Tiffany Grimes is a minimalist (excluding cats: cats bring joy, thus more cats equal happiness). She graduated with her MFA in writing from Hamline University in 2015 and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.
My parents have this painting of peonies hanging above the ragged thrift store couch in the family room. My mom obsessively studies it. I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s mass produced and likely hanging in trailers just like this one across the country.
The colors don’t seem like they go well together, but somehow they do. The lime green vase is shadowed with dark purple. The background is a royal blue and the flowers are formed from red, pink, orange, and violet brush strokes.
I can see why she likes it. She doesn’t have a green bone in her body, let alone a green thumb, and our brown lawn is a testament to that. It’s hard not to like the burst of colors on the canvas.
She’s staring at the painting when I leave for work. I’ll likely find her there when I get home. I’m not sure if she goes to work anymore, because I always find her kneeling on the couch, staring at the wall. I want to hang the painting on the other wall, where the television is, but dad would kill me if he couldn’t watch his reruns of Star Trek and M.A.S.H.. When mom first got sick, dad didn’t even notice. It was my graduation day. I stayed home and nursed her while dad went on another bender.
My bedroom is covered in succulents and cacti and spider plants and ferns and bonsai. I work at a cafe in a nursery. I have a discount and compulsively buy a plant every week. One day I will disappear into my forest bedroom and never be seen again.
Andy Anderson is my first customer every day. He goes by Quint, but I call him Andy anyway. His usual is a scone and an Americano. It’s the one thing I can rely on.
Andy Anderson was the first person to ever ask me about my scar. He was eating his scone and the cafe was dead, so he just kept asking questions. I lied to him and told him I fell off of my bike. I didn’t let anyone know that it was a dinner plate thrown by my father like a Frisbee when I was seven. Eighteen stitches and a fake tooth.
Andy was the first person to ask me anything, really. Everyone else hung around Clarissa. She’s blonde and has this smile all the time like the world isn’t actually shit.
“What will you have, Andy?” I grab the tongs and start to reach for a scone.
He shakes his head. “I don’t want anything. I just came to ask you a question.”
I blow my bangs out of my face and wait. I want more than anything for Andy Anderson to ask me out. To ask me to leave this town. To tuck me alongside his freshly pressed shirts inside his suitcase. I give the side of the monitor a tap.
“Well,” he says in that slow way of his. “I was wondering when Clarissa was working next.”
“Oh,” I say. My body deflates. “Actually, she quit. Monday was her last day.”
“Oh,” he says. His eyes are two brown guppies. I'll never see him again.
When I get home, mom is right where I left her. I let the door slam behind me, rattling the walls. She doesn’t flinch.
I make dinner and I leave her plate next to her and don’t say anything. I hand dad his plate and he just waves at me to move out from in front of the TV. I eat my pasta while I do the dishes.
When I go to bed, I contemplate what it would be like if I were to just die. Would mom wake up out of her trance long enough to feed herself or would she just slowly fade away until dad noticed something was amiss?
I consider this all week. While I clean up vomit from a kid who ate too many gummy worms. The vomit is multi-colored and sticky and I swallow back lumps in my throat as I feel the gooey consistency through the thin paper towels. I think about this while I hold my breath and unclog the toilet for the sixteenth time this month. I think about this while customers try to smile at me and make small talk, the plants they purchased tucked under their arms like footballs.
I buy a tiny cactus. He is about an inch tall and I name him Xavier. I place him on my nightstand next to the old brick clock I found at the Salvation Army.
That night guilt gnaws away at my insides, as though it were somehow my responsibility to snap my mom out of it, somehow my fault she is like this at all. The plants sway in the breeze from the open window like the shadows of ghosts. I creep into the living room to see if she’s still there, staring at the painting. The couch is empty.
I must be too late.
I search everywhere for her. I creak open the bedroom door to my parent’s room and hear my father’s jagged breathing, see his outline in the dark, but there is nothing next to him. Just hollow space where mom should be.
I tiptoe around, afraid of waking my father, afraid of what will happen if I’m caught up this late. My fingers trace the scar on my face, remember the feeling of getting caught doing something I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be doing.
I go out back, swearing at the screech in the screen door, and find mom curled up like a cat on the doormat. I join her and feel her warmth against me and she opens her eyes and smiles at me and kisses my cheek. The tension in my body dissolves and I tuck my head against her chest and we fall asleep.