by Alex Irvine

What happened next was … well, no …. The night before, I was out on the front porch with a beer trying to look at the sky, one of those nights when the stars … the moon and Venus together looked like the Turkish flag. There was a garden tool of some kind, a trowel, I remember thinking, on the steps, and it reminded me that I’d told her I would water the snapdragons. But the mint, the damn mint was growing everywhere, and the snapdragons had been dead for weeks.

I traded in the Buick for that truck, and four thousand bucks, all for a hundred thousand more miles and a ride like a hay wagon. But this is America, right, and if you can’t throw away money on a truck … I loved that truck. It was blue except where it was rusty, and it pulled hard to the left when you hit the brakes, and the four-wheel drive ground like a nightmare, but I loved it. On the fire roads with her, ponderosa pines and sun-warmed granite. I thought it would be good luck.

The doctor appointment was at three o’clock. We got up early, and I looked up where the sliver of moon had crooked toward Venus. There were high cirrus clouds.

No, wait, the snapdragons weren’t dead yet. That was when she asked me to water them. That morning. I was thinking, Which flag was it, the one with the moon and the star, or was it really Venus on the flag?

Water the snapdragons, okay? she said from inside. I was having coffee, and there were high cirrus clouds.

Yeah, I said, and stood there instead listening to her move around in the living room. She picked up this and that. Nervous. We’d been trying for a long time. I was optimistic about this doctor. We were optimistic.

No, I couldn’t have remembered telling her I’d water the snapdragons. That was the night before. Later I went and looked up what the thing was, the garden tool on the steps. It wasn’t a trowel. I had meant to ask her, but I forgot. So no, I hadn’t told her I’d water the snapdragons. That was after I first saw the thing on the steps. But it was still there when she said, Water the snapdragons, okay? I think that’s why I forgot to ask her what it was.

It was my idea to take the truck. Good luck, I thought. The grinding was in the clutch, not the four-wheel drive, and if I’d paid attention when my dad told me about cars, I’d have known. Anyway it kicked out of gear on Alameda and I jumped a little. We’d been trying for a long time. I was optimistic about this doctor. I was nervous, and I hit the brakes a little hard. We couldn’t have crossed the center line that much.

The snapdragons hung on for a long time. Longer than I would have thought. 

Alex had fiction published in F&SFHitchcock’s, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud WristletStrange Horizons, and Starlight 3, and he’s got a novel coming out in the summer from Tor.