The swamp began as a patch of water in her bedroom.
It was on the larger side, maybe a meter wide. It arrived quickly and refused to leave, like a visitor overstaying their welcome. I contacted her landlord but he was determined not to do anything. Apparently dead tenants don’t matter, even if their mothers still pay for the space. I brought in a bucket, some rags, and bleach. I couldn’t find any cleaning supplies in her home—this didn’t really surprise me though. She wasn’t dirty, but scatter-brained as all get out. Cleaning was limited to a broom and dustpan, and regular visits from a maid that she would save up for every other month. I asked her once why she didn’t just save what precious little disposable income she had and do it herself, and she just grinned and said she liked the company. I let her maid go after she died. It was a natural decision and her maid wasn’t upset (though it’s hard to tell when you’re talking over the phone), but I still shed a tear after I hung up.
Anyway, I tried to clean the patch with some bleach to prevent mold. I had to stand on her bed to reach it, but I managed to get a few good swipes at it before my shoulders were too fatigued to continue.
I did all my regular chores—watered her plants, picked through her mail, dusted off the surfaces—and left feeling accomplished.
The next time I dropped by, I’d just had a fight with my husband. He was convinced I was seeing someone else behind his back and demanded to see my phone. I refused and he asked me to stay somewhere else for the night, so I ended up back at her apartment, clutching a tote bag full of toiletries and a change of clothes. I didn’t want to muss her bed, so I carefully selected a holiday-themed blanket and pillow from a storage bin in the closet and made a little cocoon on the floor in the corner, just beside her headboard.
As I drifted off to sleep, my eyes caught the stain and I thought it looked bigger.
When my husband served me papers and cited “irreconcilable differences,” my first thought was how smart I was to keep her apartment. I didn’t intend to stay there long, as I needed to keep it how she liked it, but I had a little home in that bedroom corner while I looked for a job and a home for myself. The last thing he said to me before walking out of our home of twenty years and our thirty-year-old marriage was that she would be sad to see me like this. That night, the patch of water (which had grown to encompass several feet across the ceiling) began to undulate, like a wave across the top of a lake.
Over the last six months, it’s become an ecosystem, even without any life to truly sustain it. The only thing that feels vital is the water that’s seeped from the electrical outlets and collected in a foot-high pool around my feet, and the plants that sprouted from the cracks in the walls and floorboards. I still live here, trimming back the greenery with a pair of clippers I stole from my old garden shed when my husband was out and dumping the excess water off the balcony. The swamp seems to start and end with her home, and I try to keep it that way as best I can. Late at night, when I’m lulled to sleep by the sound of a wind I worry only I can sense, I sometimes hear her voice in the lapping of the waves at my toes. She doesn’t sound happy. I know this, just like I know her face better than my own—especially now that the mirrors have been overtaken by vines. But I don’t care. I will not forget her like my husband has. Or her friends. Or the boy she was seeing. As long as this swamp is alive, so is her memory.