Creeping Jenny: A Houseplant's Tale
When washing in someone else’s shower, there comes a moment when you fling the water out of your eyes and notice the shampoo is a total stranger. All the bottles are shaped wrong. They are covered in fine text, like someone at a soap company is sneaking their novel onto the labels of body wash. And you respect that because hey, published is published. But also, you wonder where the person who owns this shower found these strange hygiene condiments. They look semi-homemade or at least like they’re meticulously planned to appear homemade as if produced for a farmers’ market, or an old-timey apothecary. And because you’re in your twenties and you’ve just moved to this city, you don’t know where or when the farmers’ market is, or if you could even afford anything there, least of all body wash when there is Suave for $2.99 at the pharmacy around the corner from the apartment you now share with a total stranger. And you wonder what it is about you that seeks out strangers, including this man from the internet who, let’s be honest, you may never see again before bothering to find out if there is a weekly farmers’ market nearby where you could buy squash or an aloe plant to make your life more connected to the roots of the earth when you are feeling like a balloon a child let go from hands slick with popsicle slime.
You slip out while he sleeps. Your hair was still wet when you left because you didn’t want to stay and find out if he has a
hairdryer left by some previous woman or if he would offer to make you waffles. You wondered if anyone will notice you dripping on the subway, but they all stared straight ahead into their own personal voids.
As soon as you get back to the apartment, you fall asleep on the couch. It’s not your couch, so you toss and turn to get
comfortable but at last, you drift into a current that is deep and dreamless. When you finally wake, it’s nearly dark outside. You notice you’ve been drooling on the cushion, so you turn it over to hide the wet spot from your roommate.
Eventually, you find a farmers’ market or at least an open-air market, it goes up by the museum every Saturday. You wander
the stalls looking at acres of apples and extravagantly priced pork until you buy a plant because of its name. Creeping Jenny. Now you just need a fancy pot and fertilizer, and a long-stemmed watering can so that you can stand by your only window and peer down to the sliver of street between the building next door and the corner of your own while you water your plants. But that will have to wait until the next paycheck and, as you don’t have a job, the next paycheck is distinctly elusive. For now, you water them out of a mug that appears completely black but if you add a hot drink words will materialize: “Nobody Knows I’m a Mermaid” the mug announces until the drink goes cold and the message fades.
Already the Creeping Jenny looks yellow and its leaves are starting to curl and crisp up. You wonder if it needs more water,
so you pour in two mugfuls instead of one. It drinks up the liquid instantly and seems to need more but then you wonder if it might be getting too much instead of too little. You go online to check and learn that yellow leaves can be a sign of root rot and you worry that you just murdered your new plant. You try talking to the Creeping Jenny about your day. At first, it doesn’t seem to be listening but by the end of the week, you think that perhaps its leaves have flattened out a bit and there is a new baby tendril slipping down the side of the sill.
Talking to Creeping Jenny fills your unemployed hours until you get a job at last. A temporary administrative position taking
orders for a high-end toilet company. You didn’t know that toilets could be high-end but now you are taking orders for $8,000 toilets for hotels and private citizens who prioritize their butts. It redefines how you feel about your own toilet. You wonder if you’ve been shortchanging your bowel movements all your life. And the owner of the luxury toilet company says that you are doing a good job. Before you know it, a whole pay period has gone by and you have money to spend on anything. You think about getting the long-stemmed watering can for your plants, but by now the Creeping Jenny is fully brown. And even though it’s just a plant, it’s the only living thing in your care. So, you cry big thick tears that fall down your cheeks and onto the brown leaves, burrowing beneath the soil, finding purchase in possibly-rotting roots. You cry so much that your right contact lens falls out and lands precariously on Jenny’s last green leaf.
The next day is Saturday and you think about going to the farmers’ market by the museum. You put on your jeans and a \
hoodie emblazoned with the name of the college you visited once with your mom during senior year but didn’t end up going to because she died at the end of summer and you just couldn’t fathom doing anything, much less school. You consider putting on makeup but then decide that the best thing about living in a city is the supreme unlikelihood that you’ll run into anyone you know or would care to see you made up. It isn’t until you are looking for your keys with a rising sense of did-they-fall-off-the-earth-I-literally-just-had-them, you see that Jenny is not dead, not now. She—surely a resurrection should be rewarded with anthropomorphic pronouns—is as green and lush as the day you bought her. You sit down and move to call your mom before you realize. Then you just sit and wonder how you’d been so wrong, going through the usual self-questioning that miracles always inspire among the sane: Did you dream that the plant had died? Was this something Creeping Jennies did, just like a plant-version of a phoenix? But phoenixes are not real, or are they?
You start talking to Jenny regularly again. It’s a stream of consciousness diatribe of all your fears, one after another. You ask
her how many mugs of water she would like. It dawns on you that she doesn’t want tap water at all. However, you can’t cry on command. You were never a good actor. You spend a few days bargaining with Jenny over other types of non-tears or tear-like droplets that you could produce for her. But she is adamant. She curls her leaves in protest. You try to cry. You try so hard that the skin around your eyes starts to ache. She turns yellow, then brown.
You walk into the luxury toilet store on Monday after a weekend of dry-eyed defeat. For a few hours, you lose yourself in the
order forms and practice answering the phone with the right lilt in your voice that says you are helpful and professional and willing to discuss the mechanics and aesthetics of toilets without ever laughing even a little giggle. But the next caller sounds so much like your mom, even the way she said “afternoon,” with a lengthening of the oo’s so that it was stretched out.
You realize you’re crying. A ghostly presence of mind moves you to grab an empty water glass nearby. You capture six big, globular tears. When you leave for the day, you’ve already slipped the glass into your purse without anyone noticing. It’s got a bit of saran wrap and a rubber band around the top to keep the tears trapped.
You bound up the four floors to your apartment. Sprinkling the contents of the glass over Jenny, you lean down so that only
she can hear.
“There’s a lot more where that came from.”
D. S. G. Burke (she/her) lives and writes in New York City. Her writing has appeared in the Seattle Times, 3Elements Literary Review, and Stinger Stories. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @dsgburke.