One day, she said, looking up at me while planting parsley on her little patch of land, one day I will simply cease to exist. Imagine that.
She took her shiny, sharp shovel and stabbed at the ground.
Who will comfort you? she asked, shooing the fly circling her shoulder.
Mom, her daughter yelled from the patio. Do we have any tea bags?
In the smallest canister, she said, wiping a wispy section of grey hair from her forehead, leaving a streak of reddish dirt behind.
Why do you imagine I will be the one left to need comforting? I said. Perhaps I will simply cease to exist first. Imagine that.
She sat at alert on her knees, like an obedient pet. You’re poking fun at how I speak, Louise, but what would you do if you were alone? How would you grieve me?
I closed my eyes and let the wind bring me our world. How did she imagine we would ever be alone? Behind us, children clanged and squeaked on a swing set; men in shorts threw footballs that landed heavily in other large, leathery palms; dogs barked, panted, and jumped on the chain link fence whenever a car or a cat or a fly went by.
Gena, I said, resting on my knees so she could hear me. I would sit here in your garden and imagine you just as you are at this moment. I would pick the parsley you planted, and place it on my tongue like a secret communion. I would sit in the soil until the sun faded and I could feel the roots, like your fingers, forcing me into the ground. I would grieve you like a lover.
She pursed her lips, looking faintly annoyed. Certainly I’ve looked better than this. Can’t you imagine another scenario? Can’t you think of a place to grieve me where I’ve been lovely?
She surveyed the dirt she’d readied at the edge of her garden. The hand with the gardening glove let go of the shovel sending it sinking slowly into the soil. Her eyes looked past me, into the horizon where she imagined I would walk alone one day.
Mom, her daughter yelled again. The small canister is empty.
Behind that yell would be growing murmurings, like the sounds at the end of a concert – children who needed food, husbands who needed assurance, pets wanting wanting wanting.
I stood up. I wouldn’t tell her how here, in the fading light, the streak of dirt and the parsley and the horizon made her the most beautiful she’d ever been.
Sighing, she wiped her hands on the bottom of my jeans, then laughed.
Time to go back to them.
I took some unplanted parsley cuttings from her hand, and used my other one to help her up.
It’s going to rain, someone said from the side of the house. I turned my face to the sky, hoping it was true.
Sometimes regret is soft, like a single warm raindrop reaching for your cheek on an August afternoon and sometimes regret is so hard you have to pretend it’s parsley.
Denise Tolan is an educator living in San Antonio, TX. She has been published in Best Small Fictions 2018, Hobart and Lunch Ticket.