It is twenty years since you crawled in this body to your father's front door. You have been alive in this body for twenty years. I did not think I would feel the moment pass so precisely, as if your body’s age has any bearing on my experience of you, as if the rotations mean anything. While you were growing, it seemed that the seasons were always separated from each other, each arriving right on the heels of the last, and now that you’re grown, they are indistinct; I do not know them one from the other anymore. Like the birds on Ravin Desai’s roof, who, having fledged their young too early, flew off home before it was time.
In his house you walk barefoot and wear a dressing robe and use the kitchen. You have learned to cook eggs in their different states and formats. Most people on your street keep a garden, or pay someone to keep it for them. You do not keep a garden; there was once one, and a straight and tidy lawn, but now he lets it all run wild. You do not go outside much at all. You do not use most of his house. In the mornings you write secret things near a window that looks out on the backyard, where a nice old tree stands, the oldest, actually, left in the area. You have a same armchair you sit in, evenings. At night you share his bed.
There are many days now where he too does not leave the house. Today is such a day, and has become night before the two of you noticed. “Help me find my book?” he says, but his helping consists of suggestions and not searching; it might be in the library or it might be in the sitting room, or it might be abandoned in a spine-stretching sprawl, face-down, (shamefully) in a bathroom. You have looked in these places. You are calling coordinates to each other up and down the stairs. In your voice there is laughing; you are yelling louder than is needed, you are listening for the strain of the ceiling when your voice fills up the stairwell, finally some room you can take up, finally someone who will let you yell.
The book turns up for you at last at one end of the kitchen table, stacked under some others as if already finished, and you rejoice—“Found it!”—yelling still, though you’re but one room adjacent. When you deliver the book, he takes your wrist instead; he pulls till you fall onto the arm of his chair, and you were not off balance, you did not have to fall, this was only for pretend, you were only doing something he would like. And he does like it.
I have never had to practice anything. I like or I dislike what I do, like anyone, but it all happens naturally, and I don’t think of doing different. To see how you practice being for him—it is surprising. Your whole life I have thought I knew you and then I have been surprised.
You two are quiet a while. He strokes your arm while the old tree in the yard creaks like a long-closed door. It has stopped aging; it does not grow, but neither does it die. A bark beetle chews through dried-out trunk to make its nest. So. A matter of time.
“This house is too big for us,” he says.
“I like how big the house is,” you say. “It has so many rooms.”
“Rooms we never use, full of Auntie’s junk.”
“I would clean them,” you say, immediately on alert. “I mean to, it just took me a while to get used to things here, but I’m okay now and should do my part.”
“This isn’t that. You’re not a roommate, Liyo; I’m not scolding you for leaving a mess.”
“What then?” Your hands are fists loosely curled against his thigh. “You want something.”
“I do,” he says. “I’m not sure exactly what. But it’s selfish, I think, to live this way, when we have this much excess. All by ourselves.”
You have nothing for him. You take your touch away.
He does not hear or does not understand the straight, stiff set of your body. “We could give rooms to college kids or travelers. Maybe charge a little board, to cover the cost of food. Maybe we let in orphans and don’t charge at all. The number of orphans isn’t so high these days as it was, but still, there are always orphans. And others, down on their luck. Worse than that, but you know what I mean.”
“You may be too kind a man,” you say.
“I’m acquisitive,” he confesses. “My parents built our house at the top of a hill far out in the country. We had our own street, and a gate to get into it. I was tutored at home. There were no neighbors to be my friends. For all our connections, we lived a closed-off life. So, I know you are here, and I am so happy. But I get lonely. And every day that passes, there are others displaced or abandoned, like you were. I want to be doing something to help. I want to be known for it, when I die. It’s selfish. You know this about me. At a certain point apologizing for it is just another thing I do for me. But I think you would like it, too. I think you’ve been lonely, too. Just you and your dad—and then, not even your dad. What if we both had more people to share life with.” Looking at you makes his face soft. His face looks, more and more these days, like yours.
This does not make me love him as I do you.
“I’ll think about it,” you say. But you do not.
You think something hot and racing as blood, you think something molten that quickly sharpens, and snaps, a shrapnel rain, and the intentions begin to erect themselves, hard as steel. I won’t allow them. I will keep them out. I have earned this. It is mine.
All the while he still looks love at you. He pulls you close again to him, so you are sharing the oversized chair, and he clicks on the TV, as if the matter is settled for now, as if he has heard. But he has not heard what I have heard.
Since you came here it has been rare that I’ve heard your thoughts. I thought, you are aging, and you are safe; maybe you are having thoughts less and less. I have gone decades without thoughts. Sometimes there is no one around and nothing to think about. Now I hear you, thoughts plain and ugly and untethered, and I know what has happened the last four years:
You have stopped them from getting to me.
All that’s living in the yard rushes to me, the grass prickling, the leaves restless. All the land bristles with the sound of a creature tearing through a briar bush. You will know the sound. You have heard it before.
No, you say, Not here too, and I hear you. But I am louder than you, and I will drown the fear you bear toward me until the weight becomes a comfort.
I am coming to you. I send the grass that has gone unmown, the vines that have tangled unchecked. I make seeds to sprout and slither through the cracks in his foundation; I make woody roots to breach his gates. I wrap his house in all the green and earth at my disposal. I bind it in my will.
And when it is done, I snap the spine of that oldest, heaviest, closest tree.
It happens in instants, so much faster than he would have seen it in his languid imagination, and could I hear him like I do you I imagine the terror would swell his mind beyond capacity, and, like a berry overripened, he’d burst.
Why do you keep coming after me, you cry. Why are you mad at me?
And I tell you the truth: I do not know that I have ever been angry. If there is anger in me, it is green, and unfurling, and untried.
The house with its generous floorboards and expansive roof, the last old tree in the yard, all the land where we are, groans overburdened, and I wait, with seething expectation, for the crack that comes before the break.
You are outside the house, charging across the front porch, leading Ravin Desai by the hand. He, too, looks ready to break. I feel your will coming to meet mine. It is hard, impenetrable. Steel. You wave your hand for me to find you, but I always know where you are.
Stop it, you command.
I have done what I’ve done; I have nothing left to do. The house makes a warning moan behind you.
Exasperation crosses your face. You turn back to the house, jaw set, arm outstretched. Under your power, concrete pours from the foundation. Like a moat it surrounds the house, and hardens, and the frame holds solid, straight; the lean that would end it is arrested.
Ravin Desai recoils, snaps his hand free of yours, and stands back, witnessing you, all alarm.
You look exactly at me; you always know where I will be. You say, Well. You forced me. He knows now. You got what you wanted.
Your ability—to manipulate stone and steel as I manipulate the earth—is not new to me as it is to him. But your anger is. The rage with which you protect your things. That you hid this from me, all these years. That you hid it from everyone. I feel surprised as I ever am by you, by your secretiveness, by your will. And I feel lonely—seeing so suddenly your differences from me, as well as the parts of me, my most miserable, that you share.
I am lonely. I will have you back with me. The roots that bind the house strain like an overtaut rope.
You say, eyes like slate, Leave him alone, and leave the house alone.
And I say, Very well. What will be our arrangement?
And you say, at last:
I will come home with you.
You are permitted some time to go back inside and gather your belongings. You must also, I suspect, explain things to your man who cannot hear us, but I must warn you I have had this conversation with humans, and he will not understand.
A while passes; the sun comes up. I watch you exit, the house behind you caged by steel bars and by tall cane shoots, knit together by creeper and by rivets, arrested mid-collapse for as long as you watch me and only me, and do not look back at him. And you keep the promise you’ve made me: You do not look back.
We will be together now, I say to you. Isn’t it wonderful?
For I do not know that life was any better when I had you, but I remember it like it was.