Months have passed since the walk around the block with Helen’s family. Most days home feels like we live in a morgue with Helen, Ashton, and me as the caretakers and inmates. Alternatively, I feel like we are hot lava, black on the outside and simmering on the inside, moving toward the sea where we will be mercifully extinguished.
When I was 19 my dad’s heart went bad. His hobby was gardening where he spent most of his time when he was not at work. He turned an arid, caliche clay plot of land in El Paso to an oasis in the desert. He built an ever-widening garden around the periphery of our back yard that had fruit trees separated by tulips, roses, carnation, and many more flowers that I did not know the names of. I only knew it was best if our baseball or football did not stray from the shrinking plot of grass in the center of our yard. We eventually moved to the street for ball games as teenagers.
After my dad believed his heart was failing,and it was, he started digging up and selling all his flowers. In his heart, he knew we would neglect them; better to send them to a home than watch them die in the arid soil of El Paso as his health declined.
Roses were his favorite. He grew huge giant red thorny bushes that lived like creatures in our backyard ready to puncture our footballs. After all the flowers were off to good homes he wrote a note and left it next to his bed; in it, he asked for red roses on his grave. We found the note next to his unconscious body the day of his death.
Yesterday, my wife, bedridden in a hospital from cancer, sent me home to water her flowers. I don’t know her favorite; she told me I’m sure. I feel guilty for not knowing, for not being with her with all my heart and soul for all these years. I wonder if I had ever put some rose petals on the bed before making love if our marriage would have gone smoother.
Our dog Ashton, a Jack Russel with a soul, would not sleep inside last night with Helen away. He slept in his dog house, head on his paws, sadness in his eyes. He didn’t come for breakfast. Perhaps later I will bribe him with a car ride. He might think we are going to see Helen and come along for the ride.
As I water per Helen’s instructions, my head is swirling with Ashton’s protest, the gap between Helen and me, my dad’s grave, and how our lives are defined by Helen’s cancer. I put some food and water outside of Ashton’s dog house. To him, I do not exist. There is no fence around our yard, but I know he will be there when I return and the food and water will remain untouched. I tell him I am going to see Helen; he does not acknowledge I have spoken.