It’s Monday so I leave the house as soon as I wake up. As always, I pray the neighbors aren’t up yet. No one walks past my front yard as I roll out the measuring tape. I press it against the stem of the single weed growing between my ryegrass. Today: forty-two inches. The head, school-bus-yellow. Petals with a snaggletooth fringe. A tuft of fine hairs in the center. No question it’s a common dandelion, but also: how could that be? The stalk is thick as celery. Rigid and veined, too. When I’m next to it, it’s like a seven-year-old kid is standing at my side. I tuck the measuring tape under my arm and scuttle back indoors before the neighbors notice. I know they’ll want a part of it if they see me with my ruler. Because that’s human nature—nothing is anything until your neighbor measures it. If they catch me, there’ll be a riot and there’ll be Weed Wackers. They’ll say that a neighborhood has got to look neat.
I own a four-inch ceramic kitten with deep tubular orifices, one inside each ear, one under the tail, and a small one, barely wider than a drinking straw, for the mouth. The kitten has a shocked expression, because of the hole-mouth. One day I will cover that hole and its expression will transmute according to the shape of what I cover it with.
I sit at my desk. I write 42” on a piece of paper. It’s the back of a receipt. Kentucky Fried Chicken—a rare business that leaves the backside of its receipts white. No coupons for more chickens equals ample space to record dandelion growth. I roll up the receipt and replace it inside the kitten’s ear. This week it’s the left ear. Last week it was the right. Next week, anus. Week after that, right ear and back to left, then anus. In three weeks, I will change up the rotation, I don’t yet know in which direction. But this I know: I will never slip my records into the mouth. Because that’s where they’d look. A neighbor passing by my front window, someone with a knack for picking locks. Ears or anus only. Because mouths talk secrets, and this secret is big.
When I walk out of my bungalow, past my front lawn, I pretend I don’t see it. I keep my eyes level with the living room window of the house across the street. If there is a body in the window, I look at the street instead, side to side like I ordered car service and am peeved it’s late. Point is, seeing me leave my house, no one will know I know the weed has grown to unplantlike proportions. That I have something. That they don’t. No one will say that it would be best if they came by and cut it—that that would be “assisting,” that that would level our lawns.
But there remains the issue of the kitten, its shocked expression. A dead giveaway that it’s storing great secrets inside. This week, anus. Last week, left ear. Next week—I refuse to tell.
I sign up for art—to address the kitten problem. The class is held in a mini mall called Little Muse Village. One online review calls it “Disneyland-like, in a bad way,” another, “3000 square feet of kitsch,” another: “not a single Navajo in their Navajo weaving workshop,” another: “overpriced junk.” I take Intro to Clay and for eight weeks am distracted by the teacher’s hands. She’s a woman but they’re big as plates. Ten-inch diameter with the fingers spread. She specializes in plates and sells them at the front of the studio. They cost more than two week’s cable. I understand what the reviewer meant by “overpriced.”
I note the following during the next six Mondays: 59”, 62”, 65”, 67”, 71”, 74.5”, but clay class distracts me enough that I don’t look out my front window as much, and on Wednesday nights, not at all, because I’m in Little Muse Village.
This week Dandelion is unreal. Its stem is starting to bend from the weight of its head. From a distance, in the shoes of a stranger, I’d guess: “genetically modified sunflower.”
In week eight, we can fire and glaze our final project. These are technical pottery terms I’ve now learned. I bring the ceramic kitten in a paper bag for my large-handed teacher to see. Her real name is Susan.
“Could we go to somewhere private for a minute?” I say to Susan.
Susan wipes wet clay from her nose.
“In the basement, maybe?” I jut my face towards the paper bag and lift it a little higher. “It’s about my final project.”
Susan follows me downstairs. The basement has an ancient green washing machine and a clothes line with drying artist smocks pegged to it.
“Is there a problem?” Susan asks.
“I want to show you what I plan on making.”
Susan’s face relaxes.
I open the bag and pull out the ceramic kitten. I pray Susan’s fingers don’t go poking in its ear.
“Uh-um,” she says, turning the kitten over. “You want to make a cat?”
“It’s more specific.” I point to the mouth and tell Susan what I’m thinking of. The kitten looks too shocked, I say. It’s giving me away, I don’t say. It will be the first place they look, I don’t say. I need to put something over its shocked expression, I say. To make it appear more relaxed, I say. No one would be relaxed with a secret-bearing roll of paper in their ear, I don’t say. But this is the best place to hide it, I don’t say. It’s my Egyptian tomb.
“Okay,” Susan says. She throws the stairs an impatient look.
“I’m thinking a fishbone or ball of yarn, something believable that I can paste across the mouth.”
“Very small, then?” Susan says, nodding quickly and shifting from foot to foot.
“Extremely small.” The kitten’s mouth-hole is one-quarter of an inch wide.
“You know, you could make a serving plate today?”
“I don’t want to,” I say.
I didn’t come here to make plates.
Upstairs, the other women apply a glaze to their plates. Susan has exerted her wily influence and turned them all into platemakers. I’ve seen at least three students purchase her plates with their 15 per cent student discount. The plates don’t look like plates you could put dinner on.
Bonita, the woman at the station next to mine, asks what I’m making. It is too small for her to see. “A tiny plate?” she asks.
I lift my shoulder so that her view is blocked.
Wouldn’t she like to know?
If plate-hands Susan or Bonita, or any neighbor or random passerby were to look at Dandelion, they’d bet their spoon collection they’re looking at a yellow patio umbrella. The stem is angled like a construction crane. The head casts a large egg-shaped shadow on the front half of my bungalow. I sit under it daily. Three nights this week, I’ve found myself falling asleep between the petals.
“Nice addition you’ve built,” a neighbor says to me one day. He calls it experimental or “Art Brut.” For a moment, I fear he’s found the kitten and wasn’t misled by its new expression. But he examines Dandelion with a casual and healthy interest, slaps the stem, rubs the calyx. He doesn’t think it’s a weed whose growth I’ve tracked for twenty-four weeks. He asks for the contractor’s number. He walks away.
I sit with my legs propped on the rattan patio chair. I’m under Dandelion, 91” now, and to outsiders, a bona fide yellow circus tent. The flower head has dipped so low its petal ends graze the lawn. More neighbors have praised my taste in architecture and I’ve vetted each one: not a single kitten-peeker. I can attest to it. The kitten sits inside my bungalow, its expression, masked by a pinky-nail sized salmon, is as neutral as a fresh coat of snow.
I rent out my bungalow, furnished, “incl. cable.” This supplements my income and I can fix up Dandelion with what I’ve always wanted to own. A waterbed for starters. A plant appreciates that.
Dandelion has plateaued at 103”. Seems like a great place to plateau. For the last three Mondays, when my tenants left for work, I used my landlord’s key and updated the record. 103”, 103”, 103”.
I have a great view of my rental property, especially when a breeze parts the petals for a second or two. I saw my tenants leave for work in the morning. I saw them having sex against my old refrigerator last night. I hoist myself out of the waterbed, push aside the petals, walk up to my old front window, and look straight into kitten’s eyes. I can see they haven’t moved him, not an inch. Nothing has inspired my tenants to walk up to the mantle, rove in its ear or under the tail. The kitten’s expression, masked by the clay salmon, says nothing beyond I am a kitten. Move along. I go back inside Dandelion and lie on the waterbed. I look up at my ceiling. It’s made entirely of pollen. Amber beads, shiny as glass, except no one gets hurt if they break. I close my eyes. I can relax.
Marta Balcewicz lives in Toronto. Her fiction, poetry, and comics appear or will soon appear in The Offing, The Normal School, Hobart, Matrix Magazine and elsewhere. She tweets @MartaBalcewicz and lives online at www.martabalcewicz.com.