A BED OF NETTLES
fiction by Jade Wallace
A BED OF NETTLES
I dug my toe into the slush outside a downtown café while the sun sank wearily to the ground. I expected to be waiting for a while. My last dates had all been late. I was surprised when Don arrived on time and better-looking than I remembered.
“Hi Keiran,” he said, as though we’d met a dozen times before.
“Hello. You must be Don.” I briefly considered offering him my hand to shake. “Do you want to go inside?”
“Not really,” he grinned. “Coffee is okay, but I’d rather hold your hand and walk through the falling snow.”
“It isn’t snowing.”
“It will be.”
He led the way through side streets to a park full of trembling aspens. He hadn’t taken my hand, so I tentatively reached for his. He opened his fingers at my touch but his hand hung limply in mine. We walked the paths of the park past other couples with twined arms and laughing teeth that were as white as the snow that had begun to drift down from the dark sky.
“See,” he said, stopping and turning his eyes upward. “I told you the stars would fall.”
I paused beside him and clung harder to his warm, dry palm. It felt quietly thrilling, like whispering a secret I’d kept for years. He didn’t say anything or look at me for several minutes. Finally, he turned to study the planes of my face. He reached one palm out to hold the bony jut of my hip, which sparked hot and bright as if his hands had been made of flint.
Don was lying on his back, wrist resting against his forehead, breathing fast, staring fixedly at the ceiling.
“I’m not going to do it if you don’t like it,” he told me.
“It would have been fine if you were gentler,” I said.
“Everything I do hurts you. You act like I’m being rough; I think you just don’t want me to touch you.”
It seemed useless to counter with a simplistic I do want you to touch me, so I rolled over and didn’t say anything. After a few minutes, he got up and left the room. Maybe he would sleep on the couch. Maybe he would wait for me to fall asleep and come back to bed. Wherever he slept, I knew he would be here in the morning.
I woke up just after sunrise. When I walked through the living room on my way to the kitchen for breakfast, I found Don sleeping on the couch. I shook him awake.
“Our shift starts in half an hour,” I said. He mumbled incoherently.
Forty minutes later, we started our shift at the community garden. The day was already hazy with heat. I was working in the tomato plot. Don was a few feet away tending to the peppers.
I reached down and pulled out a small, spade-leafed plant. I wasn’t sure what it was, I just knew it wasn’t a tomato vine. I threw it into a pile behind us. I was about to reach for another weed when I felt pain sear slowly across my hand.
“I think that plant just bit me!” I said indignantly.
“Which one?” Don asked. I pointed to the plant. He sauntered over to the pile to look at it. “That’s stinging nettle. Don’t you recognize it?”
“You’ll be fine,” he said. “It will stop hurting soon.”
Hundred and Fiftieth Date
Don and I were lying on our sides in my bed. I was sulking. He was pressed up close against my back, lips dusting my ear. His upper hand was resting on my hip. I wanted him to caress me, but I wanted it to feel like someone else. He moved his hand onto my arm and I twitched.
“Nettle,” I murmured.
“What did you say?” He asked. His hand was scraping up and down my forearm.
“Your hands feel like stinging nettle sometimes.” I didn’t mean to be so sharp, but I was distracted by my skin bristling under his insensitive palm.
“Yes,” he said. “Of course they do.”
Was he being sarcastic? I was confused by his answer and could not think of how to reply. He held his hand up suddenly in front of my face.
“Haven’t you ever looked closely at them?” He said incredulously. Now even more confused, I hesitantly turned on the lamp beside the bed and held his hand out under it. The light reflected off of the thin, barbed hairs densely populating his palm. I jerked my head around to stare at him. He met my eyes with a steady, earnest gaze and said,
“I grew them for you.”