The doctors had no answer for me, something wrong with her heart—that’s all that I heard, all they could hint at with their stone faces and cold hands, constantly checking their watches, places they needed to be. Except, now that Jessica was gone, there was nowhere I needed to be and nowhere I wanted to go. She liked the woods, embraced nature with every fiber of her constantly distracted mind. She wandered off every chance she got—communing and dancing, her silhouette spinning in many a field of wild flowers. It gave me great pleasure to share that joy with her.
When I found her body in the deep grasses—weeds and vines bent over from the edge of the forest, she looked peaceful, asleep, hands resting on her chest. We’d been hiding from each other, playing a little game. The reward was supposed to be her soft kisses, my hands traversing her ivory skin, a stolen moment away from the city, away from the smoke and noise and drudgery of work and broken dreams. It only took a short drive north, away from our home and the echoes of lost children, the bloody rags that lined our garbage cans, the dusty crib that lay barren and quiet. I didn’t bring it up any more, didn’t dare ask where we were, what the plan was, or how to move forward.
Too many nights I’d find her at the kitchen table, empty glass of wine, empty bottle, her eyes a million miles away, her hands torn and bleeding, wads of paper in her mouth as she chewed, broken glass littering the table. It was a room filled with anger, a thick layer of frustration, sadness and an undying urge to hurt someone, to strike out in vengeance for the random pain that surrounded us. I’d carry her upstairs, a bundle of sticks, and place her on our bed. When she’d reach for me, catatonic, dead behind the eyes, I’d push her away. It wasn’t her. Her body called to me, begged me to fill her with life, but her eyes, her diminished mind, was anywhere but here.
Fractured. That’s the word that comes to mind. I can see myself in our car, drifting down the highway. I can see her at the table, a ghost. I can picture the forest, her lying in the damp green blanket of grass, and I can see what I did next in excruciating detail.
It started as a way to honor her, to hold on to her shape, her shadow, the outline of her body flattening the greenery, the death of the grasses, the weeds withering and turning brown, flower buds that had bared witness to her heartbreak, shriveled and lying on the ground. I simply lay down in her outline, lay there in the woods, the grass, and tried to imagine what she had been thinking, tried to embrace her pain and longing. Insects buzzed at the periphery of my body heat, the sun above cooking the forest, the fields, a shimmer washing over me. My body glistened with sweat, the droplets running off of my bare skin and into the earth below me. Soon my tears joined the trickle of sweat, running down the sides of my face, as I bellowed and wailed, alone in the world. Things were just beginning.
Days later, unable to focus on life in the real world, unable to be anywhere else, I returned to the forest to find the dark outline of my body, overlapping the space where she expired, filled with tiny flowers, buds of yellow and pink and lavender, pushing up from the shadows. Wildflowers. I didn’t dare lie down on them, these slivers of sweetness and light. I had no water with me, no creek nearby—nothing but blue sky and a shiver in my bones.
When I returned the next day, I stopped at the edge of the clearing, sucking in air, frozen. The flowers had grown, weaving in amongst themselves, her shape appearing in the layers of green. I held in my hands an old milk jug filled with water, heavy and slick in my sweating fingers. I approached her with apprehension, wind pushing through the leaves of the forest, small creatures tangled in the undergrowth, cracking and rustling, the shrill cry of some lost and frightened bird. I opened the jug and poured it over her, over the flowers, and vines, and grasses. I traced the outline, down her head, over her shoulders, to her arms and legs and back to the top again. I created a small puddle where her brain would surely grow, another in her chest, where a heart might come to life. And then I walked away. Unsteady, I tripped over my feet, glancing back over my shoulder. My desire was uncertain.
I didn’t come back the next day. Busy at work, I thought. Things I needed to do. These were the lies that I told myself, when she came to me in my dreams—in the dark. I ached for her, my hands trembling constantly, a dull throbbing at my temples. And yet, I’d lost my mind. Nowhere else to go, my vision filled with flashes of wildflowers and creeping vines, and I found myself back in the forest.
I stood at the edge of the clearing, her body expanding and contracting, her chest filling with air. She was still a shell, one glorious red rose in the center of her heart, a gathering of white buds at her head. When I summoned the courage to approach and kneel next to her, the wind picked up, whispering to me, things I needed to do. I shook my head. The trees bent under the gusts of wind, the long grasses of the field waving back and forth.
“More,” it whispered. I lay next to Jessica, and the rustle of flowers and leaves as her head turned towards me—it caused my pounding heart to shudder and stop. I listened to her wishes, to the wind and the heady perfume of the wildflowers. I was weak. I stood as the sun set and unzipped my jeans and drenched the flowers and grass. There was a withering crawl of vines, the minerals and vitamins of my urine washing over her translucent skin. Nausea rolled over me and I turned and walked away. What was I doing?
Again I stayed away, fearful of what might come next. But she haunted my dreams, begged me to return, to finish the job, to bring her all the way back. I hesitated at the door to our home, several times. I’d retreat into the house and pour myself a tumbler of amber, over and over, until her voice faded into the walls. It was no use. I could not stay away.
Her final request was beyond me, and the thought of such action repulsed me. I told her it was impossible, I couldn’t make lust out of wishes. Her skin was no longer translucent—it was a pale earthtone, the creeping vines still visible under her skin, the blooming rose sighing in her chest. Two violet blossoms stared back at me from her hardening skull—tracking my every move. I could see her naked form now as I stood above her, her body writhing in the grass and shadows, begging me to complete this act, to plant my seed among the other buds and seedlings that trembled at my feet. Two pink buds stood out in her chest, her right hand drifting down into the mossy growth between her legs, the wind picking up again, a hot breath at my ears, my neck, a desert of heat emerging from nowhere. I found myself aroused. As the sun disappeared into the horizon and the darkness pulled us in, I ran my hand up and down my slick flesh, a stammering in my chest, my breath caught and lost. Bountiful, she gasped and trembled, my prayers for forgiveness disappearing into the woods.
It took me a week to come back, and a part of me thought that maybe I could stay away forever. That maybe I didn’t need to see this to completion, my insanity confirmed, my selfish needs and desire to see Jessica again, manifested in some horror of acts committed out of desperation. But I returned, eventually. Was there ever really any doubt?
She was lying at the edge of the forest, naked in the sunlight that pushed to the rim of the woods, her fragile silhouette disappearing in the sunbeams, reappearing in the shade. She didn’t say anything when I came upon her. She didn’t ask why it had taken me so long to return. She didn’t question the tears that ran down my face. She opened her arms and beckoned me to her, and I knelt down, and then lay down, her arms wrapping around me, then her legs—pulling me in, pulling me under, until we were whole once again.