by Kristina Mottla
Carl was reading the Sunday newspaper when the weeds broke through concrete, wood, carpet, their tentacles probing the air.
Carl often spent Sunday afternoons plucking yard weeds. Now he spent that time indoors, pulling, clipping, tearing, the roots refusing to yield, his hands red and pudgy, stems catching his wiry hair, the carpet loops unlooping, fibers shredding, spreading in clumps across his living room floor.
That night Carl slept on the couch with one shoe on and dirt under his nails, waking to fresh bushels of green: leafy, bulbous, slithery.
Monday dinner proceeded later than usual. Carl uncorked his choice Riesling and plated a salmon filet at the formal table meant for eight. Out the window, a long thin cloud pressed across the moon like a bandage.
Carl’s father had taken a tiger’s mouth to the head forty years ago today; his brother, to the stomach. The deaths provoked a toast: “To being the men I sometimes wished to be.”
A broad leaf stretched and cupped Carl’s calf in its bristly hammock. Carl kicked the leaf off, then put foil over his salmon before weeding beneath the table, pulling, clipping, tearing, the roots refusing to yield, his hands red and pudgy, stems catching his wiry hair, prodding his soft paunch, the carpet loops unlooping, fibers shredding, spreading…
By midnight Carl’s fingers felt bonier than usual beneath new blistering. Back at the table the first bite of cold salmon brought on a waking dream. Carl found himself in a thick mist, tree shapes making shadow puppets; his hands, heavy bricks. Then, from within the mist-thick middle, Carl saw a large rectangular form, a giant hiker’s backpack, tall as seven stories and wide as Carl’s house, pockets zipping and unzipping and puffing out misty gray soot. A fish wagged across the mist into darkness. Carl reached his hand out then, only to be snatched by the backpack and churned inside its sandy sooty mouth.
In less than a minute, the backpack spat Carl out with a booming echo–“No!”–so that Carl soon found himself back at his dining table, fork dangling in his fingers.
Carl dove beneath the kitchen table and took again to pulling, clipping, tearing, the roots refusing to yield, his hands red and pudgy, stems catching his wiry hair, his fingers chafed twigs bleeding, the carpet loops unlooping, fibers shredding, spreading, spreading in clumps and Carl thought on how the backpack had spat him out and if he should try hiking for a change and whether the corner house widow had missed Carl’s visit this week and how now he liked the spring gale the way it tickled his bald scalp and sent his nose hairs buzzing.
That night Carl slept atop a pile of clippings on the living room floor. He woke with leaves twined about his arms, legs, chest. Outside, the sun filtered through chrysanthemums bending close to weedy sprouts.
Kristina Mottla’s stories and poems have appeared in Barnstorm, Jersey Devil Press, Hartskill Review, Potomac Review, and elsewhere. She has a BA and an MFA. Find her on Twitter: @kristina_mottla.