by B. Cray

“Chamomile” placed fifth in Southern New Hampshire University’s 2021 Fall Fiction Contest.

Sprout of fresh plant growing in the soil

Karyn found more beauty in the world when she softened her gaze. The thing she appreciated most about her bedroom was the birdfeeder Julian had placed just outside the window last spring. It was an attempt to bring her joy in the space she occupied the most. She had never seen a bird use the feeder but found peace in the idea that substance existed for them. She was awake from her nap and sitting crossed-legged on her bed in a meditative pose. The cup of chamomile tea she emptied the previous night still sat on her nightstand. The thought came to her to bring it to the kitchen, but she could not find the strength. Slowly and gently, she reached her hand to grab a handful of her hair. When she slowly brought it down to her lap, she contemplated the loose, stringy, blonde hair in her hand. She considered what it meant to be human and then wondered if wondering what it meant to be human made her any more human. Then she pondered if that was even what she wanted. She knew at this point that none of it mattered. She laid down on her back and waited. She waited for humility, waited for excitement, waited for greed, and waited for grace or mercy. She didn’t want this to be the end. She just wanted to feel anything at all.

Julian came home that evening just as the sun was beginning to set. He went to the bedroom to check on her. He hadn’t looked at her any differently. However, if she was honest with herself, she realized now more than ever that he hadn’t looked at her any differently in the past several years. Had he given up on her the way she had given up on herself? She waited for Julian to leave the room before she reached down and touched the bruise on her leg. She gently pressed her cadaverous fingers into the softening flesh that was caving like an overripe fruit. She felt around until she felt bone. But that was all she felt. There was no pain. There was no confusion.

She decided to join Julian on the porch. As she sat on the well-worn bench, she looked out and wondered what corner of the Earth she would inhabit after she died. She then realized anything she would tell herself would be a lie. There was no way of knowing how her memory would live on. Julian had prepared her a cup of hot chamomile tea. She cupped the tin camping mug with both hands and tried to feel its comforting warmth. As she brought the cup to her thin lips, she hoped the first sip would alleviate her as it often did. She took a cautious sip and then began to feel her tongue loosen from her mouth as it made a plop in her mug. They sat in silence for several minutes. She turned and looked at Julian square in the face. She saw her own reflection in his eyes. She stared long and hard, not to see herself, but in an attempt to see how he saw her. The beauty of the trees and the breeze on her face was too much for her. Julian turned to her and began to make an effort to soothe her with kind words. Karyn wanted his loving message to wash over her. But just as she began to process his words, her ears began to slide down her sunken cheeks. They landed in her lap, and she shooed them off quickly as if two unwanted spiders had just jumped on her. She decided to retreat inside. At the door frame, she paused just for a moment long enough to look back and realize the skin on the bottom of her left foot had stayed on the porch. It was the opposite of a footprint.

She went in and laid down on their sapphire velvet couch. Julian had wanted a sofa for décor, but she argued for comfort. Julian won. The space she was existing in was altering. As she draped her thin, frail arm off the couch, it fell off. The thud it made on the hardwood floor was softened by the skin and the few muscles covering the bone. It was then that she realized her plan was a good idea. She ever so gently and ever so slowly got up, walked to the drawer in the kitchen, and removed the packet of chamomile seeds. The packet was from two springs ago when she had just started to lose interest in the things that used to bring her joy. They were supposed to be planted in hopes of making her own tea. She stood there for a while, holding the seeds and making terms with what she knew she had to do. The kitchen counter was cluttered with junk mail. She laid the seed packet on top of the pile of unopened mail. She carefully began to remove all her clothes from her fragile frame with her remaining hand. Even though she could not fold the clothes, they lay in a pile on the kitchen floor as if that’s where they were meant to be. She then gathered the seed packet and made her way to the back door that led to the sunroom.

She proceeded to open the door and walk down the three steps to the sunroom. As she passed through the door, her skin melted off her body as if it were just another layer of clothes to shed. She continued through the sunroom to the back door, which led to their back porch. She took a moment to try to enjoy the nature in the backyard. The lack of children’s toys such as a swing set or trampoline stung her. After losing her father to lung cancer when she was twelve years old, she knew she didn’t want to bring someone into the world to possibly suffer the same loss she experienced. Warm tears began to dribble out of her sunken eyes. Her right eye cascaded out of its socket like a bolder being thrown from a waterfall. It only rolled a few inches on the weathered wooden porch when it finally hit the ground. This made her decision easier.

She proceeded to her garden bed that had been unkempt for years. She remembered the afternoon that Julian had surprised her with the freshly tilled spot of soil and the white, plastic fence surrounding the plot. He had even placed trellises along the long side for her to grow her beans and honeysuckles. The garden now was a baron space for maggots and cat shit. She gently stepped over the now corroded white fence and slowly lowered herself on the cool patch of dirt. She brought her bony fingers to her remaining eye and proceeded to loosen it from its socket. She laid the sticky globe next to the Earth beside her. She picked up the packet and took one more deep breath before pouring the chamomile seeds into the two caverns where her eyes used to be. She then laid entirely still. The clouds above began to darken and sympathetically cried over the shell that was once Karyn.

Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Student