The rain stops falling down but the ground steams upward. The air is heavy; the space of the world condensed. They are both sweating in their suits. Viv feels a trickle down her back, as though her skin cannot contain her.
Leah drove from the airport. The dull silver of her wedding band was the same color as the sky. Her hands twisted the wheel as their exit toward I-10 peeled off, and they followed the curling tendril of their lane. Houston is a sprawling thicket of roads, spectacular in the way that they sometimes sprout from the ground and curve over each other in the sky.
The drive to the funeral had taken them around a curve into tangled foliage. A green sign for Buffalo Bayou emerged from the mass of leaves. Viv couldn't see the water from the road, but the ground sloped away beneath the greenery.
Viv had not paid attention to the service. She knew Abe from the brim of his hat right down to the core of him. She thought instead about the towering stand of sunflowers in Abe’s back yard—nobody’s back yard, now—as tall as the house. They had been left too long untended in the slow panic of Abe’s cancer, just like the banana plant outside the living room window with its wide leaves obscuring half the view. Viv had wondered if its roots were creeping under the house.
There are no banana plants here, in the strip mall parking lot outside this taqueria. It doesn’t matter. The air is still sticky and fragrant. This whole city is clinging to the surface.
The rain has washed city grit and grass alike into gutters and ditches. It smells like the world fermenting. Even though they are standing on an asphalt parking lot in a long series of asphalt parking lots, there is earth down below. There is always earth down below.
The parking lots are webbed together with strands of road, and the highways twist around one another like vines. They are gray in imitation of the storm-clouded sky, not the other way around.
“You know,” Leah says, while Viv is staring into the distance, the clusters of cinderblock buildings and strings of traffic lights all vanishing into the dark sky, “this place used to be a swamp.”
Rachel Tapley teaches and translates French in western Massachusetts. Her writing has previously been published in The Toast.