The Night Visitor by red-tenko
You know deep down in your heart of hearts that Jet's bonsai bush has eyes, and watches you from the coffee table while you try to nap on the couch. The brown knots in its trunk follow you as you fluff the pillows; the spiny green fingers point at you as if it knows what you did wrong when you don't even know yourself. You wonder where its mouth is, and if there are teeth inside.
You want to turn the pot around so that it's not facing you, but when your hands are ready on the sides, you're not sure which way to move it, so your hands just stay still until you can't stand touching it anymore.
Walk away from the bush, almost out of the living room. Pause, and walk back—be damned if beaten by a plant. Try and steady your willpower to move the entire pot to another room (kitchen, bathroom, anywhere else) but end up just staring at it again.
November 30th (definitely. Finally decided to check a calendar)
Spike is back. He returned yesterday, parking his Swordfish with the ease and familiarity of someone who hadn't been away for a long time. You walked into the hangar after hearing a noise, and hovered dumbly in the doorway to watch his fluffy head pop out of the passenger pod. His shoulders next, just as broad as ever, and then the rest of him glided out and to the floor where there was just enough gravity to hold his thin form down. He stood and straightened his suit, gave you a nod, and headed right for the galley.
Now you're sitting on your bed, thinking about his less than grand entrance and wonder what you were expecting from him. You think about your idle fantasies of Spike, like the one when he rushes inside after flooring it in the Swordfish, hurrying to get to you from wherever the hell he went, and asks how you are doing in such a way that you feel it's all right to have a breakdown.
Know that was just a dream that couldn't come true even if Spike weren't emotionally constipated. Nobody—no friend, parent, therapist, Jet, or dumb-ass undead boy will ever make you feel it's okay to break. You know that weakness and whining from a freeloading ex-cowgirl is never going to be acceptable (had never been acceptable), so you sniffle loudly and don't go any further than that.
Try not to think about how you imagined Spike would be. Try to focus on how he is: a guy who glides in, raids the fridge, and when he finally sees you've chased him to the kitchen, looks at you as if he hadn't seen you in the hangar and says things like: "There you are, Faye—-cheese?"
Your imagination takes over, and you start to picture how that cheddar you tossed in the garbage can will look like when it starts to decay. Picture how the mold will sprout like a forest of microscopic bonsai.
Wonder when your appetite will return. December 1st
You shuffle a few paces behind Spike as he parades his toolbox through the house, shouting back his indignance for you not being Rosie the Riveter.
"Just a month to yourself and look how this place is falling apart! Jesus, Faye, you do know something about maintenance, don't you?"
Ball your fists on your hips and shout back: "Well Jet didn't have time to play Mr. Fix-it anymore, not for every little thing that broke down after you left. We were busy, and now I'm even busier. Frankly, I don't give a damn if the faucet leaks anyway."
Spike puts in all the effort of turning to face you, just so you can see his gigantic eye-roll at your expense. "You should care," he snaps. "You should care when something's broken; that careless brain stem of yours will be the death of this ship."
He drops the toolbox right between you in the hall. It makes multiple, echoing claps and shoots a ratchet in the direction of your knee. You felt the floor grating tremble when the box hit, and you stare down the hall to make sure the bonsai pot is safe. It is, so you meet Spike's stare, right in the eyeballs, and want nothing more than to hurl yourself at him just for the rush of a fight. You want to hurt him for walking right in and pretending he knows what happened when he wasn't there to see it—to feel it. You want to force him to know that the ship is already dead, and it's not your fault.
He says nothing and neither do you.
Know that he wont be satisfied until he can think he's better, so you give in. You roll your eyes, call him a prick, and stomp down the stairs. The finale is when you reach you room, and slam the door so hard he might have to come down and fix it later.
Once the door is closed, your energy is gone completely. You lie down on the floor near the bed and let the grate make imprints on your face while you doze. Remembering Spike's face in the hall, you try to recall if he was always so hard to deal with, or if it's just the current stress.
Decide it's both, but make excuses for him anyway. Imagine that Jet is haunting him, and will not stop until something in the ship gets its rust removed. December 2nd
The bonsai is growing horns. The leaves spike out, reaching, too long on excess stems. Even an amateur like you can see it doesn't look right. You stare at the stunted plant as its fingernails try to catch the water you pour on it.
Wonder what to do.
Think: This should be simple, you've seen him trim it a hundred times. But you know that it's not as easy. You're positive now—as positive as you are about the eyes—that this bush has teeth. It isn't right to just go cutting somebody's teeth off without at least leaving a few, so you stare at the jutting green spines and wonder what belongs and what has to go.
The watering can has been tipped over the plant now for much longer than it should. You catch the mistake when your sock feels wet, and wonder if Spike will give a speech about mold if you just leave the puddle where it is.
Decide you don't care, and leave the leafy beast to its lake.
You haven't seen Spike's face for days. Every time you look, he's got his head under something. In the engine, in the gravity network, under the sink, under the gas tank---you suspect he is ignoring you by becoming busy.
Wonder how he can know just what to do for everything that needs a tool.
Wonder why you never knew that about him before now.
Wonder why you aren't surprised.
Wonder if he'd know how to cut a plant. Don't ask about it.
His head is jammed between the wall and the water heater when he asks: "Did you speak at the funeral?"
You know that this is your queue to tell him how the service was. How there was shrimp, and formal wear, and a big picture of Jet surrounded by the most depressing flowers ever to be torn from Ophelia's clutches. How everyone was crying, and how you were the only guest who wasn't family or a cop...except Elisa, who stood next to you supportively but awkwardly and really getting the wrong idea about your relationship with the old man.
How people were whispering about you cause they know he's left you the Bebop even before the lawyer reads the will.
He wants to hear about it, but you're sick of looking at his headless torso and don't say anything. Instead, you stand there tired and bored and dreading the return to work next week since Mandy can only spare you for so long during the holiday season.
You once again wish you were a bounty hunter again. You get that fleeting, thrilling chill that crawls up your spine and into your ear and whispers that everything will be all right once you break orbit and start the chase. But you wont go back. You'd rather be alone down here than alone up there.
You know you won't leave Ganymede until the Bebop finally rusts and sinks in the sham of a dock Jet parked it in.
Consider this a bad train of thought, and head for your room to take a nap.
On your way, the bonsai reaches out to grab you, and barely misses.
December 5th The water spits one cheeky gurgle, and gives you nothing else. You stare down into the pot and wonder if it really wont boil until you look away. It shouldn't really matter either way since you aren't paying attention.
The plan is to get Spike's head out from behind the comm. unit, using food as bait. You remember cooking as a shadow of a long gone home, so of course you're rusty at it. The apron is Jets, and it was so big when you put it on that your collar hung out. You don't bother to tighten the laces, you just leave it fit for his neck. Another gurgle from the water sends spray right at the opening between where the apron should cover and where it actually did.
Not even this fazes you, because once you've started thinking about your old life you can't stop until the nostalgia runs its course. You remember how you stood next to your mother in front of the kitchen counter, grating carrots while being fussed over. Your mother talked about mars, how happy she was that the university gave you such an opportunity by accepting your transfer to the Martian Colony's first college. Remember all the pride, all the expectations.
Then you died.
Remind yourself: You died, you woke, and you failed. You nearly died again---you nearly let yourself---but the man who saved you is as dead as you feel...or wish you felt.
Turn off the stove and leave the unboiled water in the pot to evaporate in its own good time. Open the fridge and pull out the remains of Spike's precious cheese platter sans cheddar, then search the cabinet for crackers.
Somehow you open the cabinet where Jet kept his own tools, things Spike would never carry in the sorry box he carries around as if it were more useful than you. Spying the clippers, you feel more nostalgia stuck to you like a shadow, and as inevitable as the tide used to be back home, before the moon shattered the tides away. You let the long-forgotten wave hit, and allow yourself to imagine and remember.
You can see Jet sitting on the couch, hunched over the bush that he'd separated from the heard as an especially difficult case. He held the clippers steady. His head shone in the overhead light. While he cut at the air, he would explain Zen and "fung-shh-way" and tell you what your problem was and how you needed better karma.
He used to say, about the bonsai bush: "It won't grow just anyway I prune it. You can't make something grow where it doesn't want to, all I can do is help it be steady where it wants to end up."
When he said things like this, you would roll your eyes and nod and wonder if he'd finally gotten the senility switch flipped to 'ON'. You never understood how he could love a hobby that he couldn't play with at his leisure. He couldn't just hack at that plant whenever he felt like it, in the way you would play solitaire when you were bored. He had to wait for the little branches to grow, and then grow too much before he could have his little Zenful good time.
Shake your head to snap yourself out of it, and wonder how long you've been looking at those clippers. Try not to think about it too hard, otherwise you might have to wonder why you know where the garden shears are, but not the location of your own card deck.
The crackers are two cabinets over. The platter doesn't look so pretty, but your weren't trying to be decorative anyway. Spike won't really care as long as he can eat what's on it. Take it into the cabin and try to ignore the mutated bush as you pass through the living area. Spike's legs are sticking out from under the console; you could kick him if you were in the mood.
Say: "Get outta there before your lunch grows something on it."
He crams his neck and his face finally comes into view. He looks perplexed. His eyes do an elevator movement over you from the hem of the apron to the plate in your hands. He then shrugs. He doesn't look gift horses in the mouth, even if they're from you.
"Well, aren't we domestic today."
"Careful, you might provoke the vengeful spirit of Donna Reed."
Sit and watch as Spike starts to eat right away. You know that this is your chance to talk to him, to ask him why he came back and why he took a month to get here. You want to ask him why he missed the funeral. You want to ask him how he's dealing with everything---because he is hiding it so completely, but wouldn't have shown up at all if he didn't care at least a little. Instead, you stare at him stoically, and remember the time years ago when you fell in love with a boy who got up on stage at the talent show and sang you the song "California Here we Come".
Remember: your highschool graduation, and how the hat made your hair stick out funny. Emptying your room for college; putting all those stuffed toys and outgrown clothes into boxes, never to be seen again except on old tapes and blurry memory. Picking out a nice outfit for your trip to mars, your mother shaking her head and telling you not to travel in fancy things. Her freckled arm reaching into the closet, pulling out a plain, yellow dress, and holding it up against your shoulders, saying, 'you'd look so cute in this'.
Remember: much more clearly, wearing that dress when you met Whitney. He told you cheap poetry, but you wanted to hear him sing. Maybe that's why you followed him, what you were waiting for.
Wonder where the dress is for a moment, but decide it doesn't matter. It wouldn't fit anymore.
Your journey home from work ends when you stop paying attention and nearly drive the Red Tail window-first into a docking clamp. Snap out of your blank thoughts and correct the error, letting the sudden adrenaline last as long as it takes for you to open the hatch, trip out, and let the low gravity drag your feet where they belong.
You hate your job. You don't belong at a museum (at least not outside the display) any more than Jet belonged on big hunt at his age. Your death, of course, will be more slow and more painful, as one by one your grey cells gut themselves for entertainment. You felt a good group of them die just an hour ago, when you plastered on a smile and explained record players to the final tour group of the day.
Pass Spike on the way to your room. He makes a comment about your skirt suit uniform, wearing an old smirk as his mouth forms words you've tuned out by neglected habit. Stick your nametag to his forehead as you pass, but don't answer further.
Later, after the layers of shadow and liner and mascara are methodically erased from your eyes and you see clearly, you head for the television. Hope to find some inspiring cable movie about women who have babies out of wedlock and fathers learning to love their gay sons---you need a good laugh right now, and it's cheaper than the cigarettes you're out of.
Spike has cigarettes, of course. He is smoking as he leans over the coffee table, pocketed hands and corkscrew eyebrows. Watch him stare down at the last bonsai of the once-proud collection, taking in the wrinkled stems and clawing leaves. It's a pathetic little beast that still snarls. "What happened to the rest of them?" he asks as you walk up.
Act nonchalant. Make your legs become deadweight and successfully flop back on the couch in a way that looks lazy.
Don't say: I killed them. I let them die and rot in that room. I'm not sorry.
His eyebrow only lifts a little. He didn't expect more from you. He asks, "Why's this one still alive?" then turns to look it over again. Face the plant as well, watching Spike watch it. Watch with jealousy as the tree doesn't reach up and try and smother him with its leaves like it does to you. Know you don't need the thing's affection; you smother yourself on your own just fine.
Answer: "I let it."
"You let it grow wild."
Can't believe he said that. You want to hate him for it, but forcing feelings on people who say the truth has never helped you before. As always, it boomerangs back on you. You want more than anything to scream at him. Want to tell him he should've been here, at home, helping you and Jet survive instead of playing lone cowboy of the galaxy. Want to hate him for not coming to the rescue, but you only hate yourself for letting him go.
Hate yourself for lying to him, for saying "I get it" when he said goodbye. Know that you said it for the same reason you don't respond to him now.
He stares down at the bonsai and you shudder. Shudder because he's seeing you---what you really are: a stunted, dying shrub without even a chance to become a full-sized tree. Spike sees you: your every extra leaf, your every flaw untamed. And when he goes, he'll think of you that way. He may even remember you this way long after you're dead and he's still failing to kill himself.
Know that what you hate most right now, is the fact that he's the only one left in the entire solar system who knows you. Not well, not well at all—except he knows you enough to spark these feelings, and that's more than you expect from everyone else.
December 10th (barely)
It's close to two in the morning when Spike, groggy, a little drunk, and more perturbed than usual, catches you in the act. You were pacing back and forth in front of the bonsai bush, clippers tapping cold against your chin, and thinking too fast when he interrupted you with some unpleasant and nearly intelligible language.
The essence of his question is: What are you doing, Faye?
Say: "I don't know what to do."
Spike looks surprised, and not in his usual sarcastic kind of way. You don't look at him, partially because your mind is wheeling, and partially because you have a hunch he finds you disturbing right now.
He says, loud and careful: "Look, whatever you're up to, just quit for now and get some sleep."
Tell him you're not tired, but he points out that you're always tired nowadays.
"And when was the last time you ate anything?"
Shrug and fall back on the couch. Stare at the garden shears and feel defeated, deflated even, until Spike walks around in front of you. He hovers over you for a moment, and you look up to notice his eyes are narrow and a little small. He watches you watch him for what feels like too long a time before he slowly eases the clippers from your fingers and asks again: "What are you doing, Faye?", nicer this time, but still serious.
Repeat: "I don't know what to do." Spike waits for you to go on, and you find (to your surprise) that you can. "I don't know what he would want me to do—I mean, he hated people touching that stupid plant of his, but he also hated when it got all out of control like that..."
Spike follows your gaze to the bonsai bush. You know everything about it now: you can see where its eyes are, its fangs, its claws, its horns and all its other bones as well. Its mouth is open and it's bearing its teeth. You know this isn't the plant Jet was helping it turn into.
Say: "I broke it."
Something rubbery touches your fingertips. Look down to see the handle of the garden shears is back in your fist. Spike clap-brushes his hands against each other as if to close the deal.
"So fix it," he says.
Based on the story Amahl and the Night Visitors by Lorrie Moore