on suburban sidewalks, put out with the trash because they’re ugly or
dying or refusing to flower. My oldest is a Ficus benjamina I’ve had for
forty-five years, retrieved from the garbage room of my freshman dorm
with only three dark and glossy leaves to his name. Like me, he’s thickened with age, and unlike me, he’s grown so that his crown now brushes
the dining room ceiling.
I mist the broad-leafed bird-of-paradise that’s only ever flowered
once; the purple-pink Hawaiian ti plant; the arrowhead syngonium;
the forest of pink and white fittonia, which everyone gave as gifts the
year my wife died. I soak the orchids, the flaming sword bromeliad, the
tillandsia my daughter left behind when she moved out to LA. Then I
get the watering can and attend to the geraniums my wife planted, now
grown to Little Shop of Horrors proportions; the massive jade tree my
mother left me; the spiked snake plants, the hanging vines, the calving
spider plant, the gold-and-green-draped corn plant, the ZZ plants with
their dark, plasticky leaves.
I make a pot of coffee. I make a tuna fish sandwich. I make a piece
of toast with butter and strawberry jam. I put the sandwich and a travel
mug of coffee into the satchel full of papers I cart back and forth from
work each day, though I’ve never once taken out the papers at home.
The walk to the bus is cold and drab, gloom crowding the corners of
the late April day. Heaps of dirty snow still line the street. I’m alone at
the bus stop—too early for the students, too late for the downtown workers whose shifts started hours ago. No one else takes the bus if they can
help it. But I hate driving.
No matter the hour of the day, everyone looks tired on the bus, and
this morning is no different, the few occupants all grim and ground-down in the fluorescent light. I take a seat and watch the dark teeth of
the roofs and the lit windows of the old houses rushing past. In one, a
woman in a red dress with yellow flowers stands over a stove. I imagine
a quick spiral of golden oil, the snap of the gas burner, the crisp tap and
slime of an egg. Maybe she has a young son, and she shouts for him to
get up, but he just pulls the comforter over his head and hides in the
warmth. She goes to get him, pulls back the blankets half teasing, half
exasperated; she leans over to give him a kiss, the loose V-neck slipping
to reveal the line of sun-worn skin between her full breasts. My wife
would have looked good in a dress like that. And now we’re nearing my
stop. I put these things away.