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Plants of Paradise

Story by María Alejandra Barrios (Read author interview) December 21, 2020

Art by farinaz athari

To: garyjb@gmail.com

From: lin5125@gmail.com

Subject: Our Plants

Remember when we started buying plants because everyone was moving out of New York City and getting rid of their gigantic Swiss Cheese Plants? Craigslist was full of people selling their well-loved, thriving, and pest-free plants from their virus-free homes. And who were we to resist? We could have never afforded plants like that, like the ones people have when their lives are good and well put together. Do you think that was ever us? For a little bit, we were the type of people who owned plants with big, emerald green leaves that are beautifully potted in ceramic pots from West Elm. Remember how I would refresh and refresh Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace and would tell you about my findings and make you choose between plants that you had no clue about? I had no clue either, but it was lower risk if you were the one making the mistake. Do you ever think about us? Most probably not, but if you want something, the plants are still here hoarding dust.

Remember how we would be the assholes carrying huge plants in the subway, bickering about how this would have never happened if we had a car? But who has a car in NYC? You would ask and it would escalate until we were upset about dishes, car insurance, the increasingly hot weather in the fall. Would you protect me? I would ask. If you had to?

I guess now I know the answer to that. I wouldn’t say the apartment was ever filled with plants. There was enough for it to look less empty, enough for it to feel like we’d half-tried to make it a home. Recently, I read an article called “Is New York Over?” The writer said it wasn’t of course. That could never happen. Cities like New York go on and on until nothing else is left standing. But see, not even boarded-up shops are recognizable anymore. So this might be your last chance.

Bird of Paradise: You were the one that wanted this plant. You went alone to pick it up while I was working and when you came back you were in a good mood and all starry-eyed. Was the owner of the plant pretty? You said she was cool but did she also have the kind of apartment that was eclectic, and well lived in and made you fall in love with her? Probably. But you didn’t say. That day you came back with a cough. And the air quality was so low that the sky was turning orange and black at the same time. Heavy clouds pregnant with fire.

Unknown IKEA plant: When we got home from IKEA, I promised you I would find a pot immediately and repot this plant. I removed the price tag and now I don’t know what kind of plant it was. The plant never got repotted but it survived a time when I thought I could do things differently.

Monstera: I hate to get rid of this plant. I love how the light hits it in the morning and how easy it is to care for. At first, when they said NYC was ending, I thought it was a lie. I want it to stay. I want to keep it and buy more, more Monsteras from all the people who were choosing to escape. Monsteras were so cheap on Craigslist. But when the big tree that gave shade to our building fell on the apartment above us, I decided it was time to leave the Monsteras behind. The weight of the tree destroyed the roof, their walls, and some of the antique wooden furniture they had ordered from Denmark. I was hoping one day it would get scratched and they would put it on the stoop. I always thought I would get to snatch it first but nature (or some people with an ax or a chainsaw looking for wood for a fire or shelter) got in the way.

Half of a succulent: Your cramped stuff in the bathroom kept falling and hitting this delicate succulent until all that was left was half. I should have never gotten a succulent. My hands are heavy and I always stumble against everything; you said it yourself. But despite everything that has happened, half of it has managed to survive. On second thought, I’ll keep this one. It fits in my bag.

I’ll leave the door open, there’s nothing left to steal and there’s not a lot of people left to steal it. The rumor goes that you stayed, that you never left. Is that true? Sometimes, when I go outside and I see the cut trees, the heaviness of the air and the fire that obstructs the cars leaving the city, I imagine you’re here, hiding in a corner, watching me flee like you knew I would. And I am fleeing, not watching you because I don’t know where the fuck you are. Maybe you are with someone else? If she’s good with plants, maybe at least she’ll want the fancy pots. These days I know it’s not that you left without me, it’s more like you never left at all. So, just so you know, they are here.

Yours.

About the Author

María Alejandra Barrios is a pushcart nominated writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. She was selected for the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program: Performing Literary Arts for the city of New York in 2018. Her stories have been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Bandit Fiction, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Vol.1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante and Shenadoah Literary. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review. Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts Center and the New Orleans Writing Residency.

About the Artist

Farinaz Athari is a photographer from Tehran, Iran.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy
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