For a long time Faye believed the growth dawned from some deep part of herself she could have altered. That if she had been harder toward people it could have been smothered. If she had been through harder things, maybe, like a tough neighborhood, or anything harder than her shadowy backyard plum trees and adolescent piano lessons, the growth may not have made a home in her. Faye’s grandmother had the same disease, and Faye was subjected, as a young girl,
to painful genetic tests that resulted in a deep dread and disinclination toward Western medicine.
By twenty she was certain her only hope was in acupuncture, but was too embarrassed to approach with her medical information. She begged her father to call with details.
“My daughter has growths in her wounds,” said the father.
“We don’t treat sexually transmitted diseases,” said the acupuncturist. Her name was Kirsten Kunstleis. She had emigrated from Switzerland to open her own clinic when she was twenty-nine.
“It’s not like that,” said the father. “It’s a genetic mutation. My mother also had it. She grows flowers. In open cuts and sores.”
“Flowers,” repeated Dr. Kunstleis.
“Geraniums. We’ve gone to hospitals,” said the father. “Faye wants to try alternative medicine.”
“I don’t know if I can help you.”
“If you could try,” said the father. He had unconsciously woven the phone cord around his arms.
Dr. Kunstleis was silent. She was looking at her face in a mirror.
“Please,” said the father. “It could do good.”
“I can’t guarantee anything,” said Dr. Kunstleis.
When Faye was a child, life was blurry cartoons on a big wooden chair in the kitchen before the school bus came, and great yellow light running in making everything warm, making it smell like peanut butter. When she was young she felt like a brand new packaged thing, clean and crisp and just beginning to sprawl her arms across the rolling brown thighs of the Midwest.
‘I think it was right to grow like that,’ wrote her grandmother in a private journal. ‘It deterred every friend I ever had from me. But I think it was right to do that, too.’
At her grandmother’s funeral, Faye was still a child. She remembered the half-open casket, and the face, which was not her grandmother’s face anymore, framed by white wood, painted across in a lucid smile.
“Touch her,” said Faye’s mother at the wake, drawing a finger over her mother in law’s cheeks. “It’s okay, see? You can say goodbye.”
But Faye wouldn’t touch the face. It wasn’t her grandmother, she insisted.
She didn’t even cry. And when the first geranium emerged from a slice in Faye’s calf that she had acquired during a cul-de-sac game of street hockey, Faye’s mother confided over tears, that the reason her grandmother’s casket had been half-closed was because of an abundant patch of geraniums cascading from her vagina.
Faye was twenty-one when she moved in with her boyfriend Will. They were showering together when he noticed a little bud emerging from a small discoloration on her back.
“It’s fecund,” snarled Will. “The doctors are too interested by its implications to tell you what it really is. Which is ugly.”
“It’s flowers,” declared Faye. “It’s not like I’m growing mold.”
“No difference at all,” said Will.
“To you,” said Faye, brushing her hand absently across her crotch. “No difference to you.”
One day Will came home to a vase full of geraniums on the kitchen counter. The light splayed across the petals made the room glow with a purple fog. It was very beautiful. Will packed all of his things and didn’t say a word.
The fertility of her existence repulsed him. That she was displaying her blemishes as artwork disturbed him to such an extent that he became unsure of his disgust’s origin. That evening, in a small motel on the side of the highway, in his hard plastic bed, he masturbated for hours over amputated-limb fetish videos. He didn’t cry, though he felt a strong desire to. It was the first time he had watched anything like that, and he was torn by a strong attraction, and an equally strong aversion toward the same need.
The room was colder than it was outside. Will turned the white heater up to its highest temperature, but it did not get warmer in the room. In between videos, he sat in the doorway of the room, smoking cigarettes and looking at what was visible of the night sky. The stars were cast like a fishnet over the city.
Faye was alone at her apartment. She wrote in a notebook that it was easier for people to leave than be left alone. People who leave enter a new environment, wrote Faye, while those who are left remain surrounded by a shared place. She had heard on a radio show about Cleverbot, a machine created to adapt in response to its past conversations. Do we learn more efficiently than that, wrote Faye, which adapts from its own past? Faye had her first encounter with an inanimate being, as Will tucked himself into the stained blankets of Motel 88.
What is life, wrote Faye.
Cleverbot: It is the time between something’s birth and death.
What is time, wrote Faye.
Cleverbot: Tick tock noises.
I have to go now, wrote Faye.
Cleverbot: Go where?
I have to go away, wrote Faye.
Cleverbot: Oh. Will you sing me a lullaby first?
Sure. Listen, okay? wrote Faye.
Cleverbot: I’m listening.
*Sings lullaby* wrote Faye.
Cleverbot: *listens to her sing*
Faye and Will had talked when they first moved in together of what it would be like to start a family. They agreed that they would educate their children to believe in God in the Christian way, and that they would believe in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, and only get fast food on special occasions, like days with gymnastics performances or football games. They agreed on the names Lily and Jessica and Tucker and Richard but not on Henry, which Faye was just enamored with. Will tucked Faye’s long hair behind her ears and kissed her on the cheeks and said ‘If you have my son, and he comes out, and you think he is Henry, then he’ll be Henry, okay?’ And Faye smiled with her big white teeth, and her hair held back behind her ears by Will’s calloused hands, and then they tried to have kids.
But there was something wrong. Will yelled at Faye that it was in her genes. That were too many things coming out of her already, the geraniums the geraniums, that nature wouldn’t allot her so much creation. And Faye yelled at Will, that his hands were rough like used nail filers and when they touched her they killed everything, and that if he were home more often, or they tried more, or he was more loving during sex, it could work, it could happen.
They went to a fertility clinic and were both tested, and they learned that Will was infertile. They didn’t make love that night, or for many nights. They moved around each other in the small kitchen, talking of tasks and of things that people had said to them throughout their workdays.
Faye said, “It doesn’t bother me at all.”
But Will said, “I blamed your disease,” and was ashamed.
At Motel 88, Dr. Kunstleis was checking herself into a room. She was on her way to a weekend clinic in Luzern, staying at the motel to be closer to the airport for her early flight the following morning. Dr. Kunstleis had met Will only once before, and very briefly, prior to one of her weekly treatment nights with Faye. The room had emitted only the dim light of candle flames, and Will had been too embarrassed of the reason necessitating Faye’s visits to shake the doctor’s hand, but when Kirsten Kunstleis saw Will hunched over in white socks and a rumpled shirt in the doorway of his motel room, smoke curling in fragmented milk stains all around his hanging head, she knew him immediately.
She waved and he waved back. She hesitated, but decided on wandering over to his motel room door, her luggage bouncing behind her like pleasant dogs. The moon, which had been cloaked behind dark clouds, suddenly emerged with incandescent revenge, showering Will in its neon light, illuminating semen spots on his shorts.
“Faye’s boyfriend,” said Dr. Kunstleis, slowing her suitcase to a halt in front of him.
“The acupuncturist,” said Will, his voice cracking. He blinked, overly aware of himself, imagining that the porn he had been watching was broadcasting from his eyes. He couldn’t look at her.
“Faye’s shown improvement,” said Kirsten.
“Improvement?” asked Will.
Kirsten looked at him. He had deep grey circles under his eyes, pockets into a dark chasm below.
“Contentment,” said Kirsten. “She’s fortunate to have you. I must admit, her affliction leaves me feeling vulnerable. It is so unfamiliar. I have begun to treat the pain she has drawn into association with the disease, and not the disease itself. Pain I can treat. Flowers growing out of wounds leave me disoriented.”
“Yes,” said Will, tears bulging from his silver corneas. Kirsten wanted to keep talking, but Will put his head in his hands and looked away from her. He couldn’t speak. His throat was full of screwdrivers and wet lover’s tongues. He went back into the motel room and thought about Faye. He dreamed they were lying together in a garden of geraniums and that their children were running around, tackling each other gingerly and that the sunlight was growing like a plant until it grew over everything.
When he woke he was sobbing, He called her, but it was very late, and she didn’t answer.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Will into the ringing emptiness, and wrapped the phone cord into tight coils around his arms.
Maggie Nae Nicholson studied literary theory in Albany, New York, philosophy in Russia, media and film in Wales, archeology and organic farming in Costa Rica, and German and piano in Switzerland. She has worked as a journalist for WTEN ABC News, the West Seattle Herald, has had writing published on air at WAMC, NPR, and is currently adapting a screenplay for a short film called ‘Sanguinaria.’ She likes lavender whipped cream, the public bus system, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Send an email about her work, your work, or collaborative ideas, to Maggie.M.Nicholson@gmail.com