A Bum Green Thumb

On the afternoon of my goldfish’s funeral, you give me a ZZ plant.

I am angry with you because you refused to give a eulogy.

“For you,” you say and press the plant against my chest.

I wrap my hands around the ceramic pot, holding it like a squirming toddler.

You mutter something about “virtually indestructible” and “impossible to kill.”

You always underestimate me.

***

I am tired of you thinking I need to be surrounded by new life.

First, it was the puppy. His death was an accident but due to my negligence. I left the back gate open, and our neighbor flattened him with his truck like a souvenir penny. You yelled at me for laughing. I wasn’t laughing because he died; I was laughing because, even though I never told you, I named him Pancake.

Next, it was the goldfish. I elected not to name him but still found myself calling him Fish. After Pancake, I couldn’t let my attention wander for even a moment. I fed Fish too much without meaning to. The food collected at the bottom of his tank and rotted. You said the toxicity killed him.

***

I tell my therapist about the ZZ plant at our next session. She takes your side. Of course. She says I should welcome distractions. She says distractions might help me forget about the accident.

“What accident?” I ask.

She shifts in her chair and the leather shrieks.

I like the cruelness of this question. I like forcing her to say what really happened. I like to make her face the reality.

You can get away with things like this when your mother slits her wrists. It’s one of the few perks, I suppose.

***

Now, it’s the ZZ plant with its dark green leaves and low maintenance attitude. I don’t water it for the first week. I want to test its resiliency. The soil dries and cracks, but the plant still stands vibrant and lively.

For the second week, I water it daily. I fill an empty milk jug and drown the plant with cloudy water. The plant is unfazed.

 I carry it outside and place it where we buried Pancake and Fish and Mom’s ashes. The plant isn’t meant to withstand direct sunlight, but its leaves stay firm and peppy. Worse, they look greener, and I can see new buds beginning to sprout. I pluck the new growth and crumble it between my fingers.

I shove the plant into my closet where no light peeps through. I leave it there for two weeks, completely undisturbed. When I come back for it, the plant is more radiant than ever. It is mocking me with its steadfast determination.

I throw the plant against the wall. The pot cracks on impact, sending bits of broken ceramic and clumps of dirt scattering.

You come into the room and look at the mess.

You return with a broom and a dustpan. You don’t ask me about it, and I don’t explain.

Salt White, Rose Red

Don’t.

So, I did.

*
I hadn’t come across green in so long.

The sea stretches for miles in every direction. Choppy grey, swelling to overwhelm the deep black rocks the lighthouse is built on. Everything is either black, white or grey. The mainland isn’t visible and I—

I ached for green. It was the skipped beat in my heart, the lie caught in my teeth. I tossed and rolled awake at night, window open to the sea air, everything muted in its spray. Sprawled on her back and still smelling of kerosene from the lamp, she slept beside me, steady and oblivious.

*

The supply boat was late, and she went to the mainland to meet it. The revving of her boat over waves followed me as I hurried down the path.

It sat, waiting for me, panes frosted with salt.

Don’t, she’d said.

I opened the glass door and slipped inside.

The walls swam with moisture and heat.

It was so green, it hurt. Leaves and vines and flowers spilled from pots. Everything burned with life.

I leaned on the door and cried. Heavy, thick, gulping.

*

My eyes adjusted gradually. By the time I eased myself off the door, sweat was dripping down the back of my neck.

It was deeper than I’d thought. The paths tangled, snarling with vines.

But the roses. Oh, the roses.

They bordered the greenhouse, a guard of honour soaking up the wet. White, pure white—a different kind of burn from the green.

This wasn’t the white of salt or the white of the lighthouse tower. This was a new white. A white that breathed of snow and new beginnings and clean slates. All the things she’d promised.

I reached out and stroked a petal. Velvet, her cheek under my hand when I first kissed her.

I let out a breath.

They were living. Out here, on this rock, separated from salt by lightning and sand. Proof that something could root here. Survive. Thrive.

A high-pitched whine she’s back and I flinched—

Ow. The thorn dug in. Blood welled, a red tear. I sucked it away.

I met her at the dock, thumb tucked behind my back. If she noticed my sweat-soaked hair and flushed cheeks, she didn’t say anything.

*

Now I dream of red. Red running down glass. Of satiation. Of breathing for the first time in a century.

I break awake into heat and swimming walls. The sheets have twisted around my waist and the bedsheets on my side are drenched. My thighs throb.

When I lift my nightgown, I see dozens of tiny punctures. And when I next visit the roses, they are a deep, deep red.

I Think My Houseplants Must Hate Me

I think my houseplants must hate me, dead as they are. I can’t help but be me, relentlessly wavering between absent and overbearing, never quite right. When they need me the most, I am not there to feed them or to open the shades far enough to let the light in. When they wish I was gone, I smother them with water and far too much affection. Philodendrons, monsteras, rubber trees, spider plants, and even succulents all inevitably perish with the tiniest tremble of my hands.

Everything dies.

I should be used to this by now, being a goddess of death and all. Still, I cannot help but feel defeated and depressed that my efforts on this side of the ground have gone unrewarded. It would be nice, for once, to be able to bask in the glow of growing something or even simply just letting something live by its own volition. I cannot even begin to fathom how the humans do it—houseplants seem to be the most wretched creatures, just unequivocally determined to die, always plotting their own passing.

The tea kettle whistles sharply from the kitchen and with it, my fiddle leaf fig falls. My sigh takes out an orchid on a side table as I pass. Father pours the tea into dainty china teacups, his hands looming far too large around them to be anything different than absurd.

“Would you like to come home now?” he asks.

I look around the kitchen of the tiny cottage I have tried so very hard to make my own up here on the surface, but all my plants are dead and gone. Crumbling leaves, almost dust now, cover the floor, and streaks of dirt are smeared every which way from my many unsuccessful resuscitation attempts. Yes, it’s time to go home.

*

The Underworld is different from the world above—quieter, and ironically, so full of life. Shades brush against me at every turn, soft conversations between them singing through the air as Father leads me through the hallways. His hands cover my eyes, hiding the oh-so-familiar twisting and turning pathways from my gaze. He says that the humans call this a surprise, though I’m not entirely sure why they would ever wish to willfully endure the unexpected and astonishing. After all, you would think they would have had their fill of that at the thought of death.

“Surprise!” he calls out as he uncovers my eyes. The room we are in is peaceful and calm and full of my houseplants! They sway to a music only they can hear, and as my hand hovers over a bromeliad, it leans into my touch. My plants are happy and thriving and I am just enough for them. I am a goddess of death and I think my houseplants must love me, dead as they are.

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