A young woman kills her flower by watering it too much.
The chrysanthemum was potted in a fishbowl. The girl in gym shorts didn’t have a clay flowerpot, but she couldn’t bear to leave it in the little plastic cubicle and risk stunting it’s growth. And so the big glass bowl cocooned the little green bud, placed on a windowsill behind aluminum blinds, slats tilted just enough to give it sunlight. The room around it was sparse and muted. Grey blues, olive greens, and linoleum whites covered the space. The green shoot was probably the brightest color in the whole apartment, save the discount sticker on the cereal box, which was hidden inside the cabinet. The milk was in the fridge, the dishes in the cabinet, the flower on the windowsill.
The girl in gym shorts walked in with a backpack full of books, took the time to untie each shoe before removing it, then came to examine the little bud.
“Hi there sweetie, how are you?” she asked, running two fingers up the fuzzy stem. “Look at you grow! Look at those wittle white petals! Those wittle gween weaves!”
She took a plastic bottle from the cabinet and filled it with water. “Here you go, little guy. A growing flower like you must be thirsty! She poured slowly in a circle around the flower in the dirt, raising the bottle up and down like a bartender. The soil around the flower was saturated, but the rest of the dirt was still dry.
The girl in gym shorts got up to go back to the sink and refill the bottle. “I saw a picture on the internet of a chrysanthemum that was ten inches wide! I bet you can do that with enough water! Drink up!” She poured the water to the side of the flower and watched the water seep to the ends of the bowl. Still, there was a stubborn dry spot in the back. She walked back over to the sink and filled the bottle to the brim. As she walked back over, little sips spilled from the top. She poured the whole bottle into the fishbowl and watched as that little dry spot was overpowered by the flood. A little layer of water sat on top the soil. She squatted next to the flower like a parent giving a pep talk. “Nice and hydrated! With that much water, you can do anything! You can grow to be the world’s biggest chrysanthemum! I believe in you!”
With that, the girl in gym shorts stood, took her backpack to the bedroom, and closed the door.
The next day, the girl in gym shorts came home two hours late. The slats of sunshine had already dried up and were replaced with the yellow light of a streetlamp. She dropped her backpack full of books to the floor, and kneeled over to take off her shoes. She sighed, and stood again. Swinging her bag over her shoulder, she took off for the bedroom, before seeing the flower. She stopped, slid the books off her shoulder, and traced the lines on the bud with one finger. White tresses had begun to emerge with a careful adolescent confidence. She pulled her nearly empty water bottle from her bag and dumped it in the sink, filling it again with fresh water. She dumped it on one side of the bowl, and returned for another. The water level had risen above the soil, but there wasn’t enough. “Maybe if you just have enough water!” she said.
When she came home next, she threw her bag of books across the room. She pulled off her shoes by the heels using her feet, leaving them half tied and strewn across the floor. She stood for a second trying to reclaim a thought that had long since fled when her phone rang. She wandered across the room and pulled the chiming phone from the outside pocket. “Becca, what’s up?”
She listened for a moment. “Wait, wait, slow down. I can’t hear you. What about Scott?
“Oh that son of a bitch!
“Oh, honey, no! He didn’t!
“Babe, listen to me, you’re worth more than that. Babe, no, babe, listen.
“Uhu. No, seriously. You’re absolutely right.
“That asshole! Oh my Go— Wait, he called you what!?
“He’s the sociopath! Manipulating you like that. And a lesbian? Seriously? Just because you don’t want his—
“Honey, you’re great, don’t you let him hurt you like that.
“I know, I know, but if he says things like that about you he wouldn’t have made a good husband anyway.
“Rebecca you don’t mean that.
“No, you’re one of the most amazing people I know.
“It would not be so easy!
“And what of Sylvia’s kids?
“Yeah, well what would I do without you? What about Nate? What would he do without his big sister?
“It’s not romantic. You will be okay, you will move on.
“You’re not a sociopath. Everyone manipulates a little bit, and he manipulated you a hell of a lot more than you did him. You’re completely normal, and destined for a great life.
“So talk to a therapist, get on a medication! Don’t let this hold you back!
“Yes, I really do. Why don’t you call the one whose number is on the sign in your building and set up an appointment?
“Let’s do that right now, okay? You can call me back when you finish.
“You promise? And you’ll call me as soon as you’ve made the appointment?
“Promise me you won’t do anything until you call me back?
“Okay, love you too babe
The girl in gym shorts pulled the water bottle from the side pocket of her bag and went to care for her chrysanthemum. She poured the bottle in a ring around the stalk.
She reached out and caressed the virgin white petals that had fallen from their bud. The flower was beginning to blossom, to look like a snowball. She murmured, “Your fingers and the plant. You can feel that, right up your arm. They know. They never make a mistake. You can feel it. When you're like that you can't do anything wrong.”
Bohemian Rhapsody again started playing from the phone she had left atop her bag. She left the plant to pick it up.
“Becca, I’m back, did you schedule it?
“No, Jon, I don’t have time right now. I’m waiting for Becca to call back.
“No, it’s important. Scott broke up with her and she’s a fucking wreck right now.
“I know, but I really have to be there for her right now!
“Oh my God, just shut up!
“Not you too, no I don’t have time for this.
“Listen, you’re just going to have to find someone else to talk to tonight. I have a midterm tomorrow, and a crying girl to console. Deal with your shit tonight and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
Her back against the wall, she sunk to sit on the grey blue carpet.
“Why the fuck does everyone come to me with their problems anyway? I’m not even a psych major!
“Here that beeping? That’s her now. Look, fine, I’ll call you back in about an hour, but right now I need to get Becca okay again.
The girl in the gym shorts pressed the green button.
“Becca? How did it go?
“Oh yeah, it is after five, I guess you’ll just have to call tomorrow.
“No, Becca, wait. Calm down, and do a little thinking. This really isn’t the end of the world.
“I know, and love sucks.
“Well there’s no need to take you out and cut you in little stars, because you’re not gonna do that.
“You know Romeo and Juliet was Shakespeare’s worst play, right? I mean you have these two teenagers being controlled by their hormones, they think they’re in love, but they’re actually just horny, and then they—
“They’re not some perfect love story! The ideal love is supportive and nurturing and sexy in a quiet way, not this quick burning thing.
“Well sometimes love sucks. When every pointed star gets driven into your body, it fucking hurts! That’s not the kind of love that lasts for the rest of your life, and it’s not the kind you want!
“Definitely. I promise.
“I mean it, there will be something better.”
The phone started to beep again.
“Fuck, that’s Jon. I told him I’d call back in an hour, but you know he’s a needy bitch. Are you going to be okay?
“Well, alright, love you. Text me every hour so I know you’re okay.
“Bye babe. Stay safe.”
She pulled herself up and headed for the water bottle as she answered the phone.
“Jon, that was like ten minutes. What do you want?”
She filled the bottle until a little bubble held by surface tension rose above the rim. Water spilled as she crossed the kitchenette.
“No, fuck, not you too. I just talked Becca out of it!
“It doesn’t mean the solution isn’t the same? Get some fucking therapy!
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but that’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard! Of course you can keep going!”
She poured the water over the plant and turned around to get another bottle full.
“No, that’s not true.”
She filled it again and poured, barely looking at the fishbowl.
“You have plenty to give. Are you kidding? Your thesis is not your fucking magnum opus!”
She poured in another full bottle.
“No, don’t do that!”
When she poured the next bottle, water streamed over the edge, even the blossom was covered. Dirt floated up and around it, soiling the pretty white petals.
“Fuck, now look what I’ve done—no, not you.
“Look, you’re not the only one struggling.
“No really, maybe I’m fucking dead inside too!
“Maybe I’m drowning too, but you’d never fucking know it, because I don’t threaten to fucking kill myself every time I have a bad day! That’s not how you live! You fucking deal with it, you fucking keep moving, you do your homework, you water the plant, and now I’ve killed it. And it’s your fault!
The girl in gym shorts stood leaning over the flooded chrysanthemum weeping.
“That’s it, I’m calling the cops.
“No, seriously, you need to go to the hospital.
“Don’t you dare. I’m calling them right now.
She hung up the phone, dialed 911, and walked into her bedroom as the phone rang.
Two weeks later, all the water had evaporated. The flower was brown and dry and shriveled, and it still sat in the same place getting the same sunlight. The girl in gym shorts walked in and placed down her bag and bent over to untie her shoes. A boy in gym shorts followed her in, and began to do the same.
“You can sleep here,” she said, pointing at the couch. He groaned.
“I know it sucks, but the doctors said you need supervision, and I can’t leave you alone at night.”
“Ugh, I know, okay.” His fresh white socks gleamed on the off white doormat, possibly the brightest thing in the apartment besides the sale sticker on the box of crackers. He stepped past the entrance area and towards the kitchenette, before noticing the flower and the fishbowl. “What’s this?”
“A white chrysanthemum.”
“Looks pretty brown to me.”
“Well it wasn’t always.”
“No, I mean why do you have it?” He ran his fingers over the fragile body.
“My mom gave it to me.”
“I thought you two were having problems.”
“In the victorian days, there was this thing where flowers had different meanings. And so when you give someone a bouquet, it would have a meaning to it. Like yellow roses for friendship and an anemone for anticipation would mean that you were excited to make someone’s acquaintance. Or something like that. My mom bought me a book about it when I was a kid. Anyway, my parents were getting divorced, and my mom gave me a white chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemums as a whole mean fidelity, and white ones also mean truth. So my mom was promising to be there for me.”
“You’ve had them all this time?”
“No, but I went out and bought a new one about a month ago. I needed a little reminder.”
“What does a chrysanthemum look like?”
“Kind of a long-stemmed flower, looks like a quick puff of colored smoke.”
“Well, it doesn’t anymore.”
The boy in gym shorts picked up the fishbowl and carried it into the kitchen. He turned over the bowl and shook it until the dried up chrysanthemum and all of its bed were in the trash. The thing was done.