I try to hide my annoyance as my twin sister and I make frequent pilgrimages to and from the moving van. It’s nice of Meghan, really, to take me in after my bold, but carefully calculated, choice to dive in and start my own business ended in failure. Perhaps it wasn’t so carefully calculated after all.
Meghan is thrilled that we’ll be living together, or at least she pretends to be. No, she probably is thrilled. There isn’t any real reason for her not to be. We’ve always gotten along well.
But as we’ve aged out of adolescence and become firmly entrenched in our adult years, I feel like I’ve grown up. Whereas she…hasn’t.
I mean, her house is proof enough of that. Full to the brim with silly pseudoscience knick-knacks. The essential oil diffusers, the Himalayan salt lamp. Enough potted herbs to season an entire banquet. And all the furniture is made of this dark distressed wood that somehow always seems sticky.
I know I’m mainly upset about the way my life has gone off the rails, and I’m projecting those emotions on everything annoying around me. And after everything that’s happened, by now I should know better. I should trust Meghan. But knowing that doesn’t change how I feel.
At least she’s stopped talking about how wonderful this is going to be, and moved on to blathering about some a-MAZE-ing orchid she’s just bought. It takes much more than some little flower to amaze me, I can promise you. But at least this topic doesn’t require much input from me.
Finally all of my stuff is at least moved into the house, if not put away. Most of it is going to have to stay in boxes in the basement for the time being. There just isn’t anywhere else to put it.
I duck under an overgrown spider plant hanging in the entryway, and head into the kitchen in search of promised lemonade. A small plant covered in brownish fuzz sits on the kitchen table. Meghan rotates the broken mug it’s planted in, examining the plant and its lackluster buds from every angle.
“That’s not it, is it?” I point at the plant, which only serves to remind me that I’m at least a month overdue for a manicure. Fat chance of that.
She nods enthusiastically. “Wait until it blooms, Lauren. They say the fragrance is something else.”
Oh good, now the house will smell like a perfume shop as well as a health food store.
I sip my lemonade, watching my sister as she stares at the orchid. I don’t like that plant. Why, I can’t say. But something is wrong with it.
I lay awake until deep into the first night at my sister’s house, the first night of my exile. I can’t sleep.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m the responsible one. I’m supposed to be successful. That’s how this works. If you work hard and take care to proof-read your homework, you get better grades than your sibling who goofs off all the time and doesn’t take anything seriously. This has held true my entire life up until this point.
Why, in the unforgiving world of adulthood of all places, has the situation suddenly been reversed?
It’s not as if my sister is particularly successful either. Despite my best efforts, she never managed to graduate from university. Now she drifts from one side-hustle to the next while relying on thrift stores and dumpsters to make ends meet. I’ve heard her brag about how little she spends on food or heating in a month. As if living like a peasant is an accomplishment.
And yet here I am, a dependent slug living on her charity after years of schooling, and several more of gainful employment. It’s only temporary, of course. Tomorrow I will polish my resume, and start making calls to contacts. Within a month or two, I will be employed again and back in a modern, tastefully-decorated apartment in an up-and-coming area of the city.
The most productive thing I can do now is get a good night’s sleep. But I can’t.
Not uncommon, for the first night in an unfamiliar environment. I should cut myself some slack. Since I can’t sleep anyway, I decide to start going through online job postings, just to get a sense of the market. I grab my laptop and creep downstairs. There is no desk in my sister’s spare bedroom, and using a laptop in bed is terrible for the posture. I plan on having a long, upwardly mobile career and I do not intend to look like a hunched old granny just as I hit my peak.
I settle myself at the kitchen table. Light from my laptop screen irradiates my face and ensures the rest of the room appears cloaked in darkness despite soft moonlight seeping in from the windows. I pull up a job search site and begin to consider search terms, but my gaze keeps drifting to the plant on the table.
Everything about it annoys me. It has no purpose; it’s just clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I like decorative objects if they evoke something useful. Serenity, for example, as most self-respecting orchids do. This thing looks like it might already be rotting, an effect enhanced by the broken mug it is planted in. It doesn’t evoke anything in me except disgust, which seldom enhances productivity.
Stll, the orchid’s aesthetic does fit the room, which is both the only positive thing I can say about it, as well as a sad commentary on the state of the kitchen. It isn’t filthy, just messy and cluttered. Full of herbs hung up to dry and drop dead leaves on everything, and jars of other herbs or peppers left to soak and have their essence extracted like medical specimens in jars.
I consider one jar of herbs and vinegar. It has a considerably higher ratio of vinegar to plant material than the other jars. I pick up the jar, unscrew the lid, and tip some of the excess vinegar into the broken mug housing the orchid. I put the jar back exactly where it had been, and wipe up a few drops that fell on the table or slid down the side of the jar.
There. Now the orchid will be put out of its misery, and the herb/vinegar mixture is consistent with the others. By any objective standard I am helping.
I pack up my laptop and head up to the spare bedroom to attempt sleep again. I might not have accomplished much in the way of job searching, but I had done something. What kind of namby-pamby life form could be done in by a salad dressing ingredient anyway? If the orchid did die, it would just prove how pointless keeping it around had been in the first place.
The next morning I awake to the sound of my alarm clock. I got very little sleep, and the alarm’s grating chirp is particularly painful. Technically I could do without it, as the hour is meant to accommodate a long commute and I have nowhere to go. Still, I see no reason to dwell on that, and sleeping in would only encourage the kind of laziness that could extend this hiccup in my life. Meghan isn’t awake yet, and won’t be for an hour or two.
I go down into the kitchen to get coffee brewing, hoping that there will be something decent available. Meghan had said something alarming about dandelion coffee earlier. I pause as my fuzzy mind detects something wrong on the kitchen table.
The orchid is now at least twice its original size. Its wide, furred leaves spill down onto the tabletop and hide the mug entirely. I blink several times, commanding my sleepy mind to make sense of this. It doesn’t.
I dig a nearly-empty container of instant coffee out of the back of a cupboard, make myself a cup of something tolerable, and hurry upstairs, leaving the orchid to its nonsense.
The job search goes better than I hoped that morning. I don’t quite manage to land a job offer on the first day, but I have a good lead. Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I put out a message on LinkedIn, just letting everyone know I‘m in the market for a new opportunity.
As it happened, a few friends of mine from grad school put together a business venture two years ago. Their endeavor had been much more successful than mine, and they were looking to add someone with my skill set to the team. It’s better than I could have hoped for. What better way to get back up on the horse? And this time with some backup. I have a lunch date set up with them in two days.
By the time I’ve hammered out the details, I am more than peckish. I glance over at the clock. 11 am already?
No great surprise, time does march on. But I’m surprised I haven’t heard anything from downstairs. My sister must be up by now, and yet there had been no exclamations of surprise, or excited phone calls to other botanically-inclined friends. Has she left for work, or errands, without noticing somehow?
That hardly seems likely, given how excited she was about it yesterday, even before it doubled in size. I don’t know what to expect as I come downstairs, but if I’d made a list, what I see would have been at the bottom of it.
Meghan sits at the table staring at the orchid with a vacant, sleepy smile. She’s petting one of the orchid’s large, fuzzy leaves. As I come closer, I realize to my horror that the hairs on the leaves are embedding themselves in her skin, giving her palm its own fuzzy green-brown coat.
“What are you doing? Stop that.” I grab her hand and push the orchid away.
She looks startled for a moment, but her face soon reverts to a wide-eyed calm. “It’s really soft, Lauren. Feel it.”
I’ve known my sister to do some kooky things, but this is bizarre. She almost seems high.
“Um, no thanks. You just stay here for a second,” I say. “And I’ll get rid of this.”
I carefully pick up the orchid by the bottom of the cracked mug, careful not to let the leaves touch me, and then hustle out of the room. My sister watches me remove the orchid passively, which is somehow more disturbing than if she’d fought to keep it. The orchid sheds dust like pollen or spores all over the place as I carry it through the house. I try not to jostle it.
What am I going to do? Duct tape, I thought.
Medical professionals sometimes use duct tape like a waxing strip to remove soft hair-like cactus spines. I read that somewhere. That will probably work. I chuck the orchid, mug and all, into the garbage can in the garage. In one corner of the garage my sister has a disorganized table with a bunch of tools and home-repair type items on it, and I poke around there until I find the duct tape.
My arm is itchy.
I look at the duct tape and I remember how for most of my formative years I thought it was called duck tape and doesn’t this duct tape actually have yellow ducks on it or is it actually spots? I should probably actually call this duct tape duck tape only it actually doesn’t have anything yellow on the tape no spots or ducks or geese or anything. I used to be afraid of geese but they’re actually far too small to back up their threats so I really should have been afraid of swans, because they’re just as aggressive but they’re huge and I think they could kill a person. They’re so beautiful too they would get away with it because no one would believe it; a swan could get away with murder so easily plus how would you arrest a swan they don’t have wrists to put handcuffs on?
The orchid is in my hand again. Or maybe I never dumped it at all?
I throw it away again, or perhaps for the first time, making sure it doesn’t touch me. Only it already has. An itchy patch on my arm the size of a silver dollar is studded with those fine hairs. My stomach growls and my feet hurt from standing. How long have I been here?
I lay a strip of duct tape over the patch of hairs, and pull it away quickly. The irritating, and possibly worse, hairs come with it, bar none. Excellent.
When I go back into the kitchen I find my sister where I’d left her. I use the duct tape to remove the stinging hairs on her hand.
“Does it hurt?” I ask.
“Nope,” she says.
“Why were you doing that?”
“I don’t know. It was soft.”
“Don’t do that again, okay?”
“Good. I’ll make us brunch.”
She still seems very out of it, but I’m fairly sure that will wear off with time. And that, I hope, is the end of it.
For the rest of the day I keep to the guest bedroom, trying to pretend the whole thing hadn’t happened. I’m psyched about the job opening in my old classmate’s firm, so I cyber-stalk him and his colleagues and their competition. Just to get a good sense of what I’m getting into.
I also keep putting resumes out at other places, just in case. It wouldn’t hurt to have more than one offer on the table.
When I eventually have to come back downstairs for supper, I find my sister staring at one of her houseplants. An odd sprout pokes out of the pot, but I’m not familiar enough with the flora in this house to know whether or not it is unusual.
She isn’t petting it, which is good enough for me.
The carpets seem to have acquired a greenish tint in places. Maybe from the dust the orchid puffed out when I took it to the garage. I vacuum the carpet after dinner, and that helps a bit.
The house steadily grows greener and fuzzier as time wears on. I tell myself it really isn’t that much different than it was before. Maybe the furniture has always grown mossy stuff.
I vacuum twice a day to keep the worst of it out of the carpets at least, and get rid of anything particularly orchid-like growing in the other houseplants. None of this seems to bother Meghan, either the growing things or my interference with them.
She doesn’t leave the house, or answer the phone. I have to remind her to change clothing and feed herself, but she does so obediently when I tell her to.
It is all beyond ridiculous, but it is temporary. The meetings with my former classmate and his colleagues go fantastically, and before I know it, I have an official job offer and a start date. I am getting my life back.
It seems like an eternity but finally the morning comes. I carefully lint-roll every bit of plant material off my work clothes and reorganize my favorite briefcase.
I hustle downstairs, aiming for the front door. Fluff and dust kick up in my wake. I will have to re-lint roll myself in the car. No matter. I open the door to leave.
“Are you going?” says my sister.
My sister stands by a tall potted tree fern that is now dripping with something like Spanish moss. It’s the first time she’s initiated a conversation in days.
I scratch at my arm. “Yes. My new job starts today. I told you that.”
“Are you going to leave me, Lauren?”
A queasy knot settles in the pit of my stomach. I could leave. In fact, I have already perused a few apartment listings, and contacting landlords to arrange viewings is on my to-do list for next week.
But what about her? She won’t leave, I know that. Or if she does, she will take it with her. Her clothes already have fuzzy greenish patches, and her complexion is pale and sallow.
“No,” I say. “I’m going to stay here with you.”
I close the door, and we walk over to the couch. A big potted hibiscus tree sits in the middle of the room. Its flowers are huge. They’d once been white, but now they are light green and dramatically splattered with dark red spots.
It’s not that bad here, really. Me and Meghan have been through much worse together. Actually, it’s kind of pretty. Dust hangs in the air, visible in the light rays shining from the window, and almost seems to shimmer.
My phone rings from my purse by the front door.
I remember I heard the croak of my sister’s weird cuckoo clock striking twelve some time ago. It’s probably my new colleagues, wondering where I am. I should probably answer the phone, but it’s so relaxing just sitting here together. I can’t remember the last time I had a vacation.
The dust looks like krill drifting in the ocean currents. I sit on the couch with my sister and think about whales swimming through the living room, sifting pollen out of the air like krill.