Plant by Steve Wechselblatt

What does Plant believe in the deepest roots of her being? That life, if given the chance, presses backward into the perfect uniformity of plant-hood. That the final spurt of growth resolves itself in her upturned branches and sky-soaked, oval leaves that tremble with the slightest of breezes.

Plant understands she is remarkable, for her true life force is underground. Her roots lie hidden under the earth until there’s enough sunlight. Then the roots sprout up white things called trunks that then leaf off green things called leaves.

Plant is perfectly happy with her life until one fateful day when she sees a boy catch a glimpse of his mother, the Czarina, waving from an upstairs window of their country estate to the south of St. Petersburg. The unfamiliar gesture seems to disturb him, as if it is some mysterious farewell. Next to her stands the peasant from Pokrovskoe smelling of goat. Long, stringy hair curls past his shoulders. The boy watches. He holds onto a terrace railing, his knuckles white and his arms too, as if they had no blood in them. As white as his shirt, his shorts or his tall socks, which rise almost to his knees. The youth turns away. He passes through an alley of ornamental oaks back to the house, retreating to the many windowed, walnut-paneled dining room, and Plant wonders at her sudden feeling of bereavement, a yearning of the heart for a new kind of communion such as she as never felt.

She tries telling herself Alexi is only a boy. She has seen humans before, but never has she experienced this terrible hidden significance. Never has she been drawn to the innate necessity of understanding human pain and loneliness. She is shaken to the leaf, trunk, and root of her being.

Plant sees them again the next day, mother and boy, lining their baskets with mushrooms, so careful to ignore the poganki, or poisonous mushrooms, which they recognized by their caps. When unsure, they cut or lick the stem, knowing if it tastes sour it is probably poisonous. Plant watches them through the sun-flecked leaves casting overlapping patterns of greenery.

Their gestures take her breath away. She so envies their freedom of movement!

* * *

 

Autumn comes, oddly warm this year; but with an entirely new palette of colors: red maple leaves on brown loam. Plant grows restless. For the first time she realizes her trunk is stiff, cold and heavy, as unbreakable as the great dacha itself. She longs to see the boy, but he comes out less often, so she calls to a modest little butterfly, a garden white with the gift of wings, and bids her go to the boy and lure him out to visit her. The little piereida flies into the dacha and up the stairs to the boy’s red and blue room, just as Plant wished her to do. The hours pass. Plant’s prayers and wishes do nothing to speed them up. Her love is unrequited, she thinks. The day creeps past like a shadow that cannot break into sunlight.

Impatient, Plant calls to a bee, asking him to find the butterfly and learn what happened. The bee answers the summons. He, too, flies into the dacha and up the stairs, but he returns quickly with a look of horror on his face.

“You will not believe what I have seen! The boy captured the white butterfly in a net. He pinched her thorax between thumb and forefinger, slipped her in a bag, brought her to the kitchen, and deposited her in an icebox, smiling and humming as he walked. As if it were his favorite sport — the murder of butterflies.”

“What will he do with her?” Plant’s voice shook.

“I have seen this before and I know,” said the bee. When she is frozen stiff, he will pierce her thorax with a pin between her wings. He’ll force her wings down to make sure the needle goes through her body smoothly. Then he’ll pin down the wings and antenna with paper strips to avoid touching them and rubbing off her scales. When he’s done he’ll store her in a box. With his other specimens.”

Although it was not windy, the bee quaked and buzzed uncontrollably. “There is nothing more atrociously cruel than a beloved child,” he concluded.

“Men’s hearts are dark, clouded and heavy. Nature suffers when touched by them!”

But Plant knows better. The laws of nature will not change. The wasps will dance against the windows until the barriers fall. Ten days will shake the world. The bell will ring, proclaiming liberty throughout the land.

The Reds will sweep away the nobles on a dustpan.


Steve Wechselblatt, the author, has no first-hand knowledge of the Russian Revolution. After a career in public relations, he moved to Asheville and started writing fiction. He understood that the past was merely a time of exile from his true self, but now he saw he could turn his thoughts into words and his words into chariots that might carry meaning and restore a sense of wonder. His short works of magical fiction have been published in Circa, the Journal of Historical Fiction, the Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, and other online publications. He’s currently working on a short story collection and a novel.