I would’ve been better off growing wild on a hillside, or even pushing up through a sidewalk crack in some neglected suburb. In your apartment, I never stood a chance. You only opened the blinds when you were smoking out the window, and only watered me in thunderstorm bursts every two or three weeks.
My life would’ve been better if I’d stayed at Yadira’s, and it certainly would’ve been longer. There, the whole house was bathed in sun and packed with friends. My first memories are of her windowsill and the orange winter light that poured across me as I dangled from my mother among the other potted plants.
When I was very young, just a shoot, Yadira placed me in a jar of water until I formed my own root system. Later, she burrowed her finger into the pot of soil that was to be my new home and patted the dirt around me until I could remain upright. You were visiting that day and you sat at her kitchen table, watching us over the rim of a mug. Your hair was long, with split ends that reminded me of how my mother’s stalks splintered into children at the ends.
“You’re so good at growing things,” you told her.
“Spider plants are impossible to kill.” Yadira said that to be humble, maybe, because it turned out not to be true at all.
You sipped your tea and stared at me. “That sounds like the perfect plant for me.”
“You can keep one,” she told you, “But first, you have to name it.”
Yadira lifted her clay watering can and poured liquid into my dirt. “It’s just a thing I do. When I name a plant, I take better care of it.”
You grinned then. “How about Gary?”
And that’s when I should have known that life with you would be a nightmare. But I still had fantasies then, that I was going on an adventure, that I would find a new home with plenty of friends, where I could live happily in the sunshine and one day drop my own babies onto the countertop.
That feeling of excitement lasted until you carried me across the threshold into your apartment. It was darker than I’d been expecting, with a single north-facing window. There were clothes piled on top of your dresser, and you used your elbow to shove them to the floor to make a space for me. From my vantage point, I could see your kitchen and your bed, which was covered in a layer of books and clothes.
You stripped off your shoes and jeans and left them in a tangled pile on your floor, then lay on your back in bed and began scrolling on your phone. I looked around for another plant to talk to, but there was nothing alive except for me and you.
Hours later, your phone rang as you lay in bed. You nearly dropped it on your face before answering.
“Hello? Ryan? You’re here? Great. I’ll buzz you up.”
As soon as you hung up, you leapt out of bed and began shoving clothing into your closet. The closet door swung open again as soon as you shut it, but you were moving too quickly to notice. You grabbed two Clorox wipes and placed them under your feet, then skated around the room, picking up dirt and clumps of hair.
Someone knocked at the door of your apartment, two loud raps in quick succession. You stiffened, then chucked the Clorox wipes into the garbage and opened the door. Strands of your hair stuck out all over your head, and you were still pantsless.
A man stood in the doorway, wearing a grey hoodie. He didn’t take his hands out of his pockets when he kissed you. The two of you made a slow migration from the door to your bed, removing articles of clothing and dropping them to the floor as you progressed.
As I was familiar only with the reproductive methods of my own species, I did not understand much of what came next. After the two of you were done, the man sat on your bed and lit a cigarette.
“Can you open the window?” you asked.
He opened it a crack and I felt the cold air in my leaves. You both hunched by the windowsill, smoking without saying a word.
When he spoke at last, he did not look at either of us but instead continued to stare out the window. “It’s cute how you have a spider plant. It’s like the least adult plant you could own.”
I expected you to say something in my defense, but you did not speak.
He tapped his cigarette on the side of my pot before he left, ashing into my soil.
Weeks went by. The snowdrifts of your clothes changed shape, clean and dirty blurred in a pile on the dresser beside me. You ate takeout in bed, smoked weed in bed, lay in bed for hours without doing much of anything. My soil was dry and my leaves browning at the tips, but you didn’t seem to notice.
Sometimes you talked to me as you sat on your bed, combing through your hair with your fingers. Your hair was brown, like my leaves, so I wondered if you were dying.
“Gary,” you would say, “I don’t know what to do. I think my boss hates me. I think Yadira is upset because I never text back. I think Ryan only comes over because it’s convenient. I think I use sex to bribe people into spending time with me, because I never learned how to make friends.”
And I would listen, because I’m a good listener, but the whole time you were talking, I would be thinking Please water me, I’m dying.
One day, you looked at me, and I could tell you realized the seriousness of my situation for the first time. You walked a few steps to the kitchen and came back with a fast food cup filled to the brim with tap water. When you poured the water into my soil, it came rushing at me, too much and all at once. I listed to the side even more.
A week later, you stared at me again and rubbed one of my brown leaves between two fingers. It crumbled in your hand. Your eyes widened.
Get me to a plant doctor, I thought.
For a moment, I thought you might really get it together and get me the attention I needed. Then, you opened the drawer of your desk, placed me inside, and shut me in the dark. I was so shocked that it took hours for the truth to sink in: you had given up on me.
It took me two more days in that dark cave to die, and the whole time I was seething. You could have at least had me composted. On the second day, I breathed myself out like a puff of oxygen and rose through the wood of the desk to float near your ceiling.
Being a ghost was freeing; I was no longer confined to an undersized pot, and so I could explore. After you had gone to bed that first night, I glided the length of the studio apartment. There was a half-eaten bowl of cereal resting on the floor next to your bed. As I floated past, I reached down one ghostly leaf to knock the spoon to the floor. The kitchen was grimy, splatters of old food coating the stovetop even though I had yet to see you cook. I opened your cupboards and found no food, just boxes of sucralose packets which I scattered across your countertops and on the floor.
You noticed nothing the next morning. How could you, when the place was already such a mess?
The next night, I opened your desk drawers. I left my own cadaver but flung papers around the room, creating an indoor blizzard.
When your phone illuminated on the pillow next to you in the night, I saw a message from Ryan: “Are you awake?”
I brushed my ghost leaves across your touchscreen to answer back “no”.
The room was blanketed in sheets of printer paper when you woke up in the morning. “Oh my god,” you muttered. You said it again louder as you checked your phone and found a string of annoyed texts from Ryan. You paced the tiny apartment, still muttering to yourself, then pulled on a long sweater and leggings and went out the door.
An hour later, you came back carrying a paper grocery bag. When you pulled out the green onions, I could tell they were still alive. If they were placed in a glass of water, they would grow roots again.
It felt good to have company. As soon as you rested them on your countertop, I greeted them.
“Hello, friends,” I said. “Welcome to Hell.”
“Who are you?” they asked.
I did not say Gary, as that would have been embarrassing. Instead, I said “I’m the ghost of a spider plant.”
“Where are we?” they asked.
“You’re in a studio apartment with the woman who killed me.”
The onions gasped in horror. “You were murdered?”
“Well, no,” I backtracked, “But she shouldn’t have committed to something if she couldn’t follow through.”
You reached into the bag and pulled out the final item, a lump of greenish-brown plant matter wrapped in twine. The scent was the same as one of my childhood friends, a sage seedling that had grown up with me on the windowsill. You turned on the burner on your stove and held the bundle to the metal coil for a moment until it began to produce smoke. Then, you waved the burning clump of sage around the apartment, like one dead plant would drive out another.
I had to laugh at that, even though the onions looked at me like I was crazy.
That night, as soon as you were asleep, I opened each of your dresser drawers and added to the clothes pile already on your floor, tossing dresses and skirts I’d never seen you wear onto your heap of dirty socks and shirts.
“What are you doing?” the onions asked.
“Wreaking havoc,” I said. “Getting revenge.”
They looked at me disapprovingly, but could do nothing to stop me from their position on the counter.
The week went on. Every night, I would cause some minor chaos: spilling the half-full can of Diet Coke by your bed, scattering your unopened mail, taking each key off your ring and hiding it in a different place in the apartment. Every night, the onions would watch and judge me silently.
Whatever you had been planning to cook with the green onions did not come to fruition. I watched them wilt on the counter. At the end of the week, their souls ascended skyward. In their ghostly form, their leaves were as transparent as the skin on their bulbs.
“She’s claimed more victims,” I said as they rose towards the ceiling.
“You should go easy on her,” they said. “She’s clearly going through it right now.”
“I’m going through it, too!” I yelled, but they were already gone.
I fumed for a bit. Why would anyone be that self-righteous? I guess that’s why they got to ascend to plant heaven while I was stuck in a filthy studio.
What they said must have gotten to me, though, because that night I found myself watching you as you slept. You lay on your side, one pillow beneath your head and the other clutched to your chest. One foot poked out from under your blanket, its underside dirty. The fitted sheet had slipped off the corner of your bed, and the asymmetry bothered me. You looked wilted beneath your blanket, curled up like a dying leaf. I tucked the sheet back under and smoothed it out. It felt good to fix something in the apartment, more satisfying than trashing the place had been.
You woke up in the morning, your cheek still creased from your pillow and a bit of dried drool crusted in the corner of your mouth. The covers were twisted around you, but your fitted sheet had stayed on all night. You looked around to see if anything was ruined, printer paper on the floor or scattered sucralose packets on your counter. When you saw everything was in its place--or at least the place it had been the night before--you smiled.
You gathered the dirty clothes from your floor and left the apartment, returning a few hours later with a bag full of clean laundry. After putting the bottom sheet on the bed, you left the rest of the clothes in the bag and scrolled on your phone for an hour.
That night, I folded your laundry as you slept and moved the takeout boxes to the trash. Morning came, and I could see the light pressed against the blinds.
I watched you, curled up under your blanket like a seed about to sprout. It was 9 AM, and beautiful outside. I opened the blinds.
M.J. Garland loves plants, though she's been the death of several. She can be found on Twitter as @maurajbg.