by Arnold Snyder
I had a restless night with Dusty. All my attempts to communicate with her failed. I couldn’t understand it. I went through the same process that I’d gone through at Megan’s house, but I never felt the tingling in my fingertips, never felt the numbness, never felt the connection.
When I picked up my phone to call Megan the digital clock on my wall said 2:49 a.m.
“It’s three o’clock in the morning,” she complained immediately.
“I’m sorry to wake you but I’m having trouble talking to Dusty. There’s no connection, no feeling, nothing. What am I doing wrong?”
“Oh, Morgan, she gets that way sometime. She’s moody, that’s all. She might be pissed off at you for taking her away from me.”
“But she begged me to take her!”
“You already told me that. I’m not accusing you of anything. How many other plants do you have?”
“None. Just Dusty.”
“That’s the problem. Plants are social creatures. She’d probably like to have a few other plants around. Also, she’s not sure about you. You don’t look like a plant and you don’t act like a plant.”
“Act like a plant? How do you act like a plant?”
“Is that a serious question? You take your clothes off, stand up straight and hold your arms out like branches.”
I waited for her to continue with the instructions, but after a pause, I said, “That’s it?”
“Keep in mind that the longer you hold that position, the more you’ll feel like a plant and the more you’ll look like a plant. I spend about three hours a day in plant position. Some transplants spend sixteen hours a day in plant position. That’s what they call our kind. Transplants.”
“You mean there are more people like us?”
“You better believe it. I’ll take you to a transplant bar one of these nights.”
“Megan, I’m having trouble accepting this about myself. I so much want to feel like a plant and look like a plant—I want to be a plant—but I’m ashamed of myself for feeling this way. People won’t understand.”
“Of course they won’t understand. You’ve got to accept it. Some of us are different, that’s all. But I want you to try acting like a plant. Do it right now. As soon as you hang up. I’m going back to sleep, thank you. You get undressed and stand where Dusty can see you with your arms out like branches. Stand as long as you can hold it. Then try talking to her. I’ll bet she loosens up. Goodnight, Morgan.”
It seemed insane to be following Megan’s advice, but I didn’t hesitate. Ignoring the Smith Scale, I quickly undressed and went out onto my balcony and faced Dusty. I straightened my stance and held out my arms like branches. I closed my eyes and curled my toes into the floor, as if they were stubby roots gripping the earth.
At some point my arms became very heavy. I felt as if I couldn’t possibly hold them up any longer, but just as I let them fall, they failed to fall. They seemed to be weightless, floating outstretched with no effort on my part.
That’s when it hit me. I really was a plant. Plant position was my natural pose. It was how I felt most like myself. But some crazy cosmic screw-up had placed my soul into a human male body. All these years, decades, I’d been attempting to act as a man, as just another person of the world. But I wasn’t a person. I was vegetation.
Now I understood my lifelong aloofness from people. I was not supposed to be participating in all the activities around me. Everyone I knew seemed different from me in fundamental ways. Their drive to accomplish, to compete, to stay busy, hear sounds squawking from speakers, moving, always moving, talking, gossiping, laughing, crying, hollering, accusing, defending, one-upping.
I wasn’t like them. I was supposed to be still. To watch. To take my sustenance from the breeze. Fuck them and their fucked up world.
Then I thought of Dusty, the horror of her early childhood, watching her mother being devoured alive by snout weevils. Then when Megan arrived and it appeared that Dusty would be saved, some inexplicable communication led Megan to believe that Dusty wanted to be bound and all but strangled to death by the person who claimed to love her.
I opened my eyes and looked at Dusty; her beauty filled my heart with joy. Already I could see her wounds were healing. And I knew she was meant to be with me. I would provide her a forever home and a place in my heart.
Slowly I dropped my arms to my sides and approached Dusty. I placed my fingertips on her leaves as I had been taught by Megan. I let my eyes go out of focus, then closed them with an image of Dusty in my mind. I felt the tingling in my fingers, then the numbness as it moved up my arms and into my shoulders, neck and head. I felt the flow and the connection.
“Dusty,” I said, “I’m so happy to be with you. Do you like where I’ve placed you out here on the balcony? Are you getting enough sunlight?”
“I’ll be getting some more plants out here soon to keep you company, you know, for when I’m out of the house. Won’t that be nice?”
“What kind of plants would you like me to get? I could get another agave or some other kind of cactus. Or, maybe some more traditional flowers, like begonias or chrysanthemums? Would you like a nice chrysanthemum?”
“Please, Dusty, talk to me. I’m trying so hard to please you. I’ve removed those horrible belts and leather straps that were choking the life out of you. I’ve taken you out of Megan’s house like you asked me to. I’ve attended to your sunshine needs. I’ve watered you. What more can I do?”
For chrissake, Morgan, would you stop your whining?
“But … but …” I didn’t know what to say. I was pleased that she’d acknowledged me. But she seemed to have no appreciation for everything I’d done.
You think you’re a big hero, don’t you? When all you’ve done is make one big mess of my life. You’re worse than Megan.
“What are you talking about? What have I done wrong?”
Where do I begin? You’re so incompetent. How about the so-called water you’re drowning me in? Are you aware of the fact that I’m a cactus? Did you have to pour an entire gallon of that slop you call water into my vase?
“But the dirt was totally dry. I was afraid you were dying of thirst. It wasn’t a gallon. More like a cup.”
Dying of thirst? Did my leaves look brown? Were they crumbling? And what the hell was in that water you drenched my roots in? Chlorine? Fluoride? Trihalomethanes? Nitrates? Pesticides? Are you kidding me? You call that water?
“It’s just tap water, Dusty. I drink it every day.”
And just look at yourself. What a pathetic specimen of human you are. Let me spell it out for you. I drink rain water, not whatever chemical concoction you’re trying to force up my roots.
“I don’t know where to get rain water. I can put a pan out to collect some the next time it rains, but we’re in Vegas. It doesn’t rain very much. I can get distilled water at the grocery store. That’ll be more pure.”
Perrier will do, Morgan. You can get it anywhere.
If you can’t get real rain water, at least give me something more or less pure with a little fizz.
“I can do fizz. Believe me, Dusty, I want to make you the happiest plant in Vegas. I’ll get Perrier.”
Then don’t call me a plant. I am a woman. I may be trapped in this horrendous agave body, but I am pure female, and as such I expect to be treated with respect and dignity.
“Absolutely! I would never disrespect a woman. I’m one hundred percent with the feminist movement.”
Fine. Then go get me some Perrier and stop bothering me. I need my beauty sleep. Good night.
“Good night,” I said, “and thank you for talking to me. I’m going to sleep too.”
I took my hands away from her leaves and opened my eyes. I looked at the clock. It was 4 a.m. I was supposed to be getting ready for work soon. No way. I’ll call in sick.
As I was exiting my balcony, I heard Dusty’s voice.
Before you go to bed, would you please strap a belt around me?
I turned to look at her. It was just hitting me that I’d heard her voice without touching her, without going through the whole connection process.
“Dusty?” I said.
“Dusty, did you say something?”
I went into my kitchen and sat down at the table. I called Megan.
“It’s four a.m.,” she said with a grouchy voice.
“I know, but I’m having another problem with Dusty. Or maybe it’s not a problem. I just heard her voice and I wasn’t touching her leaves or closing my eyes to connect with her or anything. Am I going crazy?”
“No, but that’s proof positive that you are a plant trapped in a man’s body. Now that you’ve made a connection with one plant, you’ll start hearing other plants when they speak to you.”
“You knew this was going to happen to me,” I said.
“I didn’t know for sure but I suspected. I was pretty sure you were really a plant when you actually heard Dusty talk the first time I showed you how to connect with her. What did she say to you?”
“Just now? She asked me to strap a belt around her.”
“Did you do it?”
“No. That’s why I called you.”
“She’s asking me to restrain her, but she treats me like I’m her slave.”
“Do what she asked you to do. You are her slave. Understand that she cannot do anything for herself. Without a slave, she’ll die. I was her slave until you came along. I was glad you came along. I would never have abandoned her, but she chose you.”
“How does she choose her slaves?” I asked. “Why me? Why you?”
“Don’t be so naïve, Morgan. We’re transplants. We’re open to being slaves for the right plantmistress.”
Dusty’s voice cut the quiet of the night like a ripsaw: Morgan!
“I think you’ve got to go,” Megan said.
“You heard her?” I said.
“I always hear her. Good night. Get in there with a belt already.”
That’s exactly what I did. I walked back into the living room unbuckling my belt and pulling it from my jeans. I stepped out onto the balcony.
“Now hold still, Dusty. I’m going to strap this belt around you.”
To my relief, she remained silent. I fastened the belt snuggly around her, but not too tight. Her wounds were still healing. I stepped back to look at it and give her a few moments to complain. But she was quiet, perhaps sleeping.
“You look good in that belt,” I said. “It’s my favorite belt. It’s the belt I was wearing when I met you.”
I put a hand on one of her leaves.
“I’ll take care of you, Dusty.”
I waited a few minutes, touching her with the fingertips of one hand, trying to convey gentleness.
She said nothing, so I went to bed.
Go to Chapter Six