Discover more from Tony Zentelis
Hello friends. The story that follows is a contribution to the Soaring Twenty Social Club’s monthly symposium, which is a digital collection of essays, poems, and stories from various blossoming writers all around the globe. This month’s topic is “Fiction”. Enjoy.
A plant’s vascular system is nothing short of fascinating, and one quick glance at a fully mature oak tree’s root system will make you wonder just how close flora and fauna are. The similarities are striking - the xylem and phloem carrying nutrients to and from extremities, serving the same function as veins and arteries, respectively. Those xylem and phloem bundled together just like a human’s nerves. Do plants get carpal tunnel when their version of the median nerve is compressed? Can a Sequoia experience sciatica when they tweak their back? Or is this all just nonsense? Well, someone has to find out either way. Someone smart enough to synthesize the unknown, but dumb enough to dream big. And I just may know that certain someone.
More stubborn than a mule with a pension plan, ornerier than a Babushka in the left lane during rush hour traffic, sassier than an 8th grader with boy problems.
At the ripe age of just seven, the girl had cultivated quite the repertoire, and despite the persistent insistence of her elders to shape up, she continued to menace her way through the elementary school and the kitchen and doctor’s office and whatever other room had the unfortunate honor of enduring her presence. (What a little devil! It reminds the narrator of himself as a young lad, when he had amassed a stack of firewood via broken baseball bats.)
Yet she refused to surrender, unwilling to cede any ground that would lead to even a partial capture of the unfathomable amount of land that her ego habituated. A real rebel without a cause, despite never seeing James Dean on the big screen. A contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. The reason she didn’t eat her broccoli? Because she didn’t feel like it! Duh! Are you too blockheaded to understand?
And while most would assume this was just a standard phase of growth that most children go through, her parents feared she would always be this way - after all, up until that very moment in her wee life, she had always BEEN that way, even when she was just minutes old. Her mother will never forget the smug look on her daughter’s face as she breeched the threshold to the real world, tiny right hand grasping onto her own umbilical cord for dear life, likely because she wasn’t done sleeping. She still had another few days after all, according to the obstetrician’s predictions.
Maybe one day she would grow out of it, or maybe the world would grow out of her and leave her behind as she continued to dig her heels in and stomp her feet when the idealized version of her reality didn’t come to fruition. But she didn’t have a care in the world at all, because the only personality trait that got in her more trouble than her stubbornness….
….was her sense of adventure. The girl was an explorer! At least she thought she was. You’d have to get 50 feet of sturdy metal chain and a souped up Mack truck to drag her out of the woods down the street from her house, where she would often spend countless hours upon hours digging up crawfish (pronounced cray-fish where the narrator is from) in the creek bed and turning over rocks and snarling butterflies in her insect net. Sometimes, she would have fictional conversations with the bugs she found:
Hey mister roly-poly! What’s life like under a rock?
Huh? What? Who the fuck are you? You little snot-nosed brat! You don’t just storm in here all jacked up on your Sour Patch Kids and two-percent milk and turn over someone’s house! Where’s your manners? I’m trying to raise a family here! I’m struggling to meet end’s meet, my kids are screaming and rolling around in the mud, my wife is banging the ant king down the road, and now I gotta deal with this bullshit?! Do me a favor kid, and go work on your stupid science project somewhere else! Kick rocks! But not this one, for God sake’s, kick any rock except this one. I’m begging you!
But she didn’t listen. All she could hear was the roly-polys and and dragonflies and beetles singing a show tune in unison and dancing around the wilderness while the deer frolicked around and the birds sang background vocals and Mr. Toad slid down a log in a top hat and cane and bellowed out in his baritone voice a song so intoxicating that she forgot these animals were just going about there business and paying her no mind. It didn’t matter. She was an investigative journalist, for the Imagination Times, and she had to get to the bottom of why the turtles were painted yellow and red on the sides of their heads, and why plants weaned with the turning of the sun through the summer sky, and why she bled when she fell down and scraped her knee.
In theory, stubbornness and science is a nasty divorce waiting to happen, but the girl made it work, and perhaps she wouldn’t have clung on to her curiosity so much if it weren’t for Aunt M, a person she adored to incalculable ends. She was the hand that fed the girl’s inquisitiveness a great feast every weekend, when Aunt M would show up at the family house in her then-fashionable silver minivan, and drag her and her younger siblings around town to various landmarks around the city to spend some quality afternoon time together. Except Aunt M didn’t need to drag the girl; the girl was already saddled up and gearing to go when twelve-o-clock noon struck on each Sunday, peering out the window, on the lookout for her spaceship to another world, and when that minivan would crest the hill that blocked the view of the rest of the street, she would sprint outside and stand at the edge of the driveway like a soldier waiting to be called into duty, and those doors would slide open when Aunt M pressed the magical button, and she would hop in and buckle herself and scream at her siblings to hurry up while they resisted their own arrest. They just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the world like she did. The girl loved her younger siblings, and perhaps they were too young to understand, but anything and everything that stood in her way to exploration was a mortal enemy, including her own kin. By the time her brother and sister were strapped in, which took about two-minutes in real world time, the girl had thought days and days had passed, as impatience often goes hand in hand with the dreaded trait of stubbornness. And finally, Aunt M would get in the driver’s seat, and she would look back at the three of them, and utter the same two words every single time, “all set?”, and the girl would enthusiastically yell out in agreement, whilst the other two groaned or remained silent.
There were a handful of spots that Aunt M would take the children; there was the science center, where the girl would gape in fascination and wonder at the displays of the human body systems, while everyone else her age was shielding their eyes or squealing in displeasure. And there was the art museum, where the girl never failed to point out when a work looked like her plate of spaghetti and meatballs, or how a sculpture resembled a monster that lived underneath her bed. And of course, Aunt M would also take them to a park, especially during the warmer months, where the girl would perform her usual archeologic digs in the dirt. But there was one spot that stood out above all, one Eden where the girl longed to return to each and every passing day, one vibrant haven rising above the cold blandness of city architecture….
….when the girl first stepped foot in the botanical gardens, she was so overrun with innate emotion and natural attraction to the flora that she swore she in fact not human, and rather one of their kind. Yes, she enjoyed climbing the oak trees at the park and smelling the lilac bush in her backyard, but this was something she had never seen before. Exotic plants, ranging from all over the globe, displaying their exuberance in the glistening light pouring in from the glass above, enthralling her in a way that no grumpy roly-poly under a damp rock ever could. And it wasn’t just the sight, it was the smell. The sweet aroma of the Himalayan Star Jasmine and the earthy fragrance of the blossoming cacao tree swirled in her nose and took her to a place that she could only imagine in the wildest of childhood dreams. And she would touch everything she could, from the prickly petals of the succulents, to the suave surface of the ferns, and of course she would get yelled at by Aunt M, but the inevitable reprimand was worth the small price of publicly damaged pride.
The girl was often so overwhelmed that she would check out of the real world and spend (what seemed like) hours daydreaming about her tales of traversing through the rainforests of Amazonia and the South African Savannas and collecting the species herself. She spoke to the plants, and the plants spoke back. Flowers would tell her why they were a specific shade of pink, and trees would explain to her why they bore such delicious fruits. Each room, displaying a particular biome of the world, was a journey in itself; the girl held the entire world in her hands when she roamed the halls of the botanical gardens. They would have to drag her out of that sacred place. She would hide. Set up camp in between two crevasses in a rock that only she could get to. No stupid adult was going to make her leave - at least not without a fight.
Each visit to the gardens would conclude with a trip to the show house, located in the center of the campus, which was a dizzying display of horticulture surrounded by a towering glass dome. And the girl would hold her hand out at the edge of the room, and Aunt M would drop a quarter in her cupped palms, and the girl would sprint straight to the spewing fountain located in the center of the show house, and she would hurl the minted currency deep into the waters of the fountain, and make a wish. And she would wish for…
(If you thought the narrator was going to tell you what she wished for, you are gravely mistaken. Review the bylaws of superstition, and report back on the reason why wishes must held near and dear to the heart and taken to the grave if necessary.)
But one day, her opportunity to wish was halted. Halted by a black crowd control stanchion spanning the width of the doorway. Her dreams had been roped off by an unknown perpetrator. An evil doer. The show house had been closed on that particular day, and she wondered why. How could anyone do this to her? Someone needed to answer for this heinous wrongdoing. Naturally, she first turned to Aunt M.
Aunt M, why can’t we go to the fountain?!
It’s closed today sweetie, I’m sorry.
Because there is a wedding going on today. People are getting married and they need the room to be quiet.
I know sweetie, but don’t worry, we can come back another day!
No! I want to go to the fountain now!
And so she did. Who was going to stop her? Aunt M? No shot in Hell! Aunt M was nimble, make no mistake, but she was nimbler. She was an explorer, and often she would meet enemies face to face on her expeditions. She knew how to run and fight and dodge and roll and crawl herself out of danger, and she certainly would not be deterred by some arbitrary rope.
So she ducked under the elastic belt and ran towards the fountain. And she sprinted with all her might, knowing damn well that Aunt M was chasing close behind her, whispering her name so not to disrupt the ceremony. But it was too late. Her tiny footsteps grew nearer and louder, and at first only the guests seated in the back row could hear her, but soon enough, as she approached that fountain, the entire wedding knew there was stubborn little impish intruder threatening to ruin their perfect day. But the pastor paid no mind, and continued on with his words, and the bride and groom ignored her as the rite carried on. The girl only had a brief moment to pause and reflect on the disgust she felt for the room full of adults, dressed to the nines in their stupid fancy attire, doing some stupid ritual for some stupid wedding she had no care for, before the distraught Aunt M grabbed her by the arm and quietly dragged her out of the room.
But the girl resisted. The stubborn girl resisted like a horse drawn carriage stuck in a swamp, and after a short struggle, let out words that broke the silence as she succumbed to Aunt M’s willpower:
Stop! No! I don’t wanna go! Stop!
Aunt M shushed her and explained to her once more as she ushered her niece away from the scene.
I told you, there’s a wed-
But we’re womens, and we don’t have to be married!
And with those words came the turning of heads and the gasping of bridesmaids and the chuckling of groomsmen. In an instant, all eyes were on her and Aunt M, searing a permanent brand on her soul with their laser glances. And Aunt M could do nothing but issue a chuckling, nervous apology as she dragged the stubborn girl out of the show house….
Some years later, the stubborn girl, now a stubborn woman, found herself standing in front of that fountain once again, looking down into the crystal clear waters and counting all of the spare change that rested on the bottom. All of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of strangers bestowed before her eyes. That fountain was once a safe haven for her; a place where she could come after a long day of exploring the gardens and wish upon the stars, hoping one day it would all come true. It would all work out. Now, all she could do is chuckle at the silly memories. The time when she nearly wrecked a marriage. She really was a menace to society.
It had been cloudy all day, but the sun was beginning to peak through the clouds and pour through the greenhouse glass that made up the ceiling of the showroom. One of the stray lights pierced through the window and struck the green diamond that adorned her right ring finger. It was a beautiful ring, and she was a lucky woman, blessed beyond intergalactic comprehension. Blessed for a multitude of fortunes in her life. She reflected on these many fortunes as she looked down at her Seiko to check the time. In just a few hours, she would be boarding a plane headed for Manaus, Brazil, and then from there, a three day expedition deep into the Amazon. A new plant had been discovered (at least they thought it was a new plant), and was thought to have medicinal properties after observing a local tribe use it. They were hopeful, but needed her expertise to investigate further. Who else were they going to call?
After all, she is The Botanist.
Diabolical Diction Thief