He presented her with a canvas bag the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. “A new project,” he said, prodding the bag across the breakfast table.
Inside were patterned gloves, miniature metal rakes and trowels, and an array of ready-to-plant bulbs. “There,” he said, pointing out the patio doors at a wide patch— the grass jaundiced with drought—under the window of the abandoned nursery. “Fuck the neighbors and their lilies.”
She hesitated, then yielded. “Yes,” she said, selecting daffodils from the bag. “All those white lilies. This isn’t Holland.”
“Or Connecticut,” he snorted, not bothering to correct her. He choose tulips, plotting a rainbowed tract.
“So this is our project now,” he said.
“We’re done,” she agreed, her voice thick. They had been at it for three years with no results.
“Let’s do it,” he said and clapped his hands, the endnote of a failed composition. She dumped the supplies she had gathered onto the table and together they scissored appointment cards, shredded calendars, snapped sterile needles, smashed unused test sticks, and popped plastic pill rounds. When they were finished, an aimless pile of debris remained. He flipped a few scraps in the air, let them fall like confetti, then kissed her frozen smile. They ceased having sex.
They rushed to plant, the first frost arriving sooner than they expected, the top soil the consistency of week-old bread. With gloved hands, they nestled the bulbs down where the earth was crumbled and damp.
“Six inches deep,” he instructed.
Her head bobbed. She troweled to eight.
She passed him the ruler. “Leave four inches between.”
He nodded, eyeballing the width, and settled short of three.
With a watering can, she sprinkled the mounded dirt, the garden hose silent at his feet. They retreated inside to sip lukewarm coffee.
They breakfasted in view of the yard, then went about their separate daily tasks. In the evening, long after the sun retreated, they prowled the rooms, hugging the corners, tensing on the inhales, withdrawing to opposite sides of their shared bed to contemplate the blank walls.
The air warmed. Week after week, they scanned the yard for signs of surfacing. Shielding their eyes, they searched the strip for evidence of slugs, hints of mites or moles. They tested the soil: fertile with a good mix of nutrients.
Seated at the table, sipping gone-cold coffee, they stared out the patio doors at the neighbors’ robust beds of white lilies listing coyly in the sun, their large brood of Irish towheads narrowly missing the blooms with their noisy thrust of balls and rackets and roughhousing.
“It’s obnoxious to have that many kids,” he said, his starched cuff skimming the jelly on his toast.
“Yes,” she said, although six didn’t seem that extreme. “This isn’t Connecticut.”
They began to dig. Their dirt-splotched gloves and rusted tools tore wide investigative holes. They found the bulbs undisturbed, cocooned, patient. They threw down their trowels and gloves, retreating inside. Drawing the blinds, they eyed each other accusingly—suspecting interference, overwatering, hovering.
That night, while contemplating her wall, she remarked how he had stopped buying her favorite candies. Without turning, he reflected on a comment she had made about his cologne. She bristled that his mother was forever in their business. He countered that he detested her whiny friend Karen. She questioned the money he lost in a risky investment his boss had bullied him into. He grilled her about a text from a coworker she annoyingly called her “work husband.” She sneered she had initially found his brother better-looking. He spat he had hated her wedding dress.
Ablaze, she swung around, clawing at his chest, red stripes scoring his pale flesh. He seized her hands and yanked her to him as she bit at his jaw and they tumbled to the floor, upending the nighttable.
When the breeze cooled and the wafting smell of pork ribs grilling on the barbecue made her buckle, he stood on the patio and recalled the frenzied encounter that had produced the long-desired outcome. He left the ribs smoking, their thick, honeyed fragrance watering his mouth, and began to fill the holes beneath the nursery window with his bare hands, earth gathering under his fingernails. After a while she joined him on all fours, their naked arms touching, their palms tamping down the loose dirt, their neighbors’ lilies deadheaded and forgotten.
Vinessa Anthony DiSousa is a mother, meditator, writer, instructor, hair assassin and dog slave. She has a MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, won an honorable mention for the GlimmerTrain 2016 “Family Matters” short story contest and received two honorable mentions from the Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents 2016. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, daughter and two dogs.