I dream of hands in a tree. One of the hands has a stab wound in the wrist and it holds a pink Christmas cactus. The cactus grows wild through the tree branches and climbs like another kind of plant, something invasive, a plant that chokes the life out of its host. The hand is pale and stiff with a blue tinge around the wound and dried purple blood like pollen inside. The tour guide of my brain says the hand came from Vietnam. The dream of the previous night came from Korea, where my mother told me my grandfather had gone to die. But he wasn’t dead. He was back in his old home again and filling mixing bowls full of snack cakes and apples. The chiming clock with its dry ticks was back in place on the mantle. The refrigerator was white again and stocked with Velveeta boxes and tubs of butter. There were tomatoes on the windowsill and thorns on the lemon tree and all the blue-gray cats had wandered down from the woods and back into the yard. The doves returned to their cages, cooing into wings wet from who knew where. The money tree loaded up again with flat, papery coins, and my grandfather filled a vase with its branches which he placed on the kitchen table. I was a child again worried about all the tapeworms that came from the ground to lie in white lengths across the walkway. I’d stepped on them when my father told me not to. The house was small and full again. And yellow. Rooms burst with aunts, uncles, cousins. And the books stood on the shelves, all spines blue and green, all pages empty of pictures. The bathroom filled with cans of men’s hairspray and bottles of mouthwash. I could hear the hollow sound of boots and heels on the wood floors, the swish of the AC coming on, my mother’s voice in the living room. I bit my nails and the faces of them slipped from my fingers and into my mouth.
Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s stories and poems have appeared in New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, Nano Fiction, Glimmer Train, The Florida Review, Appalachian Heritage and others. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband, son, and daughter.