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Bush // New Fiction by Glen Pourciau

I see my husband walking down an unfamiliar street, but I see no view of what’s behind him. A rubber ball sails from a group of children playing in the street, and the ball bounces near my husband and past him into a wide bush cut waist-high. He decides to look for the ball, though the children make no move to search for it. The bush is soft and he sticks his arms inside it and feels around. He soon feels a ball and plucks it out, but the ball he has found is black and the one he saw bounce into the bush had red and yellow markings. He puts the black ball in his pocket and continues searching for the other ball. He gets on his knees and looks up through the bush, his head touching the ground, and then stands and walks all the way around the bush and crawls under it, but he cannot find the ball and can’t imagine where it has gone. If he fell into the bush, he fleetingly asks himself, would he disappear? He does find a peach near the bush and picks it up, but at his touch it begins to shrivel until nothing is left but a pit. He lets the pit drop to the ground.
     He sees a ditch to one side, a small towel crumpled at the bottom of it. He goes to the towel and picks it up and shakes it out. The towel has an odor, but he keeps it. He has nothing, no wallet in his pocket and no money on him, and he doesn’t know where he is.
     He returns to the street, which is pocked with holes, and he looks ahead at the frame houses, all of which have quantities of fruits and vegetables growing in front of them. He sees lustrous tomatoes and red and yellow peppers growing over the sidewalks and varieties of squash and berries. He’s hungry, the fruits and vegetables tempt him, but he fears it would be considered stealing if he were to help himself to some food. He keeps walking, his stomach growling, until he comes to a house that seems to be the one he should enter. Not knowing what else to do, he heads up the walkway and opens the door and steps inside.

     He hears voices and follows their sound to the kitchen, where he sees a family–a man, a woman, and a young girl. They don’t seem surprised to see him and they don’t ask questions about why he’s there. He approaches the man and takes the towel from his back pocket and hands it to him. The man grimaces at the smell of the towel and takes it outside and returns without it. He comments that something must have died on the towel, and he looks at my husband for an explanation. My husband has no explanation, and without saying anything he leaves the house and senses the family’s relief when he departs.

     Outside, the vines of peppers across the street seem more tempting than before, his stomach demands that something be done to ease its suffering, and he stops and gazes at them. He sees a couple, the pepper owners, seated in rockers on their porch, watching over the crop. They don’t smile, and a large dog that had been lying between them stands and comes to attention, its eyes on my husband.

     Not wanting a confrontation and too weak to fight, my husband goes on his way as the sun drops around him, a slowly sinking curtain. He returns to the bush and walks behind it. He curls up on the ground and sleeps roughly.

     He awakens the next morning, his stomach and back hurting. As soon as he sets foot on the street he sees people on the front porch of every house. They all stare at him, wondering why he hasn’t moved on, why the intruder is still there. They appear protective of their crops, and he does not feel connected to them or their food and suddenly feels it would make him sick if he ate any of it. As he turns and walks in the other direction his arms and legs go numb, as if they too are rejecting him.

     I’m up a little earlier than he is, which is unusual, and I’m standing at the coffeemaker when he comes into the kitchen and sees me. The dream is still with me, I haven’t shaken it off. I don’t want to speak to him about it, but he can tell that I’m giving him an assessing look. He’s curious to know why but doesn’t ask. Even if he did ask I wouldn’t tell him. If I did, he’d probably write a story about it that distorted whatever I said to suit his own purposes. The story would show something about me that explained why I had the dream rather than look at him as the cause. He’ll probably make up some kind of story anyway to satisfy whatever curiosity he has, and he’ll flatter himself that his story is better than the one I would have told him.

     He goes to the pantry for his cereal without speaking to me. After he eats his cereal and gets his coffee he’ll go into his study for hours to write. His stories are unsettling. After I read one I ask myself what I’ve just read and where it came from. I don’t know what to think, but he refuses to explain them, to me or to anyone. When people ask, he tells them they’re all made up, but I know that to him they are real. He hasn’t done everything that happens in his stories, but he’s thought about it.

     Why does he write them? He’s surrounded by questions I don’t have answers to. I want to think I want the answers, but if I had them would I wish I didn’t? I hate it that I have these feelings about him and at times I wonder if I’m being unfair and question the source of my suspicions. Is he the source? They are my feelings, but I can’t separate them from him.

     Why did I see him on that street, searching through a bush, a peach shriveling in his hand, entering the home of strangers who did not invite him in, distrusted by everyone, surrounded by food he couldn’t eat, no connection with others? I don’t trust him and I don’t accept him. He may sense that, but he won’t change because of me. It would never occur to him.
Glen Pourciau’s first collection of stories, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award.  His second story collection is forthcoming from Four Way Books.  His stories have been published by AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, Literarian, New England Review, New Ohio Review, Paris Review, and other magazines.