Gram is worried about me. It's not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn't contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I think about is sex. She is worried about me because one of her houseplants has spots.
Gram has believed for most of my seventeen years that this particular houseplant, which is of the nondescript variety, reflects my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. I've grown to believe it too.
Across the room from where I sit, Gram—all six feet and floral frock of her, looms over the black-spotted leaves.
"What do you mean it might not get better this time?" She's asking this of Uncle Big: arborist, resident pothead, and mad scientist to boot. He knows something about everything, but he knows everything about plants.
To anyone else it might seem strange, even off the wall, that Gram, as she asks this, is staring at me, but it doesn't to Uncle Big, because he's staring at me as well.
"This time it has a very serious condition." Big's voice trumpets as if from stage or pulpit; his words carry weight, evenpass the saltcomes out of his mouth in a thou-shalt-Ten-Commandments kind of way.
Gram raises her hands to her face in distress, and I go back to scribbling a poem in the margin ofWuthering Heights. I'm huddled into a corner of the couch. I've no use for talking, would just as soon store paper clips in my mouth.
"But the plant's always recovered before, Big, like when Lennie broke her arm, for instance."
"That time the leaves had white spots."
"Or just last fall when she auditioned for lead clarinet but had to be second chair again."
"This time it's different."
I glance up. They're still peering at me, a tall duet of sorrow and concern. Gram is Clover's Garden Guru. She has the most extraordinary flower garden in Northern California. Her roses burst with more color than a year of sunsets, and their fragrance is so intoxicating that town lore claims breathing in their scent can cause you to fall in love on the spot. But despite her nurturing and renowned green thumb, this plant seems to follow the trajectory of my life, independent of her efforts or its own vegetal sensibility.
I put my book and pen down on the table. Gram leans in close to the plant, whispers to it about the importance of joie de vivre, then lumbers over to the couch, sitting down next to me. Then Big joins us, plopping his enormous frame down beside Gram. We three, stay like this, staring at nothing, for the rest of the afternoon.
This is us since my sister Bailey collapsed one month ago from a fatal arrhythmia while in rehearsal for a local production of Romeo & Juliet. It's as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way.