by Holly Jensen

Benj had to liquidize his food, like a spider. His mother left a pink food processor in the kitchen by the returned–to–sender wedding invitations and the all–natural weight–loss supplements. She also drove him home from the dentist’s, so at least she was good for something. I never got out of the Gardens early, so he didn’t bother asking me. When I got home, he was on the couch, wedged between a pile of torn–up magazines and unsorted recyclables, listing slightly. His face was swollen, and he looked handsome. His head wasn’t normally as fat as his body or as full as his beard, so he looked somewhat evened out. There was a hole in his head or, rather, a new hole. Quite fascinating.

He said, “We’re out of toilet paper.”

“Today was hell. The grapevine’s drawing vinegar flies and the lilies have leaf miners,” I said. “It’s a good thing you can’t eat, because we don’t have any food.”

“Mom put shakes in the fridge.”

“What flavors?”


“Can I have one?”

He just shrugged, then winced, and said, “Oy.” When Benj was in pain, he got Jewier. He tried to slurp cheese out of the can and got orange froth on his beard. Some people said he wasn’t right for me, but as I watched him, I thought, There is nothing in the world wrong with this man. I thought, If only I could express how much I love him.

I told him, “Your beard will keep growing after you die.”

“So you’ve said.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s true.” Even if it wasn’t true for most people, I was certain it was true for Benj, and that his beard would grow on endlessly, curling out of the coffin, weaving through the roots of pine trees. I got us each a shake and tried to think of organic pain relievers and medical help that wouldn’t interfere with his cleanse. I shoved aside my pesticide catalogs from work and sat next to him. I twisted some of his beard between my fingers. I pinched. He spooned strawberry shake into his mouth.

I said, “You still have your shoes on.” I unlaced his sneakers and threw them on top of the stack of newspapers. I slipped off his hoodie, which he sniffed and balled into a pillow.

“I could try to get you a leech from the Gardens pond,” I said. “Not all leeches suck blood, but even the ones that suck blood are kind about it. They won’t hurt you, if you can believe that.”

“I can’t. And I’m not on a tour, okay?”

“The Indians were the first to use leeches as anticoagulants and anesthetics. Plus, you can pop them off like suction cups. But you’d better be gentle, because if you rip them off, they vomit in your wound. Or maggots. Maggots I could find, no problem.”

“I’m not sure I want to talk about maggots right now,” he said through a wad of gauze. He wanted to talk about moving the wedding out of the Gardens and into a temple, which was not even his idea. It was his mother’s.

“Don’t get hysterical,” I said. “In the long run, none of this matters.”

“In the long run, maggots matter.”

“Can I tell you? That’s true.”

Benj tucked clean gauze into his mouth and put on his headphones. What must have sounded full to him reached my ears tinny and clacking.

He took the bedroom that night. I changed out of my khakis and my hiking boots and pulled the collapsible, outdoor chaise lounge from between the bookcase and the game console. It had gotten so I didn’t mind sleeping on it.

The week before, we’d been shopping for favors, examining shot glasses and bottles of bubbles we could personalize. I was discussing ants with him and said, “I mean, if we could only talk to them.”

And he said, “If only I could talk to you.”

And I said, “I wonder what that means.”

Photo: Holly Jensen
Holly Jensen’s work has appeared or is upcoming in PANK, wtf pwm, and Tilt–a–Whirl. She lives in the Midwest.