"I think I’m going to take up mulching."
"'Really?' Of the whole spectrum of human response, you picked 'Really?'?"
"It’s an honest question. Really? We don't even have a yard to mulch."
"That's true. But think about how right the smell of mulch after a rainstorm seems or the way it stains your hands when you spread it out over the ground."
"It's just dirt, with little pieces of wood in it."
"This is why we don't work."
"Because I don't like mulch?"
"Yes. And because you say the meanest things, without realizing that they're mean."
Henry, tired of this line of conversation, put out his cigarette to signal his disgust. He stamped on the stray embers, tossed the butt in the small Folgers can they'd placed by the door to use as an ashtray and walked away from the door, from their apartment, from this life they'd built on disliking things the other liked.
Honestly, he'd tried. He just couldn't get himself interested in knitting. Helen would sit there for hours, like a spinster, knitting. He'd ask what she was working on and she would dismiss him. She didn't seem to know what she was knitting. She just started with a square and grew it and grew it. Eventually it turned into a blanket, but Helen was easily as surprised as Henry when the blanket was finished. He didn't care about knitting, but he still wrapped himself in the blanket while he watched television and didn't write his novel. At least he had tried.
On the other hand, Helen was always dismissive when he found a new thing or sport or pastime to be passionate about. When he'd taken up Irish step dancing, Helen told him he wasn't Irish and didn't understand the history of Cromwell's conquest of Ireland. When he found a certain grace in the sport of water polo, Helen told him that they didn't have a pool and couldn't afford to join the YMCA. Now it was mulching and them not having a yard, like it was impossible for him to put a planter on the fire escape and mulch it.
Henry didn't even want to plant anything. That was the most peculiar part of his fascination. It wasn't the growing that interested him, just the mulching. He'd lay down a layer of mulch and let it pale in the sun. Once it had faded to a dead tree sort of brown, he'd thrust his hand into the bag of fresh black alive, bring it out, and spread it over the old.
Henry didn't set out a plan as to where he was going when he walked away from Helen. He had thought maybe he'd walk over the Ben Franklin, into New Jersey, to the shore, then into the water and onward to wherever the Gulf Stream took him. He wasn't entirely sure if it was possible to lay mulch on the ocean floor, but he'd like to try. He'd build a small sandcastle, his own little kingdom of sand and seaweed, and he'd surround it with beautiful mulched landscapes. There'd be no sea vegetation to farm, just miles and miles of mulch, even richer in color than on the surface. All that water working like a magnifying glass to bring out the stray beauty in the sticks and twigs nestled in beds of the once alive.
Henry was almost to the waterfront when he went to find another cigarette and threw out the empty pack. He knew he'd need cigarettes if he was going to walk all the way to Europe. He veered from the murky water of the Delaware and walked to the Sunoco.
He entered the small store, looked around curiously as he heard the quiet ding alerting the attendant to his presence, and bought a pack of Pall Malls. When he got to the door to leave, he turned back to the cashier.
"I almost forgot, I need a pack of Marlboro Menthol for Helen."
"I don't know who Helen is, but that'll be six thirty-seven."
Henry paid for the cigarettes and walked home to tell Helen about the kingdom he'd build on the ocean floor.