The Space Between The Stones by Ian McCormick
He held onto a small vase supporting a single stalk of bamboo, and decided that it had to go. There used to be more. Another stalk at its side, as well as two smaller nubs growing in front. He had given it to her as a birthday gift seven years ago, when they had barely known each other. The trunks never seemed to grow, but imperceptibly slowly, their leafy branches managed to rise another foot.
It was a cheap gift, but they’d only met a week before her birthday, and he wasn’t sure what to give. She moved in soon after, never bothering to take to her old apartment. She’d keep its cup full of water, and leaves dusted.
The bamboo receded into the background. They had pictures that were thumbtacked to the walls, and discs and books that threatened to spill over the shelves. Artifacts from time spent together. He held onto a few things, but the ones he kept were tucked away for another time.
They never married. She was younger. It never seemed right to him, so much older. In hindsight he wondered if he had been waiting for that other shoe to drop. For that day when she wouldn’t want to play mommy to a middle-aged child.
She never grew up either. He did just enough to keep her from leaving for good, even if she was around less and less. New jobs. New friends. He wouldn’t go out as much, and couldn’t help but notice that she hadn’t cleaned the dust from the corners the way she used to. Their collected trinkets clogged the space that they had since outgrown.
The bamboo became the dying canary. The growth-stunted stalks in the front yellowed, then flushed out to bone, before rotting black. She threw them out the next day. One of the taller stalks was gone the next year. He thought about tossing the one that survived, but held on and watered its cup for the first time in years.
He’d wait for her in bed, only to find her in the morning, asleep on the couch, wearing yesterday’s makeup, while the barely audible television played in the background. Half-emptied beer bottles. A dusty mirror. Cellophane bags. He wanted to snap, but found dark notes in her pocket, jotted down on napkins. Memoirs ranting to nobody. He could only hope they were scribbled when she was high, and hadn’t meant anything.
He tried. He told himself that he really did try. He picked up around the house when she grew tired, and took to watering and pruning the plant. He kept the bamboo alive for a year, afraid of watching it die. He thought about moving it to a larger vase. She couldn’t have removed the roots when she took away the three dead stalks. Their dead veins still took up precious space in between the stones.
When it was over, friends said the right things and invited him out, but never came to visit. He didn’t mind. He wanted to stay out of the apartment himself, always seeing her in the tub. He slept on couches when he could, and told his friends that he would have to move.
He held on to a few of her memories, but only the things that could be put away. As the last of the things he wanted to keep was packed into boxes, he walked the bamboo out to the garbage room on his floor. He looked at the withering plant one last time before throwing it down the garbage chute. He never bothered to look up how long the stalk of bamboo would last. Maybe, he wondered, seven years was a good run.
About the author:
Ian Scott McCormick is a 33 year old writer, living with his wife in New York City. His work has previously appeared in Word Riot.