Getting Anything to Grow

by Sonia Feigelson

Where the ring rung one finger, Thea went green, and though she said it was just good old fashioned copper poisoning, the truth was in her worry lines. Down there at the base, meat had gone bad. It was the sort of sore seeing we were always doing, but pretending we hadn’t done. Some someone rearranged by birth defect—poorly attractive and magnetic. This spongy lump thrusting out of dog fur. Anything unfit, anything ugly, anything anywhere that had some give. And sometimes at night, she would just pick at it or bite it or pinch it—anything affective. Anything to aid along the feeling that this dyeing was participatory not parasitic. She could be a part of the green when the green meant an old was falling off!

She didn’t want to think of Stan but she thought of Stan anyway. What if greening was what he said so often? We rotted and defuncted into adulthood. We cried alone at home, and told no one. We hoarded ourselves, but not because we were precious. We weren’t precious anymore.

Thea liked him so much at twenty-one. In Intro to Sociology, he cut through her like she was fuck-all, and not one look. Loving him was getting a prize, because could you ever get him to pay attention to anything? A girl? This girl? Some girl. Until she was seen, she wasn’t. She hated some of the shit he pulled, but who said accord was what made you want?

His forty-two was her twenty-one. It was a joke she made to Mom later, crosslegged over blues away tea: that her age was what kept them apart. Mom wanted to know if there was something delayed in him. How come, Mom wanted to know, he couldn’t pick on someone his own size? Mom knew, more than anyone, how small Thea was, but Stan got how to make her big.

“Who wouldn’t be in love with my daughter?” Mom boasted of her daughter to her daughter. Her daughter cringed from the same thing she craved: the spare pleasure of appreciation.

“Well, does he appreciate you?” Mom said. “He’d better thank God for finding the fountain of youth.”

Stan didn’t thank God because Stan didn’t believe in God. Thea didn’t know how to believe in God, but she believed in Mom. Mom knew how to believe simultaneously; Mom believed in God and Mom believed in Mom too.

Meanwhile, the green greened on got greener grew out or into bone. It got so that when Stan talked about Polacks or Puerto Ricans or when he ripped Mom’s God and God’s Mom, she could hardly bear his thrust without stepping out. Poor Thea, Thea told Thea. She had so much going for her before she fell in love.

Ought she to go to a doctor, and if she ought to go to a doctor, then what kind of doctor? Marriage counselor cum dermatologist. That was the kind of joke Stan would’ve made.

After class before they’d begun, Thea had cozied up to Stan to tell him she liked his particularity but instead ended up coaxing out of him an invitation to drinks. It helped to attribute responsibility to herself.

He taught her and got money, and so there was that. Had it been guessed among others already? The character of their knowingness, the weird idiosyncratic information they seemed to have on one another? How else exactly could she know he didn’t grow hair on his feet?

Stan argued with Stan until Stan arrived at opinion: “I think we should tell the university we’re doing It.” She was humiliated when she broke out in titter, but then he tittered too. “The suggestive It,” he remarked, snorting snot into a napkin. “It bridges gaps for a living. It’s just funny for everyone.”

The night before wedding, Thea left Stan to stay with Mom. She had only one glass of Pinot Grigio. “Do you remember the song you sang at your preschool graduation?” Mom asked, and then: “We feed food to our tummies, so we’ll grow up to have minds.”

Thea washed her glass out in the sink. One palm of Mom’s hands was red from repeated rubbing, fingerpad finagling dead skin out of a whole. “I remember,” Thea said. Thea said: “I’ve got one now.” Mom wasn’t speaking, was busy looking in by looking out. She took a sip of her wine, gnawed absently at a pinky. She twisted neck to Thea. “Well’s running low,” she wanted to know, “Are you planning on washing your hair?”

Another joke was that Thea was more green then than she’d ever be, only not yet stained by a youth that remained unchanged when you set it next to age. People asked about the pairing a lot before they knew Thea up close but after the first intimate spark. “I can’t answer for everyone.” She said. “But what I never understood was the other side. What would old ever want to know about young?”

Stan’s third book was his best received. They took tours of all over on that money, and Thea thought about getting pregnant to celebrate. But then, pregnant was only one way of getting anything to grow inside or out of you.

“What about up?” Mom suggested. “I always thought that was a good direction to grow.” “Stop digging,” Thea told her, but already Mom had died. At the funeral, Thea read from Stan’s collection on death. Old man collected deaths like stamps, she thought. Old man accumulated other people’s lives. It was ugly to be alone in herself, and in the world, and suddenly, sorrowfully, to have no Mom.

In the following, Thea thought a lot about Mom in the bathroom; was that crude if it was also true? What did it mean to Thea that she always angled straight into the first or last stall of a public bathroom? Mom said sometime she thought last was best, but why? And what if there were a colony of people who touched with only the backs of their hands?

Stan thought a lot and said more. Stan said he loved her because she could galvanize. Stan suggested counseling for the greening. Stan said he thought he might have a part in the greening too. Stan had a way with being open to the moment, open to the fad.

“Who told you to take responsibility?” Thea asked, but actually the question wasn’t to Stan, and wasn’t that question. The question was more what had primed Thea to make this choice? What before had built her into this spoilt child who’d done nothing but love?

A secret that was worse was that she wanted Stan. Still, but not always and certainly not all the time. Mom’s Thea told Stan’s Thea to stop pretending she was a more likeable fruit. Was there a way to green backward? Get greener as in go purer? Something about graduation, she thought. Something about finding another direction in which to grow.

It was surprisingly sad to think that Thea’s marriage to Stan wasn’t something you could burn out or off. Somewhere, she had been prepared to bleach her own finger, or to eat it—anything immolative. Anything terminal. Anything about the ends of emotionality, where poles might push us back, or where there was a stop on which we could fall off.

Sonia Feigelson

Sonia Feigelson is a Brooklyn-based writer and actress, as well as Literary Editor at The Whale. Her work can be seen in Extract(s) and is forthcoming from Quaint. She was a 2010 recipient of the Memoir award from Random House Creative Writing Competition, and is currently developing a longer work concerning the alienating legacy of trauma, and the therapeutic and destructive mine field of making narrative out of suffering. She has only ever kept one plant alive.