Charles C Cole
A quarter of the city was suffering through “rolling” brown-outs, power outages that lasted for hours. We’d shut down the office in response.
As if I didn’t have enough to worry about, Calendula, my half-rosebush secretary, was going through a particularly awkward phase in her unique life: her pretty head had broken out in small, tight buds. To a human, she looked about 18, short for her age. In plant years, she was closer to five. I guess plant-human hybrids mature more slowly than their purebred counterparts.
I sat on the building’s front stoop, mentally reviewing expenses while finishing a cigarette and watching Calendula approach. When I thought about my old business model before she’d joined the team (one person to “share” the load), I was always grateful to see her returning. She smiled and waved when she saw me, but it was a brief smile and a quick wave.
“So, it turns out,” she said, having just come from visiting her relatives at the arboretum, “I’m suppose to keep my hairy toes, meaning the little roots sticking out the sides of my feet, in soil, not just water, if I want to sustain my seasonal blossoms. I know you think of me as a plant but, honestly, working in the human world, I sometimes forget who’s driving the bus.”
“Calendula,” I said, standing for emphasis, “tell me what you need; we’ll make it happen.”
She squinted into the summer sky. “For starters, can we keep the blinds up, so I get more sun inside?”
“We’ll remove them altogether. And maybe we could hang a large mirror on the wall to brighten the place.”
“I know things are tight, but could we buy a grow lamp for my desk?”
“Of course. I can’t believe you haven’t asked for one before.”
After all my recent interactions with urban faery folk, this was a new experience for me. I just assumed she knew how best to take care of herself. What if there were more hybrids on the horizon? Calendula was the test case.
“Can we add soil and fertilizer to your Tupperware thingy under your desk?” I asked, caught up in her brainstorming. “No standing to greet folks. No walking them to my inner chambers to introduce them. No escorting them out the office. Will that do the trick? Or…” I went there. “…are you talking about staying in your apartment, trying something remote?”
She did a funny thing: working her lips a moment like they were chapped. “The city botanist, Director of Something or Other, who seems pretty smart, thinks I should chill out with the plant side of the family for a couple of weeks and de-stress until my blooms are fully opened, ‘gone by’ even.”
She was talking a leave of absence. “Calendula,” I stammered, “are you going to drop seeds?”
“Don’t worry: there’s no chance of propagation in my future,” she said, like she expected me to be relieved at the news. “No suckers. No sprouts. Whatever combination of faery magic and passion that led to my ‘becoming’ me, the botanist is pretty sure I’m infertile.”
“I’m sorry.” I reached for her hand, careful to avoid the palm thorns. Calendula didn’t pull away. “It just reaffirms what I’ve always known: you’re one of a kind.” She brightened. “All the more reason to take care of yourself. I hope you won’t mind if I visit. No work; strictly personal.”
“I’d like that,” she said, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.
Late one afternoon, I beelined it to the behind-the-scenes section of the arboretum. I walked through the sweltering park, no running today, pausing under a large familiar oak. A few excited human children dragged their parents toward a busy ice cream truck. If only my plant friends were so easily rejuvenated.
Word on the street had it that Calendula was peaking. The wonderful staff at the arboretum continued to be supportive and discrete. They could easily have used Calendula in some garish “8th Wonder of the World” campaign to drum up business, but the stress of being front and center probably would have been fatal to my favorite flora. Instead, they had her tucked behind a tall fence with other fragile exotics.
She was beautiful! All grown up. Picture a woman wearing a head full of brightly colored curlers – in public. Most of the blossoms had opened, but stayed small. Impact of being a hybrid? Top-heavy like a peony (the concentration on her noggin) with a new scent that was something between a rose and an expensive aftershave. A small sprinkler twitched at her feet, but it felt too far away and too little. I picked it up and stepped closer, aiming it directly on her.
She noticed. “Hey!”
“I guess spring has sprung,” I said.
“Does it look awful? Too many blossoms on too small a stem? They all opened at once. It will probably look better after we dead-head a few.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing. How do you feel?”
“Like a plant who daydreams about being a person. I want to feel human again.”
“Plenty of time for that,” I said. “This is only a couple of weeks a year, right?”
“That’s what they tell me. How’s business?”
“It’ll be there when you get back, provided we have electricity. I bought you a grow lamp. And I took down the blinds.”
“I hope you didn’t throw them out. I’m kinda maxed. After this, I just want to retreat to a dim room with the smell of coffee and pencil lead. Let my human side take the lead for a while.”
“Your wish is my command,” I joked.
She smiled at my allusion to my first exotic client in a long line of exotic clients. “That’s where it started. Thank goodness for hapless genies.”
“Thank goodness for all faery folk,” I said.
“Even a mixed-up kid like me?”
“Especially a mixed-up kid like you.” She wrinkled her nose playfully at me.