He is three years old and thinks the word for plant is planet. I should correct him, but I don’t, because I suspect it won’t last—the same way brefkast and sank you sprouted from his mouth for months and then somehow blossomed properly, even without adequate sunlight. Every time we pass the farmland on that stretch beyond Highway 101, he watches as the tractors overturn the dirt, rolls his window down to smell the tillage. They’re getting ready for new planets, he says, breathing deeply, filling his lungs with the scent of soil.
He is nine and learning about space in school: how our galaxy alone is 100,000 light-years across, and how a single light-year equals nearly six trillion miles, and how there are two trillion galaxies, and out of all those planets how can we believe ours is the only one that matters? I tell him he is not as small as he feels. His doctor tells me she is not seeing enough progress. We’re hoping for visible growth, she says. Brighter spots, happier episodes. I imagine him the way he looked when he was born: shriveled but strong, coated with proof of his own germination. Solid, at least. Something more than a shadow.
He is twelve and I find him in the redwoods just before dusk, kneeling in the brush beneath the trees. With his hands he clears away thick clumps of vegetation—methodically at first, then frantic, the greenery piling up behind him like a hillside. What remains is an emptiness. What remains is a bare patch on the world, as if he has ripped a swath of hair out of the forest. It’s going to be a garden, he says, I’m growing this, see? But I don’t. I can only see what is gone.
He is seventeen and one night he doesn’t come home. I call his friends, his love, our neighbors. I drive the edges of the farmland and shout his name through the wind and park at the mouth of the woods because he has to be here somewhere, trapped just below the surface. With both palms, I press against the ground and wait to feel it give. Instead it swells upward from the roots, it bulges in spots, orblike. Beneath the earth there is the unmistakable hum of something spinning and spinning and spinning.
This micro earned first place in the 2021 SmokeLong Grand Micro Contest.