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Coming of Age Drama

The glass door was open just a crack, enough to keep any curious nocturnal visitors from investigating too far. Alfred plodded down the familiar steps from his back door, another lovely day, he thought as he ducked under the low branch of an apple tree and let the fresh air into the sheltered suntrap of the 8x6ft greenhouse. He loved this time of year, the flourishing garden was rich with lush vegetation and blackbird song. A single ant trekked over the soil clumps conquering its very own mountainous terrain. ‘Where are you off to?’ Alfred mumbled aloud to himself as he pottered about amongst the torn seed packets and fuzzy ended twine off-cuts.

Each day the sun reliably moved across the sky slowly baking the ingredients of the greenhouse, tracked in time by the stone sundial. As the moon began the night-shift darkness draped a cool blanket over the garden. Alfred gave an attentive thought to his seeds as he turned out his bedside lamp and pulled the covers over his shoulders, purposefully tucking his feet under the edges to keep away the drafts and bad dreams.

Outside in the dark the Marigold soldiers stood watchfully to attention marking the first line of defence. Brave and dutiful in their dirty trenches, the prettiest yellow-orange cannon fodder ready to sacrificially fall on their swords, defending the precious gold of the seedlings yet to be born. If you listen carefully in the darkness, you can hear their mantra, ‘Take us first, take us first’ they chant, luring and intercepting the greedy slime bullets and their sticky glistening trails of destruction.

Green slatted benches line the glass walls each laden with compost-filled seed trays, quietly incubating and infusing their treasure with vital nutrients to harness life. Deep inside these plastic rectangles (2-3cm deep to be precise) stirrings are happening - microscopic rustlings of moist bark against recycled earth. The nut-cracking split of a seed husk makes way for the tiniest nude shoot to wiggle towards the light. Delicate root networks anchor under the surface creating leverage for bright green arched backs to break through the crust, testing the air before a spring-loaded stretch sees the full inch height of a new seedling in all its bendy tenderness.

For so long Tommy lay engulfed in sleepy silence in the damp dark, serenaded on occasion by the low murmurings of a man’s voice, a soothing whisper of encouragement in soft gentle melody. He longed to stay hidden from view in the compact cuddle of his underground bed. But a deep yearning brewed inside. A force transcending soil and water was dragging him upwards against gravity, mother nature magnetising him towards the bright warmth above. He felt an innate elemental rising towards the beginning of something wonderful and inexplicable.

There were others in here too he realised as vibrations reverberated against his brown closed-in walls. With a mixture of fear and excitement he listened keenly,

‘Oh, ouch..umph, what’s this in my way’ said a muffled deep grumpy voice somewhere to his right.

‘Ahhhh, oh how exciting, look!’ This voice was high-pitched with a strange faraway echo. ‘Oh how beautiful, look it’s so bright! Ahhhhh.’ They sung in awestruck chorus.

Tommy wanted to join them, wait for me! he panicked inside but couldn’t move. The heavy earth was bearing down on his back like a dead weight, it took all his might to burrow his way through pin-hole air pockets, beads of moisture turning the soil to mud from his efforts. But he could get no further.

The sun arched across the sky adoringly stalked by the heavy Helianthus heads. Tommy’s heart sank with the sunset each night as he listened to the social vibrations up above. On the third day he felt the soily roof above him finally give way and his exposed stem felt the airy kiss of daylight and space. The cool sensation drew around his naked vulnerable shoot and he shivered with delight. Pleasure was quickly replaced by embarrassment as he realised his bottom was in full view, head and feet buried, his first appearance in the world resembling a flimsy colourful croquet hoop. Befriending his lack of dignity, he waited…and waited…until the sunbeam warmth catapulted his head upwards. The last remaining crumbs of soil flung from his bristles as he unfurled his baby leaflets and welcomed the glow of glorious daylight.

Speechless joy sang through his veins, an injection of magnificent energy weaving along every botanical compound sending an impulse of gratifying strength down his stem. He felt his roots glow with organic harmony, their tendrils anchoring in a confident ball beneath him. Tommy was so lost in his ecstatic awakening, bathed in a hazy drunken glow that it took him a little while to focus on his surroundings.

Everyone was looking at him. Tommy gulped and shrunk into himself. They were huge, three, no four times the size of him, rows of proud stems drinking in the sunshine, double the amount of leaves, taller, stronger, better looking. They turned their aloof heads effortlessly away from him and up towards the sun casting a neglectful shadow over his little patch of light. Tommy’s head dropped with defeat in the shade of their looming silhouettes.

Each day Alfred came, spectacles teetering on the bridge of his nose performing surgically precise operations on the others. Tommy watched cautiously as he teased out their roots one by one. Some were lifted with smug contentment into their upgraded brown plastic cylinders while others refused to budge. Tommy’s stomach lurched as he witnessed the ugly snap of a root branch and the face-twisting contortion of pain, but the limp foliage and defenceless whimpers of his cousins were soon eased by Alfred’s gentle hand.

‘Pssst’ Tommy looked around but could only see empty spaces.

‘Pssst, over here’ The beaming pink and white face of a trailing geranium appeared floating next to him, dangling from the corner shelf where the dibber and scissors live. Her raspberry-rippled flowery head tilted to one side, ‘You’re a bit behind aren’t you…?’ She had a light giggle with the kind of involuntary cheeky grin that usually accompanies a slice of cake, ‘Don’t worry he’ll wait for you, got some catching up to do though’.

‘Wha…’ he went to reply but she’d already gone, trumpet shaped petals resting against glass up high. He was alone again.

A grown-up pepper towered nearby adorned with red pointy shapes. Tommy could just about lean over and touch a leaf if he dared. The hoity chilli plant caught a whiff of Tommy’s intention and sharply turned his nose up and away angling towards the sun, channelling his vicious snobbery into the fire in his seeds. Tommy tried the other direction but the grumpy inexpressive cactus, dry and baron looked straight through him with a meditative stare. Tommy saw the sunlight catch his spikes and a shudder ran though his exposed little stem.

Days passed, Alfred came and went from the greenhouse, Tommy remained hopeful with every visit that he might be chosen and taken outside but the empty seed tray remained his home. Tommy watched the rest of his nightshade family in their outdoor pots, trusses set, staked with canes and twine, delicate pale flowers blooming, flirting with the pollen drenched bees. He envied the magic juice that Alfred added to the watering can. The squeals of intoxication on magic juice day were torture to Tommy’s ears – like a lonely and hungry child being forced to watch a party full of sugar and bouncy castles from behind a prison window. Maybe tomorrow, he told himself when night fell again.

Even Bruce had been rehomed, gnarly prickly-leaved Bruce, Alfred had moved him into the actual ground outside. Tommy couldn’t even imagine the freedom and boundless wonder of nutrition. Envy was swapped for sadness as he endured a clear view of Bruce arrogantly spreading his leaves in full rain and shine, growing to a monstrous size boasting prolific bulbous forest green zucchini.

Droplets of misty rain snaked down the windowpanes. The geranium looked on in concern as she watched the depressive wilt of Tommy’s lonely stem. He had just about given up hope when Alfred came whistling into the greenhouse, pipe clamped by his bottom lip, his mug of tea fusing its steam with the condensed greenhouse air. He left the door ajar for the occasional puff of inoffensive smoke to whisp away and merge with the grey clouds in the sky.

‘Now then my little precious. How are you doing.’ Tommy felt a tickle under his leaf and realised with delight Alfred was talking to him. In a flash his attention sprung to life, standing as tall and strong as was plantly possible. The sudden wash of his attention felt just like the embryonic cocoon of his seed husk, transported for a moment back to those warm womb-like moments in the safety of the dark.

His reminiscing was shattered by a seismic quake, shockwaves vibrating through his entire foundation as though someone had reached into his soul with their fingertips and struck the wrong chords. His roots disbanded from their stations in disarray, confused as they scrambled to latch onto the earth. He knew it was dangerous to resist but he couldn’t help it, his roots were flailing about, frantically trying to attach. And then he was free. Unhinged. Out of the tray. Intact but floating in mid-air, held by Alfred’s dirty forefinger that smelt of compost and tobacco. He hung here for a few moments, suspended in a space in between.

Plunged into the softest new compost (fresh from the garden centre), Tommy was overwhelmed and could only gape in love-struck awe. When he saw Alfred’s hand on the arched handle of the rusty watering can, he thought he might burst, ‘Magic Juice!’ His roots plunged deeper into themselves in pure glee, bracing for the thrill of these blissful waves. Tommy had never felt such relief. Calm realisation and comfort landed deep inside him as he realised everything was going to be ok. He had his own proper home (on the patio) in a terracotta pot warmed by the sun so it stayed cosy long into the evening.

Some of the others had been donated to neighbours: whole plants gone over-night or fruits sold by the punnet to passers-by on a little wooden trestle table by the roadside. Some he recognised nearby, thriving in the late summer sun with fruits and vegetables hanging off their arms like jewels. Tommy didn’t have any such ornaments but he didn’t mind, perhaps he wasn’t that kind of variety.

In the coming days Tommy became distracted by a growing urge he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He started to notice tiny yellow flowers on some of his arms, they itched and tickled when the wind blew. Alfred came and nipped out his new shoots, at first it stung a bit but then he looked forward to the regular preening. One morning Tommy woke to feel a heaviness in his arms, fearing he was sick he scanned the garden for a sign of Alfred. Then out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a green bulge where a flower had once been. His alarm was short lived as he realised with pride, he had his very own prized treasure. A trickle of water leaked from one of his leaves.

Tommy was the last fruiting tomato plant in the garden. He bore the weight of his deep red tomatoes with a stoic pride, standing tall in the warm breeze to soak up every ounce of sunshine. He gave Alfred all the juicy sun-ripened Gardener’s Delight he could muster, an abundance of late summer sweetness that he produced time and time again in a bottomless effort to repay his owner’s patient affection.

March 27, 2022 17:46

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1 comment

14:43 Apr 07, 2022

A really original POV! I will be thinking of my plants squealing with intoxication this year :) Lovely story.

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