We used to be a people of the land, and you think that those were better days. A man once told you that our prisons are full now because we do not beat children anymore. You asked him, What has been done to you? and he slapped you upside your head. His hand left imprints in your soft skull, like children’s toes in the sand. This man could easily have been your father. It is as likely as anything. It is even more likely than so many things you know to have happened.
You shave the handprint bald every morning, riding the grooves, careful not to nick the skin-topped ridges he left behind. They run in rows like tilled soil. You think of planting baby corn, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes there, sowing them deep between the soft troughs of scalp. Then you could be self-sufficient. Then you could produce to survive like truer nature.
You meet a woman who is taller than you and made of firmer stuff. Her skin smells of rosemary and white sage. She puts her hand on your head, in your head marks. She holds it there when you make love. It fits like fate or something like fate, but darker. You tell her of your vegetable garden, argue the finer points of sustainability, of human obligation. She tells you it is not possible. Her father was a farmer, and horticulture is a delicate science. The ridges on your head are pointed and ill-suited for plant life. You try to hate her, but you cannot make it real. You can never make anything real.
You lie on your side in the shower and your grooves fill like gutters. The warm water flows over, soaks into your skin, softens your head like a heart forgiving or a potato. You put the razor to the ridges, and this time you go for blood. You whittle away at skin and bone, turning them smooth. The shavings collect around the drain. You think of the man who hit you, how he peeled his fingers from your head the way a child might from a lump of putty, proud of his work. Everybody is finding ways to shout, I was here, to leave an impression for the archaeologists. When you were younger, you carved your initials into birch bark. The tree was uprooted in spring to make room for a sturdier tree.
You make several small incisions in each new, smooth mound. You push seeds into the slits, working them under the skin and sealing them inside with nylon thread. You bring yourself to your love, show her your handiwork, call it skilled labor. She kisses you and kisses you, runs her hand over your hilling. She says, This is what it means to be a man. She takes you to your bed, but her fingers do not fit, do not fill you anymore. You cry into the pillow, fearing that you have unaligned the stars. She cuts her losses, leaves you.
You know as well as anyone that the world is crawling with cancers. There is growing change for the worse or for progress. The roots of your seeds channel deep. They divide and divide and stretch into the fertile material of your brain. You feel them nesting, teasing you with migraines and swimming worms of dark in your eyes. The prognosis becomes clear.
You dig a hole in your backyard. Your grip on the shovel is more certain than anything you have ever known. Infant seedlings are just sprouting from your skin. They are as green as you have always hoped. You lay yourself down in the dirt. The earth receives you like a mother welcoming her child back into her womb. Somewhere a young boy is drawing on a wall with permanent marker. His father will beat him to teach him about good behavior. Sprigs of rosemary and white sage grow up toward the sky. They flower into purple. They feel the sun in ways you never could.
Maxwell Deyo attended the University of North Florida, where he studied English and Creative Writing. He is the recipient of UNF’s annual Wainwright Award for Fiction Writing, and his recent work is featured in The Airgonaut and Every Pigeon. When not working or writing, Maxwell can be found watching Indonesian martial arts films with his cat, Coraline.