Those days it was like the sun rose to find them. Like it needed to get as high as possible to peek at where they were, to wake them. But they would stay hidden. Blankets pulled over heads and legs dangling across the bed.
The house that had been loud was now silent except for the birds and the lawnmower out back. It smelled like warm wet. Like a good day for bees and flowers to be together.
Once up the day had begun, but not yet. Now was still sometime between yesterday and today, which was really tomorrow. And tomorrow was closer to the first day of school, which wasn’t today but sometime not far away.
Too bad it rarely rained. The days always felt like they’d never end when it rained.
It can’t wait, though. It’s work, she wanted to shout at the billboard. Work doesn’t wait. It doesn’t fucking work like that, she found herself now shouting. Hands choking the steering wheel now, staring at the red light like the asshole that it is, “you smug bastard,” she exhaled.
“You don’t know. Or do you? What do you do when you turn off? And do you know when you’ll turn back on? If you do —“ a second car honks “— I have a follow-up question about sitting alone at red lights, but we can come back to it.”
The woman stared at her garden. My garden, she thought. She had never had a garden before. Not really.
As a kid, she would water her mom’s plants. Until one time her parents went away for a few days, she forgot about the prayer plants in the bedroom that otherwise remained empty.
“You killed the prayer plants,” her mother accused her. Her mother small but powerful with her hands holding together the brown leaves that, when green, would fold toward one another in solemn conspiracy.
Her mother’s words rang ridiculous at the time, but she roiled in recall.
“You weren’t here. You let them die,” she burst.
Years later, her mother — sitting in a circle of family and friends at the point late at a party when the ice has melted — would offhandedly say that this was the worst thing her daughter had ever said. Then, she smiled at her firstborn, for a time her only, as if the memory bound them.
Two days after her mother passed, she remembered the plants. She drowned them. Accidentally but still. It wasn’t for a few more days that someone told her what she’d done, was in fact doing at that moment she learned that plants can drown, that they drown at the root.
The water was a purple kind of brown, as if it knew the word gloom. Still it looked inviting under the dust-burnt clouds. The water’s color belied its warmth. But not to him. He saw colada morada. He saw his grandma, stirring her royal blue pot of berries cooked past a pudding, standing in an oversized shirt and pajama pants, avocado mashed into her hair. She explained to him once why she did it, but he couldn’t remember what she said. He didn’t remember much of what she said other than the things she would always say. Those sounds would never leave him. They were too of their own, like a faraway star so close in the sky.
He decided to draw a map. If he mapped out his mind, he’d find a way out. Eventually, he figured, he would need to redraw it, on a large canvas, tracing across the continents of papers beneath. For now he started with what he felt to be the center. That room inside himself with no windows but a cot.
The room was walled by darkness. It surrounded him like water. He could see himself staring at it from the cot. He was sitting on its edge, bent, elbows on knees, hands clasped.
He stood and walked forward. It seemed like the only way.
Once he crossed into the darkness, he heard himself step in puddles. He could feel it too. Each step as if tapping into and through to another side, and immediately falling onto a shallow bottom. But he had the sense it wasn’t all puddles below. Only where he stepped.
He kept on. He liked the patter of it. He began to decide where to step — or leap or lunge — based on the sound he had made and now wanted to hear and next and on.
Dop dop-dop dop dop dop-dop dop dop dop-dop dop dop…
Dop-dop dop-dop dop-dop-dop dop dop-dop dop dop-dop dop…
In time he forgot the map and stepped on, as if he had never known anything else.