First, realize that this is not the country. This is not the great stretch of green-yellow-gold fields, the big sky, the whole world. This is the city. This is a concrete balcony. This is a pile of pots that you bought and pots that you found and pots you inherited when other plants died. This is air cut with noise and smog and the cigarette smoke that drifts up from the apartment below.
The sun comes in at a slant between the railings for only four hours every afternoon, the shortened day of a foreign planet. Soil comes from bags instead of from the ground. Roots push against plastic, working but failing to unfurl. The plants are close yet separate, whole worlds unto themselves, packed into containers drilled through with drainage holes. The roof of the upstairs balcony hangs over their heads.
It is you they wait for. When you bring the heavy watering can, they turn their faces to you. You are their entire world, the sun and the rain and the sky put together. But remember that it was not your fingers that brought them to life. They made that choice on their own, quietly, underground, in the first green push to the air. Against the wind they struggled but remained upright and, despite all odds, they grew.
At nighttime, put them to bed. Close the sliding door, shut off the apartment lights. Fan your hands against the other side of the glass and look at them, out there in the dark. By the time the traffic slows, the plants might forget. They will close their eyes and imagine they are not high up in a city but level with the earth. They are rooted in a field, they are surrounded by others. They are home.
And so are you, in the night, walking through a meadow with grasses up to your waist. Run your palms over the tips as you walk, making waves. Each ripple connects to another blade, then another. In this way, touch every plant in this field and beyond. Touch them and pretend the tangled stems on the balcony aren’t throbbing inside their containers. Pretend the plants aren’t uncurling vine by vine. Hold still, hold your breath, and pretend they aren’t straining to catch you, to trap you, to make you remember what they’ve lost.
Laura Maylene Walter
Laura Maylene Walter is the author of the story collection Living Arrangements (BkMk Press), which won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize, a national gold IPPY award, and a silver Foreword Book of the Year Award. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including The Sun, Poets & Writers, The Writer, Tampa Review, Inkwell, American Literary Review, Cat Fancy, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2011 Ohioana Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant and is currently an assistant fiction editor at the Mid-American Review. She blogs about the writing life at lauramaylenewalter.com.
Artwork: Kmye Chan, “The language of flowers”