While an Angel Decomposes in the Water Heater

Your grave once occupied the garden’s center, if there was ever such a place. Grief would tend to it. He’d pull the weeds that grew over your tombstone, place down fresh-plucked lilies, and try to think of nice words for you. You didn’t leave behind any instructions, so he would tend to things as how you left them. Certain things in certain places, keeping your grave, your garden, your house all separate. He’d move through rooms, shearing the fleece growing out of your carpet, pulling the roots out of your chairs and table, keeping your house a house.

The feathers, however, stop him. He knows it does no good to count the ones clinging to the sink basin, to his hands when he pulls a ceramic plate out of pink dishwater. There is no away to put them in. He finds them in every room as disembodied appendages, manifestations of something not the house. Even your houseplants sport them—ficus, banksias, leopard orchid, all with white and cornsilk feathers clinging to their soil, all like exotic taxidermy birds having long since molted bare.

Since the feathers, Grief no longer recognizes the garden, where things no one planted now grow. Strange plastic flowers and their fruit strain through the holes of vinyl discs and overtake the frame of a broken typewriter. Grief sprinkles them with the hose just the same. Feathers cling there too. Wind carries them beyond the tree line, and beyond the beyond, until Grief can imagine no distance without them.

He eventually loses your grave in the slow chaos of the garden’s growth. Tangles of foreign flora where you might have been, too thick to see the ground below. He hacks the day away with your shovel, covering himself in the black ooze from torn stems, feathers all the way down until he reaches topsoil, and never you. He digs elsewhere until dark.

The garden has overtaken the house when he returns. Strange plants cover it like moss. Branches grow from panels. Kudzu choke columns. Shingles misbehave with the dandelions sprouting between them. He wants to call it alive, but he doesn’t want to think about what it had been when it was his, when it was yours, now pulsing with things that are neither. Familiarity remains only in the frame, in the edifice of eaves, ridges, the chimney, in the yellow light leaking through the openings in the vegetation. Grief tries to push through a wall of swollen vines where he surmised the door had been. There is no inside he enters into, only garden, the pressing heat of exhalation from living things that breathe him in. Your kitchen sink, now crowned with chutes of cattails, froths pink water onto the root-riddled floor.

Grief sets your shovel against the hibiscus shrub where your dinner table had been and cups his blistered hands in the warm water, almost cool against his hot face and neck. His fingers brush a feather against his shoulder. His skin clings to it when he tugs it out. He holds the feather between thumb and forefinger. Blood stains the quill shaft red.

He picks up your shovel, chooses a space in your floor, shakes the soreness out of his arms, and through the foliage, the roots, the carpet, the wood, the clay, he digs a space for himself.

*

Benjamin Chappelow is an ecocritical writer based in North Carolina. His works can be found in Broad River Review, Ephimiliar, Alluvian, and elsewhere.