Peniocerus greggii

Night-blooming cereus

Chad Crossley



We take the potted plant from the office with the lofty goal of driving it out to the desert, home to its own kind. So it can be with its friends, she says. So it won’t be so lonely.


Like a ghost. Or rising smoke. Just as a whisper. That’s what I tell her, though I feel she doesn’t grasp it. She can’t fully, after all; thinks they’re all only stories. Fairytales. But I know seeing is believing.


Each night this week we’ve stayed up past bedtime. Tonight is the same—hot cocoa for her, coffee for me. We await the arrival of the mystic figure in all its glory, the unreal aura of the thing I have sworn to her will silently emerge.


It is just for a few hours. But what are a few mere hours to a four-year-old? Here, then gone, it graces the world with its presence in a fragile agreement, a bond that lends beauty before the inevitable fall and vanishing. Ashes to ashes.


It was Mommy’s favorite day, I tell her, when the night-blooming cereus blossoms. But she already knows this. Has it marked on the calendar; counts down the days, too. She brings the framed family portrait of the three of us, the one we keep hanging by the front door, along for the trip.


I say to look closely, to watch before it’s gone. She’s seen the pictures, the images I’ve shown from my phone and books. The beauty of the Queen of the Night. She’s made drawings in crayon the past few nights that we placed proudly on the fridge, though she’s never seen it firsthand.


We make our way westward in the Subaru, my daughter and I. The sun is just now setting, the burning hues of orange and red now bleeding through to violets beyond the looming mountain peaks. It is here that we pull to the side of the road, going where others are gathering as the call of the birds and the rustling of the insects slowly lessens, lessening further still as the nighttime realm awakes.


There are hikers fresh from Dripping Springs, college kids from Cruces, others I overhear who have traveled from Texas, from Alamogordo and White Sands, from elsewhere, far and away. They stand there enwrapped in a sudden lull of silence, the hush enveloping and as impenetrable as anything else I’ve ever fully witnessed. It descends like a blanket, almost smothering, as if forever caught in the sense of dawning awe, the beat-beat-beating of the heart locked in that fever-dream of anticipation. They too know.


Hours pass. Still, scattered searchers remain, penitent in their devotion to the task at hand. She asks to take a closer look, to see the twig-like brambles of cacti from which such beauty will soon come forth. I tell her to go ahead, lifting her up to reach the tallest point, the tightly compact bud now loosening, ever so gradually. I tell her to remember the smell of warm vanilla as it begins to envelop the nighttime air, rising and rising with the balmy breeze.


She places our meager potted plant on the sand beside the outcropping of its fellow kin, the taller ones towering above it, doling out whisperings from ages hence, archaic secrets. Almost imperceptible, it begins. From dead stalks of wind-worn nature, the brittle-looking castoffs of brown needles and taupe remnants, it rises, phoenix-like from the desolation around. I watch my daughter watching the majesty through the half-lit glow of the summertime moon. Gradually at first, delicate as silk, it unfurls its outer layers as if by choice, longingly reaching onward and out, petal by tenuous petal, until completion—transcendence incarnate.


It is a strange turn of fate, I know, which brings us here: my daughter and I, these strangers, the natural world itself. Something so ancient in its plainness, the cyclical monotony of death, of dormancy, of rebirth—over and over and over once more. Timeless. I cannot help to think of my wife, gone now for nearly two years, as I watch the blossoms reaching out to the night sky, as if in fact needing the connection with the moon, the lunar romance that both fuels its very existence and ultimately spells its doom.


Now well beyond midnight, I load both my sleeping daughter and the plant into the car, careful to place her in her car seat with little disturbance and the cactus in the well-insulated box beside the family photo on the passenger seat to my right. Just one small flower stands intact, unfolding further and further, already dying.


It goes and goes. I look into the rearview mirror, seeing my slumbering daughter, and to the flower, too, slowly fading with each passing minute. It will be gone before the sun sheds its fledgling rays, taken for another year. The vastness of an eternity, whole lives lived and learned and loved—here, and then forever vanished from whence it came.


As the unfeeling petals further unfold beyond reach, suspended on the shivering stem, and fall, I know that the Queen of the Night will return. The covenant cannot be broken, the assurance ironclad. I am certain of this, comforted beyond measure.


Truly, there is always something more—an after or next. We are never finished, never gone.





Chad Crossley received his MFA in fiction from Chapman University. Firmly believing in the transcendent power of words, he strives to write meaningful works that reflect the voice of the individual in their uniquely personal space in time. His work may be found within the pages of East Jasmine Review, Mojave River Review, Ghost City Press, and elsewhere. He is currently living in Portland, OR and working on a new novel.