Raina K. Puels :: “September 21st” and “Moss crushes in my closed fist”

September 21st

Summer love is a dinner-plate dahlia: a tender annual that can survive one frost, but not winter’s hard freeze.  The dahlia’s concentric florets, tight in the center, spread, and grow with each row until they’re nearly a foot across.  I grew accustomed to magnificent purple, pink, and orange blooms greeting me every day.  But the temperature dropped, and the dahlias withered into a blackened mess.  I cut away their frostbitten limbs, loosened the soil around them with a fork, and harvested their tubers to replant in the spring.  You watched.  Then wandered off.  I finished the job alone.

Moss crushes in my closed fist

Moss crushes in my closed fist. I drop it into the blender with buttermilk. The whirr scares the cat, green eyes wide. She flattens into the floor, protecting her organs from the sound she worries will bruise or cut or maim. The noise ends. Everything is more quiet after a ruckus.

Wet electric pulp sits in the basin. I pour it into a bucket, check again that the door is locked, and wait until dark.

For weeks, I’ve hunted for the right wall. Brick. Centrally located, but not too public. Close enough to his apartment, but not so close he could see me on a midnight run to 7/11 for those jalapeño chips he loves. Even when his knuckles were bloody, he’d still shove his fist into the bag. He always complained of the sting, but I think he liked it: small pain as a humbling force.

Black pants, black sneakers, and black jacket clad I say goodbye to the cat with a scratch on her head. At night, our city is alive with college kids, drinking and laughing. To them, I’m invisible. So are the bucket and paintbrush in my hand. Especially now that the skin around my eyes has healed. 

I walk to my large swath of wall. Between a coffee shop and a real estate office, I begin to paint. I’ve sketched this enough times. Proportions memorized. No one stops to ask what I’m doing. The slurry sinks into the brick, but dries light. Almost invisible. I stop by each night to water my work, spray it down. Moist. Vibrant. 

In a few weeks, the message is clear and green: his face above the words “Abusive Scum.” Pictures of my creation start appearing online, from people I know and from strangers. The cat purrs on my lap as the posts roll in. Some defend him. Other cheer on the vigilante artist.

A video of him goes viral. He’s red in the face, huffing, clawing off the moss with his bare hands until his fingers bleed. After that, there’s no longer any chance he’ll come for me. The spores have already done their job, deep in his lungs.

His body won’t be found for a few days. And when it is, it will look more like an emerald knoll than a human.

Moss is soft and resilient. Moss has a way of consuming. 

Raina K. Puels is a Brooklyn-based alien. You can find them shopping for vintage slip dresses or reading in dark bars with a tiny book light. Ornamental cabbage makes their heart swoon. If you want to read more of their writing, you can find it here: rainakpuels.com