By Zoe Raine Maki
Illustrations are by B. Muse (Insta: @tastesliketelevision)
Seeds: Seeds contain a plant with leaves, stems, and roots.
You see these trumpet vines? The honeysuckle? She’d said to the baby who was reaching for the leaves, we created these together. And she’d go on to tell the story of the day the girl said her first word — “apple” — and pointed at the apple her mother was eating. The mom nearly choked on the seed and coughed it into the corner where their first vine would grow, emerging from the dust and spiderwebs. It had taken the mom a few days to notice the vine snaking along the TV cables; when she found it, she tried to throw it away, but it was stuck between the floorboards. They couldn’t have known then, but it had already grown a complicated system of roots beneath their bare feet.
Soon the room was filled with moss, figs, mangoes, and everything else that didn’t make sense in one place. Her mother explained that you’d never see another garden like this. These combinations of plants don’t usually grow together, but aren’t they beautiful? Lush and wild, just like you, and she would tap the baby’s sternum and kiss her nose. As the girl grew older, they would water the plants together, ducking and weaving through the room. The mother would squat and pull the girl close, then show her the new plants popping up. When you’re picking raspberries, look for the fully colored ones. If you try to pick it, and it doesn’t want to budge, try again tomorrow. There were other plants too, ones that her mom said to keep secret. The ones that grow on the rainbow plant—these ones are only for us, she plucked a bright pink star from one of the red stems and placed it on her tongue, eyes closed. It tasted like strawberries and gushed like boba pearls. The girl felt it in her toes first, then there was a ballooning in her lungs before the boba pearls bubbled into laughter. The plant takes care of us, so we take care of her.
Germination: With soil, water, and sun, the plant can begin to grow.
The garden reacted poorly to other hands. What the girl remembers: crawling through the jungle in the TV room to push Winnie the Pooh into the VCR, a neon blue spider crawling down the screen, a web more supernatural to her than the root system under their feet, and the week that Strangeman disappeared as fast as he appeared. The night he entered their home, the garden leaves dried and shriveled to the floor, but this didn’t stop the mother from inviting him in to spend the night. He didn’t hurt them; he just changed things. He stayed away from the TV room, but the mom still brought him the stars that grew on the rainbow plant; it was not just for the girl and mother anymore. The girl could hear them laughing from the other room, and she didn’t join in.
A week later, on the playground, the girl and her classmates were participating in the Clog. This took place in the tube slide where the first person down would stop, and one by one they would pile in until the whole slide was full of sweaty bodies and second grade Lunchable breath. They stayed in there until someone started crying because of the claustrophobia, but that someone was never her. This time it was Stephanie Stevens. She ran straight to the teacher, so the slide was blocked off for the rest of recess to prevent another “incident.” If it hadn’t been for Stephanie Stevens, the girl could’ve been squished in with Clementine for all of recess with her infectious giggle, bright yellow jacket, and honey lavender shampoo smell. As more and more weight stacked on top of them, squeezing out their breath, Clementine and the girl threw their heads back in laughter. Every time they came back to equilibrium, their faces were closer than before until they laughed so hard their mouths fell into each other. It was then that Stephanie Stevens cried and got everyone in trouble. She didn’t see Clementine for the rest of the day, but she still had the remnants of her clementine taste on the bus ride home. Her reliving of Clementine and the Clog was interrupted when she saw Strangeman on the side of the road with an extended thumb and her mom’s old orange suitcase. The girl pressed her forehead against the window and squinted as if that might make him disappear altogether. Even long after she had passed him and there was nothing to see but blurred trees, she did not stop staring. Her head did not stop rattling against the glass.
Stems & Roots: Stems will grow upward towards the light, and roots will grow down towards the soil.
She sprinted home, backpack bouncing on her shoulders; she was ready to squeeze her mom tight and laugh together once again, to duck and weave in the TV room garden hand in hand. But when she reached the yard, her mom was digging a hole so deep that only the top of her sunhat was visible. The girl meant to scream out for her mom, kiss her forehead, crawl into the hole with her, but instead she stayed glued to the chalk covered sidewalk. The girl only moved when her mom said, Come bury me! in a way that sounded fun and inviting — in a way that reminded the girl of pre-Strangeman times. With the girl’s small hands and new excitement, she buried her mom in the yard. They covered her up to her mouth, and her pleading eyes said Please, keep going.
When only her sunhat poked from the ground, the girl picked flowers from the TV room garden and placed them around the hat. At first, the girl relished the alone time with her mom and bathed in the sunlight, feeling her mother as roots just below, keeping the girl grounded. But as the moon and stars came out, she started to panic. When will this game be over? When she dug into the dirt under her mom’s sunhat, there was nobody — no body, no root system. The mom didn’t come back for a few days, and the girl forgot to go to school. She forgot about the Clog and Stephanie Stevens and Clementine with her sweet shampoo. She didn’t shower, and she only knew how to make grilled cheese. A few days later, her mom simply showed up and carried the girl — in her muddy sundress — to the TV room as if nothing had happened. Let’s get you cleaned up. I have a surprise for you, she said as she scooped her daughter into her arms.
Leaves: Leaves unfold, take in sunlight, and produce food through photosynthesis.
In the TV room, there was a newly inflated pool with clean water and lost leaves floating on the surface. The large blue rectangle fit perfectly in the center of the room, and the leaves that had been brittle and dry grew toward the skylight with renewed, vibrant colors. The mother stepped into the pool with the daughter still in her arms and lowered her into the water. Their clothes clung to their bodies as the mom washed the dried mud from the daughter’s arms and behind her ears. The daughter breathed in the collection of fruits and flowers under the warmth of the skylight and felt full.
She asked her mom, Where did you go? I was scared you were gone forever.
I’m always with you, the mother responded, even if you don’t see me.
The daughter thought about that and felt it was true. When her mom was gone, she could feel her heartbeat under the floorboards and her laughter under the warmth of the sun, but still, she had felt lonely. The mother scrubbed the daughter’s hair with tea tree oil, and said
Keep your eyes closed. I have that surprise for you.
And she kissed the top of her daughter’s soapy head. When the mother sat back up, the daughter felt as if she had strings coming from her head and hands that connected to her mom. It was as if she and her mother were two marionette dolls, mirror images that moved with each other’s motions. When the daughter sat up, she expected her mother to lay down as a result of what felt like their connected strings. But the mom sat still and smiled at the daughter. Do you feel it? Now you will always know where I’m at because you can feel the pull. We can never lose each other.
Flowers: Many plants produce flowers that are important in making seeds.
The daughter fell in love years later, and again, laughing fell into kissing. Their nectar lips spoke a language of their own and their cupid bows grooved to the rhythm of their bodies– the beat of their language as allegro and andante synched with their heart’s bpm. They rested foreheads on one another and became miniature reflections in each other’s eyes. The daughter felt goosebumps of seeds all over her body and spotted a leaf unfurling from the lamp– a distant memory of home. The longer her and _____ spent gazing in each other’s eyes, the more plants began to sprout from the bathtub drains and light fixtures. Soon there were faucet ferns and orangelo outlets, and she said to _____: we created these together. _____ was delighted, and they fed the new fruits to each other in silence.
Amid all the love and new growth, the daughter dreamt of a strawberry field with acres of ripe fruit and knew there was someone she was supposed to find, though she wasn’t sure who or how she knew. Her attempts at running — at controlling her body in any way — failed. She felt like she had been drugged; her vision tingled with dancing red and green splotches while she fought to keep her feet from melting further into the ground. There were wind chimes close by, and the sound made her mouth taste like earth.
When she woke up, she felt a heaviness she hadn’t felt since the day she buried her mother in the yard. She felt like the strings had been cut, and suddenly, she was left to carry her whole body on her own. She tried to call her mom, heart still racing. When her mom didn’t pick up, the daughter hopped in her truck, leaving _____ behind, and drove back home in the middle of the night.
Pollination: Flowers are pollinated when pollen from the stem moves onto the pistil. Seeds and fruit are produced.
While the daughter was away, the mother buried herself again, but this time, under the floorboards. As if trapped in a conch shell, the mother was overwhelmed with the sound of the crashing waves for days. At first, the sound came from the walls, the ceilings, the sinks, and she could taste the salt and feel the sand under her fingernails, but eventually, she realized it was coming from below. She felt seasick while she took a box cutter and pry bar to the wooden panels in the kitchen. After crying and cutting and prying through two layers of hardwood floor, she had a body-sized hole. Underneath the floorboards wasn’t water, but dirt. The sound of the ocean didn’t go away, so the mother kept digging, dirt following the swirls of her fingerprints until it was a part of her.
When the daughter arrived back home and walked onto the porch, she smelled fresh dirt and knew it was true. Why would my mother do this? How could she leave me alone again? In the middle of the kitchen, there was a single strawberry plant. The TV room was past the kitchen and to the right, so this plant was out of place. The daughter felt an immediate tug from her fingertips toward the plant, a lightness again in her limbs, and knew the connection to her mother was back.
The patch of dirt around the plant was about the size of a body, while the rest of the floor was still the normal light wooden floors she was used to, though the edges around the dirt were splintered. The daughter had always wondered what was supporting their weight, if it was dirt or concrete or a large empty space. She kneeled in front of the plant, her pants getting wet from the moist dirt, and said I’m here mom, don’t worry, I’m here, and started to dig around the plant with heavy handfuls. She smelled the first few handfuls and accidentally sucked dirt crumbs into her lungs. She wondered if she could inhale a seed and grow something inside of her. When she was up to her elbows, the roots (nearly as thick as her wrists) mazed down, down, down. Soon, the daughter’s whole body was intertwined with the webs. The light from above started to dim. It felt like someone had fallen on top of her, and right as she was about to mimic Stephanie Steven’s claustrophobic cries in the Clog, a sliver of light opened below.
The girl felt it in her toes first, then there was a ballooning in her lungs before the boba pearls bubbled into laughter. When she reached for the light, she slid through a familiar tube slide, fast and full of adrenaline. The light grew and grew until she was spit out onto rubber mulch with Clementine landing on top of her, with an infectious giggle and bright yellow jacket. They laughed until their cheeks and bellies hurt. The girl could tell her mother was around, with the invisible strings still tugging in multiple directions.
Seeds: Seeds contain a plant with leaves, stems, and roots.
On rubber mulch at the bottom of the slide, the girl curled into the fetal position, intertwined with Clementine. Crumbs of honey lavender joined the bits of dirt in her lungs and fused into a new growth. Let’s get you cleaned up.
Zoe Raine is a queer writer who is intrigued by the intersection of motherhood, mental illness, and magical realism. She found her love of literary magazines through interning at Passages North and is now a fiction editor for Bellingham Review and reader for Fractured Lit. Her work is featured (or forthcoming) in The Hunger, Maudlin House, Lost Balloon, Invisible City, and A Velvet Giant. You can find her on Twitter @ZoRaineMaki1.
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