Bamboo (flash fiction)
“Good luck,” Cassie said, as she handed it to him and smiled. Three bamboo shoots, jade green and verdant, had been twisted together like rope while they were still young and supple, and had grown together like that, planted in a small glazed pot. A shiny band of gold cellophane was wrapped around them, with the same words Cassie had spoken written in English along with some Chinese characters he could only assume meant the same. It was a going away present, purchased and given on the occasion of his move to a new city.
He smiled back, and thanked her.
He’d always liked Cassie, but the timing had never worked out. One or the other of them was always seeing someone else. Once, there might have been a moment, but his courage had failed him, and the moment had passed. He still didn’t know what might have happened. But maybe she liked him too, enough to wish him well in his new life, anyway.
He’d had the plant in the car with him when he drove to his new city, watering it at rest stops and taking it into the hotel room with him so it didn’t freeze overnight.
When he got to his new place, an apartment in a city of houses, he put it in the sunniest window and watered it regularly. He moved it to a bigger pot with fresh soil. But the bamboo did not grow.
It was around this time that he met Maureen.
They met at a party, hit it off, exchanged numbers. They saw each other, then saw each other again. Soon enough, they saw each other all the time, spending more nights together than apart.
He watered the bamboo less frequently, being so irregularly home. The edges of the leaves began to yellow, and some of the leaves died, though they clung to the shoots just the same as they always had until he picked them off. After a few weeks, the pallor of the leaves began to creep backward along the stems.
The more nights he spent at home, the more it seemed the process might be reversed or at least halted. But then he would stay at Maureen’s for two or sometimes three nights in a row, and he would come home and notice that the khaki-yellow pallor had crept another quarter or half an inch down the stems toward the soil. He would stay home for a night, and the next morning the leaves would have stretched a few degrees closer to the light, looking less pale and waxy, almost green again in the dawn’s rosy glow.
A few months later, he and Maureen decided to move in together. Her house was bigger, and felt more like a home, so they decided he would move in with her. It would cost him his security deposit to break his lease, but they did the math and it worked out.
When he moved in, he brought the bamboo with him, along with the rest of his personal things. He found a place for it in the kitchen window, where the light was good, among a collection of her plants that he shifted around to make room.
Weeks passed, and then months. The bamboo failed to thrive, even as he and Maureen twined their lives together and grew happy and comfortable. The shoots stiffened, the leaves grew waxier and more pale. The other plants grew into the space around it, the space he had opened up to give it its share of the light. Still he watered it regularly, along with the others.
Half a year after he had moved in, Maureen turned to him one night as they did the dishes after dinner.
“I’m wondering if we can maybe get rid of that bamboo,” she said. “It’s not doing too well.”
He thought about it for a moment.
“But it’s my good luck charm,” he said, though that wasn’t exactly what he meant. He wasn’t sure what he did mean; that was as close as he could come.
She kissed him.
“I think you’re already pretty lucky. Don’t you?”
He couldn’t disagree.
“Besides,” she said, “it’s been dying since you brought it here.”
He couldn’t disagree with that, either.
She smiled, and kissed him again.
“It’s alright,” she said. “We can keep it if you want to.”
He kissed her back.
A few days later he was alone in the kitchen while Maureen was at work. He was cleaning some dishes and he caught sight of the bamboo, there among the others, sickly pale and desiccated though he had watered it not two days ago. It really did stick out. All the other plants were thriving.
He didn’t think it was dead yet. But it was getting there.
He stared at it for a long moment. Maureen was right. It had been dying even before he’d brought it here.
He picked it up and carried it out back.
The three twined shoots came out of the pot cleanly and easily. The soil he’d planted them in came, too, an inverted gumdrop of roots and and potting soil that he held in his right hand. He peeled the faded cellophane from around the bamboo, the characters and words on it near illegible when he tried to read them. He wadded it up and threw it in the garbage.
Maureen had a compost bin in a corner of the yard. After a moment, he placed the bamboo and its gumdrop capsule of soil in it and set the pot out to be washed by the rain, then went back inside and finished washing the dishes.