By Chad Greene
Feelers first – that’s the way the honeysuckle vines grew over the chain link, groping blindly for something to cling to.
Feelers first – that’s the way they grew. And that’s the way she cut them down.
The multicolored beads of rubber on her white work gloves looked like sprinkles on frosting, but there was no sweetness in the way the hands they covered ripped the vines away from the fence and then severed them with pink-handled scissors. We hadn’t lived in the craftsman bungalow long enough to have acquired authentic garden shears.
“They’re seasonal,” I protested. “Like the tree.”
I pointed up at the jacaranda that shaded the sidewalk, its foliage withering like the fronds of a fern dying of thirst in the corner of a dimly lit bar.
“They’re dead,” Annie insisted, swiping a dismissive hand through a cluster of brittle, heart-shaped honeysuckle leaves.
I worried my knuckles across the ridge of wire twists — worn smooth and dark by the oil of sliding fingers — crowning the waist-high fence in front of the house painted to match the ocean that lapped against the base of the bluffs a half-a-dozen blocks down. Rubbing one of the vines between thumb and forefinger, I thought about how the fine, soft hairs resembled the ones at the base of Annie’s neck. I leaned across the fence to impulsively plant a kiss on them.
She stiffened. Took a step back and hitched up the faded jeans that had once fit her hips so snugly. Annie had been spending more and more of her time at the gym lately – maybe because she was getting tired of spending it with me; maybe because she was getting ready to spend it with someone else.
“That’s dead, too,” she said, wiping away the wet imprint of my lips.
“Dead? We just signed a 30-year mortgage 30 days ago, Annie. Don’t you think it’s a little too soon to pull the plug?”
“It had been on life support for a long time, Charlie. Buying the house was like … what do they call them in living wills? Those measures you don’t want your life to be prolonged by?”
“Heroic,” I spat, “although that’s hardly the adjective I’d use to describe what you’re doing.”
“Whatever,” she said, retreating into the house.
I looked down at my fingers, which had curled around the chain link. Like most things between us at that point, it was merely utilitarian — practical, not pretty. But that stark structure had nevertheless become a trellis for something beautiful, something that had insinuated itself into spaces where nothing had been meant to grow.
As I reached out to open the gate, I noticed how the honeysuckle had climbed over the hinges, but not the latch. She could still get out.
Chad is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. Currently, he is an assistant professor of English at Cerritos College. Whenever he isn’t planning lessons or grading papers, he is attempting to put together a novel-in-stories tentatively titled Trips and Falls.