Honeysuckle

Feelers first – that’s the way the honeysuckle vines grew over the chain link, groping blindly for something to cling to.

Feelers first – that’s the way they grew. And that’s the way she cut them down.

The multicolored beads of rubber on her white work gloves looked like sprinkles on frosting, but there was no sweetness in the way the hands they covered ripped the vines away from the fence then severed them with a pink-handled pair of scissors. We hadn’t lived in the craftsman bungalow long enough to have acquired authentic garden shears.

“They’re seasonal,” I protested. “Like the tree.”

I pointed up at the jacaranda that shaded the sidewalk, its foliage withering like the fronds of a fern dying of thirst in the corner of a dimly lit bar.

“They’re dead,” Heidi insisted, swiping a dismissive hand through a cluster of brittle, heart-shaped honeysuckle leaves.

I worried my knuckles across the ridge of wire twists ­– worn smooth and dark by the oil of sliding fingers ­– crowning the waist-high fence in front of the house painted to match the ocean that lapped against the base of the bluffs a half-a-dozen blocks down. Rubbing one of the vines between thumb and forefinger, I thought about how the fine, soft hairs resembled the ones at the base of Heidi’s neck. I leaned across the fence to impulsively plant a kiss on them.

She stiffened. Took a step back and hitched up the faded jeans that had once fit her hips so snugly. Heidi had been spending more and more of her time at the gym lately – maybe because she was getting tired of spending it with me; maybe because she was getting ready to spend it with someone else.

“That’s dead, too,” she said, wiping away the wet imprint my lips.

“Dead? We just signed a thirty-year mortgage thirty days ago, Heidi. Don’t you think it’s a little too soon to pull the plug?”

“It had been on life support for a long time, Charlie. Buying the house was like … what do they call them in living wills? Those measures you don’t want your life to be prolonged by?”

“‘Heroic,’” I spat, “although that’s hardly the adjective I’d use to describe your actions.”

“Whatever,” she said, retreating into the house.

I looked down at my fingers, which had curled around the chain link. Like most things between us at that point, it was merely utilitarian ­– practical, not pretty. But that stark structure had nevertheless become a trellis for something beautiful, something that had insinuated itself into spaces where nothing had been meant to grow.

As I reached out to open the gate, I noticed how the honeysuckle had climbed over the hinges, but not the latch. She could still get out.

“Honeysuckle” was originally published by Fewer Than 500 in 2015.

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