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.

More by Jennifer L. Knox

The Decorative Airport Fern Is Not What It Pretends to Be

and it takes me a triple-take to realize it's scanning
me, or something near my ear—that must be it. No plant’s 
ever complimented my perfume—wait—there it goes 
again. Did you see that? [Time passes, drinks] "Sure, I 
remember when I thought you were a fern but you were!
Who could blame me?" I tell the what’s now a magnificent
purple tetrahedron, eggplant-sized cilia straining at its corners, just 
a hint of ferniness remains in its fingertips—enough to blush. 
We hug goodbye. The scent of flowers lingers around me 
the next day. Flying home, a decorative airport fern that really 
is a decorative airport fern says, "You smell nice." I don’t 
believe it, but it's still a happy
ending.

A Fairy Tale

When my father was nine years old, his mother said, "Tommy, I'm taking you to the circus for your birthday. Just you and me, and I'll buy you anything you want." The middle child of six, my father thought this was the most incredible, wonderful thing that had ever happened to him—like something out of a fairy tale.

They got in the car, but instead of driving him to the circus, his mother pulled up in front of the hospital and told him to go inside and ask for Dr. So-and-so. After that they'd go to the circus.

He went inside and asked for Dr. So-and-so. A nurse told him to follow her into a room where she closed the door and gave him a shot. My father fell asleep, and some hours later, woke up crying in agony with his tonsils gone. A different nurse got him dressed, and sent him outside where his mother was waiting in the car with the engine running. He couldn't speak on the way home to ask her, "What about the circus?" Days later, when he could, he didn't. They never mentioned it again.

Fifty-eight years later, he tells this story to his wife, his only explanation, when she asks him, "What are you doing home from church so early?"

He'd walked out in the middle of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," never to return.

Auld Lang Syne

Dad couldn’t stop crying after Kathy moved him into the facility. 
When she came to visit, he’d cry and say he wanted to die. He said 
the same thing to the nurses. This went on for about a month until 
the doctor put him on an antidepressant especially for Parkinson’s 
patients. The next time Kathy came to visit, she found him in the 
cafeteria, talking to some of the other residents and not crying at 
all—just enjoying his lunch. When it was time for her to go, he 
didn’t cry, but rather calmly escorted her to the car. “Do you like 
this car? My wife and I were thinking about getting one,” he told 
her. “That’s very interesting,” Kathy smiled, “because I am your 
wife.” Dad chuckled, “Is that right?” He squinted over the palm trees 
towards the freeway. So many cars. Busy busy busy. “Well, we’ll see 
you later, then,” he said, and shook her hand firmly, the way he’d 
learned to do at Rotary. What funny new friends he was making.