First Place, Adult Short Story Contest
Have you made any friends? Anna asks in a diamond voice, clear and cutting.
I have Adam, Delila answers, but she suspects that she is lying.
After Anna leaves, Delila refuses to leave the house. She sits by the window and watches her lawn carefully for signs of attack.
I’m not bringing you food, Adam says. You’ll have to leave by Monday.
I wish you’d just try to understand.
It’s hard to understand when you’re being crazy.
Delila does not feel crazy. It wouldn’t kill you to try another perspective.
Maybe you should leave the house more. It might help if you got a real job.
I have a real job.
I know, I know. I just meant something steady. With an office. And people.
Not having an office doesn’t make it not real.
Of course not. I’m sorry.
Adam sits on the arm of her chair and puts his hands in her hair. She pushes against them, wanting to be closer, but he takes it as a sign of aggression and leaves with heavy feet.
You’re wasting your time with that boy, Delila’s mother tells her when she calls. He’s never going to marry you.
I don’t want to get married. People can be in love and not get married.
Delila wants her mother to point out that she is not in love, but her mother says, Of course you want to get married. You need health insurance.
I’ll get my own health insurance.
You’ll need a real job first. Anna says there’s no glass in your living room window. Do you need more money?
I’ll have your father send another check. I want you to get glass for your window.
Her mother never surprises her.
It is the hottest day and the rhododendrons are losing petals on the dark dirt under the left side neighbor’s windows. Delila sits cross-legged with her laptop in the center of her lawn for three hours. Her ears vibrate with the shadows of the noise from last night’s concert. She needs 350 words by 5, but she only has one word on the page. Reverberate. She highlights it and pushes down Shift+F7 for the thesaurus. Echo. Resound. Ring. She deletes the word and writes another. Connect. She pushes Shift+F7. Attach. Join. Fix. Unite. Disconnect (antonym). She types words and presses Shift+F7 until the battery runs down and the screen blackens with a pop. She takes the computer into the house and plugs it in. She hears the noise of a lawn mower starting and knows that the sound is too strong. Her fingers tear at the cardboard covering the window and it pops free onto the bush immediately below it. The neighbor is mowing Delila’s lawn with her black and red lawn mower, running the grass and twigs and dandelions down with precise sweeps. Delila climbs hastily out her window, knees bending heavily with the 8-inch drop.
This is trespassing! she shouts over the motor. That is an arrestable offense!
The neighbor turns off the machine. I thought I would help, she says. I know you’re so busy with work it’s hard to take care of the lawn. I’m retired, I have time.
Delila knows perfectly well that the neighbor knows perfectly well that Delila is not too busy with work, and the lie is another precise cut. After the neighbor retreats into her small house, Delila picks up all the disfigured bits of dandelion in her cotton skirt and moves them to the neighbor’s grass. She lays each torn flower in three short lines, a small accusatory graveyard.
The night’s summer wind has blown them away before morning.
It is a midsummer afternoon when the dandelions return, and that night Delila sits by the window with a glass of wine and waits with all the lights off. The silence is hot with anticipation. She does not have to wait long before she sees the sneaking figure of the neighbor in a black wrap with her can of poison illuminated by the one streetlamp. There is no sound when they wilt and die aside from the sound of the bottom of the wineglass hitting the windowsill and Delila’s footsteps on the stairs as she runs outside, too late. When they argue, the neighbor uses the word weeds. Weed is a slur in her smoke-darkened voice, a judgment. Delila is no stranger to judgments, the way they cut and scrape. A dandelion has no ears and no anger, but the insults run hot in Delila’s ears. When she returns upstairs, Adam is still in bed, but awake, and he is tired and bending under the heavy air. She lies down to put her face in the curve of his neck.
Why is this so important? Why can’t you let her do what she wants?
Adam’s question seems valid to part of her, but the part that speaks is angry. Just because it doesn’t fit her ideas of what lawns ought to look like doesn’t mean my lawn isn’t valid.
That makes…no sense.
It doesn’t have to make sense to you. That’s my point. It makes sense to me.
That isn’t a point.
They fall asleep not touching. In sleep, Delila’s fingers curl around Adam’s wrist, but he is gone before she wakes up.
The next day she blows the dandelion puffs onto the left side neighbor’s lawn, but these seeds never see the light of the end-of-summer sun. Their loss is mourned, yellow stillborn children. The weight of the mourning falls entirely on Delila. Adam is unburdened as he searches her refrigerator for spare parts and leftover bits to make his dinner.
Does she live alone in that house? he asks.
Does she have any children?
I don’t know. I’ve never seen any.
If I’d seen grandchildren, I would know she had children, wouldn’t I?
So what does she do during the day?
Delila had never thought about this. A black hole opens in the narrow space in her mind her neighbor occupies. She’s retired, she tells Adam.
She can see that Adam has more to say by the way his shoulders tighten and shift forward, then back. She waits for the words, poised by the table with silverware still in her hands. He does not let go of his words, though, and after five breaths she raises her hand higher and lets the silverware fall in a clatter onto the table. His shoulders move again under her eyes, but he neither turns nor speaks.