I never could keep plants alive. I water them, change their position in the room for better sun and watch countless tutorials for self-admitted plant killers. Dead, all of them. Shrivelled up brown leaves that litter the floor. Daniel was always the one with the green thumb.
The plastic ones I bought to replace them collect dust on my windowsills and I occasionally remember to wipe them down.
I hate those woman who come into my job at the home improvement store groveling over succulents. I hate their overalls and their little bandannas and I especially hate the lanky seventies wanna-be boyfriends they drag in with them.
“Do you think they even like plants” I ask my co-worker as we stock the cleaning aisle. Aisle seven, home to bleach, lemon scented counter cleaner and for some unknown reason a caddy of house plants.
“Who?” Emily is seventeen, bleached blonde hair, fake eyelashes. She smells like artificial mango and nicotine. I hate her too but she is the only other person who works here under the age of sixty.
“Them,” I nod my head towards a group of three twenty something year old women admiring the selection of plants. “I think they are cool, so artsy you know?” she is stocking disinfectant wipes on the bottom shelf and doesn’t even look up from where she is crouching. I scowl.
I turned twenty three last week. When I was her age I thought I would be living in the city with the man of my dreams by now. Instead, I have a useless degree and this shitty job.
“If I give you money will you buy me alcohol?” she asks, still not bothering to look up at me. In Emily’s eyes I am cool because I will swing by the liquor store and buy her vodka so she can go get drunk in a field and get fondled by teenaged boys. Not exactly the tote bag carrying cool of the succulent girls.
“Just text me,” I sigh. She smiles at me. She’s got bubble gum pink lipstick on her teeth.
I clock out and head to the blue Toyota I bought off Facebook last year. I liked my old car a lot better, but this one was cheap. I start the ignition and feel for my bottle of Tylenol under the passenger seat, popping four into my mouth. At the liquor store I pick up three bottles of the cheapest vodka available. I always tell Emily she needs to give me money to buy myself one for my troubles. She is so desperate for booze she always forks it over. I’ve just parked my car in front of my apartment when my phone rings.
“ Sweetheart! How was work? How is the job search going?”
My parents are devastated I haven’t gotten a job at some bank or something yet but won’t say it to my face. My dad is constantly emailing me Indeed posts he sees for ‘corporate consultant.’ I have no idea what a ‘corporate consultant’ is, but I suspect they aren’t as forgiving if you accidentally too many sleeping pills and don’t show up to work. So it’s a no from me.
“Work is fine and the job search is going.” I haven’t applied to a job in seven months.
“And how about the gym? Your Dad told me you have been working out.”
“Yep I am headed the gym right now! I am loving it” I lie as I take another Tylenol.
“That’s great sweetheart, I was just reading about how good exercise is for your mental health.”
That’s my Mom’s way of saying that I need to get my shit together. She doesn’t want to have to explain to her friends that I have been ‘struggling lately’ when they ask about me. How does she explain why her student council, 4.0 GPA daughter works in a minimum wage job and lives in a shithole?
“It’s been almost a year now honey, I-“
“Mom I am going to be late so I have to run. Thanks for calling.”
I hang up before she can answer. My mom means well, and I think she loves me. I know she loves the person I was.
I walk up the flight of stairs to my second floor apartment. I rent it from the downstairs tenant, an eighty year old Greek man who yells at his TV all day. I consider him my best friend because he is the only person who doesn’t feel the need to ever speak to me.
Once inside I flop on the couch and open a bottle of vodka. I take a swig to wash down another Tylenol.
I flick the TV on and find a reality show about a family of eight living in a trailer park. My phone keeps chiming but I ignore it. My best friend from high school, Steph, incessantly texts me to hang out. She is getting married a frat boy she met when she was a junior in college and wants me to attend a bunch of bridesmaids events. I ignore my phone and pad to my bathroom, rifling through the cabinet to find the bottle of pills they gave me after my surgery. I don’t have a shift for the next two days so I can move to something stronger than Tylenol. I take two pills for good measure and go back to the couch.
As my head starts to swim and I begin to feel like I am slowly rocking, my mind spins back to last summer and the last wedding I attended. It was my friend Liz from college, a small wedding at a church in her hometown. Daniel and I had sat in one of back pews and invented stories for each of the guests.
“That woman there,” he said pointing to an elderly woman a few rows up, “Is crazy Aunt Mabel. She tells the whole family she was abducted by aliens when she was twenty and she’s never been the same since.”
“How do you know she wasn’t really abducted?” I whisper back raising my eyebrow.
“Don’t you know that God strikes down any alien abductees if they try to enter a church?” he retorts as I have to cover my mouth to stifle a laugh.
By the end of the night, we have created backstories for all the guests and had a few too many glasses of champagne. We were standing outside of the reception venue, a converted barn house on a scenic farm in the countryside. As we looked out over the rolling hills and the canopy of stars I leaned into his warmth and sighed.
“Cold?” Daniel asks rubbing my bare shoulders.
“Just happy,” I say turning my face to him and smiling up at him. He places a kiss on my forehead and I sigh in contentment.
I wake up to pounding on my door. Its dark in my apartment and the TV is showing Say Yes to the Dress reruns. I feel like I am walking through sludge as I open the door to find Emily standing in the ring of yellow light cast by the hallway lighting. “Why didn’t you answer your phone, I called you like three times!” she shoves her cellphone in my face and points to the red Xs next to my name, “The party is tonight and everyone is depending on me to bring the alcohol!” I’m tempted not to give it to her as punishment for interrupting my evening, but instead I retreat to the kitchen and grab the brown paper bag and thrust it in her hands.
“You’re the best!” she squeals as she bounds down the stairs. I realize I didn’t say a single word.
I check my phone. Its 9:51 pm and Steph has left me two voicemails. I decide to listen to them before I take another pill. I hit the voicemail icon and enter my password to hear the messages.
“Hey Vanessa it’s me!” her tone is uber peppy which means she is angry at me for not picking up. Not that I care. “You never responded to my texts so I thought I would call! Please don’t forget that tomorrow is bridesmaid’s dress shopping day, I will come pick you up tomorrow around 9 am!”
Fuck. I forgot about the stupid dresses. How long does morphine stay in your system? If I show up to try on bridesmaid dresses high my Mom will definitely hear about it. I kneel in front of the toilet and shove two fingers to the back of my throat until the vodka, Tylenol and pills come out. What a waste. I need to call my Doctor to ask for more, but I think he might be on to me.
I grab some melatonin from the cabinet and stick my head under the sink for some water to wash them down. Melatonin is natural so it doesn’t count, I tell myself as I crawl into bed in one of Daniels old t-shirts.
My head and mouth feel like they have been stuffed with cotton when I slide into the backseat of Steph’s moms minivan the next morning. I’m the last to be picked up and Steph introduces me to the rest of the girls as she pulls onto the highway. They all met in college, members of the same sorority.
“Vanessa do you remember in sophomore year when we cut class so I could go get my belly button pierced? We were so wild back then!”
Of course I remember. Steph cried for two hours afterwards while I wrote my English essay in the school’s library. It was the same day Michael Parker asked me to prom. Pretty sure he’s in jail now.
“Not really Steph. Honestly I’m really tired from work, I think I’m just going to shut my eyes.”
I close them before I can see the disappointment on her face. I don’t really care but feeling bad for her is not on my agenda for the day. I don’t sleep but I keep my eyes shut. I hear them all catching up on gossip from people they went to school with, who broke up, who had a baby, who go promoted. I wish I had brought earplugs.
We pull up to the bridal store. It’s a sad little storefront in a bland strip mall. “I know it doesn’t look like much, but their seamstress is a miracle worker. She honestly made me look twenty pounds thinner in my wedding dress!”
Steph has always been obsessed with her weight. She was always doing fad diets in high school and signing up for gym memberships. The other girls begin to squeal in excitement. I have lost forty pounds in the last eleven months.
When we enter we are met by a young saleswoman who offer us glasses of champagne, which I down in one sip.
“I saw a coffee shop next door, I am going to go and grab some.”
I don’t wait for an answer as I walk out the door and over to the chain coffee shop I saw as we parked. The bell jingles when I enter and the woman behind the counter looks up. She looks older then the strip mall and her heavy black eyeliner tips off the corners of her eyes. The shop smells like burnt coffee and cigarettes and the only patron is an old man in a tattered coat who looks like he might be asleep.
“Can I have a large black coffee.”
I hate coffee, I think it tastes awful, I don’t know why I drink it. She places it on the counter with a grunt. My kind of interaction, no asking how I am today so I can lie and say I’m great. I pay and walk back over the bridal store clutching the flimsy disposable cup.
Steph and her friends have been installed on a couch in the back corner. The saleswoman is asking something about colour palettes. I sit down and take a swig of coffee. It tastes horrible and burns the roof of my mouth.
“I didn’t think you drank coffee Vanessa, I remember in high school I thought you were crazy for being involved in all those extra curriculars and not needing caffeine,” Steph says. I shrug.
I try my hardest to block all noise out as the saleswoman has us all try on a variety of dresses and stand on a podium while the others judge it. I end up in a purple strapless number. Steph eyes widen when I walk out.
“Oh my god Vanessa I am so sorry, I didn’t even think of your scars when picking out the dresses. Don’t worry, we can totally choose one that has a covered back.” The other girls eye the red gash that runs down my spine.
I walk back into the dressing room. A few months ago I would be upset but now all I feel like is that I need a fucking drink. The coffee is making the grogginess from the pills wear off and I can feel a new headache coming on.
I sit back down and ask for more champagne. Steph leans over.
“Vanessa I am so sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I know I haven’t been there for you the way I should have been since the accident, but I am trying now.”
“It’s fine Steph, we don’t have to talk about it.”
I grab the champagne flute from the woman who brings it over and take a big sip.
“There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. My mom said that your mom told her she thinks you have a drinking problem. She said you keep showing up to family functions drunk.” The pity in her eyes makes my stomach turn.
“Really, it’s fine Steph.”
When did she start thinking about anyone other than herself? And why does the person she has to think about be me? I riffle through my purse and find my bottle of Tylenol. I pop three into my mouth and wash them down with champagne. Steph looks on disapprovingly but doesn’t say anything.
Steph ends up deciding we will wear crimson dresses with velvet sleeves. I think they look like something Santa’s elves would wear but I am not about to say anything. Her taste was always bad. Who gets a turquoise crystal bellybutton ring?
I get back into the minivan and squish myself against the side door. One of Steph’s friends sits next to me. Her name is Amy or Amanda or something like that.
“ I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how did you get that scar on your back?” Her teeth are unnaturally white, she reminds me of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.
“I was in a car accident last year, I needed surgery”
“Oh my gosh that was you!? I remember when Steph told us, I am so so sorry for your loss. Such a freak accident”
I close my eyes. I didn’t want to talk about it. To think about it. Think about him.
“I can’t even imagine. That would be so hard.”
I need her to be quiet. I can’t think about it without something much stronger in my system.
Luckily Steph chooses that moment to blast some Katy Perry. Everyone starts singing along and I pretend I am somewhere else. Daniel always used to play Teenaged Dream when he cooked, he said it was his guilty pleasure song.
When I get home I call my doctor, “I’m still in a lot of pain from the surgery. I need some more pain medication.” I pretend to cry. Twenty minutes later I am walking home from the pharmacy clutching a white paper bag in my hand.
Why did she have to ask about the accident? Now I am thinking about him. Thinking about us walking home along this same path. Talking about the house we would buy. The jobs I would apply to. When we would get married.
I don’t wait until I get home to twist off the lid and pop a white pill into my mouth. I don’t bother with the lights when I get home and flop onto the couch as my vision begins to blur.
My phone is ringing somewhere in the distance. It sounds so far away. I open my eyes slowly and remember I am on the couch. I must have passed out at some point. “Hello?” I croak.
“Honey, me again!” My Mom. Her calling me again so soon is not a good sign. She usually opts for the obligatory once a week check-in that she feels like she is required to do.
“Steph’s mom told me Steph saw you yesterday. She said you seemed loopy. Your Dad and I are getting really worried, we want you to come home and live with us.”
“Mom, seriously, I’m fine. I was just tired from work”
“Vanessa why do you even work there? You have an honours degree for God’s sake! You are wasting away at some hardware store. You have so much potential.”
“Had, Mom. I had so much potential.” My eyelids feel like I have weights attached to them so I keep them closed.
“Vanessa don’t be so ridiculous. It was an accident, no one blames you.”
I reach over and grab the bottle from the nightstand and pop a pill into my mouth before I answer.
“The second anyone searches my name you know what will come up. No one wants to hire someone who killed their boyfriend.”
“Vanessa!” I hear the shock in her voice. I think the meds are making me lose the filter I usually have around my parents.
“Honey it was a car accident, you didn’t put the black ice there. It’s time to move on.”
“I need to go Mom, I can’t talk about this anymore.”
I hear her sigh as the phone clicks. My eyes begin to swim with tears that I blink away. I had been doing so well keeping all the thoughts of Daniel at bay the last few months.
I pull my laptop off the ground and search up Michael Parker. I was right, he is in jail. Ten years for dealing cocaine. I can pay five dollars to send him a letter.
“Remember me?” I write and press send. Daniel’s face flashes behind my eyes. I smack my palm against my forehead. Maybe a prison pen-pal is just what I need. Funny that Michael is in jail for a mistake he made in high school while I get to walk around free.
The next day at work I watch the next round of succulent girls fawn over the plants. I probably look insane openly staring at them. I took two pills on my lunch break and I am starting to feel like I am wrapped in bubble wrap. I keep walking places around the store and not remembering how I ended up there.
I somehow end up in front of the plants. The caddy is painted fluorescent orange that seems to be glowing. The succulent girls are gone. I reach out and grab the leaf of one of the potted plants. I half expect it to wither in my hands.
I don’t know how it happens, but suddenly the plant in on the ground. Black soil has spilled everywhere and its tangle of roots are exposed. A smashed terracotta pot is at my feet. I look around but no one was noticed. I must have pushed it off.
I turn my attention slowly back to the caddy. I feel like my head is in a fishbowl. The plants are sitting there taunting me, mocking me. You killed Daniel and you will kill us they scream.
I lift my foot and begin to kick the caddy. Its suddenly the most important task in the world that I knock it over. I watch myself kick it like I am watching someone on TV, static creeping into the edges of my vision. With a crash it smashes to the ground, the black dirt covering the cement floor of the aisle.
Why do they call it black ice? It’s not black. The highway was black. The car tires were black. The smoke that billowed from the car as they pulled me out of it was black. This soil is black. If this is what had covered the highway that day I would have seen it. I would have stopped. We would have laughed about a gardening project gone wrong as we drove by.
Daniel would have been here to water the plants.
Quincy de Vries is a 22-year-old student from Toronto Canada. She enjoys writing across