When he notices I haven’t moved from the spot in the backyard where the swing set used to be, he tries to ignore me. He goes about his work and play around the house, causing undue commotion. He wants me to notice how much life he’s living. He prunes the palm tree. He fishes for toothy Florida gar in the lake. He whoops in triumph each time one of the prehistoric creatures waggles at the end of his line. He learns to play my steelpan, poorly. He sweeps at a mound of dirt near to where I sit, pretending his sidelong looks are meant for something just beyond my left shoulder.
When he realizes I’ve been eating dirt, he comes out to yell. My dreadlocks are tossed horizontal with the force of his objection. I remind him that he used to make mud pies for his younger sisters. He still feels bad about that childhood tyranny. He breaks down and prepares a mud pie for me, presumably following an old recipe. His lips tremble with the effort it takes to remain quiet. I imagine he resents me for reducing him to the role of enabler, once again.
I have not eaten anything but soil in weeks. My loved ones think they can remedy my invisible illness. Mom brings vitamins and cans of ackee; friends bring vintage-shop dresses beautiful enough to wear to a wedding. I will not be changing my clothes. This hospital gown is it for me. The only words I spare, between bites, for those with offerings are, “I cannot participate.” He brings out teas of stinging nettles, pennyroyal, Queen Anne’s lace. “I am not trying to abort a fetus,” I say. “I am trying hard not to do anything.”
He comes home late one night. I expect him to keep his vigil at my side, but he doesn’t. The lights never come on in the house. He’s in there, though, feeling around for the stairs, maybe stubbing his toe. I don’t need him. As I sift black soil between the roof of my mouth and tongue, I imagine him sleeping naked, whiskey-spent, the length of him soft against our scratchy alpaca comforter.
It is on the fifty-second day that he comes out to sit with me just as I chomp down on an earthworm. I’ve eaten a crater into our once-perfect landscaping. My nails have separated from their fingers from all the digging, and I smile to think of my blood in with the dirt. “You’re purple as a plum,” he says, his hungover breath tickling my neck, and I wonder if he means to bite my shoulder. Like he used to. He does not. Exhaustion has gouged deep rings under his eyes. He watches as I eat and eat. He wonders aloud what the attraction could be, tosses a clump of dirt into his mouth. He spits out what he can, coughing like a new smoker. He sees that there can be no solidarity between us. But that’s just fine. Even if we couldn’t make anything lasting from this life, he will be at my side when I dig deep enough to find the next.
MARIA PINTO’s recent work has appeared in Word Riot, The Butter, FLAPPERHOUSE, Hermeneutic Chaos, Small Po[r]tions, and elsewhere. She was the 2010 Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston, in the city where she cares for dogs and does karaoke. Her debut novel is in search of a home. She’s working on her second.