Growth

“I didn’t know if you were coming,” Patty said as soon as Marie had pulled herself out of the dented beetle.

Her sister shrugged, shoved a cigarette between her lips, and lit it with the same beat-up Zippo she’d had since she was 17. “Let’s get this over with.”

Patty pursed her lips. Marie kicked off her shoes. They began walking toward the grove.

“They’re growing well,” Patti explained, stress compelling her to speak. “Much fuller than last year. I was a bit worried, with that late frost—”

“You know they’re dead, right?” Marie interjected.

“I,” Patti faltered, “was talking about the trees.” Marie snorted, took another drag and walked on. “Someone has to tend them,” Patti grumbled.

Then they reached the trees. Tall, sturdy oaks, some nearly 200 years old. Continuing on, they passed smaller and slimmer specimens until the sisters stopped suddenly about fifteen feet back from the two slender saplings on the eastern edge of the grove.

Stillness among the trees.

“That’s where they’re . . . ?” Marie asked.

“Yes,” Patti said in a whisper.

A gentle breeze. Leaves shaking. Their hands found each other.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” Marie said.

Patti squeezed tightly. “I’m glad you’re here now.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Fragment

I unlocked the door with my spare key. “Nora?”

“Fuck off.”

Undeterred, I continued into the apartment. The air was dry and smelled like sour dirt. Something cracked beneath my foot: a fragment of painted clay. They were everywhere, scattered among boxes, papers, scraps of plastic, piles of clothes and other debris. I didn’t stop to examine any of it on my way to the spare bedroom. “Nora?”

A growl.

A crash.

A stifled sob.

I found my sister at her worktable, surrounded by a stack of unpainted pottery and a sea of colored shards. “Fucked up glazes,” she said.

“Nora.”

“Ruined my brushes, but the new ones are shit too.” I trudged through the ruins of her grief to stand beside her. She reached for another pot and said, “Gotta keep working.” Then, moving with a manic fervor, she scooped up brushes, moved between different jars of glaze, dabbed, brushed, and swirled the colors, creating a masterpiece right before me.

A pause.

“FUCK!” She hurled the vessel at the wall, shattering the unfinished piece.

I put my arm around my sister, and she sagged into my supporting embrace. “It’s all fucked,” she lamented.

“I know, Nora. I’m so sorry.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels