My strawberry runners have twined around the marigolds—garden friends with benefits. I brush the dust from my forearms. I’d wipe the sweat from my brow, but it has already evaporated. Other plants lean toward the marigolds, an exuberant series of love triangles. Pink nettle stalks bristle at the competition; wispy vines of virgin’s bower wiggle into the mix. And volunteer foxgloves, born to break hearts.
I’m tempted to allow the whole bright clamor of them; after all, they survived this weather. But even the garden is on lockdown, and there are too many for one pod. There’s only so much water to go around. Wrong place, wrong time, summer’s children.
I think of him, on another coast, in another planting zone, surrounded by his riotous cluster of friends, in air I no longer dare to breathe. How I long for that beautiful chaos, but I have pulled up roots, and few roots can hang in the air for long and survive.
He called me a coward when I left. He couldn’t live without the risk of connection, and I couldn’t live with it. I love singing with all my heart, but his unmasked music parties terrified me. I wonder now if my risk-benefit calculus was askew. The solitude has undone me; I am as raw and stark as a weathered bone.
My phone buzzes, bee-like, in my pocket, and I whisk it out, my blood jetting through my arteries when I see his number. It’s not him. I’m still his emergency contact, and the hospital says they’re sorry. I put the phone away, stung, and return to my weeding.
I’m not sure I’m breathing, but my body is moving. What will I tell his parents? That I wasn’t there for him? That he almost killed me? That I’m already dead in every way that counts?
I toss the last blooms onto a rapidly wilting pile. Order is restored to the hot gravel path. It crunches under my feet, severe and unforgiving, as I carry away the delicate corpses.