She planted a single seed in each of his ears while he slept, tweezing in the first, then waiting patiently for him to turn. They weren’t seeds she could readily identify, mustard or melon, maple or rye. They were small and oblong, smooth at the edges, promising. She’d bought them at the farmer’s market on a whim and could not articulate to herself any particular why. Why now? Why him? She hadn’t known him long, was not overly attached, but she was tired of lovers leaving, losing interest, becoming distracted after initial infatuations. So she packed the dirt until it filled his canals, droppered some water, curled herself against him, and waited for something to take root.
She was not unaware of the implications. She knew her Hamlet – that when it came to ears, most poured poison. But this was not that. Literature and life held a firm divide. She was planting, not poisoning, and she did so with the best of intentions.
He acted no differently in the morning than he had the night before, more quiet perhaps, dreamy. Much of the dirt had spilled onto the pillow, a soft smear matting a curl at his temple. He moved deliberately, adjusting to the new equilibrium.
She fed him coffee and studied him as he sipped. Nothing seemed to have sprouted in the night, but she couldn’t be sure. The seeds could have aimed themselves inward, rooting in the drums of his ears and pushing deeper still. He was slower to respond, as if sounds were dampened, distant.
She didn’t banter or flirt or ask him the usual morning after questions, in case he noticed the world gone quiet, but when he picked up the paper, she whispered:
“I love you, I need you, I want you, I miss you, I am you.” It all felt highly plausible – the kind of things one would say. All nonsense. Poetic mush.
He seemed not to hear.
She spoke a little louder. “I eat you, I think you, I break you apart and scatter your crumbs for the ducklings. Your eyes are my exits, your toenails my rind.”
He didn’t look up. His silence was companionable.
Why whisper? Was it to taunt or to test him? To elicit a reaction? To punish? What kind of woman does such things? Had he or someone before him seeded her with something sinister and thorny? Grown a tangled thicket between her ears?
No, the whispering was a comfort – a way to tell him everything she knew without the risk of being known – to be alone with him in the way that we are all alone.
She thought of it in terms of cultivation, even if she didn’t know what she was hoping to grow.
He smiled and sipped and kissed her sweetly when he left. And all she could do was hope that he might eventually return.
MIKA TAYLOR’s short stories and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming from Granta, Ninth Letter, The Kenyon Review, Tin HouseOpen Bar, and others. She was the 2015-2016 Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin and earned an MFA from the University of Arizona.