The Grow House

I bought Lila a can of red paint and she went crazy, scrawling pentagrams on the walls of the kitchen and writing old timey shit like “Death To All Ye Who Enter” everywhere else.

“When can we go back to Chicago?” she asked.

I looked over her handiwork. This house was a perfect place to grow weed—an old Victorian with a washed out driveway in a one cop town where the one cop was fat and did not go anywhere his cruiser could not take him. The wind from the valley covered the hum of the generator; the garbage bags cloaking the windows hid the glow of the grow lights. A shotgun sat next to our air mattress ready to scare off any teenagers who came looking for a thrill.

“One crop,” I told her. “Then we head home.”

Lila showered but she was too angry to shower well. When she came out of the bathroom she still had paint flecks dotting her cheeks and a big chunk of conditioner still matted in her hair. She’d dropped out of art school to come here and I wanted to be considerate about that fact. When we arrived, I set up her easels in the room with the rotted piano. I bought every pad of drawing paper the town’s drug store had.

We couldn’t return to Chicago for a few months. I had a misunderstanding with a wholesaler named Pavel. He said I owed him a bunch of money. I begged to differ. One night I shot one of Pavel’s men in the shoulder when he climbed through the window of our apartment. Lila and I quickly threw our belongings in duffel bags and drove north to this fixer-upper my dead brother Eric had willed to me.

I flopped down next to Lila. She pulled her sleep mask over her eyes, put in her mouth guard to keep her teeth from grinding.

“We’ll look back on this fondly,” I told her, before I stuffed Kleenex into my ears to dampen the rattle of the humidifiers.

By the time I got up the next day Lila was already out in the forest, sketching. She’d left a drawing of me on my pillow. In Chicago, she mostly painted abstracts, but since we’d arrived here she only drew in charcoal and pencil. While I studied today’s picture and the large grey circles she’d drawn under my eyes I heard a floorboard creak in the other room.

“Hello?” I yelled out.

“Hello yourself,” a man grunted back.

I grabbed the shotgun and scrambled behind a dresser. I cocked the gun loudly.

“Recognize that sound?” I yelled out.

“Fuck yes I recognize it,” the voice called back. “Especially since that shotgun used to be mine.”

I ducked down, shifted my head so I could see into the other room through the heating vent. I saw my brother Eric sitting on the couch, skinnier and whiter haired, but absolutely him.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” I asked.

Truth be told, I wasn’t all that surprised to see him. He’d faked his death once before. In the early nineties he’d fallen off a fishing boat and was presumed dead. He’d resurfaced a couple of years later at my mom’s funeral. Two years ago he’d died in an apartment fire. I thought the last time was real—a cop had shown me an evidence bag full of his teeth.

“I’m here to tell you that girl you’re shacked up with is way too young for your stupid ass,” he said.

I got up and walked into the living room. Eric pulled me in for a hug. I wrapped my arms around him. I wasn’t hugging as tightly as he was, but I wasn’t letting go either.

“What the fuck did you do to my place?” he asked, pointing to the insulated tent that housed the seedlings, to the living room wall that I’d sledgehammered to improve ventilation. “This was supposed to be where I retired.”

We found Lila sitting on a stump in the forest.

“No need for introductions,” she told me as I got closer. “I’m the one who let Eric in. We talked about all the exciting places he’s been all over the world while you laid there and snored.”

“Where the hell have you been?” I asked my brother. “Florida?”

“Mostly South America, but all over. New Zealand, a stint in Africa. I got tuberculosis really bad in Senegal—thought I might die for real.”

It was the middle of September, but the cottonwood leaves were already turning gold. I leaned over Lila’s shoulder to see what she’d drawn, but she snapped her sketchbook shut. She was territorial with her art, didn’t like to show anything to anyone until she was finished with it. I was sneaky, someone who liked to see things take their shape; someone who wanted to see all the steps between the beginnings and ends.

“Has my brother ever told you how much you look like Marla?” Eric asked.

Marla was my ex-girlfriend. She’d left me six or seven years ago. There’d been a couple of women in between Marla and Lila, but no one worth remembering.

“Bullshit,” I said. “She looks about as much like Marla as you do.”

Eric pulled out a picture from his wallet and handed it to me. It was a picture of Marla and me at the beach. I remembered that day, bodysurfing and eating tacos. We’d had sex in the back of my truck underneath a blue tarp while Eric fished off the pier.

“Why are you carrying that around?” I asked.

“Found it in my storage space a few weeks ago,” he said. “Stuck it in my wallet to remember better times.”

Lila grabbed the photo from my hand.

“I see a resemblance,” she told me. “Especially around the mouth.”

The three of us drove into town, bought an air mattress for Eric. That afternoon, while I trimmed and watered the plants, Lila made a pitcher of vodka and lemonades.

“Come and join us,” Eric yelled to me. “Quit fussing over those goddamn plants.”

No one ever understood that growing weed was a full time job. They always thought it was simple—just sunlight and water. Unfortunately, there was a bunch of shit to worry about—leaf blight, bugs, fungi—things that could fuck up an entire crop.

“Give me a minute,” I said.

Eric went outside and pulled his truck up near the window, blared the radio so it filled the house. Lila came over and grabbed my hand and spun me around. She pulled me in close and gave me a kiss.

“Your brother definitely helps your cause,” she said.

The next morning Lila left another drawing on my pillow. She’d recreated that picture of Marla and me at the beach. At the bottom of the picture there was a note.

“Went antiquing with Eric,” it said. “Back by noon.”

At noon, they hadn’t returned. I cracked open a bottle of bourbon. By the time they got back, around five, I was wasted. The payload of Eric’s truck was filled with furniture—a dining room table and chairs, an antique radio, a couple of oil paintings.

“We decided to spruce up the place,” Lila told me.

Eric carried in a stack of china, started to scrub them clean.

“Why the fuck does this place need to be spruced?” I asked. “We’re only here another couple of weeks.”

“I might stick around here after you leave,” Eric said. “Strip everything down to the studs, restore this beauty to its former glory.”

While they carried all of the other furniture inside, I kept on drinking. Around dinnertime Lila and I got in a fight. She wanted to go into town and go to the bar and I didn’t.

“We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile,” I snapped. “Not drinking at bars and buying antiques all over the entire fucking countryside.”

Lila grabbed my car keys from the counter and stormed outside. She started my car and bumped down the driveway.

While I watched her go, Eric plugged in the antique radio. There was a loud pop and the dial lit up. He spun through it slowly, trying and find some music or some talk, but there was only static.

“Take my truck and go find her,” he said.

I’d always liked to be right more than I liked to be kind. This was often my failing in my relationships, a thing I knew about myself, a thing that I could put aside for a day or two but something that always sadly, won out.

“She’ll be back when she’s back,” I told my brother.

The next morning, I woke up to Eric and Lila dragging their antiques all around the house. Chattering back and forth about what should go where and why.

I was tending my plants when I heard Eric and Lila drive off. After they left I had lunch at the dining table they’d bought. It was a beautiful, oak, probably from the 1950s. When I finished lunch, I leaned back in one of the chairs and its leg snapped off. I tumbled backward and my head slammed against the floor. I was pissed and I got up and hurled the chair against the wall and then I stomped on it until it was broken into pieces. I chucked the pieces onto the driveway and took a can of lighter fluid and lit the chair on fire. It smelled like dust while it burned, spat old varnish out of its joints.

While it burned, Eric and Lila came rolling up the driveway. There was a rug in the payload of the truck.

“Is it impossible for you to keep a low profile?” I yelled as they got out. “Is that so fucking hard?”

Lila and Eric walked toward the fire.

“Is that one of the dining room chairs?” Lila asked. “Did you just light one of our dining room chairs on fire?”

“It was a piece of shit,” I said. “It broke apart when I leaned on it.”

Lila went inside. Through the window I watched her throwing her clothes into her duffel bag.

Eric walked over and laid his hand on my shoulder, but I pushed it away.

“I’ll try and talk to her,” he said.

Lila slept on the couch that night. When I woke the next morning, her plastic tub of drawing supplies was gone. So was my brother and his truck. There was no note, no drawing left on my pillow, nothing. I turned off the grow lights for a while, sat in the dark, listening to everything around me click and murmur.

I stayed in bed most of that afternoon and evening, let the plants fend for themselves. I drove into the diner in town and ate some meatloaf at the cafe. I kept telling myself that the two of them would be back soon, but they didn’t come back there the next day. Soon they’d been gone a week and I knew they weren’t coming back.

I stuck it out there until the crop was harvested. One morning, a couple of weeks before I left, I woke up and found a bunch of toilet paper streaming down from the trees in the front yard. I guessed it was probably a teenager prank. I stood in the driveway for a while watching the long strips of toilet paper drift and flutter in the wind. I knew I should probably clean it up, but I didn’t have the energy. Tomorrow, I told myself, I’ll clean it up tomorrow. I always broke that promise though. Kept on breaking it.  

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