Saturday, August 02, 2008

My ho-hum life (with a capricious tale chaser)

Despite all appearance to the contrary, we don't actually close up shop and go into mourning when Miss V isn't around. I do have a life. It just isn't very interesting. Had I catalogued it here, you could be reading about adventures in bargain shopping, cooking up Pakistani curries, and the way I ruined homemade chicken stock on the stove overnight while my poor relatives were visiting, and how they had to sleep in Burnt Chickenville all night. (See? Not interesting.)

Instead I shall spin you a tale.

*strum strum*

IME was, there was a lad named Brad who had a green thumb. (People used to point and laugh at it, but he wisely ignored them.) Since his mother frequently switched jobs, Brad had a vagabond life that took him from place to place, never settling anywhere for more than a few months. He longed for a place of his own, where he could grow a garden and actually see the fruits of his labors, but there was never enough time.

Brad's most treasured possession -- one he had managed to keep through every move -- was an old brass doorknob with a day lily stamped on its face. It had belonged to his grandma, who had given it to him when he was six. Brad secretly believed it was lucky, though he wasn't sure how. Some day, he thought, when he was old enough, he'd find a house where he could stay forever if he wanted, and when that day came he'd put the brass doorknob on the front door.

One lovely summer day, as Brad was walking through Molbak's, he noticed a seed packet on the floor. He picked it up and turned it over. It didn't look like any of the other seed packets nearby, for it was made of simple brown paper, like a grocery sack. On the front, instead of a beautiful photograph or illustration of the plant, there were only these handwritten words:

Plant and see

Now Brad was most curious about what a caprice plant was (wouldn't you be?), so he took it to the cashier, who -- though she was otherwise quite knowledgeable (she worked at Molbak's, after all) -- didn't know anything about a caprice plant. Nor could she find the seed packet anywhere in her inventory list. Still, she shrugged and sold it to him for fifty cents. "Guess you'll find out," she said.

When Brad got home, he fished around in the junk behind the double-wide trailer and found a small plastic flowerpot. He filled it with potting soil and tipped in half a dozen small white seeds from the packet. Since there were no planting directions, he decided to cover the seeds loosely, water the pot generously and leave it in half-shade.

Weeks went by, and there was no sign from the little plastic pot that any living thing lurked beneath the soil. Brad tried all sorts of different things to coax it out -- heavy watering, no watering, full sun, complete shade, fish emulsion, Miracle Gro, playing the ocarina, waving the doorknob at it -- but to no avail. His caprice seeds were being, well, capricious. Furthermore, since nobody seemed to have heard of a caprice plant before, he wasn't sure if any of his experiments were good for the seeds.

Then there came an evening when Brad was informed, with much pseudo-cheer, that his family was getting ready to pack up and move on as it had so many times before.

Brad sulked around the edge of the double-wide. Nobody ever asked him what he wanted; it was always "Time to pull up the stakes again, kiddo!" as though Mom thought it was all fun for him. He never stayed long enough to make friends or enjoy a place -- never even long enough to really see his plants grow. He scowled at the plastic pot.

"What's wrong with you, anyway?" he muttered at it. "You don't have to move. You get everything you need and you still don't grow." He kicked at a dirt clod. "Plant and see, the packet said. Well, I'm going away soon and there won't be anyone to take care of you, so if you're planning on doing something I can see, you'd better do it now."

The moment the words left his mouth, Brad began to notice something. Little green tendrils began springing up in the pot. In less time than it takes to tell about it, they had woven themselves together and grew and grew, a long green stalk rising from the little plastic container. When the plant was about level with Brad's head, it began to branch out in various directions, the foliage squiggling out in corkscrew tendrils like sweet peas. Huge buds flared out into great purple-fringed trumpet flowers, like giant morning glories.

All this time Brad stood with his mouth open. Never had he seen anything grow so fast as the treelike plant nodding its flowers before him. He could smell the perfume of the huge flowers, fresh and heady, like hyacinth and apple blossom.

"How..." he managed to get out.

An evening wind ruffled the leaves of the caprice plant, and Brad imagined he could almost hear, tangled in the sound of the leaves rustling, a whispery leaf voice saying "Plant and seee..." The scent of the caprice flowers mixed with the breeze, washing over and around him.

Brad walked slowly around the plant. The wonder was how it managed to stay upright, growing from such a tiny pot. He'd never heard of a plant growing so fast before. Kudzu and blackberries were pretty fast growers, but they weren't anything like the caprice.

"This is amazing," Brad murmured. "I'm glad I got to see this. I usually don't get the chance. We move so much, I never... I just -- I guess I wish I could take you with me."

As he spoke, the plant began to shrink. In thirty seconds, before his astonished eyes, it had become a tangle of corkscrew foliage and small purple flowers peeking over the rim of the plastic pot. It was just the right size for Brad to pick up and take into the house, so he did. No one had to tell him to keep this strange experience secret -- he wanted something that was his alone. Besides, who would ever believe him? He wasn't entirely sure he believed it himself.

Brad kept a close eye on his unusual plant through the next several moves, keeping it warm inside during the winter and taking it outside in summer. He continued to water it and even played the ocarina to it once in a while, but though it looked healthy enough, it never grew any larger. He did not talk to the plant again for quite some time -- mostly because he was afraid he might have made up the whole thing in his head. Brad had been disappointed so many times, by so many things, that he didn't want it to happen with the caprice.

Then, when Brad was sixteen, his mother suddenly informed him that he was going to live with his uncle. There was no explanation, but at that point Brad had stopped asking for explanations from his mother. In spite of himself, he began to look forward to the idea. Maybe he'd be able to find a more permanent place with his uncle -- put down roots, as it were. Maybe his uncle would let him plant a garden. He packed his clothes, a few gardening books, and his lucky doorknob, and when the day came he carefully carried the caprice plant onto the bus.

It was a three-day bus journey to his uncle's house, and by the end of the third day Brad had lost all cheer and most of his patience. He was desperate for a hot shower and a normal bed. It was at this point that the crazy lady peeked over the seat in front of him and said, "Halloo, little waterbug, and how be your caprice today?"

"Wait... you know what this is?" Brad asked.

"Oh sure. Can smell a caprice half a mile away, so scrumptious." She sniffed the air and smacked her withered lips together. "It don't look like you've used it much, though."

"What do you mean? How are you supposed to use it? Do you know how to take care of this thing?"

"You gots one and you don't know?" The crazy lady let loose with a high giggle. "You gots to talk to it, waterbug. That's all it needs. S'prised you didn't know that, seeing as how you gots it to grow and all."

"I -- talked to it a long time ago," said Brad guardedly. "That's all? Talk to it?"

"Well," the crazy lady said, her eyes twinkling, "I wish I could tell you more. But you look smart, little waterbug. You'll suss it out." And she popped back into her seat, still giggling.

Brad was itching to ask her what else she knew about the caprice plant, and how she'd learned about it, but there really wasn't time. His stop was coming up. He gathered his things and staggered down the aisle and out to his waiting uncle.

Brad's uncle -- and his aunt, and all four of his rambunctious little cousins -- lived in a condo, with absolutely no space around it for planting anything.

"Isn't it great?" said his aunt cheerily, gathering up toys through the din of child warfare. "No need to cut the lawn or prune or water anything. It's so low-maintenance. I love it."

Brad stood a little rigidly, still holding his caprice. He was afraid to put it down inside, lest someone should knock it over. "Is there any place this can go?" he asked.

"I guess it could go in the windowsill in your room. You'll be sharing a room with Samuel."

"Awww, Moooom!" Samuel complained from somewhere behind the couch.

"Sam honey," said his mother warningly, "we already talked about this. Brad is family, and a room of your own is a luxury, not a right."

Privately, Brad shared Samuel's dismay. He knew it had been kind of his aunt and uncle to agree to take him in, but he really didn't want to share a room either. This household was pure chaos. He wasn't used to the noise and the lack of privacy, and there would be nowhere to grow anything. So much for putting down roots.

That night, as Samuel snored softly and tossed in his sleep, Brad sat awake in bed. The moonlight came in through the window, casting strange shadows on the caprice plant. He wondered if it, too, might be unhappy with its new surroundings. On a whim, he took it down from the sill and began to whisper to it.

"The lady on the bus said you liked to be talked to," he whispered. "I don't know if she's right, but I guess it can't hurt." He caught the scent of the caprice flowers, faint now but still sweet. "I was hoping this new place would be permanent, but I can see right now that it's not going to work. There's nowhere to plant anything. It's like an asphalt desert out there. Nowhere for you to live except inside the same old plastic pot." He sighed, looking up at the moon. "I wish..."

"...flaglbmm krwopskr..."

Brad jumped a bit, then realized the babble was coming from his cousin, talking in his sleep. Rattled by the weird outburst, he put the caprice back up on the windowsill and pulled up the covers, his wish still unspoken.

(If there is interest, I shall finish this later. For now, SLEEEEEP.)


tlc illustration said...

Of *course* you should finish it!!!

Scarehaircare said...

Good grief, don't stop now!