There she was, her beautiful, beaming face complete with deep smile lines and ‘happy wrinkles’ as it always had been. The large photograph, while in colour and in focus, didn’t even come close to giving her justice. Where was her loud, echoing laugh and warm, squeezing hugs? Where were her comforting words that always seemed to fix the world, no matter how crazy it got? Where was her permanently lingering smell of cooking and home? Alas, all her quirks and comforts were to never be seen again, because she was buried in the family plot at 2pm.
Grief overwhelmed me absolutely. The world was covered in a grey haze that I couldn’t break through. However hard I tried, I couldn’t utter more than a few words without the energy of speaking being too much for my heart to handle.
I opened the squeaky wooden door into the big house. The silence opened into oblivion, twisting and turning into darkness beyond. I could hear the dust settling all over the house. Emptiness filled me like concrete. I morphed into a solid state, sinking slowly onto the well-worn sofa. Even the sofa didn’t feel good enough for my raging emotional state, it was too soft. I needed something that would make my back hurt.
I don’t know how long I sat for, on that sofa. Seconds surely. Hours maybe? I got up, feeling dehydrated. At least I could feel something physically, that was a plus, right? I found myself in the kitchen, getting a glass of water. It was probably the first thing I’d had in days.
Filling the glass up, because I felt like I should probably drink something lest I starve, I headed back to the couch. This time, when I sat down in the place where my butt had left its indentation years ago, I noticed the few changes she’d made since I had last been here. A new TV, a few new ornaments and some new picture frames. A picture of me I had sent to her from my last trip to the beach. Something I’d thought so trivial, yet she had treasured it to the point of framing it and placing in a prominent position upon the mantle.
I looked around and saw her prized Peace Lily plant resting in the corner of the room. Observing the brown and drooping leaves, I moved my gaze to the other plants. All almost brown and distressed, they looked like they were sleeping. Her stupid plant collection had been the one true love she had, besides the love she had for everyone she met daily. Just looking at the sad things made me think about how unfair life was. These plants, with expected life spans of a few years, had outlived the greatest woman who had ever lived. These plants even got to see her right before she died. Bloody things. Stupid plants. I placed my foot on the small stand holding one up and pushed. The glorious sound of breaking terracotta made me smile with absurd glee. Dirt sprayed the floorboards and the stem of the tree-like plant snapped.
That was more like it.
Waking in the small hours of the morning, I realised had passed out on the couch. I peeled myself off of the cotton blend cover. The still-full glass of water sat on the table, both taunting me and reminding me that I had I was still neglecting myself. I knew I wasn’t going to drink it though. I just didn’t care enough about me, and my insides still boiled with anger. It was probably going to sit there and laugh, so it went into the nearest pot plant.
Clearing out her stuff was the hardest part. Hours upon hours of seeing photos and knick-knacks that must have been so very sentimental. Entering her bedroom and inhaling her scent, my heart started beating like a hummingbird. It was just as she had left it, like most things that the dead leave behind. Bed unmade, underwear and socks that had nestled in crevices and been stuffed hastily into drawers. The curtains were wide open, and I could see more plants still scattered on the windowsill. The stupid things were just growing and growing, unaware that the world was now hollow. Their carer and provider was gone. They didn’t need to grow anymore. Their purpose was done. Kneeling on the lint-ridden carpet, I became a vessel for the thousands of memories poured over me like rain. My mouth opened and a raspy sound escaped me. She was gone. She was in the ground, entombed in a wooden box. In the next few weeks she would be lying there, just waiting for the worms and beetles to bury through the wood and into her body. This was not fair. How could such a beacon of light just be snuffed with the flick of a wrist? Her place was here. I needed her more than the burrowing bugs. My wet face leaked onto my shirt and the surrounding furnishings. The tears had burst through my emotional dam, flowing from somewhere deep within. She wasn’t here, so I settled for curling up on the ground that she had walked on.
Although most of my anger had left, sadness had taken up residence in its place. I wandered from room to room like an unsettled ghost. Physical pain broke through my haze and I yelled expletives as I jumped backwards. A shard from the broken pot had embedded itself in the soft arch of my foot. Removing it slowly, my eyes were drawn to the tree that once dwelt inside. The plant still lay, snapped and broken, on the cold floor. A wave of sympathy washed over me. The plant didn’t do anything, and I had taken delight in its death. I knelt and gathered up the grubby remains.
In her messy shed, I placed the plant in another terracotta pot and filled it with soil. The top of the plant was already brown, so I snipped it off with secateurs. As the small nub of the remaining tree sat there, I smiled. For the first time in weeks, I smiled. I had caused this plant to die, but I had also revived it.
After taking care of my cut and sweeping up the dirt, I brewed some tea. Nestled on the couch, I sat next to the newly rescued tree and noticed something. The plant that I had carelessly tossed my water into was reaching high towards the ceiling. The leaves that had looked so pathetic and lifeless yesterday were a brilliant emerald green, and a few of the white tear-drop buds had opened. I stared. Were these things so easily satiated that a few millimetres of water was all that they needed?
I found a small watering can and did my rounds of the house. Within the next few hours, the majority of the little things were looking a touch happier. Within weeks, they were back to their usual selves. Within months, they were thriving.
The caring of the innumerable plants kept me busy. The places that mum had them worked out well. The watering and moving kept my mind in the present, whilst also reminding me of the past.
The memories of my mother and her passion for plants came streaming back. Her careful hands caressing the green growth and tending to them daily. Her obsessive movements and belief that her plants were sensitive to our moods. The music she would leave on when no-one was in the house just so they wouldn’t be bored. As my knowledge and love for these strange sprouts grew, so did my sense of awe for my mother’s green thumb.
These things that she had loved, I would take care of them for her. I had never understood before, but the care of such a small thing was so rewarding. The fresh air in the house, the excitement when hours of hard work paid off with a tiny bloom or new leaf. They taught me to check in with myself, make sure that I was watered, happy and getting enough sun. The healing process was long and tedious, nevertheless, I finally flourished in the world without my guiding light. The world would never be the same, but at least I wasn’t completely alone in this new stream of life.
The legacy lived on through the maintenance and love that I would pour into these sprouts. They would become my beloved prodigy, just as they were hers.
Words by Sarah Ingham
Art by Tom Murton
I’m Sarah Ingham, and I’m completing my first year of a Bachelor of Professional Writing and Communication. I have folders of unfinished writing, and I am so glad that I can put my ramblings to use! Being a part of Tulpa Magazine has made me feel like I can release my full artistic voice, and I love it dearly. I hope that I can continue to write my way into a writer, editor or publisher position after finishing my degree. Until then, I hope that you enjoy my imaginings.
Tom Murton is an illustrator and graphic designer, with an Honours degree in the Creative Arts from Flinders University. His work includes illustration for the comic series Hail, the short comic Stranger,professional graphic design work, as well as a library of personal sketches and illustrations.