She’d already been wiggling the key in the lock for at least a minute, searching for that click, box tucked under one arm, when the voice called out from above.“Hey Luka, you’re a ghost, like the rest of us.”
Leaning back, she saw two eyes looking down at her from between the crisscross of wrought iron fire escape above. “Fuck you, Benny, it’s just flour.”
But Benny was right. She’d lost the tan since moving to the city. She couldn’t remember it happening. It must’ve been a gradual thing, but it felt like one day she could smell the cut grass, hear the sway of branches. The next day it was just gone.
She climbed the steps to the second floor, her feet drawn to the dip in the middle of the terrazzo. Thousands had climbed here before her. Thousands walked down this corridor. Thousands had opened her door. Maybe more.
Her place, her pad, her palace by any other name was still just a room. A hotplate, a bar fridge, a single mattress she paid for with cash at clearance. She had only brought one suitcase with her—it was all they’d allow on the bus. But things sort of just had a way of collecting.
She put the box on the counter and then reached under to bring up the jar. She dropped in the cash left over from rent. Even after five months working at the bread factory the jar was only half full. When she first wrote home, which was the only time she wrote home, she called it a ‘bakery.’ How quaint. It wasn’t quaint. It was a factory.
She flopped onto the futon she’d rescued from the alley. Home. It was a funny little word. That’s what she was building here, in Robin’s Egg blue paint and Tibetan prayer flags.
Her father, before he went and died, had run a tractor dealership. He’d run it right into the ground. He’d been a shit businessman. Shit husband and a shit father, too. The one thing he was any good at was gardening. Made sense, somehow, all that shit, and him six feet under, that fertilizing would be the one thing he’d do right.
If you give life to it, it will give life to you, he liked to say when anyone would listen, which wasn’t often.
She reached out and grabbed the box from the counter. It had a nice stamp on it from the store down the street and a pretty bow. She ripped it open. There was the air plant. No pot or soil or anything. They didn’t need water, the girl in the store told her. Just a little light and a little moisture once in a while. That’s all they need to live.
She’d find a way to kill it anyway.
Matthew Heiti was born and is still living in a meteor crater in North Ontario, Canada. He has a published book, The City Still Breathing (Coach House Books) and a play, Black Dog: 4 vs. the wrld (Playwrights Canada Press). He writes at harkback.org. In his spare time, he is usually working. Twitter: @hark_back