My Husband’s Garden
Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick
Illustration by Jana Galushkina
My husband has taken a lover, and to make up for it, he is growing me a garden.
The first day he met her, he brought home a tomato plant. It was already potted in something cheap and plastic, its vines growing up the cage that surrounded it.
“What do you plan to do with that?” I asked. Our apartment was small, and my husband had never shown an interest in plants before.
“I’m going to put it on the fire escape,” he said. “I’m going to grow you fresh tomatoes. Won’t you like that?”
I barely ate tomatoes. I hated the way the skin peeled away from the flesh when I bit them, getting stuck on my gums and the lining of my throat. “I guess,” I said.
My husband beamed and walked across our apartment to the window, opening it and ducking through to our fire escape. He placed it carefully in the one spot that seemed to get constant sunlight. It was where I liked to sit and read during warm days, but he didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps he didn’t know. He came back through the window, looking very pleased with himself.
“A new girl started work in our office today,” he said casually.
A month later, my husband came home very late after a work happy hour. One of his coworkers was leaving the company, and they planned a going away party for him. My husband invited me to come, but I told him to have fun without me.
“I barely know the guy,” I said. “Besides, it’s been a very long week. All I want to do is curl up with a glass of wine, watch a movie, and go to bed early.”
My husband said that was fine. “I won’t be home late,” he promised.
By ten o’clock, I began wondering where he was. I assumed the happy hour had turned into a longer, drunker celebration. I wasn’t worried, but I texted him just to check in.
“Hope you’re having fun,” I typed. “Going to bed, I love you.”
“Be home late, love you too,” he responded an hour later.
I woke up at two, then three, then four o’clock, and my husband still wasn’t home. Around five in the morning he finally stumbled in, reeking of alcohol and sweat and cigarettes I knew he didn’t smoke. I pretended to be asleep as he stood by the bed, looking at me. Then he went into the bathroom and closed the door quietly. I heard the shower running, and the sound finally lulled me to sleep.
I woke up around ten the next morning, and though his side of the bed was rumpled, my husband was not next to me. I heard sounds coming from the kitchen and, pulling on my robe, I walked out of the bedroom to find my husband cooking pancakes. He looked tired, but he was whistling softly and couldn’t keep a smile off his face. Seeing me, his grin faltered for a minute, but he collected himself quickly.
“Good morning, hun,” he said, coming over to give me a kiss on the cheek. “Coffee?”
I poured myself a cup. “I’m surprised you’re up already, you got home so late,” I said. “Did you have fun?”
“Yeah, sorry, I didn’t expect to stay out as long as I did,” my husband said. “Everyone just kept buying rounds, and then we started moving to different bars. You know how it is.”
“It’s fine,” I said, and it was. I didn’t mind him staying out. “Who managed to hang until the end?”
He coughed. “It was me, Lindsey, and a few guys from accounting.”
“Do I know Lindsey?” I asked, trying to remember the names of his coworkers. It was an innocent question. I was not suspicious, not yet.
“Lindsey is new,” he said. “I told you about her.”
My husband wouldn’t meet my eye as he walked over to the window and pointed out at our fire escape.
“Look,” he said. “When I ran out to get milk this morning, I bought you a new plant.”
Hanging in a planter to the left of the window was a fern. Its leaves hung down over the sides of its container and reached towards the window, as though asking to come in.
After that, there seemed to be new plants every week, and soon it escalated to every other day. Lamb’s ear after he stayed late at the office one night, English lavender after he had to take what he insisted was a work call at midnight. He told me his manager was making him go on a weekend-long team building retreat, and he returned with a lemon tree. I had to help him hoist it through the window.
Soon our little fire escape was full, but the plants didn’t stop coming. Instead, my husband started filling up the apartment with snake plants and orchids and pothos and peace lilies. There were sunflowers and roses in vases scattered around the house. I found ivy in the bathroom and a cactus in our bedroom that was as tall as I was. My husband was careless about where he placed these plants. There seemed to be no real rhyme or reason to it. He’d just set them down wherever there was a free space, until there was no surface left bare. I’d come home and find even forgotten water cups occupied, flowers with torn-up roots floating in the glasses as though my husband had ripped them from the cracks in the sidewalk.
I don’t know when I realized my husband was being unfaithful. Somewhere between the jade and the gardenias, maybe. One day I turned to him quickly, absently, wanting to ask some banal question about a grocery list. But I caught him by surprise, and he couldn’t avoid looking me directly in the eyes. His guilt and pity were plain on his face and I just knew. He left in a panic and came back with an armful of succulents.
Now, I can barely move without tipping over a planter or brushing up against leaves. When I walk, I leave trails of potting soil in my wake. My husband says the plants are his gift to me, but he has stopped caring for them. It’s my job to water them, and I just fling cups of water over my shoulder. If any have died, I have no way of knowing; the survivors grow over them, forming a coverage so thick that I can’t see the floor. I go to sleep every night with dirt crusted underneath my fingernails. And still, my husband brings home more and more.
I’ve been dreaming about the plants.
In my dreams, the plants begin popping up on their own, without help from my husband. Every time he kisses his lover, a new flower blooms. When she sighs his name in bed, the ivy begins crawling across the walls. They twitch and sway when he is with her, pressing closer around me. The way they rub their leaves against me feels tender. He may have brought them here, but they are on my side.
My husband doesn’t talk to me much anymore. It’s not malicious; it’s like he doesn’t even see me.
When he comes to bed at night, I feel him settle into our mattress. I turn to face him, but the plants have crept between us and built a wall down the middle of the bed. I think for a second that I smell her perfume on him, but the scent of lavender and rosemary and damp, rich earth overpowers any rival smells he brings with him. In the morning, I hear him humming to himself as he turns the coffee pot on. He sounds so happy and doesn’t even realize when he fills the machine with soil instead of coffee grounds. I try to leave the bedroom and go to him, but I struggle to move through the thick forest of roots and vines. By the time I make it into the kitchen, he has already left for work. I hear a beep and look down at my phone.
“Working late tonight,” he texts. “Don’t wait up.”
My husband does not end his messages with “love you” any more. I don’t think he even realizes it. His head is filled with her, and my head is filled with the plants.
I have never seen my husband’s lover. I daydream about her sometimes. She must be so lovely, for my husband to feel the way he does. Yellow hair like sunflowers, or the deep red of poppies. Pink azalea lips and forget-me-not eyes. I think back to that first tomato plant and wish I knew if her cheeks were as red as the fruit. I wonder if he brings me plants that remind him of her. If he chooses them at random, or if he is trying to give me a piece of her as well. He is building me a garden that feels like his lover. Maybe that should disturb me, but I find comfort in the thought.
My husband has not been home in three days.
He cannot keep his excuses straight. First he says it is a work trip, some last minute meeting with very important clients. But later he calls me and says he is having a great time with the guys.
“It’s a bachelor party,” he says. “Don’t you remember?”
I can’t hear anything in the background. I tell him it sounds like a very quiet bachelor party, and he laughs nervously before hanging up.
Alone in our apartment, I walk over to where our sofa used to sit. Now it is just a mound of moss, but I lay across it anyway. I stare at the ceiling, but I cannot see it any longer. Instead there is green, the delicate veins of leaves illuminated by the sunlight streaming through the windows. There are no walls anymore, no furniture, just a garden where my home used to be. I lay my hand against the floor and run my fingers through the dirt, taking a fistful and pouring it over my head until it is in my eyes, my nose, my mouth. Vines begin to slither over me and I invite them in. I feel them enter my side and move across my ribs, clinging like ivy on lattice. My fingers and toes extend into roots and burrow into the floor, and I feel them tangle with the roots of the others, until I cannot separate myself from the plants around me. I feel blooms in my head and my chest and my throat and I think, this is good, this is right. This is how I should be.
When he comes home he will find me like this, rose petals dripping from my lips and dahlias bursting from my eye sockets. My hair is a tangle of baby’s breath. I am so, so beautiful, and when my husband sees me he will remember that he loves me. I have made myself a garden for him, and maybe he will bring pieces of me to his lover. I will live in vases across her home and he will not be able to forget me.