by R.J. Cavender © 2002

Gritting my teeth, and giving it another hard pull. Again, my hands slip down the length of the root without moving it an inch.

I wipe sweat from my eyes with my free hand and proceed to give this stubborn little bugger another try. Feeling determined, I peel the yellow rubber gloves from my aching hands with an audible snap as the stretchy latex lets free its adhesive grip on my fingertips. Grabbing my hand spade, I prepare to rid my garden from this intrusion once and for all.

It's getting warmer out, but I crouch in the dirt between the tomato plants and cucumbers where it's still shaded by the corner of the house. My hands feel icy cold in the muddied clay without the gloves, but I'm more sure than not that they were simply getting in the way. I dig deeper with my fingertips pushing wet clay and rocky mud away from the base of where the root disappears into the earth.

Where the heck did this come from? The nearest tree is at least twenty feet from the house, Henry had made sure of that. No leaves in the rain gutter. It surely wasn't noticeable when I'd started tilling the ground here to plant, but sometime between then and now this intruding little menace had worked it's way up through the soil. It had been poking out at me when I came out to water this morning after breakfast. Breakfast. Henry had looked different when he came down to breakfast. Pale and puffy and just about as tired as I'd ever seen him look. And something different, something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Even after thirty-three years of marriage, Henry was still just a closed book some days. He wasn't a talkative man, and I guess that had a lot to do with his charm sometimes. But getting him to talk about his feelings was just about like pulling teeth. So, through the years, you just learn to stop asking. He seemed fine with that arrangement. I guess I should have asked him if everything was alright, but I was just so tired this morning. So we ate breakfast in silence, again. Within fifteen minutes he was slouching out the door with a full travel mug of coffee. And, just like yesterday, no kiss, not even a good-bye. Only a low grumble as he picked up his briefcase, and then he was gone.

Just like yesterday. Just like tomorrow will be.

Was that yesterday? Almost doesn't seem like that was only a few hours ago. Wasn't today Saturday, after all? I know they say the mind is the first thing to go, but I didn't think it could happen overnight.

My grip is solid on the root as I bend over it, foot dug in at the edge of the little hole, preparing to use my full body weight to pull against it. I heave back and it moves with me an inch or so. I rock back against it yanking hard, and I seem to be widening the hole a bit more with this tactic. My hands are cold and the joints in my fingers are throbbing with that dull arthritic pain I feel most mornings now. Pain or not, the garden needs tending and no one but myself will ever bother themselves to do such a menial task. No root will clutter my sanctuary, no matter how big.

Yes, today is Saturday. It's just like a lightbulb going off in my head. Today's Saturday and Henry should be here. Why on earth would he be going off to the office today. The office is never open on Saturday. So where in the world is he? I guess I should be mad, but all I can seem to think are bad thoughts. Has he finally lost his mind completely? I wonder how long before he realizes today is not a workday? Unless, he's deceiving me in some way. I just can't imagine what he could be up to.

First I saw it, even though I should have heard it first. The helicopter had passed over here a few minutes ago, but I guess I didn't really notice it then. Now it's making a second pass over my house, and close. Careful there, delta force.

Without a sound, it just settles in over the backyard. Silent and full of motion. All the wind scatters potting soil and planters all over the backyard, but I'm frozen in awe. The pilot is looking right into my eyes and he's smiling. So close I can see him smiling, and almost make out what he's saying. I see his silent mouth working over the words, like I should know what he's saying or I should try to remember what he's trying to tell me. And for some reason it's like an explanation, a key to the riddle. About the root. About Henry. About me standing here, mouth wide open, staring into the sun. Tears rolling down the sides of my face, sand and leaves blowing around me. I was always told not to look directly into the sun.

My eyes blur and I'm laughing and crying and frantically yanking at that muddied, bloody root. And things are falling from the sky. All around me, chunks of debris are falling from as high as I can see up into the cloudless sky. As far as I can see out across the valley, an instantaneous downpour from the sky.

My heart is leaping in my chest. The pilot's voice explodes in laughter, coming from all around me. It crackles and fades like it was played on an old radio.

And it's raining flesh from heaven. Bits of bodies plummet from the empty sky. A finger hits and ricochet's off my wrist. A charred head hits the ground with enough force to bury it mouth deep, wide set brown eye's stare flatly at me. A torso cartwheels through the air and crashes soundless into the hedges near the back wall. A silent fleshy rain, and now all I hear is the pilot. His laughter. His rattled breathing.

The entire helicopter, simply froze. As if paused. No movement, nothing. 50 feet up and all I can do is stare into his watery blue eyes. His smile smears across his face, like a wound slowly opening and I can see no humor in his cold stare at all. Sunlight sparks off a gold-capped canine, as his mouth slowly opens. My heartbeat slamming hard in my ears, I barely hear him speak.

"Truth or dare, you smelly bitch!"

I just stand frozen as the helicopter, it's nose pointed downward, dives directly at me. Knee's buckling, I stagger with both trembling hands still clutching the length of the root as the propellers slap and slash through my body. Flames engulf me and I feel the pilot's body slamming me full force with a bony, bloody smack.

Suddenly, I'm tingling and screaming and know in this moment what it is to die. Welcome death, embrace it. Feeling the warmth of the white light caress my cheeks. I cry out and cannot hear it, I scream wordlessly into the light...

The only thing tethering me to this hands still upon the root, still grasping..and I can feel hands...

...pain of needles and pins and tears choking my sobs...

I hear birds screeching in protest as a car passes, honking, just beyond the wall of my backyard.

I feel like every ragged breath drawn into my body is in slow motion. My eyes register a shooting pain that makes me cry out through my tears. I try to look around, blinded. I'd been staring into the sun. Everything looks faded and distant. Everything green and ghostlike, slowly coming back into focus.

The root jerks in my hands. And even as I try to look down, I find myself unable to. My eyes will not move. I try to move and I can't. And then I do move, but not of my own will. My body moves of it's own will. Or, as if moved by something...magnetic, drawn to move. I truly panic and try my best to struggle. Not a muscle moves. Eyes still stare forward.

A numbness has spread over me entirely, yet my body moves effortlessly, pulling and pulling at the root. Automatic. I feel no pain in my arms and hands as they work tirelessly. I feel only an exhilarated panic that builds within me, drowning out the sheer joy I should feel right now at simply being alive. Programmed and dreamlike I stare forward as my working arms viciously continue to tear and yank with futile frenzy at the root just out of sight.

One final determined heave and my working arms had finally separated the root from its hold in the earth.

My body tilts forward, still beyond my control, my eye's tearing and refocusing. Henry lay in front of me, where I expected to see a hole from the root. Only, there is no hole. Only Henry's body, split down the middle, nearly separated into two pieces.

My mind reeling, I try my best to scream, but my mouth won't open. I begin hyperventilating in sheer panic, breathing ragged breaths in through my nose. Involuntarily, the vomit sprays from my throat with enough force to blast open my numb locked lips.

Sweet Jesus, my poor Henry! I want so bad to take my eyes off him, but they are frozen and fixed and focused on him. His chest cracked open like a rack of ribs, shocking white bones peek out from beneath twisting and mangled organs. Unable to look away, I see his guts and entrails snaking off into different directions on the grass. As if someone wanted to spread as much of Henry as they could all across the back yard.

Wave after wave of sour vomit spews from my gaping jaws, spattering the ground just to the left of what was now left of Henry's head.

And I just snapped. At once, my brain just finally gave in...acknowledging what it knew to be true. That wasn't any kind of root in my hand. This wasn't a root at all, and I am not covered in mud. The smell of blood covers me, I'm all black and slimy with it's heavy rotting stench. It's drying thick and sticky and all caked onto my arms. And I just started laughing. Like the best-fucking-joke-you-ever-heard kind of belly laugh. Laughing and crying and I could move again. And hear the sirens. Just standing here laughing as the police rush me. Just naked and bloody and laughing my ass off crying standing here holding Henry's dripping spine out in front of me like a pretty Christmas present...

x x x

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