Inside the plant shop, Nora’s glasses fog. She takes them off to wipe on her shirt and holds them in her hand until they adjust to the warmth. Everything is green and brown and blurry. Up close, she sees a fern in a cool blue pot and wonders what it needs to survive.
She is looking for a housewarming gift. Though it’s more than that, really. Her friend Sherry has moved into an apartment with her boyfriend. There is also the baby and a wedding soon. Sherry has had a year.
Nora found an ad for a room in Sherry’s apartment when she first moved to the city six years ago. It is Nora’s apartment now. Sherry had had the bigger bedroom, had joked about how Nora would like to move herself in, paint, fix it up like a real person’s room. It is still empty.
Sherry could never be counted on to unload the dish rack, but she always brought back expensive cheeses from the market which they ate with bread and olive oil on the living room floor. She never remembered to water any of the houseplants, but now with the baby, surely that would be different?
She puts her glasses back on to read the handwritten card next to a plant with fleshy green leaves. The kalanchoe will bloom even in early January, when you least expect its flowers, set against the dark gray days. She thinks of Sherry waking in the night to tend to the baby, thankful for the delicate white flowers keeping her company.
But perhaps the kalanchoe is too much work. The trimming of dead flowers, cutting back of growth. Maybe this is the wrong kind of gift.
To encourage blooming, your kalanchoe must go through the darkness. Complete, 12-14 hours a day. May we suggest you use this opportunity to make space in your closet, to donate what you no longer use.
She senses someone behind her. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?” She turns around to find a man the same height as her, graying hair tucked behind his ears, a tattoo—spindly, like tentacles— peeking out of his collar. “Is there anything I can help you with today?” he asks. Likely within five years or so of her in age, he’s maintaining eye contact in a way she finds men don’t often, at least not with her. He looks as if he genuinely wants to help.
Normally, she would smile and decline help. But he hasn’t broken eye contact, his eyes are so kind. She finds herself explaining the new apartment, the baby, Sherry’s lack of attention to detail and routine. “It’s not that I don’t think she can handle it,” Nora says, “but what if she resents the extra work? What if she doesn’t appreciate it? What if she lets it die?”
The man nods patiently. “It can be a lot of work, can’t it?” he says.
Nora nods and follows him to a hanging display of tillandsia, each in its own fragile-looking glass bulb. “I’m getting the sense this is more her style,” he says. “Low key.” She would love to see this man’s apartment. What kind of greenery he’d chosen to surround himself in. The care he takes with each plant. Their different needs. His closets.
“What does it need?” Nora asks.
“Just a misting,” he says, “once every week or so.” He smiles. “Think she can handle it?”
Sherry and Nora used to talk about trips to Mexico, Portugal, China. Nora had thought they would navigate their late 30s together. Long vacations, sleeping in late, wine with lunch, walking back to their hotel arm in arm. The space to admit that despite all this, there was worry about finding a partner, if they’d ever be mothers.
Nora cups one of the glass bulbs in her palm. She would like to smash it, but the man is so hopeful he’s figured it out. That by buying Sherry this particular plant, he can lighten whatever load weighs on Nora. That causes her to share too much too quickly with a man who is in fact only doing his job. And that if the air plant dies, there is still the beautiful glass to catch the light.
Nora says, yes, thank you, this is it. Is there anything else, he wants to know. She’d like to ask, did you write the description for the kalanchoe? Do you ever sit in darkness, listening to the noise from the street? Knowing everyone outside is living a life you never will?
“No,” Nora says. This is just what I was looking for.
Beckie Dashiell graduated from the MFA program at UNC-Greensboro and currently lives and works in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in the Forge Literary Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Short Édition.