Otto Norin

I choose a variegated monstera obliqua for its tropical origins and its speckled, lacelike leaves and leggy vines that remind me of my Floridian childhood.

 

In the beginning, I stumble. How much water is enough, how much is too much? What amount of sunlight is suitable? Will it tolerate humidity or dry heat? Does it need a particular fertilizer?

 

Too close to the bay window and the leaves crisp. Too far from the light and the leaves droop. One particularly frosty morning I notice the leaves appear collapsed, outstretched along the topsoil. I push away Wynn’s books from the desk and put the plant in the center, closer to the warmth of the radiator.

 

It’s dying, I tell the therapist. I can’t keep it alive.

Listen to it, is all she says.

I’m not cut out for this.

Maybe, but keep trying.

 

So I listen. I watch for signs. Too much water and the leaves yellow or turn brown at the edges. A chalky film spreads across the soil. Too little water and the leaves wither and wilt.

 

I find the plant likes morning sunshine but prefers the coolness of the kitchen in the afternoon. I sing to it while watering, and it rewards me with new, unfurling leaves. It seems to like Billie Holiday.

 

Seeing it respond to my care, I become fastidious in its tending.

I use Wynn’s toothbrush to clean the dust from the grooves in the leaves.

 

My skin cracks in the dry heat from the radiator and I wonder about the plant. For humidification, I take to brewing tea every hour and indulging in extended showers each morning and night; droplets gather along the windowsill, and the plant slowly starts to react, trailing its way towards the light.

 

I’m getting better at it, I tell the therapist.

Just trust yourself. Follow your instincts, she says.

 

No one cares for you like I do, I whisper to the sprouting buds.

 

I once read an article about a woman who included her fifty-year-old Philodendron in her will. She left the plant $8,000 and a trusted neighbor detailed instructions for its care.

 

I first notice the growth while in the shower—emerging from the nook of my right elbow: a pale, green scroll.

 

I clip it off with my fingernail. A hot ache throbs in my elbow as I watch the tiny blade disappear into the drain.

 

I consider telling my therapist about this new growth.

What would I say?

My desire for a child is so fervent it’s begun to take root?

How crazed am I?

As crazed as a woman yearning to mother.

 

When the growth returns the next morning, I let it continue on with no interruption.

 

Several days pass, and I’m packing up boxes of Wynn’s shoes and clothing. The vines are corkscrewed around my left arm and down my back. I struggle to reach for a box on the highest shelf, and the vines inch it toward me; I am grateful for the help. I crouch down to sort through old birthday gifts I’d given Wynn, photos from his college days, and knick-knacks we’d collected over the years while on various travels. I lift an old sweatshirt of his and breathe in the must of the dark closet. The emptiness of the space is consuming, and I hurry to pack up and stack the boxes to donate when I feel something sticky and slick underfoot. A new vine, this one very slender and forest green, is wedged between the small niche of my toes. Unaware, I’ve stepped on the sprout without realizing it, and I begin to weep. I curse at myself for being so careless.

I continue to bleed every month. The sharpness in my ovaries, the endometrioma, pulsates as a constant reminder of its power—its blockade.

 

From my elbow, the growth sprouts beyond and to the back of my knees and my armpits. It finds its way to my groin. It seems to like warm, dark places. The leggy vines embrace my abdomen, covering the bruises on my butt and belly.

New varieties of vines begin to root in the grooves of my skin. I try to ID them online and lose myself in the beauty of the Latin names. I practice saying them, their names, and I like how they feel on my tongue, otherworldly, mythological, even, like a dream.

 

Pathos Barbarianus.

Spiritus Sancti.

Moonlight Sansevierias.

Pictus Exoticas.

 

Seeing the potted monstera thrive, I am envious of the wisdom of its functioning biology, but I find comfort in its success. The failed IVF, my drained bank account, our lost relationship, and the sabotage of my own anatomy—these many jagged edges begin to soften. While my skeleton serves as a trellis for the budding plant, I can almost feel new flesh knitting itself into my abdomen.

 

The vines grow so extensive that they begin to swaddle my center. My belly swells under my coat. I don’t correct the cashier at the market when she asks about my due date.

 

The house is redolent with the mildewed stink of the dripping vines. From the corners of the cupboards to the light fixture above the dining room table, they coil and spiral across the ceiling.

 

Home, they say.

Stay with us, they say.

 

Wynn has been gone for two months. The bruises from the injections have faded to a pale yellow. All things fade at some point.

 

But the vines continue to thrive. I carry on with the tending.

Each morning, I sip from the pitcher plants now rooting in my shower. The cool water soothes me.

 

Remember, you always have options, even if they aren’t what you had imagined, the therapist says.

And what about time, do I always have that?

 

One night, I’m awoken by a sudden and severe shock in my pelvis. A rupturing. Blood and trapped tissue pour into my abdominal cavity. I writhe in the bedsheets, sweating, vomiting, feverish. Blinded by pain, I struggle on my hands and knees to the toilet. I collapse on the floor.

 

The vines cradle me, lead me back to bed.

 

I search for a distraction from the pain and reach for my phone. I fall asleep mid-scroll, to the blue light of my social feed.

 

I wake to chubby, smiling faces and toothless grins of college friends’ children. I clear my browser history to hide from the algorithm of ads targeting empty wombs. I throw my phone across the bed and for the rest of the day I ignore the calls, the texts pooling in my phone. My therapy appointment comes and goes.

 

I shut the blinds, curl into the sweetness of the verdant vines, and I rest my head on their pillow. Tendrils of green entwine me, finding their way to my heart, pressing firmly.

 

Mother, they say.

 

I close my eyes and let go.

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