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"Hedera Helix" by Dylan Morison

The dog’s got a tumor and Lydia can’t afford to have it removed. After they tell her, she feels her face move unnaturally, imagines all her hair must be standing on end. The nurse just smiles sadly and asks what she wants to do. “I want to go home,” she says. It’s not until the car is idling in the driveway that she begins to cry. 

Hedera Helix, commonly called English ivy, is an evergreen climbing plant found through out Europe and Asia. It is often considered invasive due to its ability to grow quickly under a variety of adverse conditions. Dropped by a bird, the seed germinates and sends a single shoot up out of the ground, searching for sunlight and something to grab hold of. If it can’t grow up, it will grow out.

She’s been trying not to imagine this for years. “Oh no,” she thought to herself as the puppy was placed into her arms for the first time. Another thing to love that would someday die. Running across the yard, each year bigger than the last, she imagined the dog running across interstates and highways, playing frogger with her sanity as she stood helplessly by. Every time she passes dead animals on the side of the road she sees the dog’s mangled body. She flinches at the thought, tries to bleach her brain of potential tragedies. The dog pushes her cold nose into Lydia’s eye sockets when she’s asleep. 

First there’s the juvenile stage. The first year, the ivy wont grow much at all. The second year, it begins to pick up speed. The plant attaches itself to surfaces through a series of aerial rootlets with matted pads. The vines creep upward and outward, worming into cracks in brick, between the grain of rotting wood, and underneath laminate siding and roof shingles. In nature, ivy slowly chokes the life from larger trees by taking sunlight and nutrients for itself instead.

She had thought she might learn some great lesson on accepting death but the dog doesn’t seem to have noticed she’s dying. Lydia lets her dig holes in the backyard. She hunts for moles with unwavering intensity. Occasionally one winds up dead on the porch, its guts stuck to the ground and dry from the sun. Lydia picks it up with a paper towel and discreetly drops it into her neighbor’s back yard. The dog has stopped eating as much. Lydia’s stopped eating, too. The tumor’s growing. The dog begins to walk with a limp. Lydia imagines that her own hip hurts, too. 

Healthy ivy can grow three feet a year, both upward and outward. Once firmly rooted beneath the siding or cinderblock foundation of a house, it can be difficult to remove and potentially dangerous. As roots are pulled from a surface, they tend to take it with them.

They say all dogs go to heaven, but she knows this can’t be true. Her friend comes over and says “You should put her down— it just isn’t right,” but the next morning, the dog is playful. What will she do with the body? At night she listens for the snoring at her feet, holding her breath in the dark as the dog stops—is this the moment?—and then begins breathing again. She breathes out long and slowly and wonders if this is dying: just watching something waste away forever until there’s nothing left of either of you. 

Once mature, the ivy flowers and produces small clusters of purple-black berries. Black-birds and thrushes rely on the berries for food and are responsible for seed dispersal in surrounding areas. After many years, ivy can grow over 100 feet, and completely overtake a building.

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Dylan Morison
is a fiction writer currently based out of Baltimore, MD. Her work has appeared in The Feminist Wire and Opaque Quarterly. If she’s not at work as a professional chef, she’s out exploring the world with her family. She has an adorable dog named Bunny.