This story is by Rachel Wilson and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Darkness. Nothingness. And then–
“—can’t help if you—yourself.”
“—trying; I really am.”
No. The other. Where’s the other?
“Truly, Adam—paper, but it needs—“
Yes. That one.
“—meet again—due date.”
A flicker of light, color.
And there it is. There she is.
She has the most magnificent golden covering of—hair—the word pops out of nowhere into my…brain? Consciousness?
She turns toward me with a sigh, warm pools of dark brown, like my soil, set into golden skin.
“Hello, little plant,” she murmurs, reaching out with her hand and ghosting her fingers over my leaves. “At least you don’t talk back.”
More time, the word is time, passes.
The light comes; the light goes—just as she does.
I know I am a plant, for she tells me so.
I know the passing time is marked in days:
“Well, it’s definitely a Monday,” she’d groan
“Thank God it’s almost Friday,” she’d commiserate with her coworkers in and out of her office.
That’s where I am—an office. It’s small, no more than the just over the length of her by two lengths of her. Occasionally, others—humans, my brain supplies—come and go, but she is there, always there, from when the light rises to when the light falls.
In time, I learn the names of my surroundings. This office has a wooden desk, a bookcase, a filing cabinet, a small refrigerator and microwave, and two chairs, all crammed together.
She sits right next to the window ledge on which I rest, surrounded by pictures, plaques, and other knick-knacks, as she calls them. She comes in each morning, bringing with her the sun, the warmth, the fresh smells of outside, and I bask in her glow.
“I expect to be added back into the class right now!” an other—a human, I correct myself—yells one day. His volume hurts my leaves.
Calmly, so calmly, she replies, “That’s not how this works, Evan. We have an attendance policy for a reason.”
Once he is ushered out by another stern-faced human, she slumps in her chair, turns to me, and clutches the pot in which I am planted. She doesn’t say anything, just inhales deeply several times and exhales my life’s breath. I soak it in, then return the favor.
Most days are blissful. She rushes in, laughs and jokes with her co-workers, grabs stacks of papers, and rushes out.
“Off to the races!” she quips on these days, without fail. Her co-workers chuckle but roll their eyes.
I beam as much as a plant can be said to beam.
Once she returns with more stacks of papers, she spends the afternoons in her chair, right next to me. She makes phone calls, answers e-mails, meets with students—most of them reasonable—and grades the stacks of papers that come and go with her. Every now and then, she will glance at me and smile or reach out a caress my leaves.
Her mere presence makes me stand taller.
As the light and warmth of each day decrease, she gathers her things, straightens her desk, and always, always, brushes her fingers across my leaves.
“Such a happy plant,” she occasionally murmurs.
If my green leaves could blush, they would.
More time passes.
The happy days are fewer; the bad days take hold.
She mutters more, and not to me.
“Nothing like the end of the semester to make one care about her grade!”
“I literally told them five times in class on Monday to have this ready for today’s class. Did they? Freaking no, of course.”
“This is a paper? Really?”
Her golden hair droops. Her eyes droop. Her mouth droops.
So too do my leaves.
Sometimes, when no one else is around, she clutches my pot to her chest as though the world might end if she lets go, and her warm tears trickle down her now pale cheeks and onto my leaves.
Exquisite torture, and I wish desperately for arms to hold her just as tightly.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she whispers one day, placing her head on the desk in front of her. Her breath hitches.
She sits up, turns her head to look at me, and leans her pale face against her balled palm.
“You funny little plant,” she murmurs.
I’m your plant! I wish to declare.
“It must be nice being a plant, I’d imagine. No worries. No stupid papers to grade. No students or supervisors to please. Nothing to care about except soaking up the sun.”
I care about you.-
She reaches out, runs a finger over one of my leaves, rests her palm on my pot.
She sighs, shakes her head, pulls her hand back, and gathers her things.
She walks toward the door, more downtrodden than I’ve ever seen her, with her shoulders hunched.
Just before she flips off the light, she glances back at me.
Don’t go!- I scream.
The light goes off, the door shuts, and she’s gone.
Outside the window in the door of her office, people go about their business, occasionally glancing my way and shaking their heads.
I wonder where she is, but I remain in the dark, my only light that from the window by which I sit. Even her officemate comes and goes quickly, not saying a word, barely glancing my way.
My leaves droop.
If I had a heart, I suppose one could say it is broken.
More days pass.
I stop looking for her.
“—okay to return?”
“—says she’s fine.”
“—get this clean for her.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” a weak voice breaks through.
Water, life-giving water.
A gentle caress. The beloved murmurs.
She has the darkest of circles under her eyes, and she is thinner than ever before. Her golden hair hangs limply around her head, and her smile is somewhat dimmer, but it’s there.
She is here.
“We’ll get you healthy again in no time, little plant,” she informs me, and she adjusts my pot to catch the light and warmth better.
You’re all the light I need.