Philodendron

Photo by author Megan Callahan

A few days after the divorce was finalized, Naomi’s mother asked her how she was feeling.

“Good,” Naomi said. “Relieved.”

Her mother pressed her lips into a wrinkled line and folded her hands in her lap.

“I am,” Naomi insisted.

“You have too many plants. You’re living in a greenhouse.”

Her mother swung out her arms as though to sweep the worrisome contents of Naomi’s apartment out the open window. Cacti and succulents crowded the rickety table. Ferns and curling vines hung from the ceiling, their leaves reaching for the sun like delicate fingers.

“They help.”

“Did you know that they release carbon dioxide at night?” Her mother said this furtively, lowering her voice as though afraid the plants would overhear. “Do you sleep well? How is your breathing?”

Naomi sighed and touched a nearby dangling philodendron. It had a new spring leaf. Very small and barely unfurled. What she loved most was seeing the first sprouts appear. She’d moved into the building in January, when the maple tree outside was encased in ice. The paint on the walls had been colourless and cracked. A drafty window had whistled through the night. In the dark she would lie on her single mattress, wide awake and listening to the sound. Milky light filtering through the curtains.

The previous tenant had left a plant cutting on the windowsill, pale and withered in a dusty glass of water. Leaves almost grey. Roots thin and knotted like strands of hair. Naomi had never tried to grow anything before. Even the roses she had once put in vases never lasted long. At first she’d considered flushing the cutting down the toilet or tossing it in the compost bin her concierge had proudly pointed out in the basement. Instead, she went out into the snow, bought a pot and some earth, and planted what was left of it.