Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

The Rustle of Growing Things

In the morning, he’s leaving.

“All right,” Ana says. Lying, continues: “I understand.”

The flat is hollowed out in anticipation of absence. Concrete floors swept cool and bare; dry sink, husk-like cupboards. His boots wait at the threshold, still gray with dust from his last stint in the mountains with the guerrillas. His rifle leans against the doorframe.

The metal cot whines softly this time, its ill temper soothed by the awareness that its burden will soon be eased. Then, they curl facing one another atop the sheets, knees brushing, mirrored halves of the same split shell. His eyes are already closed, his chest rising and falling with instant, easy sleep.

Ana keeps her eyes open. They trail over his chest’s new dusting of dark hair, his shoulders’ deepened hue. The sunburn across the bridge of his nose. A cut across his brow, deep and half healed. Heaviness caresses her eyelids. Stay, Ana thinks. Stay awake. She must. To study his geography before hardship chisels new blisters and scars. Before bullets graze blunt arabesques across the map of his skin. Before the mountains forever harden his lingering gentleness, the fragile shards of an affair she knows she could coax into bloom if only they had time.

Her breath slows. Sleep’s sweet weight drapes over her body like humidity. Her eyelids fall. She opens them again to the dark of the hollow room, to the short dark curls at his hairline unraveling to frizz. Stay awake. In each blink she is a soldier, though this battle is but a pebble falling down a mist-veiled ravine, smaller than a seed in the vast scope of endless war he chooses over her.

His nostrils flare gently. Ana memorizes this as her eyelids drift low. Again, she shoulders their precious weight; braces, lifts. Stay awake. Stay.

The vines begin beneath the metal cot. They coil through the creaking ribs of the cot’s underbelly, first in tender, shy loops, then gaining conviction and muscle. They coil down the rusting metal legs, and stretch—timid, then not—out to stucco walls. Ana, engaged in battle with the inevitable weight of eyelids, with the creep of the night sky toward dawn, does not notice. Offshoots thicken and curl toward the ceiling and across it; dark leaves drape the contours of the narrow window, the uneven corners of the bedroom. They wind toward the doorframe, and down, down, diving into the boots on the threshold, piercing their soles, and binding them to the floor with creeping roots. Vines curl amorously around the barrel of the rifle; rootlets find firm purchase, sewing themselves into stucco and doorframe.

Ana’s lashes flutter shut. Their weight grows more with each slow, deliberate lift, but still she fights. Stay awake. Stay.

Buds erupt, raising their bare heads in defiance. Lifted, triumphant, they bloom. Gardenias unfurl around the cot. Honeysuckle scatter like pale constellations along the walls. Jasmine drapes silken over the rifle and boots.

The room fills with their aroma. With the rustle of growing things.

Isabel Cañas

Isabel Cañas

Isabel Cañas is a Mexican-American speculative fiction writer and graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She holds a doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. Her debut novel The Hacienda, a Gothic tale of witchcraft and suspense set in 1820s Mexico, is out now. To find out more, visit isabelcanas.com.