Not Just Another Human-Plant Hybrid
Charles C Cole
The place was packed, well, for us. I stepped into the waiting area to check with my new receptionist, Calendula. While she wasn’t exactly a creature of traditional folklore, as most of our clients were, she had as much in common with a boutonniere as she did with “Dick and Jane.”
She seemed distracted by a human-looking fellow with a bright green leaf growing from the side of his nose. I waved her into my private consultation room for a quick debrief, and to awkwardly see if she had an undisclosed doting boyfriend lingering around the office.
Me, trying to be casually investigative: “How’s it going out there? Any riots I should know about?”
“I don’t know how you manage it, Joe. Each case is so different.”
“True. But, as often as not, we have more connective tissue with our clients than we think.”
“I hope not,” said Calendula. “They’re all so needy and wounded. It breaks my heart.”
“Says the woman who’s half-human and half-rosebush.”
“And an outcast from both societies. Thanks for the reminder.”
“You’re the exception that proves the rule: Love knows no bounds. Calendula, you’re the perfect liaison for this business. The clients know you’re one of them. Don’t try to hide it. It comforts them.”
“I’m unique. I’m not really one of them.”
“What about fauns? Half-human.”
“Not at all! They were around long before humans discovered fire.”
“Really?! What about centaurs?” I asked.
“Same thing. If anything, humans branched out from them rather than the other way around. As you got more domestic, you lost your animal side. Just a guess.”
“No kidding. Well, what about the guy in the waiting area with the leaf growing on the side of his nose? Half-human and half-lilac? A cousin? Maybe a boyfriend?”
“Because he has roots growing out of his feet?! Thanks, Detective Avery, for categorizing me. Actually, he’s Pinocchio’s older brother, Avram.”
With equal parts relief and embarrassment on my part, I moved quickly to the business at hand. “What’s his story?”
“Same as a lot of people, I’ve heard: parenting requires on-the-job training, meaning more mistakes with the firstborn. He’s not human.”
“I guessed that.”
“He was made from a combination of wood, some magical and some not. When Gepetto realized his design flaw, he chose to start over.”
“Why not just fix Avram?” I wondered aloud.
Calendula shrugged. “Too much work taking him apart and pulling out the deadwood.”
“So, how can we help?”
“He wouldn’t tell me. He doesn’t trust me. If you ask me, I remind him too much of Pinocchio. So much for being a comfort to the clients.”
“I’ll talk to him and remind him who the good guys are. Send him in. Please and thank you.”
Without a word, Calendula raised both eyebrows as if to say, “Good luck with this one.”
Avram entered, closed the door tightly and sat down. “Your receptionist has been staring at me.”
“She’s not used to seeing other human/plant hybrids in the office.”
“I’m NOT a human,” Avram declared.
“My mistake. I apologize. How can we help?”
“I’m starting to leaf out.”
“I see that.”
“I want a safe place where I can be planted in the ground, where someone will water me and fertilize me. I want to have seedlings and I want them planted around me.”
“You don’t want to be more human?”
“No disrespect intended, but they’re too complicated. I can’t always figure them out. They’re inconsistent, nice one minute and cold the next. They want something and then they don’t. I’m perfectly okay with being a tree, but I want to be around my kind. I was hoping you could get me transplanted to the city arboretum.”
“Is that all? No promises, but I’m pretty sure we can make it happen. That’s actually my receptionist’s old stomping ground. They love her there!”
“She’s different, I can tell. Not like me, but not like Pinocchio either.”
“She only wants to help. We both do. If it’s all right with you, I’ll invite her to join us.” I stepped out and returned with Calendula.
“I’m sorry for staring,” she said, at my prompting. “You’re the closest thing I’ve seen to another me, but completely different.”
“I used to think that about Pinocchio. I probably have more in common with you.”
“Calendula’s going to reach out to her friends. It shouldn’t be a problem. If anything, they should be honored to have, if I may use the expression, such a ‘unique specimen’ on the grounds. I imagine you’ll be a boon to their business, a new attraction, if you don’t mind. Get ready for some wild questions from young, public-school kids on field trips.”
“I’m not exactly an expert.”
“No, but you’ll be hanging out with quite a few. I’m sure they’ll love to share. Then you can pass your newfound wisdom along to the visiting intellectual sponges. I’ll bet a lot of kids will pay closer attention to a talking tree than the man or woman behind the information curtain.”
Days later, I watched my receptionist strutting back to the office after a successful handoff. I’d stayed behind, hoping Calendula and Avram would find a way to appreciate, if not trust, each other. When I’d heard she was on her way back, I went down to the street to get a cup of custom (aka expensive) organic coffee and see if her unexpected success had given her more confidence.
Her chin was out, her back was straighter and her arms swung wildly forward and back. It was like she’d just been fertilized with the plant-equivalent of jet fuel. If I’d had any doubts about inviting her into the firm, and there really weren’t many, they all evaporated that day.