By Anne Carly Abad
Every cell in the bud’s body vibrated to the girl’s voice. “Fern, cattail, lily, sedge, violet, anemone,” she imparted her knowledge of the wetlands. They were all distinct, and the bud saw them as the girl did: the fiddleheads that characterized ferns, the creamy clusters of meadowsweet, the heart-shaped leaves of Celandine. The bud approached her thoughts so she would single it out from the lilies.
With cupped hands, she scooped it up. It had never been out of water. A breeze shook its wet leaves, and the bud tightened its scales, bristling its hairs against the bracing weather. The girl’s skin was warm, but the bud couldn’t take comfort in it. She was shivering. The bud had to stop that first before it could feel better. It linked itself to her temperature center and took some of her chill upon itself. The sharing was both strange and delicious.
“Oh!” The girl straightened. She’d grown numb to the cold. Her train of thought suggested she might go out to explore some more, but the bud nudged her against it. A taste of withering was enough to give her a vision of being snotty and feverish in bed.
“You,” she began. The bud loosened its folds so she could study its entirety. Her uncertainty oozed in. She sought to name it but failed. A fat, pink bulb, that was all it was.
“You’re beautiful,” the girl breathed. Beautiful. The plant embraced the word. It was beautiful when a bird pecked Mother’s fruit open and released its seed brethren. It was beautiful when the river carried them downstream. Passing tributaries and lowlands, the bud had been separated from its kin. It had arrived in a lush bayou and there taken root among the lily pads. It didn’t know how long it had been since then, just that the flowers had come and gone.
“You’re coming with me,” she said. As the last few droplets dripped down the length of the bud’s roots, it knew this would be the last it would feel of the wetlands.
The bud draped a tendril over the girl’s little finger.
The bud waited. The girl had left it in a dim room, in a tub of water. Their mental link weakened as the girl moved farther away. Wasn’t she afraid? The bud certainly was. It was alone. All alone.
Hours later, a creak roused the plant. Her presence perked its petals open and they reestablished their bond.
There was a click. Harsh white light washed over the room. The girl snatched the bud from its roost. She could have crushed it had the bud not pushed back her fingers with its tendrils.
“My friends won’t let me join!” she sobbed. “They don’t like me!”
The girl’s memories and emotions were afire. The bud sponged them off hungrily. She was surrounded by children of the same age. They drew squares on the hard, gray ground. They threw rocks into a square, and then started skipping on one foot, avoiding the lines.
Her thoughts shifted. She stood alone in the middle of a narrow street. She drew the same lines, hands white with chalk. She looked about several times. No one came.
She decided to walk a bit. A few blocks in, she found her friends playing together in another street. “Hey!” she called. And they stopped. “Sorry, have ’nuf people,” a boy sniveled.
The bud absorbed her emotions not so much as to lessen her pain as to satisfy its appetite. It showed her its own mind, the way she let it see hers. Companions. The frogs, the reeds, the bulrushes and even the flies that once served as its food, they had been great company, too. But it liked the girl better. They had much in common, and she understood.
The fish brushed past its roots. Gel-like things, those must have been the fish’s eyes.
The animal tried to get a nibble at a leaf but must have found it unpalatable. It stopped at the first bite.
The bud had been calling for the girl, but she wasn’t responding. It knew she was nearby, though. She exuded a different air today, reminding the bud of summertime and wilted leaves. The floorboards thumped with her every step.
“Nothing’s going my way!” The girl huffed. A rush of new emotions made the bud’s insides boil. “Hate this! Mom doesn’t want you in her tank. I have to put you back in the bucket.”
As the girl made her way out, the bud lashed out with its tendrils. It entangled the fish. Channeling the girl’s anger, it sprouted more tendrils. The harder the fish thrashed and fought, the tighter the bud held on. The water went still.
A scream made the bud shrink back. The fish’s corpse floated away.
“Heather!” an unfamiliar voice yelled. “Throw that thing out. Now!”
At once, the bud latched onto the unfamiliar one’s mind. Terror. It kind of liked that emotion. But hatred, no, none of that. The bud took all forms of revulsion away, until there was no longer such a thing, only acceptance.
The bud called upon the lethargy of things that grow in the wetlands.
The girl, Heather, returned. “What is it, Mom?”
The unfamiliar one slumped down to the floor. “What is it?” came her bradycardic response.
Heather dug her teeth into a corncob. As she slurped up the juices, the bud salivated within its bulb. It prodded her mind. What do I need?
“You are all I need.”
Then why eat? it chided.
Heather dropped the cob. She laughed. “Is this good?” she asked. Of course, happiness is always good.
Keep laughing. The bud rolled out of the fish tank. It crawled on the floor, and climbed up her legs like a vine. Taking root on the girl’s knee, the bud finally had the chance to bloom. Heather.
“Heather,” said the girl.
Watching TV beside them, “Heather,” said the unfamiliar one. And she started laughing, too.