Ben Loory

Thorns

Obviously, some­thing had to be done. The thorns appeared to be poi­so­nous. Three peo­ple had gone to the hos­pi­tal already, and Mrs. Shausson across the street was comatose.

Where did they come from? my daugh­ter said to me.

We were stand­ing there, star­ing at the vines.

I don’t know, I said. But please, stay back.

I made a wall before her with my arm.

 

Finally, the men came in these black rub­ber suits and sprayed the vines with some smoke. Then they stood around and wait­ed and watched while one by one the vines start­ed to shriv­el up.

All right, one of the men said, here we go.

And they got busy shov­el­ing the remains into lit­tle bags.

Then they tucked the lit­tle bags away in their pock­ets, and waved good­bye to us as they left.

Should be okay now! one of them called. Give a holler if they come back!

And then they were gone, and it was just me and my daugh­ter.

Go inside, I said. I’ll check it out.

 

I walked up and down every inch of the lawn, and then all around the neighbor’s, too. Up and down the side­walk, then across the street. I knelt down and peered into the sew­er.

There was noth­ing to see. All the vines were gone.

I stood up. In the dis­tance was the sun­set.

All right, I said. You can play tomor­row. But right now I think it’s time for bed.

 

Early the next morn­ing, I found myself awake, lis­ten­ing to some­thing out­side. I frowned and sat up and then peered out the win­dow.

My daugh­ter was cry­ing on the lawn.

 

Honey! I yelled. Don’t move! I’m com­ing!

I jumped up and sprint­ed down the stairs. I pushed the screen door open and I was stand­ing on the lawn.

But my daugh­ter wasn’t there.

She was gone.

 

I looked left and right. I ran around the yard. I looked in the back, on the oth­er side.

Honey! I was yelling. Honey, where’d you go?

Then I looked and saw the neigh­bors gath­ered round.

 

What’s the mat­ter? they were say­ing. What’s the mat­ter? What’s wrong?

And I was telling them about my daugh­ter.

And they were look­ing at me, and some were shak­ing their heads.

And then, one by one, they wan­dered off.

 

I didn’t under­stand, and then some­one took my hand.

Come on, said my wife, and led me inside.

But I saw her, I was say­ing as she brought me back to bed.

I know, said my wife. I see her too some­times.

 

Later on that after­noon I went down to town hall and I said I want­ed to vol­un­teer for the crew. They brought me out a suit and I tried it on right there.

It was thick and heavy and black and very safe.

 

On the way home, I decid­ed to try it out. I stum­bled through the woods, arms out­stretched. I grabbed the thorns and branch­es and I fell against the trees. I slashed at myself– my chest– with rocks.

When I got home, the suit was a mess. There was blood; I could hard­ly climb the stairs. And when I did, I found myself in my daughter’s room.

I lay down.

Then my wife was beside the bed.

 

We took a cab to the hos­pi­tal; it all hap­pened fast. There was blood, of course, but not that much. And when it was over, the nurse turned to me. There was some­thing in her arms. She held it up.

And I looked at her, and behind the mask, she smiled.

And I took the bun­dle in my arms.

And my wife said from the bed, you’re a father now.

And a voice whis­pered, keep her free from harm.

~~

Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles, in a house on top of a hill. His fic­tion has appeared in The New Yorker and Wigleaf, and is upcom­ing in the Antioch Review. His book Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day will be released by Penguin on July 26.