The Plant Queen

Part Five

And that was how it was with TB, my name for Uncle Todd, that stood for both “the bane” and “tuberculosis.” We all started calling him that, even Mama, although she hadn’t a clue what it meant. Neither did Uncle Tod, who, being a know-it-all, egomaniac, determined it short for “top bro,” and adapted it as his personal moniker.

We all started calling him that, even Mama, although she hadn’t a clue what it meant. Neither did Uncle Tod, who, being a know-it-all, egomaniac, determined it short for “top bro,” and adapted it as his personal moniker.

And so TB came to live with us, presumably to put order back into our lives, which he did by putting more disorder upon Mama. TB was our live-in Cat in The Hat.

Grandma Carol, we learned, was plagued by TB’s proclivity to argue with everything and anything that came out of someone’s mouth. 
If you said, “Look at my new pink dress,” TB’s eyebrows would shoot up like a rocket and he would correct in a mincing tone, “Looks more chartreuse, if you ask me.” 
No one ever had to ask him for his opinion, which was really the only thing he ever genuinely offered and gave freely.

When Mama tangled with him their arguments soothed her much like amphetamines focus hyperactivity. The first argument was over the décor that Mama continued to insisted was for the sake of the plants. Mama’s theory was that they would thrive better in their natural habitat.

“I don’t see what an Escher print of an unwinding head has to do with a rhododendron, if you ask me,” TB said, forty-five minutes into his arrival. Mama reacted mad-dash, suddenly flinging baking powder at the miniature, crooked bamboo tree that was propped up with popsicle sticks and twine.
“This will kill the bacteria,” Mama declared, tossing the white powder over all the plants, like rice at a wedding.

“That made no sense,” said TB, trying to brush off his encrusted brow. 
“I was talking about art, not pesticide, although I admit, there can sometimes be a gray line.”
“Everything comes down to germs. That, and death is the great equalizer,” Mama explained.
“I’ve read that simple baking ingredients can ward off fungus,” Uncle Todd reasoned, “if that’s what you were up to.”
“Like yeast rises, so goes the fun out of fungus,” said Mama, sounding over- the-top-crazy at this point.

As though everyone had the same thought, the room became quiet.
“Yes,” TB said, “I imagine so, I imagine so.”

The baking power, as it turned out, was a medical disaster. The holistic manufacturer had mixed it with sodium and a laundry list of homeopathic ingredients that produced a chain reaction, like a chemistry set experiment gone awry.

Within minutes, all the water and nutrients from the plants had been absorbed. The Mexican cactus was the first casualty. 
“Lives in the dessert and can’t handle a little baking soda,” Mama said, as though she’d been sold a bill of goods.
“It was baking powder. If you don’t mind me saying so,” Todd reminded.
“I do mind you saying so and you’re wrong.” 
Mama began to get revved up and started searching through the pantry to prove her point.
“It was baking powder, Mama,” said Iris, pulling the box out of the garbage. “There’s still some left, in fact,” she said, putting it back on a shelf.
“Eww,” I said.
Mama just said, “Oh,” and then, “Oh dear,” walked back to her now, four-legged rocker and slunk down. 
“I might have made a fatal tactical error, “ she announced, and within one back and forth rock, fell asleep.
“She’s passed out,” said Todd. “Maybe that’s a good idea.”
“How much wine did you let her drink?” asked Iris.
“Moi?” Todd’s voice rose with mock indignation. “Am I my sister’s keeper?”
I said, “You couldn’t even be a zoo keeper,” inadvertently coming up with the ideal qualification for anyone applying to be our family caretaker.
“Well,” Todd began, “If you ask me…”

Suddenly feeling like Iris, I walked out of the room, realizing I might be starting to suffer from, what Mama pegged as “pube peeve.”
“That time of the month?” asked Todd, following me into the kitchen. Mortified, I answered with superiority, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Iris came to my rescue. “He’s making a moronic reference to menstruation, which is none of his damn business.”
“I think you mean, ironic, if you want my opinion, “said Todd.
“No one wants your opinion,” I yelled. I was definitely acting like Iris.
“Well, excuse me,” Todd said, appearing to be good natured.

But really, he just didn’t care. As nature hates a vacuum, TB was our defacto grownup. And as such, our only hope for stability. I had to consider restructuring my value system. 
“Don’t talk to me about stable. Go live with a horse,” Mama would have said. 
I could hear myself crying out, “Noooooo,” as if in slow descent from falling off a cliff. It made for a scary wake up call.

So TB came to live with us, presumably to put order back into our lives, which he did by putting more disorder upon Mama. TB was our live-in Cat in The Hat.

“I thought he would pay for groceries, or at least run some errands while we’re in school,” Iris grumbled a week or so into TB’s visit. 
“I am fixing the furniture,” he said, strolling into proximity with a hammer. “That way your mother may not have to go into a mental institution.”
“That makes no sense,” said Iris.
“Mental Illness makes no sense. That’s the problem. You have to fight fire with fire” TB replied. 
He had a point.
“Is my coin in there?” asked Max, putting her little hand into the recesses of the upside down couch TB was working on.
“Don’t give her false hope,” said Iris.

“All hope is false,” Mama proclaimed from her rocking chair, almost cheerfully. She was dressed in a black petticoat and a “No Nukes” t-shirt.
Suddenly, tears sprung to my eyes and I shouted, “That’s crazy.”
“You’re darn tooting,” Mama fired back.

I had a flash of unwelcome clarity that it was likely none of us would ever be all right. This was a tragedy that I hadn’t considered because one of the few positives that Mama had instilled in us was that everything would work out in the wash. 
And I said it out loud, “Everything will work out in the wash.”
Then I heard TB correcting me, “Everything will come out in the wash.”

A sense of relief washed over me, because as Mama would have said, “That’s a horse of a different color.” Which also would come out in the wash. I giggled a little to myself and Iris, who was trying to build a fire, turned and put her hands on her hip. 
“What’s so funny?,” she asked, sounding just like Mama.
I spoke carefully, making it up as the words came out of my mouth, 
“I was thinking that just because you clean something that’s dirty, it doesn’t mean that it’s fixed, if it’s torn or something. But it looks a whole lot better.”

Iris titled her head at me as though I was a spec that was either dirt or something that might come in handy later, like the back of an earring. 
“Why that’s absolutely hilarious,” she said slowly, her face deadpan. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so funny in my entire life.” 
That was enough for Max, who started laughing hard, so I picked up a napkin from the floor, that should have been picked up, anyway, to wipe off what I knew would be coming next.
As I walked towards Max, I got the giggles again and started heaving and hoeing so hard I was afraid I might either pop a button or burst into tears.

Then Mama laughed. She laughed the everything is going to be okay laugh, that seemed like ages since we’d heard. It was an aria, that’s what Mama called it, an aria, that went up and then down and rolled around and around the room, catching up every stray particle, like the tide coming up on the shore and pulling all the debris away with it.

~ THE END ~ 
 … So far — will update if and when there’s a Part 6.