Words By Jessica Marie Felleman, Art By 0fjd125gk87
The following piece is the flash fiction winner of F(r)iction’s Fall 2021 Literary Contest.
I left the day my fingernails turned into rose petals instead of Mick coming home in time to eat dinner while it was still warm. Chicken Kiev, like his grandmother taught me. I hated that dish. I’d been vegetarian for a decade, but Mick wouldn’t even try. I dumped his plate into the sink, stood there fuming as petals piled up in the sauce, floated to the cracked linoleum I’d just washed that afternoon. Their beauty hurt like a cramp. They didn’t belong there and neither did I.
This time, I left my car behind because it felt more dramatic. Maybe Mick would notice this way, if I was gone-without-my-car-gone—the only thing he claimed I cared about when our fights got bad, the thing I always used to come back to him. I won’t mention her make or model, her color or the way her driver’s seat was the only place that ever felt like home.
I tried to ignore the petals as I shoved clothes and photos into my old gray cheerleading duffle, but I couldn’t stop thinking that it was weird there were more than ten.
I’m pretty sure I left them everywhere. I’m pretty sure they were pink.
I’m pretty sure I meant to go back. Won’t get to test that theory now, though.
I dug my housekey into the side of Mick’s truck on my way down the driveway, then dropped it on the sidewalk. Maybe someone would find it, break in, and steal his new TV and the weed he bought me for my birthday. I’d asked for a massage at the spa, but he said this would be more relaxing for the both of us. I wish I’d spat at him then.
Or maybe the thief would see the petals strewn everywhere and back out, thinking some lovey-dovey couple who did stupid romantic shit were celebrating an anniversary and not the complete and utter end of fifteen years of taking what we could get.
I felt ransacked. I’d lost so much time waiting for the next escape. My head ached. Another petal flaked off from the top of my pointer finger like a scab and drifted away behind me. Did I want to go back for the weed? It helped with my headaches, maybe it would stop the petals thing.
No. Mick would probably show up just as I creeped back in. I didn’t want to see him. Like, ever again.
Still, I was already rehearsing the fight—loud, repetitive, the make-up sex—boring in the way we both pretended to hate, and the weird conversation we’d have to have about my fingernails—so fucking weird.
I hesitated at the end of the driveway, then went and ripped all the lilacs off the bush growing by the electric meter. My mother planted it as our anniversary gift the year before she died, and a decade had made it flourish. Mick liked to take the flowers into the shop to cut the smell of men and metal. He joked that the bouquets made the women taking their cars in less nervous, so he could rip them off more. How much more stereotypical could he be? How could I love this asshole?
I didn’t. That’s what I told myself as my fingers went thorny, shredding the lilac bundles as quickly as I picked them. I panicked then, dropping my bag, and the zipper cracked open and vomited all my things out onto the grass. I fell to my knees, the headache now a half-blinding scream, and tried to shove everything back inside, but my fingers were no better than claws, thorns sharpening along the sides and splintering at the tips.
The bag went to ribbons in my now green hands, useless as an unstrung pompom. And even though I swore I wouldn’t cry about leaving Mick, this stupid bag….
Tears slipped loose, and when I went to wipe them away, I found my palms stuck. And not just stuck but sinking, the cool damp topsoil at the foot of the lilac bush going soft and silty. Suddenly, I was up to my wrists, then my elbows as my forearms thinned out into tender roots. A soft mossy green bled up through my skin and darkened towards my shoulders. My forehead pressed into the dirt and my headache peaked in a burst of reds, browns, and pinks, then my eyes went dark.
What had been my top-down understanding of my body went wild and stretched in every direction at once. I found the roots of the lilac bush reaching out to me, and I embraced her back, any fear chased away. I felt myself branch up, my spine and legs unfolding into the limbs of a rosebush. I vined and budded, I rounded and I thorned, and each small shift took with it a pain I’d been clinging to, my family’s silences, my loneliness, my never chased hopes turned regrets. The world was now temperature and light, wind and the acidic bite of earth. And I found my sadness was gone.
But the anger was still there.
Mick came home hours later, dropped off drunk by one of his useless buddies. I imagined him waiting to tell me how right I’d been to come back, how wishing for anything different didn’t make me better than him.
It took him until the following afternoon to find the remains of my things, scattered beneath a shower of rose petals and crushed lilacs.
I sharpened my thorns as he leaned down and tugged free my favorite pair of panties, the purple ones with the small hole on the side that he liked to worry at. He pricked the side of his hand on my lowest branch and the petals of my almost bloomed flowers trembled with joy inside their buds.
It took him until the sun was well down to call the cops.
I’m sure I meant to go back.
But I’m fucking glad I can’t.