'Propagating' by Nick Gaudio



That is a sapling, Mother said.

It cannot be

your biological father.

I should know.

I buried the man, she said.

I shoveled this plot out myself—

you had barely been conceived.

She told us this one Christmas Eve

as we visited the dead man’s grave.

We circled the sapling,

its single leaf as smooth

as a river-stone.

We took turns holding it.

We visited the sapling

every year at Christmastime.

Eventually Mother named it

Murphy.

We took him home

with us.

She transposed Murphy from our hands

into a porcelain vase.

Murphy grew to cover a defunct

fireplace.

He became a cascading sheath of green,

bespeckled yellow, white, yellow-white.

He grew to the carpet.

He consumed the walls,

the HVAC system.

The foundation became Murphy.

We counted his leaves

in the ten of thousands.

Mother said, over wine:

I enjoy the snap of his vines

as I bend them.

What was this? we wondered.

Mother said: I enjoy his smell.

Oh what there hell.

They listened as we practiced

our piano scales.

They scoffed at our Chopsticks,

Fur Elise,

Moonlight Sonata.

After Polonaise, Mother

— speaking as the couple —

finally said: Okay.

(We listened carefully

to see if we could hear Murphy

whisper his approval.)

One night after prayers,

we snuck to the stairs.

We watched Mother dance

with Murphy whole

groupings of vines

bundled into her arms.

We heard their tinkling,

full-bodied music.

Not long after,

Mother painted her lips a special color.

This is made of pure sunlight, she said.

They were married that next spring.

Theirs was an elaborate ceremony,

full of white lace,

adornments the color of tree pollen.

We wished them luck,

patience, love,

not to get

mealybugs.

We graduated.

We moved out of the mountains.

We took on jobs in distant cities.

We had marriages, children, stories.

We made our own mythos.

Then, one Christmas Eve,

we returned to the old house.

Mother was dying.

She’d moved her bed

to the living room.

I’d like to die beside his

most dense foliage, she said.

We wept.

We resolved in hushed conversation

that we wouldn’t leave

until Things Had

Settled.

For months,

Murphy inhaled the lives

of labored breaths,

our shibboleths.

For that,

he exhaled trace amounts

of useful oxygen.

By the next Christmas Eve,

there was one fewer among us.

We tossed Mother’s sewing machine,

her banana-seated bicycle,

her marriage trowel.

Murphy, for his part,

became a thing

we didn’t deserve.

We ripped him out

by the roots.

We stuffed him in trash bags.

Then, one blue-lit morning,

before we tossed him outside

for the collection day truck,

we sat on the living room floor,

our backs to the bare fireplace.

The piano sat like a totem.

We played tinkling,

mournful music.

We stopped once,

to open the trash bags'

mouths,

so Murphy could have a

listen.



Nick Gaudio is a native West Virginian, a Scorpio, an ENFJ, and a Type 1 on the Ennegram. He holds both an MFA from The University of Michigan and the current record for most near-wins in The New Yorker Caption Contest (at 4). Instead of using his MFA to do any sort of good for the world, Nick has worked as an obituary writer, reporter, newspaper editor, professor, and as the head writer for theCHIVE.com. Most recently, he's sold his soul to the devil.