Lila starts, awakening on the family room couch, a blanket noosed about her torso and legs. In her nightmare, a monstrous tree leafed in violent red thrust skyward along their yard’s furthermost edge, its roots mounded with freshly turned soil like a grave. Her grave. She’d grabbed a shovel. Advanced, then stopped. Poison ivy, her husband Henry said. An accusation. She crossed a field of poison ivy like fingers pointing to her neglect, a dot-to-dot of failure, the tree not a tree, but a towering ivy bush throwing their house in shadows. It was her responsibility, removing the vines, yet each time she dug they grew. Multiplied. They bored through her shoes and hobbled her limbs so she could neither reach nor resurrect the buried thing coated with toxins that flamed then boiled her skin. From somewhere unseen a baby had cried, soft at first then like a wave, becoming somehow both Alicia and Chris, their children, twisted and strangling in the ivy’s red and green arms.
The crying child was not a child but her phone, its alarm a frantic reminder she has to be somewhere rather than on the couch, heavy and stiff with dread. She thumbs it off.
Considers. Upstairs, the shower runs. Henry. She runs her tongue along her achy teeth.
They’d fought again last night. He said he needed her help removing the ivy, but really he wanted to hurl accusations, none of which were true, just true to him. He’d coldcocked her, knocking her to the ground when she tried to explain. “I don’t need to justify my decisions to my wife,” he said. Wife a curse, oily with scorn. He’d misunderstood, was wrong, would not listen, and she crouched alongside their white picket fence—plastic—hair stuck in her mouth like a gag and tasting blood. He’d never hit her before. Had the children seen? She longed to tug her hair free but couldn’t—her hands were sheathed in gloves, protection against the ivy scourge she’d been digging resolutely from their yard. For him. He couldn’t do it—the merest brush or whiff a violent assault on his too thin skin—and refused to hire help. He hadn’t meant to strike her, he said. Look what she’d made him do. A fallen woman on her bed of poison. She rose calmly, talked calmly. She didn’t want to fight. They always fought. The fighting always turned her inside out, exposed. Not Henry, though. Henry never saw her. He never even talked, after. Instead he manufactured contempt like armor beyond which he retreated, deliberately mute, for days until…What? She never knew. He never said. You are a fool, she told her reflection, scrubbing her arms and legs at the mud room sink, after. She tasted blood and spat.
The children’s anxious whispers pierce the ceiling. Witnesses, then. Her stomach revolts.
Enough. She swings her legs to the floor and checks her skin. No rash.
Last night, spine stiff and heart a pounding, angry knot, she’d studied the dark swallowing their bed and timed his snores, his breathing and snuffles, then slowly, carefully, headed to the couch, pillow and blanket and phone in hand, and made an appointment at the bank. “Money first,” the lawyer had said. “Secure it all so you’ve something to negotiate.”
The kitchen clock chimes the quarter hour. Time enough for one more step before he leaves for work. She searches Locksmith, presses Call. Above, the shower ceases. A razor hums. The children walk back and forth, back and forth, straightening their beds before school.
Lila opens the curtains. Blinks in the sunlight. Uneven hills of dirt mar the yard, but the ivy is gone, bagged like trash at the curb. “Your website says same-day appointments. How soon can you get here?”
Michele E. Reisinger studied English and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University and received an MA in English Literature from the University of Delaware. She lives near Philadelphia with her family and teaches senior and AP English at a New Jersey high school. Her short fiction has appeared online at Light and Dark Magazine, Prometheus Dreaming, 34th Parallel, Dreamers Creative Writing, and The Mighty Line. Ask and Ye Shall Receive is featured in TulipTree Publishing’s 2019 anthology, Stories That Need to be Told. Find her online at mereisinger.com.