The Feral Plant

Peter’s mom had a pet spider plant. It was kind of like a green hairy cat that slept all the time in a pot that hung from the living room ceiling. She talked to it and patted the pot fondly when she walked past. When they went out of town, she found it a babysitter.

“It’s a plant,” Peter said. “It won’t even notice we’re gone.”

“It might get lonely,” Mom said.

Sometimes, the spider plant would grow long shoots with baby spider plants at the end. They were little green poofballs that would dance when Mom patted the pot.   “So much energy,” she’d say.

Once they grew roots, she planted them in little pots and decided who to give them to. Relatives, friends, neighbors, people she met at the library or grocery store or on a walk, all became new owners of little spider plants.

Mom would handwrite long notes on how to care for the plants. Sometimes she’d worry about the little plants. “I hope they’re doing all right,” she said once. “Do you think it’s rude to ask about them? I don’t want to imply that their new owners are irresponsible.”

“I’m sure they’re fine,” Peter said. “They’re plants.”

When it was finally time for Peter to go to college, his mother clipped off a spider plant baby and repotted it. Peter was not surprised.

“It can stay in your windowsill,” Mom said.   “Plants are soothing, and they’re great listeners.”

“All right,” Peter said. He took the plant. He carried it on his lap during the long drive, and put it into his new windowsill before he brought the rest of his luggage up.

“Take care of yourself,” Mom said, as she got ready to leave. “Call home at least once a week.   And take care of your plant.”

“Of course I will,” Peter said. He hugged her, and waved at the car until it turned the corner.   And then he went inside and forgot about the plant.

He forgot to call home, too. He was just so busy all the time with classes and meeting new people and everything else that came with being out on his own for the first time.   Every other week, his mom would call him.

“Are you doing okay? How are your classes?” And of course, “How is the plant?”

After these phone calls, he’d guiltily water the little plant and resolve to be better about calling home. And then he’d forget again. When it was finally time for winter break, Peter was ready to go home.   He was looking forward to not looking at textbooks and having someone else do laundry.

He packed up all his dirty laundry and arranged to ride home with a friend who lived the next town over from Peter’s family. He went to the student store and quickly purchased gifts. Luckily college tee shirts were on sale, so it didn’t take much time.

“I’m home,” he said, when he finally walked through the door. “Do you have any cookies?”

“I missed you,” Mom said, and gave him a big hug.   Then she looked around at his bags.

“I brought home some laundry,” Peter said. “Why do it at school when it’s free to wash it at home?” He laughed awkwardly, then snatched a plastic bag and held it up. “Look,” he said. “I bought gifts for everyone.   Do you have wrapping paper?”

“That’s wonderful, Peter,” Mom said. “But where is the plant?”

“I left it in the windowsill. It’ll be fine,” Peter said. He managed not to roll his eyes.

“But you’ll be gone for two weeks,” Mom said.   “Maybe we should go back for it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Peter said. “I’ll email a friend who lives close by and ask if he can check on it.”

“That’s a good idea,” Mom said.

Peter did intend to email his friend, but he forgot.   He just got so busy with wrapping gifts and eating cookies and checking in with his friends from high school.   Winter break was great.

While Peter was gone, the plant went wild. It sent out little shoots that dug their roots into cracks into the windowsill or tangled themselves into the blinds.   Peter sighed when he saw it and set down his luggage full of nice, clean clothes.

He reached out to start untangling the plants. He heard a hissing sound and jumped back.   He grabbed a broom and poked around, but couldn’t find anything obviously dangerous.

When he tried to untangle the little plants, he heard hissing again, and the mother spider plant rustled her leaves ominously.   Peter stepped back. “Listen, plant,” he said. “If you keep hissing at me like that, I’ll stop watering you.”

But it was an empty threat. He knew it, and apparently the plant knew it too. He couldn’t kill the little spider plant.   His mother would never bake him cookies again. So the plant hissed and rustled until he left it alone. It spread further into the cracks of the room and Peter pretended not to notice.

Hopefully, Mom would be able to fix it when she came to pick him up for spring break. Otherwise, he wasn’t sure how he’d pass room inspections at the end of the year.