Spring 2010, Volume 8

Fiction by Kyle Hemmings

Mother Mary

There's a woman outside my door. I've become very quiet, hoping she'll go away. Through the hard wood, the thick coats of varnish, I can make out the soft outline of her face, a cyalume glow that I've seen on rainy nights that spoke through my talking dreams. I squeeze one eye through the peephole, then, wince, turn away. Coward, I am, always, always. There's a yellow-green shroud that lingers, mirrors the color of some of my pot plants. Has she come to collect the rent, even though as custodian of the Green Falls Apartment Complex, I live rent-free. Has she come to check on my neglected house plants? Has she come to collect me? In the cluttered kitchen, too small to fit one shrunken body, thin cut of vegetable soul, my tea cups sing from their hollow and silent lives. The thermostat is broken. I intend to suffer from what is so easily fixable.

 I chain smoke and dream of underwater plants, of whatever can thrive below Ground Zero.

I live alone. But there are walls that keep my transgressions in check, as if they have eyes, as if they want to give birth to new strangers, deeper, more disruptive interrogations. There is simple furniture that needs dusting and new legs. I've given up on glue and epoxy. There is a bedroom without a clue to a woman's scent. Old shoes, faded jeans lumped on chair seats, the aging face in obloid mirrors, a hangover old as Zeus. My hair is too thin to dye. 

I have exotic children who constantly tilt and drop by degrees. Neglect of sunlight or facing the walls. My exotic children are weeping figs, spider plants, Meyer Lemons, a Golden Pothos. Since I've stopped watering them days ago, they refuse to speak to me, or reach out. I'm a deadbeat father. I will sink in their potted soil, so deficient in nitrogen, phosphorous. We will die as a family. 

And sometimes the phone will ring. A new work order. I visit the tenants' apartments and finish the job half-way. This way they will call me back again and again. I love to take in the queer space of their rooms until I‘m dizzy. It's nice to feel needed by strangers ignorant of my secret. My secret: I came to live at Green Falls to die. It took me many years to reach a conclusion. I can no longer carry this burden of neglecting so many plants. My memory of only weeds, erosions, sun-traumas. How the weather has neglected me.

The zebra plant and I are wilting at the same rate. 

My legs are swollen. I’ve stopped taking the diuretics and the potassium pills. I have a notebook, three-quarters full of missed doctors’ appointments. It hurts to walk and it’s a bitch to breathe. 

My plants give off too little oxygen. I retain too much carbon dioxide. 

I've now timed my breaths to synchronize with the rhythm of hers, the woman behind the door. Will this communion completely erase me? 


Before I arrived at Green Falls, I drove a bus. It was the same route everyday though the city. Behind me, there was always bickering, laughter, brazen stares out the windows. Through the rearview, I caught glimpses, took snapshots, made educated guesses at the private lives of my passengers. I pictured each one naked. I made each one very small—a child runaway from home. I turned them at different angles. How they shivered in the cold. How they begged me to stop at the hot dog vendor. I remembered the love given to them on a shoestring. 

One day, while I was fixated on a conversation a regular passenger was having with herself as parent and her other self as stymied child, I saw a woman step in front of my bus. The brakes screeched. I closed my eyes and prayed. It was as if I was a child again and believed in the power of magic.

I ran to the front of the bus. There was no one, the shrill blank of pavement. I searched the street, inspected man holes. I shouted Are You Alright to passing cars. Nobody answered back. 

After I returned, the passengers in their seats greeted me with angry looks. One kept tapping his watch. Another burped loudly.

About a week later, I took an empty bus on an unscheduled tour of the city to look for this woman. The next day, I was fired. The manager told me it was called hijacking. I told him I returned the bus intact with all its spaces. 


One evening at the bus terminal, a woman wearing an over sized coat, loafers and thin socks, a stench of street, was selling blow jobs for ten bucks. She started following me and demanded that we go into a restroom, the one I was headed towards. I tried to shoo her away. Behind a stall I heard her mumbling. Let me in, she kept saying, let me in. Her knuckles rapped against the flimsy door; thank God for locks. Beneath the cubicle, laced with graffiti, my eyes fixated on those loafers, perhaps a man's style. I kept wondering who first owned them: a Peruvian cobbler, an Italian wine taster? Did she consider those shoes her undeserved children? They protected her feet from the rain and the snow and only on ice would they fail and bring her down. She would curse those shoes, throw them out into the nearest garbage bin, courtesy of the city's commission on clean streets. By the next morning, she would circle the block, remembering their names, but not the father's, and retrieve them. The restroom door slammed. I heard her shout Faggot. Should I have bought her a cup of tea? 

Many people, if you get to know them well enough, will tell you how some traumatic incident shaped their personality style, their way of coping or retreating. But for me, it was always the flash of something, the race that was considered but never entered. 

In high school, I dated a shy girl. We went to a park to play tennis. I thought I could impress her. She beat me at every game. We then strolled through the grounds, such a sunny day casting everything in a greenish yellow, and she could name each flower and shrub. Later, I told her I just wanted to be friends. She never said very much and there was always this distracted look about her, the kind of look you see on recovering alcoholics or abused mistresses. It made me uncomfortable. 

From then on, we avoided each other in school hallways. Looking back, I always thought of her as a flower. But I couldn’t name which one or discern whether it reached full bloom and in what season. 


So I'm driving this lone passenger, him, sitting at the back of the bus, mesmerized at the window. On Myrtle Avenue, I watch him through the rearview, his eyes glued to a certain apartment building, second story window. Perhaps, a woman he once knew, a wound, a promise, a lost window. 

From what I can see there are only commuters turning into geraniums. 

I drive us back to the point of origin. The cobblestone street, a staggered line of commuters. 

As he steps off the bus, he looks back at me, his eyes searching mine, as if I can read his thoughts. 

Will you ever knock on her door, I ask. Wouldn't it be much simpler? 

Her, he asks. You mean Her as in the One?

Yes, I say, the One. The One who padded your pockets with silky worms. The One who ironed your best throwaway dress shirts. The One who stood outside your window in the rain, trying to reach you by cell phone. She couldn't believe what you did. The One who sat by your bedside when you came down with night sweats, your body shaking like an African Violet in the fist of a condemned man. The One who was plain and flaky and indecipherable as a crumpet. It was when summer could almost levitate. It was inevitable. The One who could change your cucumbers and stale loaves of bread into talking fish.

Oh, that one, he says, with his tiny mocking eyes and his peek-a-boo of a smile. After she left, I had my tonsils removed. It taught me not to scream. For years, I lived on jell-o and ice cream. To punish myself, I tried swallowing a bar of soap, the kind with orchid scent. Tell me, did she ever ride on your bus?

Perhaps, I say. There's been so many passengers whose nickels and dimes I held for a second. The world is full of this and mints new atrocities. If she is the One I'm thinking of, she sat in your exact seat by the window. She took the bus when winter broke down and the new Perma-Front disassembled her car. She always got off three blocks from that apartment. I think she liked to walk to collect herself. There was a stranger in her bed she couldn't shake off for months. In her closet, she hid relatives and convicts. She was beautiful as a snowflake. And confused. Able to shape shift moods to fit the coy of her rubber soul. For a moment, it was a love perfect as a three-minute boiled egg. But the meter was always running. A nasty substitute god has double-parked us and is dining using our credit cards. . . I heard your girl did not die a thousand deaths from natural causes. Am I correct in assuming? You know I once had a girl like her. A day. A month. A daydream. An umbrella. I never recovered from the sweet. I've kept her fly traps as souvenirs. Tokens too costly to trade. 

Be seeing you, he says. 

He vanishes past a small crowd and somewhere below the streets. 

Stingy lovers always live on a diet of Jell-o, I think.

I grip the wheel. It's becoming hard to turn and I hate the slippage of gears. Cars are real, streets, less so. The cars drive through my phantom of a bus. There is no protection. I take down their license plates and rearrange the letters and numbers. Someday, I'll be able to break this code.

I wake up from this dream and throw it away and it keeps returning with an increased fare. 


Every night, before I fall into a well of sleep, each woman comes back to me. Sometimes they exchange names, roles. Each one takes turns driving my bus. But at the end of the ride, their limbs become stiff branches and we all sink underground.


She is still standing behind the door. I think I know who she is. She is Mother Mary. Has her son, Jesus, died again for my sins? Has her son gone underground? Does she think I am HIM?

Mother Mary, forgive me, for what I've done, or haven't done enough of. Forgive me for whom or what I could not save.

I will tell you this much: I promise to water those plants. Promise. Promise. Take me, but let me water them first. 

I open the door. 

I can barely breathe. 


BIO:  Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. His work has been featured in Lacuna Journal, five Fishes, Prick of the Spindle, Literary Tonic, and others.