The plant sat dormant on Oliver’s doorstep for three days until he reluctantly brought it inside. At its arrival, he had chalked it up to be a simple error with a delivery driver. People mistakenly drop off packages at the wrong address frequently, so he naturally assumed an annoyed neighbor would be around to collect it after a day or two.
When no annoyed neighbor had come his way, Oliver began to consider the possibility that a friend of his had dropped it off at his door as a kind gesture. A gift, perhaps. This thought was quickly dismissed when he remembered no one cared enough about Oliver to leave him a present. No one had taken the time to send him a quick text asking if he was okay or why he hadn’t left his house for weeks - so the conclusion was that the plant’s arrival was a mystery.
When he finally lugged the obnoxiously leafy houseplant in, he felt a strange sense of pity towards it that it had no control over where it was going. It was just a plant - it had no goals, no motivations, no plans - and even if it did, it would have no way of executing them. Oliver pondered over this notion as he carried the plant to his living room and set it down on the side table. He brushed off the crumbs that had resided there and wondered what it would be like to have zero control over what happens to you. He thought about the act of taking up space while simultaneously contributing nothing to that space except for occupying it. Just merely existing through time. In that regard, Oliver felt that he and this plant - which he had concluded was a pothos - were quite similar.
“You’re useless,” he muttered under his breath - whether he was referring to the plant or to himself was unclear.
Oliver had been going through a sort of rough patch the past few weeks - or past few months. He had lost track. If he had to put a date on it, however, he would probably say things started going steeply downhill on September 5th of the previous year.
Oliver’s dad had passed away in a fatal car accident on July 4th. Upon hearing this news, Oliver felt absolutely nothing. His mom had called him, sobbing, that Monday night, and Oliver went to work the next morning as if it was any other regular day. To him, it was. Since Oliver had moved out four years ago, his dad had stopped talking to him completely, so in a way it was like he was already gone. Their relationship consisted of Oliver’s mom calling him every Christmas and, in a strained voice, telling Oliver that ‘your father says he loves you’. Oliver knew that was a lie, but he would go along with it anyway and say he loved him back. He didn’t.
Two months later on September 5th, Oliver was in line at the grocery store when his gaze fell upon a pack of Marlboro Lights at the checkout counter. Since Oliver was old enough to remember, his dad never left the house without a cigarette nestled between his parted lips, and the dank air around him always shrouded his silhouette in smoke. The moment Oliver laid eyes on the beige and white box, his eyes were suddenly brimming with thick, hot tears and his heart was desperately trying to claw its way out his chest. The fluorescent lights of the store were blinding him and no matter what he did, he couldn’t stop trembling. He tried to steady himself against his shopping cart, but to no avail. Everything was blurry, but he couldn’t tell if it was because of his tears or because he was dying.
He thought he was dying.
Every breath felt nearly impossible and he barely managed to clamber out of line and out of the store before vomiting profusely on the side of the road. The minutes after that were distorted and fuzzy to Oliver, although he must have driven himself home at some point, for he woke up on his couch hours later.
The only thoughts running through his mind were about his father. Everything he saw, everything he touched, everything he smelled, sent Oliver spiraling into a panic attack until he was curled up on the cold bathroom floor, trembling and begging for air to fill his vacant lungs. He had passed a Kia Sorento on the highway and dozens of memories plagued Oliver’s mind: being eight and feeling so happy that his dad let him sit in the front seat, being twelve and taking his first puff of cigarette smoke while his dad drove 90 mph down the freeway, being fifteen and taking the wheel while his dad nodded off and almost got them both killed in a wreck. That same Kia Sorento was where his dad took his very last breath, a thought that haunted Oliver to no end.
In the months that followed, Oliver allowed himself to slip into a passive, half dead state of existence. He felt hollowed out, as if a dagger had scraped out every last fiber of his soul and left him empty and numb to the world around him. At first, he felt quite worried - for his well being, his health, his job - but it was a dulled sense of worry. Missing one day of work was bad, missing a week was worse, but missing four consecutive months was somehow justifiable. He presumed he was fired - not that it really mattered anyway. He hardly ate, he hardly drank water, he didn’t turn his lights on. He never left the house. His dad had told him once about the science of inertia - objects in motion tend to stay in motion, while objects at rest tend to stay at rest. At eleven years old, he didn’t quite understand what that meant, but at twenty-three, it made more sense. Oliver was an object stuck in rest, and as hard as it was to keep living in such a placid, numb state- it was even harder to get up and change.
Oliver couldn’t understand why his brain had decided to shut down like this - he didn’t feel like he was even grieving his dad’s death. He had known for months prior to his panic attack that his dad was dead - why was it just now registering? And Oliver didn’t even love his dad. He never did. He felt disgusted with himself for feeling any sort of emotion towards someone he had counted down the day that he lost contact with. So many people experienced so much worse, and here he was, unable to lift a finger to feed himself over a man who had been a stranger for the past four years. How pathetic. How useless.
“You’re useless.” Oliver mumbled once more and stared rheumily at the bright green leaves of the pothos. He didn’t know the first thing about plants or how to maintain them, nor did he care. He couldn’t put a finger on why he had even brought it inside in the first place; he decided he would just get up and throw it away. But the trash was already overflowing, and then he’d have to take it out, and trash day was the following day anyway so he might as well take out the rest of the trash and bring it to the curb, which would entail dragging the can back after the trash came, and the thought of doing all that just to get rid of some silly little plant was exhausting.
Oliver observed the slightly upturned, heart shaped leaves, studying the way some grew over each other and overflowed out of the pot. The pot itself, painted a light and chalky blue, had a small indentation in the side where the paint had been scraped off. It was almost unnoticeable, but for some reason, it had peaked Oliver’s interest.
Over the next few days, the plant sat on the side table and allowed Oliver to observe it. Perhaps because he had nothing better to do, or perhaps because it was the only living thing he had come in contact with in so long, Oliver felt a strange connection to the pothos. He didn’t understand why he had been so transfixed by it, but he found himself lying in the same position on his couch for hours at a time just staring at every sage green leaf, making notes of which were darker and lighter than the others. On Monday, he noticed that his plant seemed to be turning itself towards an open window to face the sun. On Tuesday, a small ladybug was making its way across the rim of the chipped blue pot. On Wednesday, he learned that the pothos is often called the Devil’s Ivy, and on Thursday, he rearranged his living room so that the sun could face his plant.
His journal, which he hadn’t written in for the last four months, was filled with messy, bulleted lists on how to care for his pothos - which soil to give it, how often it needed to be watered, how old it could get. Oliver took an unexpected comfort in the ability to be in control of at least one small thing in his life, so he poured what little energy he had into keeping his plant healthy.
After staring at the dent in the pot for hours, Oliver grabbed a blue permanent marker and took it upon himself to color in the dent. Even though the marker and the pot were two different shades of blue and the pot still was very obviously chipped, Oliver felt content with himself.
As the days trickled into weeks, Oliver couldn’t exactly notice, but things were getting easier - more manageable, more possible. He was getting out of bed every morning to water his plant, he was opening the window to let his plant feel the sun and, in turn, breathing in February’s crisp air. He saw how his plant grew and reached its leaves towards the sky when he watered it, and soon enough Oliver found himself drinking several glasses of water each day.
The mystery of how his plant arrived on his doorstep began to puzzle Oliver, however. It had made sense before, but now that his thoughts had begun to form more clearly, the random appearance of a plant at his door just didn’t add up anymore. He had inspected every inch of the pot for a note or address or sign that would lead Oliver to the answer, but he was just left more confused. It wasn’t until he was checking the soil of his pothos when he had a revalation - he had never thought to search his front porch where the plant had actually been delivered.
Just as he thought, Oliver stepped outside and within minutes, found a half buried slip of paper to the left of his porch step, with four inky letters inscribed on the front and an almost illeligble handwritten note on the back.
‘Et`ernal Light Funeral Home - We are deeply sorry for your loss. We hope this plant finds you in good health.’
Oliver half expected to feel the familiar rush of panic, the same anxiety that he had been a prisoner to every time he thought about his father - but he didn’t. All he felt was a grounding sense of clarity and peace. All the guilt and anguish that had been weighing his heart down like an anchor had been slowly subsiding over time, until it was finally managable. Oliver didn’t think it would ever truly go away, at least not completely. But he could process it.
On the first of April, Oliver left his house and drove down the road to the grocery store he hadn’t stepped foot in since his first panic attack there, many months ago. On the drive there, with the warm spring wind flowing through Oliver’s hair, he knew things were going to be okay. As he was waiting in the checkout line with his purchase, the rows of Marlboro cigarettes caught his eye once more. He smiled to himself.
“Is this all you’ll be purchasing today, sir?” the cashier asked.
Oliver set the plant down on the checkout counter and nodded.
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This is so well done. I could feel your characters grief. You put words to something that is sometimes so difficult to express and talk about.
Thank you so much, I appreciate it. I tried to really get into his headspace and write from my own experiences for this piece.
Great story. I love how deep you went into the mind frame of Oliver. Really felt what he was going through. 👍
Thank you, Christopher! I appreciate it :)
Hey Lilly! I loved your story! It was really cool, and I could tell you put a lot of work into it. Great job.
Thank you Maggie, I appreciate it:)
amazing story! i really enjoyed the character development that oliver underwent throughout the story. i also loved the way the plant is a metaphor for oliver’s life. 10/10 would read again
thank you sam:) i hope you’ll come back to read more ;)
This was a great story! I liked how the plant helped him heal and added a bit of mystery to the story with not knowing where it came from. The feelings were well shown and easy to understand. Very well done.
Thank you so much, I love your work as well :)
Lily: What a heartwarming,sensitive story! And an interesting take on the prompt, one I couldn't deal with. As I see, you are a newbie on Reedsy, as am I, just four months in. As a fellow newbie, let me welcome you to this wonderful cadre of writers and readers. I am honored to be your first like and commentator and follower. I do this to encourage new writers. And I encourage you further to not be discouraged by the lack of readers or likes. Keep writing as powerfully as you wrote thiswonderful story and they will come. I choose no...
Thank you so much, Felice! As a young writer in high school just starting to try my hand at contests, your comment means so much to me. I read your work and absolutely loved The Cloud Gazer’s Keeper. I appreciate the support and kind words :)
Lily: Sometimes when I read something I really like, I try to identify what it is that really draws me in. I think maybe a lot has to do with what you have read in your past years. Maybe you were impressed by what you were forced to read and critique in Lit or Comp. I know I despised the Odyssey and the Iliad for years because we read and translated them out of the Latin/Greek. It was a lot of work and the beauty of the story got lost in the mechanics of the translating. Maybe I would appreciate them both now. I take the time to respo...
It’s an interesting thing to turn his life around. I like that he was saved by the need for routine. Getting him to give another plant in return for the one he had bonded with is a nice touch.
Thank you so much!
I teared up the first.. and the second time I read this. Your writing is eloquent, creative, and paints the picture so perfectly. Oliver is such a genuine, relatable character and I adore his character development! Your take on this prompt is refreshing and healing for the soul. Thank you so much for sharing 💚