fiction by Sara Flemington | third-place winner of the Blodwyn Memorial Prize in fiction, sponsored by BookThug
We were suddenly on a lucky streak. Following a very long, very unlucky streak. For example, the movies. Four bad movies in a row. And you being the type of person who could tell right away if a movie was going to suck or not, and me being the type who was clairvoyant enough to start panicking as early as the concession if it seemed like I’d taken someone out to a sucky movie, it was an all around uncomfortable series of unfortunately campy and “ha-ha” date nights. Then, there was X. Popping up everywhere: drugstore aisles, bars, the post office. And you being nice enough to always say hi, and me being nice enough to not comment on how her smile made her look like she was teething, or ask the reason as to why she was regularly done-up as if about to hit Prom ’85, we always had to stop and have a quaint little chit-chat about her newest accomplishments — arts-grants-wise — or about the tragic passing of Dear Aunt Beatrice, who was nothing if not her biggest source of moral support and guidance, as the lesbian of the family, and therefore, the only other dissenter. And on top of all that, the cactuses died. For no reason, as if by suicide to get away from the doomed home they had recently been moved into. And so I was pretty certain that, Mercury retrograde aside, I had become a jinx for you and our love would never be allowed its proper chance to sprout, let alone effloresce, (remember that homemade haircut I tried to give you ultimately resulting in a entire shaving of the head?) and in very little time you would, in turn, begin to despise me and wish we had never met and hope that somehow, in some life, you might find your way back to the inflatable tube man arms of X.
And then, Christmas came. But not in the It’s a Wonderful Life sense of the holiday, where we both would learn the power of a positive outlook; more like, in the holiday-packs-of-scratch-tickets sense. Because we were sitting beside each other at the very back of the very last bus of the night, heading home from drinking far too much acrid red wine at a disappointing poetry reading held at the “recently renovated” i.e. recently primer-painted community art gallery, and the heat was cranked far too high for our winter jackets and toques and scarves so we were both uncomfortably sweating through the crevices of our armpits and nostrils, and the reddish + greenish hue our skin had adopted from the alcohol + overhead bus lighting was making us appear even more dismal than we already naturally did. And that’s when I spotted them, jammed between the two seats directly across from us: the shimmering, unopened stack of lottery cards. Of course, it took a while for one of us to get up and “just take them,” being overly anxious over-thinkers plus regular sufferers of mental inertia, but finally, seconds from our stop, I threw my arms up as high as they could go in a puffy winter jacket + two more layers of sweaters and declared, “It’s not like they’re gonna be winners anyway,” and tucked them into purse. Then we stepped off the bus into the refreshingly frozen night.
But I was wrong. Ten dollars. That’s what we won. And Jupiter was about to make its move through Cancer.
“Can you believe it?” I said to you — sincerely, actually. “Can you believe we just happened upon these tickets? And now we have enough to buy like, four more bus rides? That’s like, two bus rides each.”
And you with your ever-salient shrug replied, “Happened upon? Really?”
Regardless, that was just the start. Because then, along came the cat.
“How is the cat good luck?” you argued. “He’s disgusting and annoying and he gets litter everywhere. And I’m pretty sure he’s slow. Like slow slow. Watch his eyes.”
“But, re-examine the point,” I begged. “So I was just walking along, like normal, like I always am, and right there in the window, there’s this little guy! Fresh off the streets, all shaking and on-sale and with a weird squinty eye. Look, it looks like he’s winking. Which is just like how you described your beloved childhood cat that only just two nights ago you had come across an old picture of and went on and on about how much you missed so much, which led right into a conversation about adopting our own little kitten –”
“Maybe adopting our own little kitten.”
“Maybe adopting our own little kitten. But anyway, here he is, and it was clearly meant to be.” And even though, granted, this particular kitty was a bit off somehow, he did serve to prove my point that good, possibly even great things, were now on the horizon for us. You still didn’t believe me at this point, but you had, at least, learned to love to humour me, and also learned to love the oddly vacant cat, while I was taking a daily inventory of signs from the universe divining our good fortune:
- Your favourite hat — lost two months prior — resurfaced, magically, while I was cleaning out the refrigerator.
- The day every single item written down on our grocery list was on sale at the grocery store.
- The cookie thing (when the second cookie got stuck to the one we bought to share, but the lady behind the counter didn’t notice, so basically we just got a free cookie, which was mostly good for you because then I wouldn’t eat two thirds of the first one after claiming I only wanted a single chocolate chip and leaving you with basically nothing).
- The second chance you gave me at giving you a haircut, and it turned out to be a pretty spot-on attempt modelled after a picture of Ryan Gosling.
- The discovery that we had, at one point, attended the same film screening in Toronto, on the same day, years before ever meeting in real life.
- The discovery that we had ALSO been at the same concert for one of our mutually favourite bands, in Toronto, on the same night, ALSO before ever meeting in real life.
- The lucid dream I swear we shared.
“Maybe you’re right, like, maybe we’re soul mates or something,” you said one day, petting the winking feline and, joking or not, I continued to discover more coincidences to add to the inventory; a rare 1979 Boba Fett Loose Action Figure with Original Back Blaster for pennies in a bin of kids books at Goodwill; the big power outage and thus free popsicles from the convenience store the same night I found some old weed in the bookcase; the twenty bucks in the building’s dryer. Even kitty seemed to be getting a little bit smarter, not batting his turds out of the litter box so often. And with the new moon beginning to wax, everything in both of our entire lives began to feel like it was not only coming together to complete a circle in which we would inevitably end up in the centre of — deeply happy and entirely X-less — but a sphere. Like we existed in some sphere type thing, like a planet, like our own planet following its own orbital path. Or fate. Or something.
“You’re losing your mind,” you said to me, combing your fingers through my hair one night as we lay across the couch watching yet another good movie. Maybe, baby, maybe. But maybe, I wasn’t, actually. Because then, as it often happens when things are going well, I started to wonder when it all might start to go wrong again; you know, when karma would decide it was time to balance things out. It was turning into spring, and while everyone around us was getting cheerier and everything around us was getting colourful and good-smelling, I was becoming paranoid that at any moment you’d be calling me at work in the throes of a severe allergy attack, or the hospital would be calling me with news of your newly broken legs due to a bicycle accident (knock on wood), and I continued to I waver consistently between calm and vomit-mode. But these grand fears never materialized. What did end up materializing was the bagel you burned one sunny morning resulting in the whole apartment smelling like singed sesame seeds.
“That’s a thing,” I said.
“It’s not a thing if I don’t even care,” you replied.
And I guess I kind of liked the smell.
So while I was out, walking along again, like I always did, I decided to take a chance and step inside the floral boutique I usually passed by but of course, never went inside of anymore. I meekly approached the thin young florist with a swoopy haircut and very well-ripped jeans who was tying white ribbons around lilac bouquets, and asked:
“Excuse me, I was just wondering, which plant would be relatively easy to maintain and, maybe doesn’t require much extra care and maybe, you know, could be left alone for an extended period of time or even accidentally forgotten about and still be okay afterward?”
And whose shrill snort should I hear pipe up right behind me, followed by her sudden eagerness to show off all of the green-thumb knowledge she had apparently accumulated over her many years of being perfect at everything, but X. Our lovely lanky phantom X.
“A cactus?” she laughed, and began in on how she used to raise orchids, nurse Venus flytraps, shape bamboo stalks into elaborate spirals and hearts and I could feel the acid reflux pushing up my trachea and clogging my nasal cavity. Sensing my panic, the florist stepped out from behind the counter, linked his arm through mine like a best girlfriend, and directed us safely away from X and towards the corner of the room, where the moderate moisture-loving shade-dwellers were kept.
“I think you’ll do just fine with one of these,” he said. I pocketed the laminated fertilization instructions.
And that was the day I brought home the spider plant. I set it down in the middle of the kitchen table with a dramatic thud, and I stood there and looked you in the eye and I made a promise. I promised that I would keep the damn thing pretty and green as long as I lived in this damn apartment with you, so help me dammit, and I may never be able to cultivate a banana plant or whatever, and even if we wake up one day to a flood or a fire or full body rashes or something, or Mars and Saturn and Pluto all simultaneously backspin right through both of our signs at the same time, I will still be here, keeping everything pretty and green and alive, for you, and for that weird cat over there, and for this plant, and that was about the point when I started to run out of breath, and kind of doubled over a bit, and realized how comforting it felt to know that while I was there, one hand on my chest and one hand stroking the long pointy leaves of our newest addition, you were looking at me with that composed smile.
“Okay, love. Sounds good.”
SARA FLEMINGTON’s stories and poetry have appeared in The Feathertale Review, The Humber Literary Review, Echolocation, and The Impressment Gang, among others. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph at Humber.