Just the Air That They Breathe


By Jennifer Fliss

          A tiny woman lived in the little terrarium that hung in Mr. and Mrs. Barker’s kitchen window. After her third miscarriage, Mrs. Barker drove herself to the nursery and told the salesman that she couldn’t keep things alive. An air plant would be a good start, he told her. They don’t even need soil, just the air that they breathe. Maybe give them a spritz of water here and there and they will thrive.
          So Mrs. Barker bought one spiky melanocrater, a thumb-sized grassy filifolia, and a green Tillandsia ionantha with pink tips. To house them, she bought a round glass terrarium the size of a fist, and a small bag of perfectly tan sand.
          From a dusty make-up bag, Mrs. Barker found tweezers and an eyeshadow brush and used the utensils to place the plants just so and arrange the sand. She hung the terrarium in the window over the kitchen sink so she could see her plants often.
          The woman that lived in the terrarium took up residency about a month in, when the plants’ fragility was beginning to show. The tips were browning and the reedy leaves began to weep.
          Mrs. Barker had not invited the mysterious squatter in and didn’t even know she was there. The woman in the terrarium was unsure of how she got there herself, but she went about her work anyway.
          The woman in the terrarium spoke to the plants in soft whispers. She lifted their arms when they drooped. She nourished the air around them and they, in turn, took it all in.
          One day, Mrs. Barker heard a faint voice, so faint she thought it must have been her imagination or something caught in the radiator, but she hummed along anyway. Eventually, the hum turned into her voice and she sang while she spritzed her little plants. Lullabies, Simon and Garfunkel, Christmas carols, it didn’t matter. She sang while she showered. She sang while she cooked. She sang while she washed dishes. Did she imagine one of the reeds of the melanocrater waving? She kept singing.
          Mr. Barker remarked upon how well the plants were doing. They are beautiful, he said and gave her a Chlorophytum comosum, a common spider plant. Wiry offshoots from the main plant filled the container and from one shoot came a smaller plant and then another and still another. They all resembled the main spider. Mrs. Barker later learned they were referred to as the mother and her spiderettes. Mrs. Barker invited the self-propagating creature in.
          The woman in the terrarium knew her work in the terrarium was done. One morning Mrs. Barker placed the spider plant next to the sink. As she filled the watering can, the woman in the terrarium jumped into the warm, loamy soil, immersing herself.
          One year later, the woman in the spider plant was gone. Seven baby spiderettes had flourished. Mrs. Barker sang to her numerous plants and the Barkers’ house was filled with a quiet breathing.
 

Jennifer Fliss is a New York-raised, Wisconsin-schooled, Seattle-based writer. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including, The Citron Review, Brain Child Magazine, Prime Number, and People Holding. Recently, she was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Contest. More can be found on her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com