Chapter Thirteen

The points of the serrated fang-like leaves grew from three to five to seven before the light cycle was switched from eighteen hours to twelve, and then the calyxes and hairs began to appear and stack, forming dense clusters of white female flowers. Now that the pot was in full bud Calendula never seemed to leave the grow room, and when he did he would disappear to the back shack. Jennifer didn’t know what he was doing back there by himself for all those hours and at some point she stopped caring. Even when he was around, eating dinner with them or strumming his guitar, he seemed sullen and morose, like he wasn’t fully present, wasn’t really there but still in the grow room or that nasty back shack. She grew used to his shadow-like presence, and wore her sad resolve like an uncomfortable cloak. The rains came, pattering the tin roof, streaking the windows so that what tepid light came in was warped and strange, and then the rains left. But the sky always remained black.

She began drinking herself to sleep at night. No more organic bottles of Pinot noir from biodynamic vineyards, now it was cheap box wines, burgundy and table red. Some nights the wine would run out and she’d remove the inner bag from the cardboard box, cutting it open to drain the last few precious drops. And some mornings she would awake, mouth a dirty carpet, a head full of helium, to see a box and bag cut up and bleeding a puddle of red onto the counter and not remember having butchered it.

Thankfully, through it all Megan was sweet and happy, bouncing around with her stuffed bunny, coloring, singing, playing. Which made everything that much easier. As long as Megan seemed normal and content, then Jennifer could go on like this. Megan had stopped talking about the ghost of the little boy, though Jennifer would sometimes hear her carrying on one-sided conversations and wonder.

She moved in a daze, slowly and seemingly without true purpose, only because she had to, the days drifting by like so many autumn leaves falling down around her. She would take Megan with her into the forest to scrounge for firewood on those days when the rain had stopped or slowed, searching for branches and twigs as the ravens cawed down at them, angry at having their solitude disturbed. But the wet, rotten wood never seemed to burn, just smolder and the house was always cold and smoky. So cold they took to wearing two sweaters each.

It seemed the eyes of the clerks and customers at the T-Stop began to grow kinder, their suspicious gazes lessening. They knew Jennifer and her little girl now. Maybe they even sympathized, knowing what she was going through, knowing what was bound to happen. Now they smiled at her, called her dear and hon. She was becoming one of them. She had given up on eating only organic, non-GMO foods, there was nothing like that at the little general store. Now she shopped for whatever was easiest: Pop Tarts, Spaghetti O’s, cans of tuna and peanut butter, for she couldn’t seem to find the energy to cook big meals. She could accept this life if she had to.

She even thought about cutting off her dreadlocks.

She found an old tube television in a back closet, a small thing, its screen no bigger than fourteen inches, and a VCR and box of video tapes. She set it on the counter in the kitchen and began watching the tapes, home-recorded sitcoms from the seventies and eighties, Barney Miller, The Odd Couple, The Brady Bunch complete with ancient commercials for laundry detergents and soaps, smart, sassy moms with mouths of gleaming white teeth. The shows’ theme songs became a source of escape for her, those old melodies providing her with a vessel to drift away on as she sipped her wine from a chipped coffee mug, Megan beside her clapping her hands and giggling.

She thought of the story Megan had told her that long ago November day, the story of the little girl who lived on a boat in the bathtub.

No, she’s not a princess, Mommy, Megan had said, she’s just a normal little girl.

A normal little girl whose mother had accidentally set out to sea by pulling the drain plug. Is that what she was doing? Pulling the drain plug on her life? All the hopes and desires to live at one with nature, the values and ethics of sustainability, she had let them slip through her fingers to try and grow weed and make money. Her passion and fury, her fierceness, her hatred of corporations and chemical fertilizers, pesticides, processed foods and preservatives, all leaking away, circling down the drain and out, dispersed, gone, lost, like so much dirty water. Her hope vanishing before her eyes. Was that the way it had been with the hopes and dreams of her own mother?

And then one day, watching Different Strokes as the wind blew wet and yellow leaves against the house, that funny light of winter spilling in through the dirty windows, she made a stark realization.

Megan was eating a bowl of Fruit Loops, the brightly colored dyes staining the milk a pattern of glaring blues and pinks. “This is yummy, Mommy. How come we never ate this before?” she asked. Jennifer remembered loving the sweet, crunchy cereal herself as a child. She looked around and gasped. The gaudy orange of the walls and the nineteen seventies style of the counter and cupboards, the bile-yellow of the linoleum on the floor. The canned laughter of the sitcoms on the little television. She was a single mother, struggling to survive, her boyfriend gone strange and absent. She had become her mother. She sunk her head into her hands and began to weep, the stream of tears thick and salty, as if her body was trying to purge itself of some deep part within her.

“What’s wrong, Mommy? Please don’t cry,” Megan pleaded, forgetting her cereal for a moment to rub Jennifer’s back. “What’s wrong? What is it, Mommy?”

Jennifer found she didn’t even have the strength to say, “I’m all right. It’s okay,” instead she only shook her head and moaned as her body heaved and emptied itself.

So, what did you think, guys?