Alexandra Salerno

     The house had a pointed, skinny frame, like a too-tall man. It was a pus-yellow clapboard, perverse against the snow.
     “Perfect,” Celia said. She smiled wide as a grapefruit slice. My wife had always loved ugly things.
     We moved in just as winter turned to spring. Our first morning thawed the yard and the tips of little green shoots sprang up by the front door.
     “Crocuses,” I said.
     Celia rolled her eyes. “I don’t care about flowers, Steven.” She held a glass of red wine I’d seen full, empty, full, and then empty again.
     At nightfall, the plants disappeared.
     When the realtor dropped by the following day with a wilting grocery store bouquet, I asked about the crocuses.
     “Oh, the garden! The previous owner loved it.”
     “What do you know about the owner?” I asked.
     “An older woman. Died this past year.”
     Celia perked. “Any family?”
     “No. I heard she moved here as a little girl,” the realtor said. “Stayed her whole life.”
     That night I found Celia in the garden.
     “They crawl back under at dark,” she said. She pointed to the black dirt where the crocuses had been.
     “Come inside,” I said. “There’s so many boxes, I don’t know what to do.”
     She peered at the ground. “Me neither.”
     An hour later, I had drunk a fair amount myself when I heard moaning outside. Celia was barefoot in the garden, her empty wine glass turned over in the grass.
     “They want to come up,” she said. She lay on her back in the dirt. The plants sprung fast, like a jumpy time-release video recording. Some flowered in yellow, white or purple. Others lengthened into thin green vines that slipped into Celia’s fingertips under the nail. She moaned again. Green veins stood out beneath her skin. They ran the length of her arms and legs, all the way to her face.
     I kneeled quickly to tear them off. But then Celia began to shrink. She was her tall self at first, then down to four feet, then three, her whole body diminishing. The vines were sucking her dry.
     I stood and shut my eyes. I didn’t want to see her disappear.
     “Steven,” a child’s voice said.
     It was the Celia from old photos: gold bangs cut straight across her forehead, a missing front tooth that gave her a lopsided smile. She was drowning in a stupid poncho and cargo pants.
     “I’m hungry.”
     I brought my wife inside and fixed her a grilled cheese sandwich.
     “Butter the insides, too,” she said. A childhood habit.
     It turned out her memory was bad. We slept in different rooms and she cried often.
     “I want to stay here forever,” she said one night. I’d been reading her a story. She sat up in her bed with her arms folded over the covers.
     The house was still new to me. It held no attachment. She was asking if I too wanted to stay, and I think I did.
     “I’ll need to repack some things,” I said.
     Celia’s crinkled brow loosened with relief. “That’s probably best,” she said.
     I looked down at the book I’d been reading to her. I’d bought it earlier that day in a big box store for the strange thing my wife had become. It was about a little boy who wanted to be an astronaut. On the cover was a cartoon child in space, wearing a plastic helmet that looked like a fishbowl. He had some kind of air-hose attached to his suit, but it dropped off the side of the cover as if it connected to nothing.     
     I see her sometimes, my child wife, when I ride by on my bike or pass the house on the way to the grocery store. When she’s outside she waters the crocuses in a wide, floppy hat. She’d said hi at first, waving with her tiny fingers.
     Now I’m older, she makes no sign that she knows me. I never remarried. I did hear that our realtor died. Celia is still there, still small.
     I try not to walk by the house anymore. But sometimes at night in the summer when the crocuses are open, I can’t help myself.