Inert, Sentimental, Living

It is hard to tell how the plants have done since I moved back to my parents’. From the confined room in which they used to sit, in view of the sole window, subject to its angular light that dialled round their leaves and the furniture, they have come to be separated about the house, windows at all points of the compass, and an airier atmosphere, little trickles of that fresh air off the sea.
    There is the plant whose name I do not know, but it has oval leaves with yellow in the middle and the pot has a kind of cubist face on it with a moustache and monocle – my mother calls it the ‘professor pot’. When I first arrived in spring, a sprout appeared atop its central stalk and from it tiny shoots appeared, first as little knobs then outwards into thin stems. It is next to the desk where I work every day. Seldom do I regard it, nor look down to where it rests on a saucer. It tilts away from me, edged towards the window. It is sheltered underneath the grand leaves of a thirty-eight-year-old monstera. The monstera outshines it with curled and twisted branches, elaborately envelops it. If I were to get married, I would want to receive a monstera, too.
    There is the plant whose name I do not know, but my mother does, she learned the names of many plants & flowers from her mother, but my mother’s thumbs are not so green. It is in the downstairs bathroom. It is in a white pot and there is woodchip where flies used to spawn (not anymore). The leaves are not leaves at all but fleshy funnels that detach from their branch at the slightest touch. You would think it can avoid such agitation underneath the frosted window of a bathroom, but no, often one of its tubular leaves can be found on the floor or on the toilet lid or – worse! – in the toilet itself. It is growing, in the sense that although it does not appear to be growing new leaves, it is spreading outward, half its fingers reaching for the boiler and half the framed photograph on the wall of the seaside town where my grandfather’s family hail from.
    There is the plant whose name I do not know, but I bought it on the coast, in Southwold, just after my thirty-third birthday. (The author is shocked to realise his plants survive years – plural!) It was a sweet florist, set up in a decommissioned pub, the beer garden now a labyrinth of precariously balanced plants and saplings. It was a gift from my mother that I carried back proudly to the car and then my flat. Such is my mother’s fondness for the plant that upon my return she took it for her bedroom. The plant stands on a tall base at the end of my parents’ bed. The plant has witnessed some unspeakable things. The trauma! the horror! It has been months now. Some things cannot be recovered from. When I finally get the plant back, I will register it for an intense rehabilitation course. After all that plant has seen, after all it has had to photosynthesise through, the least I can do is my best to see it becomes a functioning member of society again.

    There was a plant whose name I did not know, but it is dead now. It was a gift from my sister-in-law, but she potted it wrong; the plant never stood a chance. My niece painted the pot in shades of orange, pink and green, her two-year-old clumsy fingerprints messing all over until it emerged from the kiln quite wonderful. The pot (inert) had more value (sentimental) to me than the plant (living). When I arrived at my parents’, I pronounced the plant with outstretched arms to my mother—‘Dead, innit? Dying?’ My mother, whose natural instinct it is to kill plants, studied it, held its leaves, then said—‘Yeah, that’s no good.’ So I threw the plant in the bin and kept the pot.
    There is a plant whose name I do not know, but it was a cutting from my aunt that she instructed my mother to give me. I looked at the cutting not really knowing what to do with it, so I placed it in a port glass and gave it water. The roots white and raw poked out and filled the glass. Back in March, at the beginning of lockdown, I planted it in the pot my niece gifted me. Since then, the plant has grown considerably. It spreads out with little baby plants that I chop off and give as cuttings to anyone who will have them. The plant sits in my bedroom (no horror at all, just perfect Jimi Hendrix performances and Tool covers) below the window, where it seems very happy, bursting out from its centre in perpetually green strips, upon a table that used to be positioned next to my grandmother when she could no longer move much, there she kept her cups of instant coffee, ginger wine, her medication, snowballs of half-used tissues and a game of scrabble.
    There is a plant whose name I do not know, but it is dying, if it is not already dead. I do not know; I am neither a doctor nor a botanist. Looking at the leaves, prodding it or fingering the soil, I determine that it is dead, or doing a good job of pretending to be. Even in death it retains its colour. Undertaker, put some rouge on its cheeks! I still keep it in my bedroom, although I doubt its stomata are able to gasp with me in bed or its auxin to lean towards me as I plump my pillows every morning. Two-ninety-nine from the supermarket after my mother, and I kept it on my desk during the summer months. I watered it and, feeling the soil, asked her if she was doing the same. ‘Don’t worry! I’ll water it when I’m doing the rounds.’ When my sister-in-law fell ill, and my mother had to see to my nieces, she forwent watering the plants. That particular plant took it the hardest; starved of attention, it died. Now it rustles each time I move it. The poor thing sounds like autumn in spring.

    There is a plant whose name I do not know, but it, too, was a cutting that my mother gifted me and my brothers each. ‘Whoever’s dies first, loses.’ My middle-brother’s died first. My youngest-brother’s went into shock after he left it outside during a severe frost, yet somehow, against the odds, it survived. Mine did well; it did not thrive, but grew slowly, its tender green stems hardening into miniature trunks. After I returned to my parents, I repotted the plant one sunny Sunday afternoon, fingernails and paving cracks all sooted with soil, but it had a new home. It was then knocked out of its new home, first by my one of my nieces and then by my mother, lightning struck twice, poor little bastard tilted then tumbling, scattering small clumps of soil into its shadow. My finances stayed about the same. My nieces grew quicker than the plant, adding insult to injury.
    There is a plant whose name I do not know, but it lives in a small jar like a hundred swear words or rainy-day fund. I rest it on my Vox; fifteen-watts of British amplification vibrating its little needles. I bend down, tap on the glass—‘Are you a goldfish?’ growing only to the size of its container. It used to live on my windowsill, licking up and choking on smog from the street, sandy glass base loosely on a china coaster, the brittle clash of two surfaces rubbed together. I dusted it with dedication, watched the water run into the grit between its toes. In the back of the moving van, as all the other plants banged their heads, moaned at the inertia of roundabouts, ruffled and groaned in the darkness, this little plant in its small jar was perfectly comfortable. Maybe it is the runt of the litter, but it is hardy. In its telephone box it looks out, honeydew and hostile.
    There is a plant whose name I do not know, but since lockdown it has flourished. It was the last plant to be retrieved from my flat, where it overhung the small arm of the chair upon which I reclined every evening. Yes, it has really come into its own. My mother has moved it various places, one spot to another, but in each it has done the best it could. In my flat, within its large vase, it existed in a kind of stasis, without much light (it was the farthest from the window) it neither grew nor shrunk, lived nor died. When I returned to clear the place out in the middle of November, I discovered that the poor thing had only the water I left it in June, which it had clung to preciously, watching its friends – consciously abandoned – die before its eyes. Now it is bathed in as much light as this British latitude will permit, the part that makes it down to the east coast and through these kitchen windows, where I sit to write. Now I look at it, healthy, soft, strong leaves sprouted when before they withheld, and as the doors open for a slight breeze, they tremble in joy, in as much joy as a plant can tremble.