The Cure for Loneliness27 min read

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Alcohol, Animal cruelty or animal death, Pandemic

I’m pretty sure I’m photosynthesizing. That’s what I mean when I say this year made me a real plant lady. I promise this isn’t another weird quarantine derangement thing, like losing track of time or holding conversations with taxidermy. I still need to eat, but not much. I rarely get hungry unless I stay indoors too long, and if that happens I can just munch down a raw potato and I’m fine again. It doesn’t have to be a potato; it can be just about anything, but potatoes are cheap and they stay good for a long time. I’m saving a ton on groceries, so that’s a plus.

I wish I could point to some spectacular origin story that set this in motion. A sudden total eclipse of the sun, bite from a radioactive aphid, a fairy who sprinkled magic dust on me and my houseplants, anything. Flashy problems must have flashy causes, right? But all I’ve got is that I took a cutting from a philodendron and stuck it in a jar of pickle juice instead of water. I knew this made no sense and would probably kill it, but what can I say? I did it anyway. Happy Plague Year.

In my defense, I was freshly out of a three-year relationship with a guy who refused to let it go, and I was figuring out telecommuting at a company that was visibly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. My rent was about to go up, and I had debt collectors blowing up my phone, mostly over the loans I’d taken out to get the degree that got me the job that was about to vanish, and there was an election or something, and, and, and. The hierarchy of needs had been replaced with a hierarchy of worries, with immediately life-threatening at the base, potentially life-threatening above that, and everything else somewhere above those. I never figured out what the other tiers should be. I couldn’t devote much thought to such paltry, non-life-threatening concerns.

“Does your plant have a hangover?” you asked me when you saw it in the background of our office’s twice-weekly Zoom call. The cutting sat on the windowsill with two others from the same plant. Three jars with a few spade-shaped leaves poking out the top, two full of water, one with pale green brine.

“It’s a philodendron,” I said.

“Those forever vines?” you said. “The ones that keep growing and are impossible to kill?”

“Oh, you can kill them, believe me,” I said. “I’m just fucking around with some cuttings. Just to see what happens.” Not strictly true, but it was a more pleasant explanation than my mind is mush and I barely have any idea what I’m doing at any given moment.

“Science!” you said. Not to blame you for anything, but hearing this made it a lot easier to believe, in the ensuing months, that I was conducting a cute little experiment and not ceding the entire ecosystem of my life to something I still barely understand.

I left the cutting there for a couple months, soaking up the sunlight and, presumably, the salty dill swill. I’d like to say I noticed when, against all odds and biology, it started putting out roots. I didn’t notice, though, because my cat died.

Henry was thirteen. Not old old for a cat, but oldish. No health problems, no accidents, he just dropped in the middle of the floor one day and that was that. I called the vet, who said it sounded like heart failure, and that, unfortunately, I would probably never know exactly why it happened. And so, on top of everything else, I now had a dead cat in a plastic bag in my freezer with the city in lockdown.

I would not have known how to handle this even before the pandemic. When I was a kid, we had outdoor cats; they didn’t exactly die on us, just went out the door one night and didn’t come back. Henry was my first house cat. I lived on the 3rd floor and lacked anywhere handy to bury him. There wasn’t anyone nearby who could cremate pets, and I wasn’t willing to entertain the idea of throwing him in the Dumpster. He was my cat, not a lidless Tupperware container.

In the end, I basically had to take him to my friend the taxidermist, because it was either that or hold a Viking funeral in the courtyard, and I wasn’t looking to lose my deposit.

I dropped Henry off at Cate’s in a Styrofoam cooler full of ice packs. For some godforsaken reason, I texted my ex, Graeme, about it on the walk home. Not a long message, just a simple Henry died, no elaboration, no fishing for sympathy. Over the next forty-five minutes, he sent eight responses, which I resolved not to look at until I was good and high. The preview in my notifications said I wish you’d … That was enough to tell me this was going to be another saga. A Graemergency, I used to call them, back when they were merely tiresome and not borderline abusive.

The first full text was I wish you’d told me sooner. He was my cat too. (false) I know things have been rough with work, and I know we didn’t exactly part on the best terms last month, but I’m a human being with needs too and I wish you’d show some consideration for that. I didn’t even get to say goodbye, how do you think that feels?

This was both the shortest and kindest of his texts, all of which I read to myself in Christian Bale Batman voice half a joint into the evening, cackling wildly in response, with some goofy action movie blaring in the background. This had become more or less the nightly ritual, usually minus the dramatic text reading. The reading made me miss a bunch of scenes, so I ended up watching the movie twice, like a completely normal person.

That first text was also the only one that had anything to do with Henry. The rest were his usual one-two punches of anger and self-pity, which was good because it gave me full license to delete them all.

He sent several more flurries over the following days. Sometimes I looked, usually, I didn’t. A body can only take so much dry-heaving over memories of drunken fights about meaningless crap, can only pace the apartment in exasperation for so long before getting foot blisters. You really aren’t gonna respond? he texted the next day. You’re just gonna drop that bomb on me and then ghost? WTF is wrong with you? As if it were his cat that had died. As if Henry’s death were something that I was doing to him.

I doubt I’ve ever explained this at work, but something about my dating style has me perpetually getting rescued from a broken relationship with one douchebag, by another guy who seems kind at first but eventually becomes the next douchebag I need rescuing from. Once they notice that I have my own opinions and, god forbid, my own flaws and that maybe I don’t want to be rescued from those things, they always turn asshat. I guess men just like the broken version of me better, and Graeme was no exception.

Going through the end stage of that whole process was particularly rough in this case, with no opportunity to find that next knight in conditionally shining armor. I went on a minor bender until his bombardments finally scaled back to the levels I’d come to expect since the breakup. The bosses weren’t too happy with my job performance, as you may have noticed, but that wasn’t life-threatening, so whatever.

Two weeks later I brought home my stuffed, dead cat and made a spot for him on a high shelf full of spider plants. He’d spent a good deal of his life trying to climb up there to eat the plants, so it seemed fitting.

“You’re a jungle cat now,” I told him, and then made a series of high-pitched rawr noises, which he appreciated stoically. “Welcome to the jungle,” I sang in falsetto, “we’ve got spider plants.” I went through the rest of the song, replacing most of the nouns in the lyrics with either plant or cat. During the bridge, I did a power-slide across the carpet, earning me a broom handle thump from my downstairs neighbor. “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby! You’re gonna meow!”

Stuffed Henry said nothing about any of this, but I liked to think he was enjoying the foliage. I knew that anyone who saw me doing this would think I had lost my mind, which was probably true, but I was learning to live with that. Nobody was going to see it anyway, life having become the one-woman show that it was. The Plant Lady Monologues.

Before the pandemic, I owned a large number of plants. Quarantine had changed this, in that I now owned a very large number. All 428 square feet of my south-facing apartment smelled like chlorophyll. It wasn’t necessarily that I thought plants were better company than people; I mean, I didn’t not think that, but I knew they weren’t some kind of cure for loneliness. They were just what I had to work with.

If the dead cat stuff and the annoying ex stuff has distracted you from the fact that I’m supposed to be telling a story about a philodendron cutting that I stuck in a jar of pickle juice, that’s fair. I was distracted too. I have no sense of what happened to those cuttings during the month after I stuck them in their jars. All I know is that, when I finally came back to them, the one in pickle juice had rooted and the other two were dead.

“Weird,” I said, distantly, about this non-life-threatening development. While the plant I’d taken it from was a healthy, unremarkable green color, the pickle juice had turned the cutting pale, almost white with just a drop of green pigment to spice it up. The stem was covered in shiny, hexagonal plates that looked like scales.

I threw out the dead ones, then tried to pot the mutant. It seemed like it wasn’t meant to exist, but what could I do about it? Call the police? Besides, it was finally taking my mind off Henry and Graeme.

The cutting didn’t want to come out of the jar. A gentle tug wouldn’t move it, so I gave it a more forceful yank. Still no luck. I noticed, then, that its spindly roots had stuck themselves to the sides of the jar with these suction cup tips, like octopus tentacles. “Very weird,” I affirmed.

I did what any sensible person would do: put on my mask, grabbed the broom and dustpan, and went down to the street to look for the remains of broken car windows.

“It likes glass,” I told Stuffed Henry, figuring I owed him an explanation for why I was sweeping shattered pieces of auto glass into a headless Garfield cookie jar that I’d decided was going to be a flower pot now. “This is not a real cat,” I assured him. “You are a real cat.” I booped him on his dry, dead nose. “I would never put plants in you.”

I held the pickle jar over Garfield’s decapitated torso and hit it with the meat tenderizer. The pickle juice spilled in, and I lowered the cutting into its new bed of glass. I couldn’t push it down very deep, but thankfully the stem was rigid enough to stand up anyway. “That’s what she said,” I muttered, in response to no one having said anything.

Graeme started up again that night with a diatribe about how poorly I’d treated him when he passed out drunk and peed on the floor at my birthday party. I texted him back a picture of the plant. What do you know about philodendrons? I asked.

WTF does that have to do with anything? he responded. Then, What’s a philodendron?

“You seeing this?” I said to Stuffed Henry. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he doesn’t actually care about what’s going on in my life.” It’s what you’re fucking looking at bro, I texted.

How was I supposed to know that? he responded.

Context cues, I told him.

You’re being a bitch, he texted.

I didn’t give him anything after that, but I got another essay the next morning. I’m sorry I called you a bitch. I don’t know what’s wrong with me these days. I’m just so lonely without you here, I don’t know how to cope, and I guess I’m acting out. It’s really hard quarantining alone. Truce?

“Guess you shouldn’t have dumped me then,” I said and tossed my phone onto the bed. “Right?” I said to Stuffed Henry. “If he didn’t want to quarantine alone, he should have treated us better.”

Stuffed Henry said nothing.

I couldn’t possibly eat enough pickles to keep the mutant’s roots brined, and it was no longer willing to drink normal water. If I didn’t put any pickle juice in, then the roots seemed to start absorbing the glass itself, which made the plant turn translucent and brittle. I was worried it would shatter if I let that go on, and then where would I be? What would happen to Science!?

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I found a suitable substitute. Dill pickle flavored Bloody Mary mix was at least brine-adjacent and came in bottles by itself at the supermarket. The mutant proved more than willing to partake, and it wasn’t long before I noticed new leaves sprouting. Pink ones that made me sneeze when I sniffed them.

“Gesundheit,” I told Stuffed Henry.

It was around this time that I started to notice I was forgetting to eat. Graeme started begging me to at least let him order me some takeout and eat it with him on Facetime. I knew better than to accept, but it did occur to me when I got the text that I couldn’t remember the last meal I had.

“Do you get those?” I asked you, while we were waiting for everyone to join the work Zoom. “Days where you don’t eat because you never realize you’re hungry?”

“Eat? No,” you said. “Change outfits, though? I’ve been taking this same shirt on and off for a week.”

“Pretty much the same thing, right?” I said.

“I guess.” You frowned. “I mean, you don’t look starved or anything, so clearly you are eating. It’s just easy to lose track nowadays.”

I nodded, but the truth was that I wasn’t eating. Not much, anyway. Despite my non-response, Graeme had ordered me a pad thai anyway. A few forkfuls of noodles and I was stuffed. Couldn’t fathom trying to eat any more for the rest of the day, and it would be a couple more days before I thought about food again. But, like you said, I looked fine. Great, in fact. My reflection in the mirror was practically glowing. I looked like a shampoo ad. My lack of appetite was probably bad, but who was I to argue with my own reflection?

In the Bloody Mary mix, the mutant’s scales turned a disturbingly fleshy pink. I decided to try more fluids. It was not comforting to share an apartment with something that looked like a cross between an iguana and a small intestine. I couldn’t simply dispose of the plant, though. Like my skin and hair, it was thriving against all odds, and I had to assume there was some connection. Nothing else in my life was going as well as my little horticulture project. The only option was more science.

Staying on theme, I added margarita and piña colada mixes to my next grocery order. Then I swung by the liquor store for some tequila, because I did want to use some of the mix to make actual margaritas, just, you know, since I had the supplies. I might not have been eating for sustenance anymore, but booze and weed were another matter. I had to stave off existential dread somehow.

I took more cuttings from the mutant plant. When I couldn’t manage to snap the leaves off by hand or with pruning shears or with the serrated kitchen shears, I went for the hacksaw and that did the trick. I took three: one for each of the new fluids and one to try in classic old water as a control. I also moved the original mutant into the closet. Looking at its intestinal pinkness made me uneasy, so I convinced myself this was another experiment. With light, you know, to see if it still needed any.

“Yeah, I dunno what’s gonna happen to it in there,” I told Stuffed Henry in the pseudo-baby-talk I’d used for him when he was alive. “Maybe it likes the dark. I better not see you snacking on those cuttings, though. Not for kitties, capeesh?”

Within a few days, the one in the water was clearly dying. On a whim, I filled an eight-ounce mason jar with tequila and stuck it in there. “Can’t hurt at this point,” I told Stuffed Henry.

The one in the marg mix turned green again and started growing like it had just hit puberty, but it was the piña colada one that got really interesting. It went completely white and became … puffy would be the word, I suppose. Like an overstuffed chair. There were gaps between the scales where it swelled, and the soft matter underneath had a shimmer to it. I started finding clear droplets on the leaves each morning, but they weren’t dew. They were slick, like oil. It started to smell strongly of pineapples.

Whatever had happened to the mutant, it seemed to have developed the ability to feed on virtually anything except water and dirt. This was good for the plants because any sense of a daily or weekly routine was deeply in the toilet for me. The only thing that happened with any regularity was Graeme’s griping about how lonely he was, and he didn’t seem to know any particular schedule either. I’d get a text, then start thinking about something else, and the next thing I knew, two days would have passed and I’d have a stream of unread follow-up texts waiting for me.

“I think quarantine is fucking with me,” I said to you. “Are you getting this? Losing track of whole days, like you’re so completely on auto-pilot that you’re not even conscious?” Then I realized I wasn’t on Zoom, and I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to Stuffed Henry while watering the spider plants on his shelf with a jar of what smelled like pee. I threw the jar in the trash and neither I nor Stuffed Henry ever spoke of the incident again.

The cutting in the tequila started growing, of course. Within days (or what seemed like days) it had thorns, not just on the stem, but on the leaves as well. Just above the roots, it had swollen into a round bulb with little ridges running up and down its length. Like it was evolving into a cactus before my eyes. Between me and the plant, I ran out of tequila pretty quick, which didn’t turn out to be a problem for the plant. Just when I was thinking of making another liquor store trip, I found that its roots now penetrated the bottom of the jar and sunk directly into the windowsill.

“Whatchoo think of that?” I said to Stuffed Henry, who said nothing. Graeme, on the other hand, texted me three times in a row. If only I could shove him in the closet and forget about him like a gross-looking houseplant.

Then I remembered: the plant in the closet! I hadn’t checked on it in … how long? I didn’t even know what month it was anymore. Hell, I could barely discern meaning from the numbers on my phone screen that were supposed to indicate the time. 3:42? 3:42 what? What even was that, and how had I not noticed the vines with oblong, jet black leaves like piano keys poking out around the closet door frame?

I found myself in front of the closet, my eyes clouded with tears. But not, you know, emotional tears. My throat itched. I’d never had allergies but imagined this was what it felt like.

I opened the closet door a few inches and looked in for half a second before slamming it shut again. This was what I saw: the plant, which looked nothing like a philodendron anymore, had gone wild. Like the tequila plant, it had broken free of its pot and had roots growing into whatever was available. It had propagated itself, spawning several variants with different characteristics depending on what the roots latched onto. Most were black and shiny, or iridescent like an oil slick. They all had these growths or blooms or something all over them too, with what I could only describe as chunky petals. I wasn’t sure if the blooms were flowers or some kind of fungus; either way, the air in the closet was thick with miasma that might have been pollen or spores.

I sank to my knees, overtaken by a coughing fit, as soon as I shut the door. Ran to the bathroom and buried my face in a wet washcloth. Drank water. Drank more water. Took one of every antihistamine I had. Spent the next half hour sitting in the shower, drinking Bloody Mary mix straight from the bottle like it was a cool, normal thing to do.

I took stock of what I had stored in the closet that the plant was now apparently feeding on. There was a yoga mat. A bunch of painting supplies. A box of dead electronics: spent lightbulbs, an old laptop that had murdered its hard drive, a couple phones with broken screens, dead batteries, power cables for gadgets I didn’t have anymore. A few board games, mostly unplayed.

“What’s it doing in there?” I asked Stuffed Henry, who said nothing.

I spent a day or two (or maybe it was just an hour or two) wondering what to do about Closet Plant. I got a text from Graeme that said Do you even care about what’s happening to me? And responded with a photo of the tequila plant and a thirty-second recording of me laughing. Am I supposed to know wtf that is? He texted. Are you gaslighting me?

Over the next few days, the allergic reaction went away on its own. I avoided opening the closet, which was easy, given that it was full of things I didn’t want to look at.

To be clear, I knew this was weird, and I knew it was a problem that I wasn’t addressing in any way that didn’t also exacerbate the weirdness. My thought process was—and hear me out, here—so what? Here I was, trapped in a country driven mad by pestilence, with plenty of other things to worry about. How to stay fed, what I was going to do if (when) I lost my job, an internet full of conspiracy theorists who thought the vaccine was going to make you autistic and/or eat babies. Which worry was I supposed to deal with first, and how was I supposed to put weird houseplants above any of them?

When the allergies quit, I noticed that whatever was going on with the philodendrons had spread to other plants as well, possibly thanks to whatever I’d released from the closet a few days earlier. Most had opalescent nodules dotting their leaves and all had picked up the eccentric feeding habits. A geranium that lived on the bookshelf by the window had reached out and grabbed Water for Elephants, which now had a large hole in the center of each page. The jade plant in the kitchen had dropped a leaf into an open tin of coffee, where it was growing up rapidly into something with scores of tiny pink flowers that smelled like burnt sugar.

“I gotta be honest with you,” I said to Stuffed Henry. “I don’t think I’m in control of the situation anymore.”

Stuffed Henry made a muffled grinding sound.

“What?”

He made it again. It was so quiet, I could easily have assumed it was coming from outside the apartment, maybe someone a couple floors up flushing a toilet. But I was standing right in front of him, and I could hear that he was the source.

“One more time,” I said.

Stuffed Henry indulged me and even managed to turn his head a quarter-inch to one side.

Of course, the spider plants he shared a shelf with were changing, too. Of course, they had grown roots into Henry. Of course, they had.

“Shit.” I wrestled him away from the plants, snapping the roots in my hands. I knew I was only slowing them down; the pieces of root under his skin would grow new plants before long, but he was still my cat. I carried him gently into the bathroom, the only room with no plants, shut the door, turned off the light, sat on the floor, hugged my dead cat, and cried.

I couldn’t do this. The books, the crap in the closet, that didn’t matter, but I wasn’t ready to lose Henry again. I hadn’t been ready to lose him in the first place. I hadn’t been ready to lose any of this: my friends, my boyfriend, my cat, my plants, all the things I had piled into my life to remedy my  loneliness.

Years ago, I’d worked out a method for this. The theory was that if I just kept acquiring more and more things and people to care about me, and for me to care for in return, then it would hurt less when some inevitably abandoned me. Which they would. I’d long since accepted that reality, but as long as I stayed ahead of the curve, there was no way I could lose them all. I’d always have something left. That system had now failed. All I had was the few coworkers I saw on Zoom twice a week, and I didn’t get the sense that they’d stay in my life for all that long.

Eventually, I pushed enough tears out to pull myself together. I stroked Stuffed Henry’s preserved fur, uncanny in the way it was simultaneously so lifelike and so inert. In the dark, it was easy to imagine that I could feel him moving under my touch the way he used to. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

I couldn’t hide forever. I stood, turned the light back on, and opened the door. I didn’t know what to do about the plant situation, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to be getting my deposit back on the apartment, but I had to figure something out, and I wasn’t going to do it in a dark bathroom.

I went to pick up Henry and stopped. His fur was gone. He barely looked any different, but now that I’d calmed down, I could see it. The fibers coating his body were the same color, but with a slight, greenish tint. Some of the color had come off under my fingernails, and there was now a bright green patch between his ears, where I’d been scratching. It was some kind of plant tissue, coated in a film of pollen or mold or something that made it look orange and white.

I held the stuffed cat before my face and looked into its glassy eyes. “You weren’t just eating him,” I repeated. “You were … moving him somehow.” I remembered hearing about a fungus that would take over the bodies of insects, eating them from the inside and making them climb trees to distribute more spores. Was this something like that? “Did you think he was a live animal? Were you trying to get him to take you somewhere?”

Stuffed Henry produced the increasingly familiar muffled grinding sound.

“What the fuck,” I whispered.

Suddenly, the apartment felt a lot less empty. Over the past few months, I’d grown used to the endless, multi-sensory buzz of the city fading into a kind of white noise that implied the presence of life, but never quite confirmed it. Music heard through walls, phone calls that let me know to collect my groceries from the vestibule, the endless doomscroll of social media. People were always nearby, but they were never here; at least, as long as you didn’t consider plants people. I got the sense that I was about to lose that distinction.

Whatever had gotten into my apartment, whatever was making my plants change like this, it was aware of me. This was way beyond convincing myself that they’d grow better if I talked to them. These plants were acting like they could hear and see me the way people could. Not only did it seem like they were trying to communicate, but they were also trying to get ambulatory and go do who-knew-what. And what was I going to do about it?

As I contemplated the options, something made me stop and look at the big picture for a moment. Specifically at the fact that I was only a little bit freaked out by this. Granted, I had shut myself in the bathroom to cry because my dead cat’s fur had turned into stamens or something, but leaving the initial shock of that aside? The whole thing only registered as maybe moderately disconcerting, at worst. Sudden plant sentience was an unexpected development, but so what? As far as I could tell, they weren’t going to kill me or anyone I cared about. They weren’t going to raise my rent or take away my income. They sure as hell weren’t going to harass me with self-righteous text message novels at all hours. So what was there to worry about, really?

I opened the bathroom door. “Okay,” I addressed the plants collectively, “I would have preferred we make a deal that involved you leaving my cat alone, but since that ship has sailed we’ll have to figure something else out. I’m ready to talk. Are you?”

The closet door rattled.

“I was afraid of that,” I muttered. I popped a Benadryl, pulled my thickest HEPA-filtered mask over my face, and went to address Closet Plant directly.

Opening the closet made my eyes water, but otherwise, the mask seemed to be doing its work. My vision was an impressionistic blur through which I could see the multicolored mini-jungle, already much thicker and more varied than the last time I’d looked. The previous contents of the shelves had been almost completely devoured, leaving the roots to chew on the drywall itself and whatever else was behind it.

“First things first,” I said, squinting through the haze. “I’d prefer to still have electricity and running water. You may not like water anymore, but I do, understand? So stay away from the pipes and wires and whatever else is back there.”

I heard the creaky sound of plant stems rubbing together, which, in context, struck me as being rather petulant in tone.

“You may not like it, but it’s non-negotiable if you want to live here,” I said. “Unless you can come up with a way to pay the rent by yourself, and even then, you’ll have to play nice until I can find another place.”

That shut it up. I’d never expected to be pleased with myself for getting a houseplant to be quiet, but here I was. I could tell that it did move a bit, but my blurry vision prevented me from seeing exactly how.

“Is there anything you can do about whatever it is you’re giving off?” I said. “It would be easier to communicate if I could see properly.”

A leafy rustling sound. The plant moved again, and this time I was fairly sure some part of it had drawn itself up and forward, toward my face, as if presenting itself.

I started to lift my hand, then stopped. “Please don’t … I don’t know, inject me with mind-control fungus or anything, all right?” I said. Slowly, I extended two fingers and reached toward the branch in front of my face.

Something was hanging from it, about the size of a golf ball. It was mostly round, smooth on the outside, with the smallest bit of give when I squeezed it. Like the branch it was attached to, the color was a shiny black, which was why it had been so hard to distinguish by sight. I pulled it closer, leaned my face down, and sniffed. There was no mistaking it: an apple. It was on the small side, but no smaller than those I’d seen growing on trees in people’s yards in the suburbs.

“How did you make this?” I was barely aware of myself saying. The plant didn’t respond to this in any way I could perceive.

“You can’t expect me to eat this?” Still no response, but I got the message. “Okay, you’re right,” I said. “If we’re going to make this work, we have to trust each other. I asked for a way to see better, and you gave me this. I owe it to you not to be so suspicious.”

I told myself this must be a similar deal to how, if you get seasonal allergies, you’re supposed to eat honey that’s made locally. The fact that it’s made from the same flowers whose pollen is making you sneeze somehow inoculates you against their ill effects. Maybe eating Closet Plant’s fruit would help my body learn not to respond to it this way. Like a vaccine.

I plucked it off the vine, pulled down my mask, and took a bite. Nothing unusual about the taste or texture. Just your basic apple. That one bite was enough for me to see the core had no seeds, so I popped the whole thing in my mouth.

My eyes cleared up within seconds. I took off the mask and my sinuses were fine, too. “Thanks,” I said. “So, those are the preliminaries. Why don’t we talk about what you want?”

I wasn’t sure how we were supposed to do this. The plant didn’t move or make a sound, so apparently, it didn’t know either. Unless eating the apple was the beginning and end of what it wanted from me. It did occur to me that it might be trying to grow plants inside my body too, but I didn’t think that made sense. It had infected (or colonized or whatever) my other plants through whatever it was putting out into the air. If it wanted to infect me and that was all it took, wouldn’t I be growing shoots and leaves already?

That’s what I told myself, anyway. The truth was that I simply didn’t care anymore. Would turning into a plant be so bad? How was that worse than sitting alone in a one-bedroom apartment harangued by constant worry about everything and nothing? This was no kind of a life. Might as well just go with the flow and become a walking garden.

My stomach churned like I was about to vomit. My head felt lighter too. Not light as in dizzy, more … unencumbered. My body below the neck felt less like a part of me and more like a machine that I was operating. I’d become aware of the synapses in my brain, could look at their layout and push them like buttons on a console. It was very freeing. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had real, complete agency. I could finally decide what to do with myself instead of being swept along by the tides of banal reality, the whims of shitty bosses and boyfriends like I had been, like we’d all been.

I realized that the apple probably had psychotropic properties.

“I’m gonna …” I said to the plant. “I just … I need a minute.” I stumbled across the room and parked my carcass on the couch. I had to figure out how to proceed with tripping on an unknown substance, and it was going to be easier if I could just put down my body and stop having to make all these tiny little decisions for it. At the very least, I could lay there and wait for the effect to wear off.

It didn’t take long. The separated feeling between mind and body didn’t exactly go away, but the light-headedness and nausea did wear off, and I got used to the brain controls. They’re much easier to operate now; no more difficult than playing a video game, even though it is much more intricate.

When I stood up, I saw them for the first time. The … it’s hard to explain. The bright people. The ones who were cultivating my plants, I think, from the other side of whatever veil separated us before. You can see them too, very soon.

I’m walking up to your building now. I’ll leave the apple in a paper bag on top of your mailbox. I wanted to give you the next one, because you’ve always been such a good coworker, and, with the company in the shape it’s in, I imagine we’re in the same boat in a lot of ways.

The second apple Closet Plant made, I ended up giving to Graeme. A couple well-placed heart and crying emojis got him to my door posthaste, and he hasn’t texted me since. He’s no longer lonely, or angry, or insecure. He has all the new friends and lovers he could ever want.

These beings, they’re all around us. Maybe they always have been, maybe they just got here, I don’t know. I haven’t found a way to ask, but it doesn’t seem important. They’re all so warm, and gentle, and full of light, it feels like being in a cozy, soft bed everywhere you go. Just being around them is nourishing. That’s what made me understand why I haven’t had any appetite. When you can photosynthesize, having them around keeps you going for days on its own.

Oh: and I can’t get sick. My plants can feed on anything now. Viruses are just more food to them.

I know it sounds weird. But listen: it really is the cure for loneliness. Eat the apple. Shoot me a text or just let one of them know. Come over to my building and we’ll lay on the rooftop patio and soak up the sunlight and feel awesome.

Just, please, don’t wimp out. It’s scary, I understand, it was scary for me too. Life didn’t prepare us for this metamorphosis, but did it prepare us for any of the things that have happened this year? The way I look at it, none of the advice we’ve spent our lives following has been any good. Getting good grades and going to college didn’t get us stable careers or even lift us out of poverty. Eating five servings of vegetables a day and getting regular exercise didn’t guard our health from this virus. All I’m asking you to do is throw all that bullshit out the window at once, instead of little by little, year by excruciating year. I promise this is so much better than a vaccine. It’s better than anything, pre- or post-pandemic. The only way it could be any better is if we could share it with more people.

Come on. I’m here. I’m waiting. We all are.

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