Len Kuntz

Life Is an Arboretum

Fronds are breaking through the sheets of ice on your face as your cellphone buzzes for the twelfth time during dinner.

You are a busy lady. Important. An attorney to boot.

Now you are also desired. Someone wants to fuck you very badly.

His name is Roland. He doesn’t seem your type. He’s short and stiff, a rigid robot monkey, as if his bones will not sway. I’ve seen him walking. It would be comical if he were someone I didn’t know.

You punch the keyboard on your phone while your cheeks turn cotton candy pink. Your eyes whirl like two drill bits doing hard work as your tongue actually sweeps over your lower lip, making it glisten.

Happy times for you.

My best friend is a dullard but a good listener. He’s fond of platitudes. “It takes two to tango,” he told me when I first shared what was happening.

Today he said, “It is what it is.”

He said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

He said, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”

He said, “I bet your dick is bigger.”

He said, “At least you’re not homeless.”

He said, “Things would be better if you were more positive.”

This last one is what I focus on as gravy steams the underside of my chin, the dirt smell of shitake mushrooms slaking up my nostrils. “I really like the way you’ve started doing your hair,” I say. “It suits you.”

Your eyes come up from the phone, skittish, with you giggling. “What was that?”

“Your clients must be comedians,” I say, not feeling positive anymore.

Your mouth twists while your nose turns into a hatchet made of flesh.

You sigh and tell me, “Well, it’s just nice to be happy once in a while.”

You sling darts like this all the time now because I am a blow-up clown made of thin plastic. Air hisses out of my ears and pores. I am leaking so much that my friend greeted me with, “Hey, Schecky, you get any skinnier, somebody’s going to make shoelaces out of you.”

Here comes another text.

Roland is feeling very randy.

He wants to thrust those hard bones over you, into you, through you, and maybe that’s something you want because I see how your hair has become a garden replete with milk-white tulips, your earlobes fuchsia beets that have been gently plucked from the earth and rinsed with care, your dimpled chin a gleaming yellow lemon rind.

Other (so-called) advice my friend gave me:

“This is just a bump in the road.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“There is someone somewhere worse off than you.”

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

With my fork, I break the moat I’ve made of my mashed potatoes. I watch the sludgy gray gravy pool over the rim of my plate. The gravy becomes a stampeding river that washes across the dining room table and slides down the sides onto the floor, some splattering on my pants.

When you say, “You’re making a mess,” I don’t know whether to chuckle or scream.


In bed, near midnight, I hear you slink off the mattress. The bathroom light shoots a stripe across the bottom of the door. It’s more texting, or maybe sexting, or perhaps a combination of both.

I hear my friend’s voice again:

“You don’t need people like that in your life.”

“Life is short.”

“Life is a bitch.”

“Life is easy, comedy’s hard.”

I watch the moon wink at me as clouds slog through a bruised-blue sky. I rise, dress, and leave without closing the front door.

I drive not knowing where I’m going. I roll down the car windows. The air smells like an arboretum, verdant and lush: a place where things grow or die, where they’re uprooted or left alone, a place with fertile soil that can be tilled and renewed.

I turn up the radio, singing as loud as I can, even though I don’t know any of the words.


Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans. His story collection, The Dark Sunshine, debuted last year from Connotation Press. You can find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.