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Holocene  •  19 May 2021  •  Fiction

Propagate

By Ch’aska Cuba de Reed

Illustrations by Jessica Teasdale

I brush my hair one hundred times each morning, counting through each stroke on either side.

One morning, when the right-hand side of my kitchen was being used to dry excess dishes, I realised that I could shorten my tea routine if I always plugged the kettle in to the left of the sink. I was nearer the fridge this way, and if I moved my tea bags to that side of the counter, I could finish making a cup of English Breakfast without doing more than two triangles worth of steps.

I boil my eggs with an egg timer, one that changes from light to dark as the eggs change from soft to hard.

In the early afternoon, I sit outside to answer emails and complete university assignments. I sit in the middle of the wooden table, my notebooks and textbooks stacked to one side, whatever I am reading at the moment on the other. While I am studying, I look towards the corner of the courtyard, where the roof meets the wall that separates me from my neighbours. 

A long vine has grown, curling itself into an uncomfortable twisted shape in its mission for light. I stand and get the scissors from the second drawer in the kitchen before snipping the vine off at the base. I cut it into pieces in the kitchen, each snip purposeful, and tip the remains into the bin under the sink.

Plants can propagate if the cutting is strong enough, and I’m afraid it may grow out of something rotting in there.

I type my notes into a blinking blank page first, and then handwrite summaries of my summaries after.

While I’m preparing lunch, I consider the days since I last called my mother.

One, I went grocery shopping and didn’t have any time after spending so long navigating the new aisle set up at my local.

Two, I hadn’t finished a book in so long, I had to spend the day finishing the one I’d spent the last week on. I had a goal of 52 books a year — one a week.

Three, I spent the day cooking my meals for the week. I’d never mastered one-pot pasta so there was a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards.

Four, my day off from studying, I’d gone to the cinema to watch a film and came home later than expected, meaning I had to eat one of my pre-made lunches.

Five, replacing the pre-made lunch took just as many dishes as when I was making a week’s worth.

Six, I hadn’t wanted to.

Seven, I hadn’t wanted to.

Eight, today. I suppose I must.

I take large mouthfuls of my tea, once it has cooled, and hold it in my mouth, swallowing in two large gulps.

My mother’s voice is flustered as she answers, as though I’ve interrupted her in the middle of a workout.

“What are you doing?” I ask, ready to offer to call back later.

“Nothing! I mean, I was just… no, no. Nothing. I’m here, how are you?”

We exchange pleasantries back and forth, and just as she begins to disjointedly discuss the pros and cons of whether we should have yum cha or high tea the next time we see each other, I see in the corner of the room a long tendril hanging. It looks the same as the one growing outside, though much longer. I wonder, as I grab my scissors, how it can be so speedy. I hadn’t even noticed it yesterday, and I could’ve sworn I’d dusted.

“Are you there?” My mother worries.

I make a grunting sound that could be taken as confirmation as I push myself onto a set of drawers beneath the vine.

“Sorry—” snip, “sorry, yeah. I’m here.”

I eat a bowl of greens and tofu for lunch, a side of brown rice to keep me full for longer. I input the amounts into a food tracker, and then handwrite them into a small green notebook.

When I realise that we hadn’t come to an agreement about where to eat, I call my mother back.

“Doesn’t high tea have champagne?” I ask.

“Well, yes. One glass, complimentary. I don’t really think that would be an issue— ”

“Let’s do yum cha,” I interrupt. “And not this week, maybe next. I’m really busy right now with exams.”

When we hang up a second time, I realise that I hadn’t cut the vine high enough at all, it must have had an offshoot that I hadn’t noticed. It wraps over me, smaller vines gripping it to the plaster of the ceiling like tiny hands.

When I take the cuttings to the bin this time, I use the stove lighter on a few of the small tendrils and watch them as they curl into themselves.

I set an alarm for my washing and hang it out to dry in the courtyard immediately. I hate that musty smell of clothes that have sat in the drum for too long.

Every Wednesday, after my study, I do the glass and stainless steel. In a studio apartment, there isn’t much space and I constantly feel it concaving in on itself. When I take the microfibre cloth and cleaning spray to the fridge front, I see white flecks staining its surface. With a shudder, I realise that they could just as well be toothpaste as they could be tiny flecks of dried cream. Keeping the room clean is the only thing that keeps it open enough for me to breathe.

When I open the cupboard beneath the sink to put the cleaning supplies back, I have to hack through shoots of bamboo. I stack them by the door like firewood.

I bring my study things inside and lay them out on the dining table. I read for half an hour until I’ve reached a point that’s good to bookmark.

It’s a warm enough day that my clothes have dried in just a few hours. My shirts are crisp from the sun, cracking under my hands as I fold them, placing them carefully in their respective drawers. Anything that doesn’t look like new I put to the side to be donated.

In the bedroom section of the apartment, I’ve set up the curtains that my mother said reminded her of a hospital when she helped me move in. I’d pointed out that the curtains were colourful; that they meant the light coming in from the living room wouldn’t wake me with a startle but with a gentle yellow hue. She shrugged and said it was my choice.

Now the curtains are green with moss.

I pace the perimeter of the apartment as I eat an afternoon snack of cheese and crackers. When I finish, I lick up the small crumbly pieces of cheddar that remain in the bottom of the plastic container.

Even though I know it makes more sense to exercise in the mornings, I like to do it in the late afternoon. I roll out my foam mat, the thicker kind to counteract the hard floors. I lay the mat down at the foot of my bed, where a patch of clovers lie.

As I stretch into downward dog, I think I spot a four- leaf one. Leaning close, all that looks up at me are bunches of three, and I stamp the pockets of green down until they turn into a fine layer of brown dust. I sweep them up into a dustpan and pour them into my compost bin by the sink.

An avocado seed I threw out a week ago sits in there, it’s smooth surface cracking into perfect halves, a long stalk sticking out. When I try to close the lid that fit perfectly just moments earlier, I have to snap the seedling in two.

I answer emails and messages at the dining room table. I ignore my phone vibrating with an incoming call, turning it off to ensure I won’t check it.

It’s summer, which means that the sun stays out longer and I can leave the lights off until 7 or 8pm. I use the last of the daylight to fill in my planner for the next day. I have classes in the morning, a few assignments due, though I’ve handed those in already. Early is on time and on time is late, I always say.

There is a Venus flytrap protecting my leather-bound planner. When I reach into its waiting mouth, it doesn’t move at all. When I stick the tip of my blue pen into it, the plant snaps shut and then the smaller mouths that lie across all my other notebooks slam shut in echo. I have never felt more invisible. 

I use my pen to pry their heads open one by one and colour their insides blue.

I eat dinner in front of my laptop, using the time to re-watch a lecture in preparation for an exam in a few weeks.

Recently, I’ve gotten into baking bread. I like to do miscellaneous cooking at night. There are a few hours that I leave free for wiggle room, things that may come up out of the blue or that don’t fit into the more structured parts of my day. I decide to make sourdough loaves for two friends who’ve recently moved out together.  

I get out the flour and my sourdough starter, which I’ve nurtured since moving into the studio over a year ago. Removing the plastic twist top from the plain flour, I find lemongrass sprouts peeking through the white. I dig six cups out from around them, twisting the lid on extra tight when I close it.

When the loaves come out of the oven, they are draped in waxy leaves that are starting to brown from the heat. I slide the tray back in and burn everything, deciding to pick up candles for the housewarming instead.

I have a cup of tea to dispel any post-dinner sugar cravings. I sip it in bed while watching a show.

With nothing but my bedside lamp to light up the apartment, the jungle loses its green. 

Dark shadows of Devil’s Ivy curve over my fresh white sheets, and when I lean onto my pillows, I hear the squishy crack of a stem beneath me.

I reach over to my bedside and finally turn my phone back on. Seven missed calls sit from my mother, a flurry of text message notifications beneath. I turn it off and put it back on the bedside table and slip further into the sheets.

A tendril wraps around my left ankle. Another slides across my collarbones, holding me into the downy, soft of my duvet. 

In the morning, when I open my mouth, all I taste is green.

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