Riding in the car with my mother, I never graduated from the back seat to the front. Whenever I tried to climbing in next to her (“This is stupid—I’m riding up front”) she’d howl and swipe at me until I caved. That was how she defended her space. We drove around like that until I got my driver’s license: us two, locked in the dust-mote mottled skies of our own minds, counting things. Me: syllables and the shadows of telephone poles falling across the car. Her: I don’t know. She can’t describe her OCD to me—only that it has to do with numbers—some inexplicable tally she’s been running all her life. I imagine it like a spider’s web, easily disturbed, then dispersed by the breath of other people. Whatever its shape, it’s the only thing that’s ever soothed her.

One stalk of corn can’t bear fruit by itself. It needs other stalks around to pollinate. Even a single row won’t cut it. The Mandan knew to grow them in circles, my boyfriend tells me. And sunflowers, his father adds, grown in a row will take turns bending north, then south, etc. down the line to give each other a shot at the light. We’re in the garden after dinner. Suddenly I envy anything that moves itself to accommodate another: a subtle shift to the left or right, self preservation that could pass for love.

From Days of Shame & Failure (Bloof Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer L. Knox.