On Easter morning I found the head lodged in the dirt of my backyard, upright and still alive. I didn’t know how firmly rooted it was in the soil, so I treated the new growth gently, careful not to pull up whatever had clung onto the earth. With an old shower loofah that was unraveling at the center, I wet the head with a hose and cleaned the mud off its cheeks. I took care under its eyes, the crannies between a sniffling nose, its giant ears. Soothed by the touch, its mouth sealed into a familiar smile. It said, “I’d know that loofah anywhere. You once bathed me in your apartment with it, after I pissed myself drinking.”

I washed the rest of the head’s face, revealing not a risen Messiah, a long-dead celebrity, or a former lover, but an ex-friend. He wasn’t just any former friend. He used to be the close kind, one of those who knew you in such a way, they could track you anywhere, anyhow. I’d committed to the schism—from that first studio apartment, my major city, drinking ourselves unconscious on the weekends—with a move to a small town further upstate. While other towns could claim quarterly UFO sightings, or regional cryptids, this town made no such promises. Farmers’ market every Sunday, said a brochure I found at city hall. Biggest producers of fruit leather in the northeast. It all sounded quaint to me. With my savings, I put down money on a fixer-upper on a block where the neighbors claimed fruit trees rose out of every lawn. Someone from an online marketplace sold me a cheap sedan that I thought about driving, alone, to the movies, the supermarket, the two-in-one salon where they did hair and manicures. I decided it was my favorite salon, better than the city ones, for no one ever said a word about the sorry state of my picked-at scalp.

But here he was now, rooted deep in my land, demanding all my solitude for his care.

“Don’t leave!” he begged. “I can’t do it without you!”

I shut the back door behind me, bringing my fingernails to my own head. Without realizing at first, I picked at the scabs on my scalp, giving into the comfort of excavation.

From behind the grid of the window screen, the faraway head looked unreal, pixelated. The old memory of him, a weed. He opened his mouth and screamed. He screamed all of that Easter Sunday, face blooming pink as if it’d just come out of the womb.

My next-door neighbor, Hannah, knocked at my door in a silk robe, low cut, perhaps on the verge of opening. “Oh, girl,” she started, bypassing any kind of introduction. She told me she could see the head from her second-floor bathroom, and certainly hear his shrieking, but Hannah didn’t seem angry about the noise luckily, although it was close to two in the morning.

“He’s probably going through growing pains,” she further explained, as she handed me a bottle of melatonin from up her wide sleeve. “Just give him some of that, and he’ll be asleep in no time. Oh, but just be sure to wrap it in a piece of ham or something. Or better yet, fix him something to eat and feed it to him that way.”

Hannah came inside, where she immediately made her way to the kitchen. She asked me what my ex-friend liked to eat. “You see, my girlfriend was the pickiest eater,” she said. “She only liked pepperoni pizza, so I always had to go and get her a pie after work. But the food was so heavy on the grease, she didn’t even need the melatonin! So when you net things out, it actually didn’t cost that much to take care of her.”

I had a lot of loose things to eat in my refrigerator, but certainly nothing my ex-friend would care for if I didn’t repurpose them into some singular meal. He always liked when I cooked for him. Picking up a carton of hardened takeout rice, I figured I could re-fry it with canola oil, add some color with a scrambled egg. Hannah, not shy about opening my drawers and finding the knives, offered to cut up some cold cut ham.

“Huh,” I said, as the smell of grease rose from the stove.

“What?” Hannah asked.

“I can’t remember the last time I cooked myself a proper meal.”

I rummaged through the browned fruit in my fridge, retrieving an unused bunch of green onion stalks. He always liked a good garnish. All I had to do was cut off the rotten ends.

“It’s good this guy likes your cooking,” Hannah said, as she helped me turn off the exhaust fan, kill the stove. “My girlfriend always called mine shit. Funny that she only eats cow manure now. I bet she misses the day she used to hover over me at the stove.”

Laying out two melatonin pills on the cutting board, she crushed them up with the blunted handle of the knife. We mixed this in together with the green onions.

“He’ll like that I tried,” I said, more to myself than anyone. I just wanted him to stop screaming.

We went outside and the automatic light flashed on, alert to our presence. Hannah knelt down next to me and said that my guy, whatever my guy meant, looked like a keeper. “Good face,” she said, even though his mouth was agape and his tongue was sticking out. He was panting between screams. He must have been exhausted, but I resolved to slide the guilt like rainwater off plastic.

“You gotta spoon-feed it to him,” Hannah said, doing her best to raise her voice over the head’s.
She then passed me a metal spoon she must’ve dug out from one of the kitchen drawers, which I didn’t take.

“Come on,” she said. “I know it’s weird, but it’ll all be good if your tree’s strong.”


Hannah trudged over to the other side of my yard, where she waved her arm towards the automatic light of her own porch next door, triggering the sensor. She pointed out the tree growing in her yard. It wasn’t a big tree by any means, but you could tell it had outgrown its support stakes, on the way to standing on its own.

“She hasn’t given me anything yet,” she said, “but I’m sure she’ll bear fruit this fall. Hell, my mom has a whole orchard full of her lovers, down in the south. All the harvest she can eat.”

I liked the idea of fruit, but I knew nothing about growing trees. I just assumed that forests grew them with no other reason than despite. Regardless, I couldn’t let the head go hungry, so I took the spoon and sat down in the dirt, cradling the head’s chin under my hand. “Eat,” I said. He stopped his screaming to chew. It reminded me of the times I used to guide him to the nearest halal cart I could find at three in the morning. After drunkenly yelling in the street, he would shut up and be so grateful for it, as if he’d never eaten before. Then, in the morning, he would buy me drip black coffee from the nearest café while I was still in bed and say, “I got you, the next time we go out.” He would never remember the creamer.

He was indignant in his nourishment now. “See?” he even said, cheek covered in rice bits. “I told you, I’m no good without you.”

Aided by the melatonin, the summer heat lulled the head to sleep. It was too early in the season for any fruit to bloom, according to Hannah. Before any chance at harvest, we went back to our own houses and dreamed that good things might grow out of the dirt.

“Believe it or not, he can still eat you out,” Hannah said to me one afternoon. “It’s not the easiest thing, but if you squat right over him in the dirt, it’s almost the same as sitting on his face. I used to do that all the time when my girlfriend still had a human head. Just wear a long dress with a flowing skirt, and you’ll have yourself a Phantom of the Opera. You know, the lover behind the curtain.”

She pressed another blood orange into her juicer. We each got a bag from Mrs. Johansson down the block, whose orange tree gave her fruit year-round, even in the winter. Hers was an older tree, tall and faceless. Even though Mrs. Johansson’s husband was a philanderer, a gambler, and a perennial liar in the flesh, he was nothing but committed once his skull burst open like a seed growing out of its original casing. Everyone celebrated that day, I was told. The tree grew big and strong in Mrs. Johansson’s backyard, and the rest of the neighborhood, blessed with these blood oranges, would simply drink the juice of someone else’s golden years.

Hannah spit out the extra white citrus pith into the sink. The juicer, a gift from her girlfriend, was apparently on the fritz. “Old heads like Mrs. Johansson’s don’t do oral. What’s juice without a little pulp, you know what I’m saying?” She fished her teeth with her tongue, making light smacking sounds that resembled kisses. “I mean, what about your guy?”

“He wasn’t my guy.”

“Then what was he?”

As I gulped down my juice, I stared at the triangle of bare chest that wasn’t covered by Hannah’s silk robe; the stretch marks on her décolletage; the small shift of her neck upon swallowing the juice. She had rollers in her hair. I decided that if she could be so comfortable with me all undone with shit in her teeth and talk of oral sex, I could be, too. I could be as open as a robe about to fall open.

“He was just a friend,” I said. “Truly.”

“Just a friend?” Hannah asked, more concerned with the loose roller in her hair than anything else. “No pulp? Not even once?”

I looked for pith between my teeth to fish out, though I knew there’d be none.

“No, not even once.”

For dinner, I made the head a bowl of macaroni and cheese, sans the melatonin pills. I needed him awake so we could talk. The head was happy, no doubt, as if instant powdered cheese had anything to do with love. He ate and ate and ate. Half a pot in, and worried he might fall asleep from fullness, I cut him off. My care only had to be adequate, I figured, and not something worthy of canonization.

Out of habit, I picked the dried cheese powder off his cheek. Even with my fussing, he still began to nod off.

“Listen to me.” I snapped my hands in front of his face to revive his attention. “This isn’t going to be like before.”

“You always made the best mac and cheese,” the head said, already half-sunk in a dream. “It’s otherworldly.”

“You’re not listening.”

“The best thing was the smell in our kitchen when you were cooking. I miss that. All this air—it’s not like the city. It’s too fresh out here, too open. Your cooking has no smell anymore.”

I laid down on my stomach, bringing my hands to his face, my forehead to his. “Please.” But that was my mistake. I should have never said please. Please was kind. I didn’t want to be kind. Hands on his face, I thought about twisting his head like hitmen did to their victims in action thrillers. I could sit on his face not for pleasure but with an intent to asphyxiate.

He turned in place, kissing my hand with what he could reach. Using his teeth to catch one of my fingers in his mouth, he traced the rim of a short fingernail with his tongue. He did not bite down hard. For a moment, I wondered if I could live with this gentle teething.

“You always did like them short,” he said, when I removed my hand from the inside of him. He glanced up towards the crown of my head. “And there? You still candied up there?”

I was still close enough to kill him. It was one way to keep the hands busy. But the head sighed, knowing where I’d lay my hands later. If some people gave head and others bore fruit, others followed me out of the city and into new towns, reminding me of all my unbreakable habits.

The head used to pay my rent. Or rather, he let me live in his studio apartment in the city, free of charge, where I was content to sleep next to him in a bed that was not for making love. I’d talk of pretty women as I attended a hot skillet of leftovers, while he spoke of men as he wiped the shaving cream off with my only shower loofah. But since neither of us were comfortable enough to go after the people we wanted to go after, we found solace by sitting together against the headboard and letting old movies play in the background. I would lay my head on his lap and tuck myself against his stomach. In return, he’d card his hands through my long hair, pulling out monstrous pieces of dandruff.

One night, he leaned over, scrutinizing my head more than usual. Lodged in the naked borderline of scalp was something he called candied blood. He managed to find it even in the low glow of the television. The small wound was the size of a baby tooth, just beginning to dry, still too raw to pick, so when I did, god knows when, I must have left a small comet trail of blood.

“You’re bleeding again,” he said, a whisper. He pinched me on the cheek, to reprimand me, for the monstrous dandruff pieces were not dandruff but scabs, healed enough to pick without making myself bleed. It was practice for the days we’d be intimate with others. We had to get used to laying ourselves bare.

“Oh, there’s blood?” I asked. My fingernails knew everything. I sat up, naked, looking for my clothes. Laying on his lap, I did not realize the thin separation between my head and his softened groin, made possible by his cotton briefs. His eyes glazed over at my bare chest. Nice tits, I’d been told since puberty, by the men who did want me in that way. Men who loved breasts. Women. Earlier in the night, when we tried to have sex, I had flinched and he tried to make a joke of it: “ah yes,” he said, “there goes your nonexistent ass.”

This had made me laugh, genuinely, and maybe that’s why I’d been comfortable enough to yank the clothes off my body just an hour before. It was his idea—that if we were so good together, living like this, we could be good together. I’d closed my eyes, even if he was barely visible in the darkness, as if this would relieve me of having to see him naked. We tried kissing—which was fine, we’d done that a few times drunk—before he mouthed fake sweet nothings down the trail of my stomach and between my thighs. “Baby,” he said, unserious, “apple of my eye.” Flirting with my pubic bone, he laugh-screamed as his tongue reached inside me.

“It’s you!” he said. “I can’t when it’s you!”

“It’s fine,” I said.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Really. No one else is going to have a party story like ours.”

“And just what would we tell people?” he asked.

“Well, you can hold me by the waist, present me to a group of strangers, and say, look at this beautiful, spectacular girl. She looks like my wife, doesn’t she? Well she isn’t, she’s closer than that, and no one has to understand it.”

Even though he’d probably never tell this story to anyone, he seemed relieved.

“Good,” he said, dismissing the whole thing by way of an accompanying sigh. When he asked where his favorite hair comb was, I told him he last left it on the bathroom counter. I knew where everything was, even offered him the hair gel if he needed it. He said, “good” another time, yanking on his briefs and finding his way to the toilet. “We’re so good.” On his way to the toilet, he added, “You know, a guy from work I know is having a going-away thing uptown.”

“So, you do want to go out tonight?”

“It was all your talk of parties.” He didn’t shut the bathroom door, so I could still hear the thunk of a toilet seat and the rush of a bodily stream.

I looked up at his ceiling. It was like a sky without stars. Reaching up toward the darkness, I dug a blunt fingernail into my scalp instead. I picked, if only to touch the way I wanted to be touched.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll go where you go.”

Weeks later, Hannah asked if I wanted to go to the lake with her to tan. The air had gone sweet with traces of an early summer, and it was all very tempting except that the lake was three hours each way by car. I didn’t know if it was a good idea, since I had to keep the head fed. But Hannah assured me that all I had to do was give him a hearty breakfast, protein-heavy, so he would be too full to have lunch. “We’ll be back in no time for dinner,” she said. “He’ll manage on his own.”

I did need some down time, after another weekend of meal-prepping all the head’s favorites. He wouldn’t starve with a fridge full of food. So, I told him the next morning: I’m leaving in a bit. I’ll be missing lunch. Eat up now.

“You can’t go,” he said. “I’ll die.”

“You won’t die.”

“I will. Do you want to know how I know?”

I stuck a fork into a plate full of breakfast sausages. “Shoot.”

“The morning you left, I didn’t eat the whole day. My body felt all kinds of wrong, like it knew you’d gone for good. And when I found out you changed your number completely, I thought—how will I get to you now? What’s going to happen without you?” He took a deep breath. “So I prayed for a way to find you again. I would go to sleep hungry. Fasted. And then, one day, it happened. I woke up to the smell of dirt. Woke up feeling the sun on my face. I saw you from the door and knew we could never be apart. It was a sign. Without you, I’ll go hungry.”

I fed him the rest of his breakfast. “I won’t be gone long,” I said, as if to appease him. “I’ll just be a few hours away.”

“That’s too far,” he told me. “It’s all too far.”

Hannah called me from up the driveway, where we got into my sedan and drove off. I savored hanging my arm out the window like carefree people do in car ads. Hannah applauded me for backing into the parking spot at the lake, all in one swinging motion at the wheel.

“That was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” she even said, which I knew would feed me more than the picnic basket she packed. I followed her to the shore where we drank beer and read our magazines on neighboring towels. We waded into the muddy water, never going past our ankles. Dancing to the raggedy sound of her cheap Bluetooth radio, twirling until we were dizzy, I mourned the years I could have done this with other girls.

During the day, Hannah was insistent on her laughter, like she was wringing all of it from her body. But by the end of the day she was no longer forcing giggles to my most inane jokes, or singing songs she proclaimed she’d remembered suddenly from some past good time. As I got back into the driver’s seat to take us back home, she had her knees up as she sat in her car seat. She sipped from another beer, two cans still at her feet. She hadn’t been without one in her hands all day.

“It’s actually our anniversary today,” she confessed, her head glued to the car window as we made our way back home. “My girlfriend and I used to go to the lake to celebrate.”

Driving with one hand on the wheel, I let my hand drift to my head with the other.

“Is that why I’m here then?” I asked. “To…”

“No, oh god no, hun. You know I love you,” Hannah said, reaching over to graze a shoulder.

“Love?” I asked.

Hannah bowed her head as if to say, no, not in that way.

“She’s going to drop fruit any day now,” Hannah swore, but I’d secretly hoped we could both be free from what grew on us. With my foot on the gas, I asked myself those prickling questions: did you imagine me as her, for those few hours? Is she always ripe in your mind?

I realized that I hadn’t thought about the head since breakfast.

“Slow down,” Hannah said, her voice rising with the steady arrow of the pedometer. “We’re gonna crash. Why are you in such a hurry?”

At home, he was probably wailing for the whole neighborhood to hear, waiting to be fed. I’d starved him. He’d die without me. My foot weighed down on the gas pedal. As I went twenty over the speed limit, Hannah clung onto her seat. At thirty, she closed her eyes the rest of the way, as if the thoughts of her own tree could bring her all the way home.

“You’re fucked,” Hannah yelled. “Fucking fucked.”

I ran reds on local roads. Turned sharp. Throwing the car into park in my driveway, I heard the faint sound of Hannah retching in her front yard. I ran straight into my house, and then the kitchen. Pulling the drawer right out of the cabinet, utensils spilling all over the floor, I scrambled for a spoon, a box of macaroni from the fridge. Running into the backyard where the head’s eyes were closed and limp to the side. I sat down in front of him, smacking him on the cheek, begging him to wake up. There was no breath under his nose.

“I’m sorry,” I pleaded, prying his mouth open, shoving in the macaroni. “I’m sorry for leaving.”

His eyes suddenly popped open. He spat macaroni and saliva out all over my face, cursing me and my mother and my existence. This only reminded me of the times I used to help him home from the bars and parties and he was belligerently drunk. You fucking bitch, he used to say to me, in ways I’d blame the alcohol on. Now it was “I hope you rot, I hope you fucking rot.”

I sat there with the half-empty container. Again the thought came to me: that I could kill him, put him out of his misery, but my hand remained gripped around the spoon as if all I could do was keep feeding him. In the darkness, he held words from me as if all I deserved was a cold serving of silence. The motion-activated light in the backyard turned off when I didn’t move for a while, as if I didn’t have enough of a self to register.

“When I become a tree,” he continued, “I’ll only give you lemons. Crabapples. Plums as hard as stone. It’ll all taste like dirt. Better yet, anything you eat from me will burn your insides, esophagus to stomach.”

I imagined dying by way of eating his bad fruit. It was a dire thought, but worse yet was imagining myself buried in the patch of dirt next to him. Though I knew this town had a cemetery like any other place, and that in dying I’d probably be as far from him as I’d ever been in my life in that it would be over, I realized that my last thought might amount to something like, who will feed him now, and that some passing, desperate thought of mine might offer up my own body and decay in the honor of his own nourishment. With my dying words, I’d vow to become a part of him. And he would really grow roots then, he’d be too smug and victorious to die, because the two of us would be together and would remain together, even if it just meant being the gloss of his leaves. Together we would continue to make all sorts of rotten fruit.

I took the spoon and flung some dirt away from the base of his neck. It felt good to unearth. To dig. There was no telling what I’d find under the topsoil. Soon I switched to my hands, clawing with the primacy of escape.

Hannah came to the back, making her way through my backyard gate, triggering both of our backyard lights. “What are you doing?” she cried, upon seeing the dirt in my hands. “You’ll kill him.”

“You’ll kill me!” the head echoed.

I kept digging. Where I was once unsure of how delicate his root systems were, I told myself there must have been a person still growing under the surface. I dug and dug and dug.

Hannah, more aggrieved than I’d ever seen her, tugged my arm nearly out of its socket.

“Hannah,” I said. “If you don’t let go, I’ll get an ax from the hardware store and cut her down.”

“You wouldn’t.”

I looked toward her yard. Her tree stood small under the harsh exposure of light, its shadow shorter than I expected. It would have been such an easy thing to take down, I thought, maybe just a few blows to the trunk. Hannah would say she’s strong, though. A provider. I wanted to ask how long she thought its shadow looked to her.

“Don’t do this,” Hannah said, her voice already at the volume of someone at a distance. “It can still be fixed, whatever it is you have.”

But she stepped away, as if she knew she had somewhere to return, back behind the fence. She locked her gates behind her.

I just kept digging until I struck not a tangle of roots, or rock. In my palm was a shoulder, as solid as the day I used to lean against him. There was a whole body under there. All that was left was to unpack the earth.

By the morning, the hole I’d made was the size of a well. We sat together at the bottom of it, covered in dirt, knees drawn up to our own bodies.

“I came all this way for you,” he said to me, but I did not want to try to uncover the meaning of the trees on our block. Some trees were ex-husbands, while others were colleagues with vendettas. You had aggrieved cousins and adoring girlfriends and jealous fans, all boring, different kinds of fruit. If it was divine intervention, a miracle, a plague on all our houses, these were the things we had to deal with on our own. Some bushes burned. Some seeds grew into giant beanstalks. If I could help it, I’d have myself an empty lot.

“The only reason I found you that morning was because I was trying to throw something out in the garbage. It was the loofah,” I said. “I realized it was the only thing I kept from the apartment, and I wanted it gone. I wanted you gone. But then I cleaned you off and thought, well, this is what happens when you don’t leave with a goodbye. It turns into something else.”

“You could’ve killed me,” he said.

“Same to you,” I said back.

He found the strength to stand. Slowly, he remembered how to walk, how to claw, how to make his way out of the hole on his own, gingerly, joints cracking. I climbed out quickly behind him.

“I’m filthy,” he said. “Could you help me wash up?”

Inside, he searched for the bathroom upstairs and kept the door open, sitting with his knees up in the bathtub basin as he turned the faucet. He looked at me, expectant, like I might sit on the edge and help lather his hair with shampoo. I remembered doing that once, post-party, feeling like someone who really understood love. This time, I said: “It’s best if you take a shower. It’s quicker.”

He looked at me with wide eyes. I imagined how they burned, staring right at me, but I closed the bathroom door behind him. The shower rattled on. I laid out a pair of sweats for him in the next room, which would be too small, but clothes, nonetheless. He microwaved what was left of the meal-prepped food and accepted the wad of hundred dollar bills I kept in my dresser.

“I’ll get you next time,” he said as always.

“No need,” I told him.

He lingered at the door, where his line of vision fell on my open hands. With wobbly legs, he leaned into me in the embrace, as if the pressure of his weight could finally make us into one person. But our day was ending. We parted as the sun vanished behind the branches, the houses, the trees still waiting to make their first fruit of the season. The light of the cab, lemon-yellow, flicked off as it made it to the end of the road.

I stood there on my porch, still covered in dirt. Placing my hand in my hair, I knew some new grime had clung to me. I hooked my finger in the usual formation, ready to scratch, to pick, until it was gone.

Instead my palm unfurled against the world of my head, hoping to keep open at every turn of some new earth.

A Fish is a Fish is a Fish

Here’s what really happened: I was supposed to be a twin but then I ate her. It. Absorbed it, for nutrients, in like the first trimester.

Plastic Bag

More and more men had been coming into the store and asking for plastic bags.