The Spaces He Leaves

My lover is suffering from a terrible disease. I don’t know how he caught it, only that one morning he was heaving rose petals into the toilet and the next the doctor explained that there was an entire garden within his chest. It’s been a month, and now he’s shaving blades of grass off his legs.

Nobody knows what is wrong with him. We’ve tried doctors and surgeons from across the country without a stroke of luck. Every treatment to remove the malignant matter is fruitless, for everything that is cut out of him regrows at a more furious pace. There are roots strangling his veins and climbing vines marching their way up his spine and into his skull. There were a lot of calls at first, people asking when he would be back at work, that his coworkers were worried, or that he had missed his appointment to get the oil changed on his car. Eventually the calls had stopped. Now it was just us.

The last day he was healthy, he had been sad about himself.

This was not something that was unusual. He was often sad about himself, and it was one of the reasons why I loved him. We would sit together on the couch, him laying his head on my chest with my fingers in his hair because I knew no woman had held him in such a way before. He never said a word to me about it, but the pool in his dark eyes made my skin lift with emotion.

That day we were sitting just like that: his head on my chest and my fingers in his hair. It was raining outside, gently moving from our gutters to drip onto the sidewalk. He lifted his head and said to me, “There’s not enough sun in the world.”

I thought about that for a bit, listened to the rain hit the roof and the sound of him breathing. “I think it’s easy to say that on a day like today,” I murmured.

“It’s not just today,” he said. “I’ve thought about it often.”

“Why do you think that?”

He pressed his head into my shoulder and held me tighter.

“I don’t know.”

I didn’t press him, and was surprised when he added softly, “I just don’t know who the person I am is supposed to be.”

“The person you are is whoever you want it to be,” I said. “Maybe there isn’t enough sun in the world because it encourages us to always grow towards the light.”

He looked at me with those unwavering eyes and didn’t say anything more. I took his fingers in my own and leaned in and kissed him. Took his face in my palms and the kiss was soft and sweet and our faces were too close for anything else to be happening. I made love to him. I told him I loved him and meant it. I could feel the void within him, my affection falling into it like a star being devoured by a black hole. For a long time I thought I could fill the void, that somebody wicked had stolen a piece from him and I could put it back.

I don’t think the same anymore.

This morning, over a month later, he is especially bad. I wake up and find him at the toilet again. He hasn’t left the house in a week and spends most of his time lying in bed. He hasn’t eaten anything in that time, only drinking copious amounts of water. I help him heave a nasty clump of dirt and plant matter. I rub the back of his neck and can feel something hard underneath, like the bark of a tree.

“You’re not getting any better,” I say to him. I don’t try and hide the pain in my voice. I had stopped that after the third surgery.

He had stopped replying for a long time, and when he does I’m not expecting it. His voice is like creaking wood and rustling leaves.

“I don’t want to get better.”

“What?” I say, taking my hand off him.

“This is who I am,” he murmurs. “But I don’t know if I’m ready to go.”

This is the limit of my limits. I cannot bare to see him like this any longer. I wait until it is midnight, and then I hold his hand and lead him to the passenger seat of the car. I drive him to the park, the same park where we had first met. We lay out under the moon and the stars and I hold his head against my chest. His breathing is so shallow it’s almost inaudible.

“I love you,” I say to him. I truly mean it. “But it’s time for me to go. You can be the person you are, now.”

He closes those dark eyes, those tiny pools reflecting the stars, for the last time. When he opens them again, he is someone different but not unfamiliar.

His rips crack open like a flower in bloom. From his chest comes a thousand petals of all sorts of colors: reds, oranges, pinks, and purples. Most of his flesh and bone are gone, having nourished the plants within him for a month. His skin, paper-thin and hardly able to contain the garden inside, tears from everywhere as his chest rips open. The rest of him spills out onto the ground and quickly takes root, covering the last remnants of my lover in their foliage.

I turn around and walk back to the car.

Sometimes I think he’ll return to me some day. A naked man who dropped out of a tree somewhere, looking for his way back home. I make sure my phone number is listed in the paper. I know deep down, though, that he’s happier this way. I take up gardening and keep a small plot of flowers by the house. Somebody compliments me on them one day, telling me that they really fill out the space under the porch. I think about that as I lay in bed that night in the quiet of my small bedroom, and wonder if the plants growing inside my lover had filled all of his spaces, too. I wonder if the plants had been inside him all along, just waiting for the proper moment to grow and fill the void.

I close my eyes and the dark spaces waiting inside were so numerous I thought there wasn’t enough sun in the world.