Short Story – The Plant

“It’s like a pet,” he said, “but you can just forget about it.” I told him that I’d had a real pet once, and I’d forgotten about that too, and we’d eventually had to scrape it up with a spatula. He mumbled something about a lazy waster and shut the door behind him. But I did forget.

One day, I just saw it there on the side. Its green leaves were tinted a flaky yellow; the sickliest bald child in the hospice; and its form was sallow and withered, with a Charlie Brown hunch of dejection, she-loves-me-not petals angled toward the soil. On my way out, I spat into the pot. The human body is 60% water.

When you’re young, spitting’s an affectation, almost a hobby. Standing on corners in a surly group that spreads across the pavement like an occupied nation in a game of Risk, booting flattened 7up cans at passing cars and casually gobbing out dollops of spit – that’s nostalgia. Maybe that’s why I kept doing it. Never once reaching for a watering can, or turning on a tap, but nourishing its roots with with a quick flob on my way out the door – I was grasping on to my youth with 5ml mouthfuls. Pretty soon, the plant had regained its perkiness, standing tall and proud in the dirt, with strong stems and healthy leaves that gave it a posture bordering on arrogance.

I still remember the first time I heard it sneeze.

People’s sneezes are as distinctive as their fingerprints. I saw something in the paper once, about a burglar who’d been disturbed while he was yanking on a laptop charger. He made a break through an open window, and the only trait that was identifiable by the witness was the atchoo that’d honked out of his ski-mask as he fell. I think there was a police line-up, where eight shifty men had to snort a bump of pepper, but maybe I dreamt that part. I didn’t dream the sneeze, though. I recognised it instantly, because it was my own; a bearish RAAA with a effete ssssssh cherry topping, coming from the next room, while my own nose nose sat quietly on my face some yards away. I wondered if there’d be more, if it would evolve vocal chords to converse with or abuse me from across the room.

But over the months, words never came, there was just… an attitude. There was something so aggressive, so unnervingly me about it. Sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of your father and realise you’re both stood in a weird, unconscious mirror image, as though the folded-arms and left foot turned jauntily outward stance is hard-wired into your DNA. In his little red pot, the plant would bend and rest in the shapes of my bastard son.

I cut back on the watering. Daily salival feeds were down to once a week hocks every Friday morning. I leant down to drop that week’s meal into the soil and felt a light breeze across my forehead; warm and stale, like a dog’s breath. The leaves of the plant had curled themselves into an approximation of human lips, which were dry and cracked like those of a broke-legged hiker laying beside a desert highway. The lips were poised and waiting.

I lean in for the kiss. The lips feel more human than I’d imagined, although maybe I just don’t remember. Ever so slowly, I can feel myself drying. I see a little ticker in my head, like the health bar in a video game. 59%, 58%, down and down; but I don’t care. The plant’s small and it’s a slow process. I could pull myself free at any time, but instead I drop to my knees and hug the counter top, so close that my chin rests against the cold ceramic of the pot. With your eyes closed, you can let yourself imagine almost anything. I keep mine closed, and I imagine it’s her. Maybe I don’t really buy it. Maybe I know she’d be softer and warmer, and that she’d never really let this happen.

But maybe I’d rather be dust than to know any of these things for one more day.

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~ by Stuart on March 21, 2011.

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