Trying to thrive in hostile places; unwanted, despised. Some are brazen, resolute in their right to be. Bursting from cracks and last year’s baskets, slithering through flowerbeds like venomous snakes. Others are timid, quietly seeding in shadowy hollows, in long grass. Hiding their delicate leaves, their pale flowers. Trying to live unseen, be unobtrusive. Trying to live.
You’re in the border again, ripping and cutting, snarling face dripping sweat onto the roses, browning their pastel flesh. Your hands red-striped, surely stinging, make you more determined, more vicious. At your feet, bleeding into the perfect grass, a mound of weeds wilt and wither. Insects buzz at fading flowers of buttercup and bramble, find them wanting. Flit to fresher, brighter blooms with the indifference of careless lovers. The mound grows; you stomp it with your boots. I hear the tearing sounds, the crunch of hopeful buds. Ribbons of bitter-green ripple into the house, tease my nose. You smear blood and shredded petals onto your jeans, spit on the ruined foliage, growl my name. I dig under the sink for stain remover. The first-aid box is already out.
I rub ointment into your lacerated hands, the stuttering tracks thorn-tattooed up your arms. You wince, tense. I wince, tense. The pink salve’s antiseptic scent as familiar as my own skin, surely imbedded in my fingerprints, under my nails. I know how quickly it takes the sharp sting away, how ineffectual it is at relieving deeper agonies. I know how it burns if it slides into your eye. I know how it tastes.
On your knuckles, tiny prickles from the tender underside of bramble leaves catch my thumb. My blood and yours, smeared together. A familiar union. I ease the prickles deeper into your wounds; your scarlet rage hiding the further pain. You tire of my touch, my tenderness, lash out like a rope of nettles. I squeeze out more ointment.
You start scratching at your palm, your wrist. Leave slimy tendrils of blood on the sheets. Every morning I fill the sink with cold saltwater. The capillaries and veins in your forearm swell and discolour; a mulchy green that’s hot to the touch, while the rest of you is cold and white as lamb fat. You use ointments and pills, yet it spreads over your shoulder, down your chest.
Tiny thorns erupt from your spine; I snip them carefully with your rose pruners, still you have to lie on your belly in bed. You shiver in cold baths, scrubbing at the ever-darkening venation that makes you seem more leaf than skin, tough as dock. Yet it spreads. You struggle to walk, to speak; your breath a dank whisper of composted depths. I spoon cooled soup into your mouth; your lips ooze, sticky as catchweed. Your eyes are tight blue buds, shivering with fear.
I wheel you into the garden, to your beloved rose border. In your absence, brambles turned old-blood maroon have throttled the bushes. The skin-soft flowers are thorn-stripped, their fragrance smothered by the wilder stink of milk thistle, groundsel and red robin. I inhale, scour the lingering smell of ointment from my nostrils.
I tip the chair, leave you slumped beside your broken roses, both of you leaking onto the unfettered grass. By the time all my bruises are buttercup-yellow, my lacerations bindweed-pink scars, the soil and its bugs have subsumed their fill: you’re nothing but dry twigs.
Autumn brings a fresh wind, vigorous with the white clover engulfing the lawn. It pounds you out of existence; to brown dust quickly covered by the weeds.
JP Relph is a working-class Cumbrian writer, mostly hindered by four cats and aided by copious tea. A forensic science degree and passion for microbes, insects and botany often influence her words. JP writes about apocalypses quite a lot (but hasn’t the knees for one) and her post-apoc flash collection was published by Alien Buddha Press in June 2023.