Whisper 1.32

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Shea arrives early the next morning in the pouring down rain.

It feels amazing to see him again.

“Shea! You haven’t changed!” I tell him. “Your head leaves are white, sure, but you look as fresh as ever!”

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I feel so excited. Shea is here! After all these years!

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“There’s really nothing I need to tell you about the baby,” he says. “He’s doing great. Anyway, you know, plants don’t really care for their sprouts. That’s what we have gardeners for. You’re a great gardener, so just, you know carry on!”

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“I do love veggies, you know this,” I tell him. “But truthfully, Shea? I never thought that I would be a mother to a life form in the vegetable kingdom.”

“Do you know why I’m smiling?” he asks. “It’s so artistic, like a wish come true. I have to confess, back in college, I always dreamed of you caring for a  little sprout of our own.”

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That night, while Marigold is upstairs doing her homework, before bed, I might add, like we agreed, Shea, Bobobo, and I spend time together in the front room.

“Did you really dream of this?” I ask Shea.

“In my youth, yes,” he says. “Didn’t you?”

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“I never knew what to dream,” I tell him. “I was confused and clueless. I was very much in love with you, and you were my first best friend in college, but I couldn’t understand your feelings for me. I felt it best just to go along with whatever happened.”

“I remember you used to ask me what plants thought of marriage. Do you remember that? I gathered that being faithful was important to you. You know it doesn’t work like that for plants. I was just so afraid of disappointing you. I couldn’t stand that I might break your heart and smash our friendship. But I dreamed of this! Of course, neither of us had white hair and laugh lines in my dream, but it still feels miraculous to me that it’s come to pass.”

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Funny, how I feel so comfortable with him, even after all these years. It’s not the same type of love that I feel for Dante, which is a love that feels like destiny. This feels more like being with kin, or maybe the way I feel so at home in the forest, among the ferns and trees.

“Your daughter is amazing,” he says. “So smart! I guess she’ll be heading off to college!”

“She’s just a freshman in high school,” I tell him. “We still have a few more years at home.”

“Let me know when you’re starting to fill out applications,” he says. “I know a few of the deans there. I can pull some strings.”

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Early the next morning, he’s out raking leaves. Oh, this brings back memories!

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“D0 you remember our squirrel friend?” I ask him.

“eeeIIshiiiiimaaaaiiioh?” he says. “Of course I do! You know, his great grand kits are still playing outside our old dorm!”

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“Look at all these leaves,” Marigold says as she comes home from school. “Did you rake these?”

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“Whee!”

And then she tosses them all up into the air, and Shea and I laugh.

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We feel like family, Shea, Marigold, Bobobo and I. What if I had let myself dream, back in those long ago days. If I had, then this would have been my dream, too.

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Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: This Wide Green Home

This story was written for the August 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month.


Walking to her flat on the evening she quit DeConsenny and Sons, Katie Hildebrand noticed for the first time that pavement and cement smothered this entire quadrant of the city. Iron cages encased spindly trees, and the tangled vines withered before reaching the promise of wilderness offered by the canal’s green waters. A lone shoot of grass, stubborn and resilient, poked through a crack in the sidewalk. She thought for a moment about what can be contained and what can’t.

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She knew it was within her legal rights to keep the job: in theory, laws protect employees who report sexual harassment. But every legal secretary knows that theory and practice dwell on parallel planes. You can’t legislate gossip, sneers, innuendo, or cold shoulders. The day after she filed the first complaint, the man who was now her former boss began to shift her tasks to copying and filing–jobs any intern straight out of high school could perform and which used not even a tenth of her education, experience, logic, or imagination.

At least she reported it, she reminded herself. She could have kept quiet and kept the job, trying to avoid being alone with him in empty offices or abandoned hallways. But what of the next person, male or female, that he did this to? She could have kept the job and suffered it out. But she did the right thing, she reasoned. She spoke up. She quit. It’s on record, so the next time someone has to report it, he’s already got a file. Now onto something else.

After she secured a teaching job for the fall, the whole summer stretched before her. She stowed her couch, boxes of books, suitcases of business clothes, and crates of dishes in a storage bay in her new town, cashed half her severance pay and deposited the rest, and then she took off for the mountains.

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Granite replaced concrete. Trees grew unrestrained. Everywhere the calls and songs of birds sounded. And the air! Pine rosin, mint leaves, and wildflowers perfumed the air with sweetness.

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All the crumpled pieces of Katie slowly unfurled. She forgot the iron sheen in her boss’s glare and the sibilant whispers that fell to silence whenever she walked into a room.

None of that mattered when Jezebel butterflies hovered over the meadows.

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Katie spent long days wandering and exploring. The meadows and pines made better companions than any person–friend, lover, or coworker–she had known.

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Each day, she discovered treasures. Deep in the forest, she found Boisduval’s blue butterflies hovering over sages.

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In one meadow, traipsing through the tall grass, she flushed grasshoppers with each step.

She caught one and held it gently in her hands. She looked in its striped eyes, and it gazed back. When she spoke softly, the grasshopper moved its antennae towards her, raising and lowering them in time with her voice.

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She set it on a young alder and watched as it grabbed a leaf between its lower mandibles and slowly devoured the whole thing.

Watching luna moths in the alpine meadow, she reflected that, while once common, they were now endangered.

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When she was a child, one day her father bundled her into the truck. “Are you ready for wonder?” he asked. They drove all morning, at last pulling into the dirt parking lot by the beach.

“What will we find?” she asked her father. “Is it the ocean?”

The ocean had been wonderful, rich with the scent of algae and seaweed, but that wasn’t the wonder. They walked through the salt marsh, following the trail into the grove of eucalyptus.

“Look up,” her father said. The leaves shimmered and opened and began to fly, and the grove was filled with flashing orange.

“What are they, Father?” she whispered.

“They are butterflies,” he said, “here to pretend to be the forest leaves while they hibernate all winter.”

Would the monarchs return this year, foliating the forest?  She had read that they were endangered now, too, disappearing with the milkweed.

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What love isn’t tinged with the bittersweet? Is it loss that makes us treasure it more?

Beneath the anticipated sorrow of waiting bereavement, Katie felt comfort, poised here in her embracing home, cradled by this broad green planet, spiraling slowly through the galaxy.

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Her old crowd in the city, when they weren’t talking about rising sea levels and estimating the number of years before their city were underwater, loved to talk about the “next life.” They were believers in reincarnation, all of them. “Next life, I’m blowing this place,” Davon said. “I mean it. I’m not coming back. This planet is harsh.”

“Oh, for real,” said Cynthia. “There’s gotta be a better planet out there, right? Something more gentle.”

“Something not populated with self-destructive idiots,” Brent said.

“Someplace where you think it, and it happens. Where it’s not person against person. Where it’s not cold in winter, or hot in summer. But it’s always lovely. Where it’s made for individuals.”

“Where we can thrive,” Miranda said.

Katie never joined the conversation. She loved her friends; and often, she felt she belonged with them. They joked that they traveled through time together, popping up each lifetime on a planet where they could do something significant. They’d messed up this time by coming here. They weren’t coming back.

But Katie, having actual memories of six distinct lives and snippets of several more, each one lived on this green earth, was more than just a believer in hypothetical reincarnation. It was part of her remembered experience. And when they joked about never coming back, she felt alone and dismayed.

This summer, she discovered what she always knew: she had one love, and it was this earth.

Friends will come and go. The jet stream will disappear. Sea levels will rise. The green water from the bay and canals will flood the old city. Populations will be displaced, and the poor will suffer most. Extinctions will occur, and parents will describe to their children “what used to be” with tears in their eyes. The earth will heave and moan. We’ll grieve the incalculable losses, too tragic to name, together with trees and ferns and the keening rhizome. And she’ll come back, back to her home, to do whatever a good person can do on the planet that that is her one true love.

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Summer ended. She packed her tent and gear and stood in the wide meadow.

Nine months of teaching biology to seventh graders extended before her, and then, it would be summer again.

“I’ll be back!” she shouted to the pines. Through their own language, whispered in phytochemicals spread through the air and the underground network of mycorrhiza, they shouted in reply, “Until you return!”

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Wonder 47

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“I’ve got a dinner date tonight,” said my patient Bria Louis, “and I really want to go. Will I be well enough?”

“I think so,” I replied. “It’s just the early stage of a virus, and our herbal remedy seems to kick it out in an hour or two. See how you feel, and if you feel great, that means that the reishi and shiitake did their job, so you’d be good-to-go! If you feel a little tired or still have a sore throat, which is unlikely, then I’d suggest you rest up and postpone your date for another day.”

“I really hope the stuff works,” Bria said. “It’s not like it’s a romantic date–it’s just with a friend. But still. She’s an important friend, and you never know when a friend turns into something more.”

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I thought about what she said while I was on break. I don’t really get what more there is than friendship. To me, it seems like everything.

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The day went well, but I still felt a little stressed and tired when I got home. I turned on some music and danced before I even showered.

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Then, I heard some static from the living room and I noticed that the stereo was broken.

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After fixing it, I showered and headed out back to the pool. There’s nothing more relaxing than a quick dip at sunset.

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When I got out of the pool, my phone rang. It was Sonia Burgos, whom I’d met at the café the day before.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” she said. “Want to go out to eat?”

I was hungry, and Sonia seemed like a nice, friendly person, so I said sure. I kept wondering what she meant that she couldn’t stop thinking about me. I finally figured that she was probably interested in my research.

I wore my “remember-not-to-take-myself-too-seriously” outfit. I didn’t want to bore her by going into more details about applanoxidic acid A than she really wanted to hear. When I’ve got my blue glasses on, I remember to toss in a joke now and then, rather than just rattle on as fast as my brain will take me.

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In the restaurant, I saw Bria. So she’d made it to her dinner date, after all, and her date was Yuki. They seemed to be having a good time. I didn’t even know they knew each other!

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“Look, there’s mushrooms on the menu!” Sonia said.

I laughed. “Nothing like bringing the office to dinner!”

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“Mushrooms are fascinating,” Sonia said. “And I mean not just mushrooms, but all types of fungi, especially the mycelium.”

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“Are you ready to order?” said the waitress. “The special tonight is smoked chanterelles on a bed of braised kale with pureed fig compote.”

“We’re skipping the mushrooms,” said Sonia.”I got a feeling that’s all we’re gonna be talking about tonight, and I don’t want us to be eating our words.”

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We did talk about mushrooms all night. Sonia explained that the mycelium form a network of underground threads connecting all the plants in a forest community, and along those pathways travel chemicals which allow the plants to share information with each other. In other words, mushrooms facilitate plant communication.

Talking with Sonia reminded me of talking with Tia Berry. We could talk for hours and hours, exploring a subject from all different sides and angles.

I think I could be great friends with Sonia–and, after all, what is better than friendship?

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