumbed their tablets. After this they’d be going for beers at the bar. High fives and whatever games were on. My experience would recede into another data set, more hastily typed notes, a loose scrap of paper with scribbles in the margins.

I sat down, stood up, stretched muscles that weren’t there, paced toward a tree, rested against it. The bark rough against my neck. Veinous branches gripping the night.

“To be clear…” The cop had a thought. “There’s nothing you could have done.”

He looked at his partner. His partner scratched his chin. Radios buzzed. Muted sirens spun carousels of red and blue, filling gaps in the asphalt.

He coughed, saying, “Ten, twelve hours. That’s how long it’d been by the time you got here.”

“Twelve hours?”

“That’s our estimate. He’d been gone for twelve hours by the time you found him.”

“He was alone for twelve hours?”

The ambulance beeped as it backed into the driveway.

“Well.” He took off his hat. “He wasn’t alone. I mean, he wasn’t really there. Don’t feel too bad about that.”

The other cop bumped him with his elbow, gesturing to the growing crowd. Their movement was inhibited by the crude breadth of the streetlights. Unnatural shadows everywhere. Children pointed, and parents pushed them along. I saw a face in a window. It looked like it was crying.

Ian’s blanketed body was pushed toward the ambulance. Paramedics checked their phones, watched, laughed. One shouted, “Where did our little buddy run off to?” and looked for the cat. Their faces were all angles.

“Will you be alone tonight, or is someone waiting for you at home?” asked the cop.

I considered Ian. Alone like that for half a day.

I thought about the question. “No. I have Cassandra.”

I can’t see her, but I can feel her.

Cassandra is in the bathroom. She exits with her hair sucked back like a squid. The wood paneling absorbs the morning sun and throws it back across the plant in my palms. Hoya. Speckled tendrils tumble from the soil.

Cassandra shouts, “Nick!”

“Yes?” I push aside two pots—succulent, cacti—and squeeze the hoya into a light-dappled nook next to the bookshelf.

“We’re running out of space.”

She swipes at the air. Stares at the lime-green philodendron occupying our kitchen table. Its asymmetric stem crisscrosses skyward and spits neon-green leaves with a defiant droop. Cassandra presses a comb through her hair which, after another spontaneous dyeing session, is now copper.

“There’s always space for this kind of thing,” I reply and step away.

Cassandra’s smaller this morning. Either that, or everything around us has grown. I think of Ian, how strange he’d find this plant habit of mine.

“This helps you?”

Her lips are flat. She looks from plant to pot to my face and back. Her body betrays what her voice never does. She goes to the bedroom. Returns with her phone, a pen. Scale in hand. She walks into the bathroom and locks the door. I hear the crash of the scale on the ground. Then a long, guttural sigh.

She steps out and barks, “We have therapy in an hour.”

I scratch the gray stubble on my cheek, turn and yawn.

“You forgot again?”

“I remembered.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m distracted.” I rub my chest and stare at the philodendron.

“Can you look at me? You’re not taking this seriously.”

There’s a disturbance at the root of things. A displacement that predates “the event,” as Cassandra calls it.

“I take it seriously. I just forget things.”

“Then why don’t you put it in your calendar?”

 I pour a glass of tepid water. Half for me. Half for the hoya. The day holds an infinite quality, and beyond the windowsill peppered in dead fruit flies, the heat is a living thing asleep on the sidewalk.

“Take this as seriously as you take your new plant thing,” Cassandra says.

I consider the health of the hanging basket in our bedroom. I’ve tried memorizing its official nomenclature, but it doesn’t stick.

“It’s a healthy hobby.” I point to the open calorie-counter app on her phone. A raw, exposed nub that I can’t help but needle.

“Nick. This is why our sessions are important. These comments.”

The philodendron rocks in the hot breeze from the window. Cassandra touches it.

“It’s cool, right? I mean, it’s a beautiful plant,” I say.

“Yeah. It’s nice. I guess I don’t really get it.”

“What don’t you get?” I hold the plant at eye level.

She shrugs, retreats to the bedroom. The door locks, walls rattle with the opening and closing of our drawers. I tend to the last plant and tighten my belt and look at myself between the large streaks in the mirror. A ghost meets me in the moment, and as the bedroom door opens and Cassandra steps out, it occurs to me that except for the plants, nothing is familiar.

“I’d like it if you could at least talk about the event with the counsellor today,” Cassandra says. “It’s been months now, and you haven’t brought it up.” She approaches me and stops, pointing. “Your hands.”

I look at them, twist them in the light. “What about them?”

“You don’t see that?”

“See what?”

“They’re dirty.”

“I don’t see it.”

“Just wash them and meet me outside.”

I first knew his mother as a murmur on the phone. Ian spoke to her through sound bites. Clipped sentences reducible to “I’m fine.” When I met her, she had emphasized how good I was for him. How my friendship, as she’d put it, was a source of stability. How happy she was her son had met me when he did. It was a moment in our lives where any support was welcome. “I’m just happy he found a good roommate. The people I lived with in college were nightmares.”

Ian had fired back, “You haven’t seen him when he drinks,” and patted me on the shoulder, smiled, and shooed her away.

“He really admires you, Nick,” his mother had said as she left. “You’ve been so helpful to him these last few years.”

“It goes both ways,” I’d said as Ian shook his head, unpacking whatever nonperishables his mom had ferried over or picking through books she’d found at a flea market, vintage store, or, most often, a giveaway box on the street.

“Your mom’s kind,” I’d told him when she left. “It’s cool she brings stuff over.”

“She’s just…” Ian stopped what he was doing. “She can be a lot sometimes, you know? It’s like she thinks I can’t take care of myself.” He moved between piles of laundry that overtook our chairs and the mail spilled over with credit card notices.

“I’m not complaining about the free food.”

“Right, but I didn’t ask for it.” He paced the short distance between his room and the kitchenette to retrieve a mug from the sink and fill it with day-old coffee. “She needs to learn to trust that I’m fine.”

Ian’s mother, Jeanie, and I exchanged numbers at the funeral, promised to stay in touch. Now, her communications take the form of photos of Ian when he was eight via text. Two a.m. emails sharing quotes concerning hope, listicles of “free mental health supports.” She insists, head bowed, that I was always so good to him.

I think about this as I hand the driver my token. A dusty smell clings to the people on the bus. Sweaty clothes, cheap beer. Commuters body to body, avoiding eye contact.

Jeanie called last night. “Can you come over and just take some of his things?”

I thought of the pictures she had given me. The books. His old clothes unfolded in the bag I’d received them in. I accepted all of it, heavy with unspoken words.

“You don’t have to. You’ve given me a lot already. We don’t have much space here.”

Cassandra stared and ate half a bowl of microwaved noodles and almost said something but instead cleared her throat.

“So, you’re not coming?” Jeanie said.



“No, that’s not what I meant.” I stared at the dry brown leaves of my hoya; no amount of nurturance satisfied that plant. “I meant no, I’m coming. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

Jeanie’s smoking on the porch when I get there. We greet each other with a quick hug. Several trees on the block are cordoned off with yellow ribbon. Notices explain that city crews will be arriving to uproot them.

Ian’s things are arranged on the kitchen table. Modest offerings to mute idols of grief. Bouquets wither on worn countertops, crowned in embossed cards that read “thinking of you in this difficult time.”

I sense us adrift in the corners of the room. Everything looks like a sketch in pastel. I focus on my feet, which anchor me to the floor, and pay attention to my hands, which rest against the kitchen table. Exhaustion has diminished the interlocking wood floor to a weak beige, rough with scratches and scars. The table is smooth and covered in water rings. She puts her hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eyes. Her eyes are full. I see the soft outline of my reflection inside them. Something faint and passingly reminiscent of her son.

“What am I supposed to do, Nick? What you went through and how you saw him…it isn’t fair. I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry. My lifetime creed. Ian, in his last months, was sorry often. Don’t be sorry. You do it too much, I would say, to which he would reply, You need to take your own advice.

I touch Jeanie’s hand. “Stop apologizing. I don’t want you to feel bad for me.”

Jeanie shakes her head, toys with his things on the table. Chain, watch, bracelet.

“I’m okay that it was me who found him. It needed to be me. It had to.”

“I’m just, God, the anger,” Jeanie says.

Pulse thumping softly at the tips of her fingers. My feet are on the floor. Present. Firm.

“When does it get better, Nick?”

It doesn’t.


My hands are on the table. I’m with her. I’m here.

“This guilt,” I reply. “He wouldn’t want me…” Breathe. “He wouldn’t want you to feel it like this. Not this way.”

She frowns. “You’re sure?”


It’s taken me until now to stop seeing him there, like I found him in his room, every time I blink. My feet are anchored to the floor, which feels infirm. As if the weight of our combined histories, grief, and its many relatives are a force enough to swallow and chew us in their toothless mouths. Jeanie rocks. Heartbeats quicken.

I reply, “I’m not sure… I think so.”

Jeanie picks lint from her loose black sweatshirt, wipes whatever’s left of her last sleep from her eyes. “But you’re sure he wouldn’t want me to feel bad?”

“I’m sorry,” I reply and walk to the bathroom.

The medicine cabinet is open. Lapsed prescriptions line the shelves, some with Ian’s name on them. I run the tap and flush the toilet twice, brace myself against the sink with my head down. Distant. A fresh candle sits in a cup next to the bathtub. A few books wedged between the toilet and sink. One on botany. I open it to a section on philodendrons, scan it, dog-ear the page, put it down, and take a sideways look at myself in the mirror.

Something has changed.

Jeanie calls, “Nick? Are you okay?”

I flush the toilet again and exit. She’s drying her eyes with the torn edge of a napkin. She motions to the table. Chain, watch, bracelet at the outskirt of a thin shadow.

“I want you to take this. I know you don’t want it but take it.” She picks up the chain.

“It’s not that I don’t want it. I just think it would be better if you kept some of this stuff.”

“It’s a gift. I’d like you to have it.”

“Right, but it’s just…” I look at her, the chain, watch, then the window. Dust settles on the ledge. Bushes shake and tap the glass with their fleshless fingertips. “It’s hard because he was wearing this when I found him.”

She clutches her chest. The thought of him, the chain sparkling against his neck, the contrast of the inorganic metal undisturbed by the processes of death, it belongs someplace where light is not allowed.

Jeanie’s hand is on her mouth. She says sorry, squirms in her seat, shakes her head, exhales, nods. “I still think he would want you to have it.” She lights a cigarette. The smoke hangs, transfixed in the heaviness between us, before evaporating up and away into the corners, toward the spot I felt myself floating. “It’s a gift.”

I hold the chain. Sirens sound off the street. “You know I was there when he bought this.” I unclasp the chain, look at its scuffs, scratches. The light fixture overhead is a moon without a glow. Jeanie flinches, traces a water ring with her finger. I reclasp the chain and place it on the table.


“Do you think he meant it?” she says, the words spilling out of her. “Sometimes I think it wasn’t an accident.”

Cassandra calls what happened, “the event,” as if it were a spectacle, something for onlookers to gawk at with open mouths and film with their phones. An event infers planning, process, order. I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t an event.

“It was an accident,” I reply. A weight is in my chest, something immovable and deep, and if I needed to get away, the mass of it would hold me in place.

“It’s just, some of the things he said, some of the stuff. There are some things, Nick.”

She stands, moves to the window.

“Okay,” she says, head down, hands on the empty sink. “It’s all going to be okay.” She comes back, sits down, looks at me, soft blue under the eyes, subtle strokes of grief between the wrinkles of her face. I see a piece of Ian in her posture, the tick at the corner of her mouth.

“You know,” she smiles, “he was so weird, wasn’t he? I mean, he was just strange, the things he did.”

“He was definitely unique.”

“I mean, all those books. Just, on everything.”

“There’s nothing he wouldn’t read.”

Jeanie walks around the table and slips the chain over my head. She asks me to turn around. “It really suits you,” she says. “This is what he’d want.”

Chainsaws buzz. We walk to the window, watch men in harnesses and orange hard hats cut branches from the ribboned trees along the block.

A knock.

Jeanie answers. A man with a city lanyard stoops and peers through the door, shouting over the noise of the cutting and sawing. “Just letting everyone know not to park along the street while we’re clearing the dead trees. Cars are going to get towed.” He hands her a notice.

Marbled vines choke the wide doorframe. A sweet smell hangs around the faux-tile floors. Shoppers mill through, steps measured as they go from rack to rack.

The girl at the front says, “We can’t keep you away, can we?” Her face is red, bangs freshly chopped and dyed.

I nod and smile, which feels uncomfortable. My mouth isn’t used to that shape anymore.

“Anything in particular you’re looking for today?”

I pick up a pothos, smell it, and put it back.

“I’m looking for something impossible to kill.”

She laughs. We walk to the back. A strange plant tilts into a stack of cardboard boxes. Waxy leaves. Thick stems the shade of a deep forest green. Posture crooked like a malformed spine but endearing.

“This is a ZZ plant,” she says with a bounce.

“Right. These. I’ve heard about them,” I lie.

“They handle low light, low water. The more attention you give them, the more they’ll hate you.”

“You have one?”

“Yeah. It just sits in there. I check on it occasionally, water it like once a month. It’s thriving.”

I lift the pot to the counter and offer a credit card.

“Oops,” she replies. “Didn’t go through.”


“It says it was declined, but this machine is finnicky.”


A line is forming. I pull out another card, tap the machine.

“Ah, there we go. It’s yours.”

We both used to say that you can’t trust happiness. When we graduated, and life, as people say, “got in the way,” his suspicions about happiness intensified.

I’m low today became shorthand for call me in a weekI’ve got a lot of energy meant three nights up, maybe more, exercising, pacing, calling me to rant, reading a book and seeing himself reflected in its characters, texts sent at the witching hour concerning theories he’d concocted in the moment. Dissolving daydreams. An idea that he was at the center of everything and that the rest of us were props. Actors cast to push his narrative forward. We’d meet. His would tremble, suppressing a deep quake in his body, a mood shift like fault lines disturbed from hibernation.

 I’d taken to putting my phone on silent or turning it off and wondered if my distance had wounded him. If my retreat into Cassandra, into the fantasy of responsibility, adulthood, career advancement, if these things had deepened the trench between us.

At the funeral, at the end of an empty hallway where I’d gone to hide, Jeanie came to me and asked if he had at least looked peaceful when I’d found him. I couldn’t answer her question then, but if she asked me that now, I’d tell her yes.

Cassandra is in the bathroom. The toilet flushes, sputters, flushes again. She walks out pale, holding her phone. Her hair is drawn tight in a way that erases the wrinkles on her forehead. An effect not unlike the Botox she pines for.

“God, Nick. Come on,” she says.

I put down the ZZ plant. She slaps open the window.


“There’s no room.” Cassanda eyes the plant as if it’s a contaminated thing that needs cleansing. Her eyes dart to Ian’s chain. “Where’d you get that?”

I take off my shoes, throw them on the old doormat. I look at her for a while. Then I say, “You don’t recognize it?”

 She looks at the ground.

“He had it on for years. Every time you saw Ian, he was wearing it.”

I clear the table and sit. A stab of something potent but not as cutting as anger hits my stomach. There’s a stack of diet books where my philodendron should be.

“Where’s the lime philodendron?”

She points at the highest shelf. The philodendron rests in a slither between broken blenders and a tea set we got from her mother that we haven’t used and never will.

“I told you it didn’t work on the table, and it didn’t look good.”

She pulls a popsicle from the freezer. Eats half. Throws it out.

“I just don’t get it. You’re spending all this money on these plants that will just die soon anyways.”

“No, they won’t die soon, but this plant will die up there because there’s not enough fucking light. We discussed this.”

“We also discussed it looking stupid there and taking up one of the places I like to sit, and now I can’t without getting a leaf or some kind of gross dirt on me.”

She leans away. I tend to the philodendron, then I look at her.

“Your anger is too much recently, Nick. Where’s it coming from?”

“Think, Cassandra. Think for a few minutes without looking at your phone. Maybe then it’ll become clear where my anger is coming from.”

 My fingers tap the table, and the heat between us, the potential scald, grows.

“The event was hard on me too, Nick.”

“I hate that you call it that. ‘The event.’ It’s trivializing. It wasn’t a fucking concert.”

“Well, I’m sorry. I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to call it.”

“Call it what it was. Call it what I saw and what I found.”

She falters, and I feel lost in my body, remote from what it is that makes me fully real. I hold the philodendron, its lime-green leaves soft on my chest, contrasted against the silver glow of Ian’s chain.

Cassandra shouts, “I can’t do that without it traumatizing me. Everything is always so fucking morbid all the time with you now. It’s always about…”

 She slips into the bedroom. I stand at the door and yell, “It’s always about what?”

 She reappears in a different outfit, gripping a bag of clothes.

“I can’t be perfect for you, Nick.”

“I’m not asking for anything other than for you to listen when I speak and not kill my plants.”

“I’ve supported you as well as I can through this whole process.”

I walk to the study and pull a larger pot and a dry bag of soil from under my desk. I make a show of lifting the philodendron from its container, repotting it, and placing it dead center on the kitchen table. Cassandra watches with her arms crossed over her diminishing body.

“You act like you were close to him. Like it’s you that’s dealing with the loss. It’s always about you. This self-obsession, this acting like you were really touched by the guy dying. Like you even really knew him.”

She flinches. “You’re a fucking asshole.”

We’re at opposite ends of the room, corner to corner.

“I mean, he wore this chain every fucking day, and you had no idea it was even his, and you act like this has really fucked with you.” I tuck the chain under my shirt.

Cassandra smacks the counter. “I’m asking you to stop it.” She slings her bag over her shoulder, shaking.

“He wanted to come over that night.”

“You’re actually doing this?”

“I wanted him to come over.”

Twelve hours. A long time to be alone like that.

“Why are you doing this?” She slides toward the door, grips the handle. Light lands on the philodendron but burns away, retreating from us.

“You never wanted him around. There was always an excuse.”

The philodendron shrinks into itself, leaves folding inward. I close the window and pinch the chain and roll it between my fingers.

“I wasn’t feeling well, and neither were you,” Cassandra says in a low voice. “You fucking said you were tired, and you’d had enough of him for a bit. I gave you an out.”

“That’s not true.”

“Don’t gaslight me.”

“I need time.”

“That’s not what you need.”

“I know what I need.”

“Then say it. Just say what it is.”

I fall on the bed with my feet on the ground and listen as she hurries from drawer to drawer. Walls rattle. Lipstick rolls off her vanity. I see the philodendron through the open door, an omniscient mediator. The taste in my mouth. Coppery and sweet, adrenaline. A taste some of us long for, even revel in, but regret once it’s peaked and tapered. Something narcotizing about it.

“Okay, I’ll figure it out for you,” Cassandra snaps.

I watch from the window as she stomps down the street, ZZ plant arching toward our bedroom. Posed awkwardly like an embarrassed onlooker.

Pot to pot, I survey the plants and check the soil. Dry, moist, too wet, not rich enough. Cassandra’s open laptop displays exercise videos, weight-loss hacks, impossibly proportioned women detailing what they eat in a day. I find a home for the ZZ plant beside my overrun desk. It has an ageless dignity. It will likely outlive me. A strange comfort.

Her mother calls. I sense Cassandra with her, rapt by whatever surface offers a reflection. The sheen of the granite countertops, always unblemished, manically polished and cleaned. The mirrors that dominate the walls of the home, calling to Cassandra in constant judgement. That house is a bleeding monument to narcissism.

“Let’s agree on this, Nick. Her being there with you right now, with what you’re…” A pause. Cassandra direct and sharp in the background. “With what you’re both going through. I mean, I don’t know what to say. Clearly this is having an impact on her.”

“I’m sure it is,” I reply, watching a bee collide with the window until it drops.

 The line goes flat. When she comes back on, she says, “Okay, sorry. Nick, she’s getting sick there. Whatever you’re doing isn’t helping. Have you not noticed?”

“Noticed what?”

“Come on, her clothes barely fit her. I think it’s best if you both just take a break from each other. She’s regressed…”

I hang up. She calls back, and I ignore it until the calls stop. Outside, children roll by on oversized bikes. Heat rises from the ground with an ethereal rhythm, air abuzz with the life of the sidewalks.

Jeanie shakes her head, wary as if I’ve invited a stranger to her table. She ties her hair in a loose, lazy knot. Coughs. The afternoon glow helps us see each other clearly, cohabitating in the things that go unsaid.

“I’m no good at plants.”

“This one’s easy,” I reply.

Jeanie hunches over with her head in her hands.

“Why don’t you just keep it, hon? You’ve given enough.”

“I’ve found something fair in these plants, something gentle and a little kind. And you deserve that.”

She looks past me toward the fridge. The picture of Ian. She takes a smoke from her pack, puts it in her mouth, shakes her head, breaks the cigarette in half.

 “Do you remember how bad he was at cooking?” she says. A little light in her eyes. A self-conscious glow.

“He could hardly boil water,” I reply, smiling. After many months, it feels less wrong.

 “Give me a second.”

She comes back with a botany book. Her makeup has been smeared. She looks like some martyred penitent plastered onto the walls of an abandoned house of worship, but in that house, the candles still burn.

“I was cleaning yesterday, and this was in the bathroom. I think I remember giving him this book. I don’t know, it was in one of those boxes I brought over. I like reading through the names; they’re Latin, most of them. And this one…” She opens the book to the page I’d folded. “Philodendron. It means ‘affection tree.’ I thought that was nice.”

I scan the page, notice the dulled corners, the gloss, the italicized font explaining the Latin origin of philodendron, “affection tree.” How it sings.

“That’s very cool. I had no idea,” I reply.

“I knew you’d find it interesting.”

I think to a time not long before Ian died. Two of us walking down an empty side street, laughing. That laughter was deep, lasting, and sincere enough that that night, while we sat discussing books, we complained of our abs feeling sore. We trusted happiness.

“Can I borrow this book?”

“Nick,” her hand is on my shoulder, “you can have it.”

A moment passes. It seems we’ve reached an understanding, something unspoken and raw, honest. She walks to the window, breathes, shifts a little. The light hits her shoulders, spills down her back, lands across the floor like this room is the only place it wants to be. She clenches the counter. Lowers her head. I flip the pages from philodendron back to cacti, all the way forward to succulent, ZZ plant.

“Nick. You told me at his funeral he asked you if he could come over that night,” Jeanie says.

My stomach trembles. Whiskey, red wine, seven benzos. The funeral is a misshapen sequence of amnesia.

“Yes. He did.”

She looks at the ceiling. Her eyes follow an invisible thread. That thread begins at the light fixture, draped loosely from wall to wall, before falling back to the picture of Ian.

“Okay,” she says, rocking a little, “but he didn’t come?”

“I didn’t invite him over.”

There are sounds outside. Flashing lights painting the sidewalk.

“Do you think…” She struggles with whatever is inside her. Those words, searching for shape and form. Feelings, the spirit of them inarticulate and begging for body. “Do you think that if you’d invited him…” She turns to the plant as if seeking its counsel, massages the stem. “You know what. It doesn’t matter. It’s okay. But Nick…this plant. It’s beautiful. But there’s no space for it. And I’m so tired.”

“It’s okay. I’ll find a place for it somewhere.”

She hands me the book.

“Maybe in a few months or something. If you want to give me some suggestions, I’ll be open to it. Okay, hon?”

She gets up, places her hands on my shoulders. We hug. Ian smiles from his picture on the fridge.

“I hope you enjoy that book.”

I walk home, the plant against my body like a tired child, the book in my backpack. Trees older than any human dilemma stand watch and whisper from leaves far above. People admire the plant. They say things like, “that’s a beauty,” and “is it real?” I catch the brushstroke sparkle of Ian’s chain in the reflection of a passing car.

I miss you.

I wait an hour, text Cassandra again.

I know I need to work on things.

The book is open to the philodendron section. I’ve read and reread it. Mine dropped leaves a few days ago, and this morning, the stem felt limp.

My phone chimes.

I miss you too.

A soft buzz in my heart.

Will you come home soon?

Hours later, no response.

I sleep and wake up and recount the outlines of my dreams. My hands cut and dirty, wrist deep in soil. Nameless figures voicing their displeasures and concerns. I check my phone again, but nothing yet. Still, I feel her, sense her at the edges of the room, like a long stare from a stranger through the thickness of a crowd. I make coffee. The philodendron is flat against the kitchen table, lying there with the ruins of the wilderness. Not much soul left. I try fertilizer, water, withholding water, less light.

Nothing works.

Nils Blondon is a writer from Toronto, Ontario. His work explores the people, places, and things that he encounters.