NANCY KEELER | Short Story | USA
Jane is average, in her own mind. She lives in an average suburb. She is lower middle class, meaning struggling some financially, and upper middle age, a polite way of saying she’s getting old. Recently retired from administrative work—keeping things in order for other people—Jane keeps a low profile. She doesn’t bother anyone, and they don’t bother her.
Jane’s apartment is one bedroom, neat, sparsely furnished. She left everything behind with her husband of many years, left everything except her memories and her hard won pride. It wasn’t that long ago. She finally figured out that maybe her self-esteem issues were his problem, not hers, after reading a book about abuse, how it’s not all about being hit. It was a process.
Now she’s alone. She and her husband didn’t have close friends. Abuse and neglect are draining.
Today, Jane comes home with a couple bags of groceries, puts them away in a fog. She’s in a fog a lot these days. While out she picked up a green plant at the local garden store. Nothing special about the plant. She just wants it to bring some life into her new apartment, life besides her own. A pet won’t do. Too needy.
The plant goes on the windowsill. Not one to talk to plants or pay much attention to them as a rule, it’s the only one Jane’s got. Her décor, like the rest of the apartment, is sparse. Not many pictures on the wall. None of children and grandchildren; things didn’t turn that way. She tries not to think of that. And she doesn’t really see what’s around her much anyway. A landscape print here, a bird or flower there. Abstracts. Color and movement without too much reality thrown in. Now she admires the plant silently, noticing how the setting sun just brushes its leaves, a light speckle of greenery.
I will take good care of this plant. Prove I really can do something right.
As Jane walks by over the next few days, she doesn’t see the plant. Lost in thought, she goes about her business on autopilot: meals, the store, doctor’s appointments—too many these days. She comes home, tries to read but can’t. She goes online, wandering aimlessly from one thing to another. Watches a little TV, too much maybe, mindless stuff, then goes to bed and sleeps. And dreams, too many lately, too vivid. Nothing pleasant.
Maybe a week later she notices the plant. I think it’s okay. Is it droopy? I can’t tell.
Some people talk to plants. Some people even have relationships with them. Oh, how are you? Jane lifts the penny-colored plastic container in front of her face, close enough to smell the soil, touching it with the tip of her finger. It’s dry, but not too much. You are such a pretty little thing.
Jane replaces the plant on the sill and turns away. The fog descends again.
A few days later, she walks by the window. Does the plant look greener? Or is it just my imagination? Is that a new sprout? Or I just didn’t notice it before?
Again, she lifts it, taking in the plant’s leaves. You’re such a lovely green thing. How are you today? I see you grow. She feels a little funny speaking aloud, but people believe things. Jane wants to believe too.
Two weeks go by. Jane’s fog lifts a little—she’s had a good day; spring is coming and she’s feeling a little more energetic—and her attention falls on the plant. She had forgotten all about it.
Droopy. Fading, brown. What am I forgetting? Why isn’t she responding? I can’t do anything right after all.
As Jane sinks deeper, she pulls a chair up to the window, putting her elbows on the sill. Head in her hands, she looks up at the stars, only a few visible through cloud and the spill of artificial light.
What’s going to become of me? She speaks in a whisper. What am I missing?
Her mind swells with memories. Her husband’s words: “You’re just taking a jab at me.” I don’t do that; you do. I have to interrupt you; you ramble, and I’ll forget what I want to say. “You’re making it about you.”
Yes. My life is about me.
Glimmers of clarity: Crowded out of my own life. Can’t someone take care of me once in awhile?
Regrets: I’m not perfect either. He didn’t want me to leave. I hurt him. He did love me, at least in his own way.
Uncertainties: I’m too old to start over. What am I going to do now?
Feelings, trying to burst through the words, bursting in fits and starts: I miss him. I’m scared. I’m lonely.
In the midst of it all, she keeps coming back to what she’s read, the book that started it all: There’s a name for the things he said to her. There’s a name for the type of relationship, for how she feels. Naming it is validating, gives her power. Gives her connection.
Emotions rush one upon another, thoughts rebel, impulses clamor for Jane’s attention until it all collapses in on itself, evaporates into a mist, coalescing into a deep, dense fog. She doesn’t hear the clock ticking on the wall. Doesn’t hear the refrigerator’s annoying hum. No color on the walls, no fresh night spring-awakened air teasing her nostrils. There is no hunger, no thirst, no pain. Jane sits, lost, rooted in the spot, staring, vacant. Time passes.
Finally, out of the fog, a faint ray of will, a beacon. Or was it the hoot of an owl in the trees? Jane looks around, sees the plant beside her. Of course. Water. It needs water.
Cool, warm, abundant water flows from the tap. Jane lets her fingers play. Only a moment; abundance is to be appreciated, not wasted.
Over coming weeks, the plant grows, hardy and bold. It is a deeper, richer shade of green. She’s sure of it now. Jane looks at it, and reminds herself to actually see.
Her fog remains, but she peeks through it once in awhile. She tries to remember to water the plant, and more often does. She isn’t sure whether it is her chats with the plant causing its greenness to brighten, its leaves to reach out. She just notices it a little more often. Talks to it. Smells the earth around its roots, lets it dirty her finger. Lets the water refresh her skin. For a moment.
I think she looks a little happier today.
The sky is still cloudy, and stars still have to work to be seen through the skyglow. But they do come through.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nancy Keeler started writing with poems as a child. Along the way she has written in most genres, freelancing at one point for a community newspaper group in Southern California. She has a habit, though, of not submitting her creative writing. “I’ve been working mostly in memoir for about twelve years, but I just don’t think I’m ready for that kind of exposure.”
Originally from Athens, Georgia, then Nashville, Tennessee, Nancy now lives in the Boston, Massachusetts area. She is delighted to be published in “Boca ‘e Loba” and hopes it’s the beginning of a new publication habit, in fiction.