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Where Things Grow | Marlana Botnick Fireman

Texas is not a good place to have something growing inside you. I’ve known this for a very long time, but until now I never applied it to myself. To me, to my life, to my body. It all just existed in the ether. Not here, not in me, not in my Austin.


As a single woman in her late 20s with absolutely zero interest in any long term partnership, I keep my period calendar hanging from a thumbtack above my toilet. When, or really if, I have a visitor… a sex visitor… I do the “give me one minute” dance and go to the bathroom, where I rip the calendar from the wall and toss it under the sink to hide with the cockroach corpses.


Six weeks after I had sex with The Guy From The Health Food Store, I realized I didn’t put the calendar back up. I reached in, prayed my fingers wouldn’t brush a cockroach leg, and replaced the calendar on my wall. That’s when I realized I missed my period. I am not so astute.


I keep an extra couple of pregnancy tests in my hall closet, just in case. I unwrap one, check to make sure it isn’t expired (one more month), and pee on it. It is very quick, almost cruelly quick, to let me know that there is something growing inside me right now.


My lower stomach feels flat when I put my hand on it. There is a very slight bump, but it’s probably just my freezer burned french toast breakfast. I’m only a few weeks late, but the test says there is something growing inside me.


“Hi Mommy, it’s me, um, can you call me back as soon as you get this? Okay, I love you, bye.”


*


I Google, what does an abortion feel like? This leads me to the Planned Parenthood website, which explains in the gentlest of terms, what will happen. I call them.


“Hi, I looked at your website and I need…”


My phone starts beeping, my Mom is calling me back. I hit decline.


“...I need to schedule an abortion.”


The woman on the other end of the phone, who identifies herself as Amanda, just Amanda, informs me that I will need to come in for an initial appointment before I can have an abortion. She says that I will need a “transvaginal ultrasound” which sounds like something I don’t want, because if it was just a regular, easy ultrasound, she’d just say “ultrasound”. I have to ask her what it all means.


“We’ll place the probe inside the vagina to perform the ultrasound. We’ve had a cancellation, so we can see you in three days, if you’re able,” she tells me.


“Sorry, but is it really considering placing it inside? I mean, it’s not tiny, is it? You’ll probably like, shove it a little. Right?”


“Insert,” Amanda says. “Would you like the appointment in three days?”


“When is the next appointment after that? I’m driving from Texas.”


“In eight weeks,” she says matter-of-factly.


“Shit,” I mumble. “Okay, yeah. What time?”


*


“Hi Mom,” I say. “Listen, I’m on my way to visit you. Can you make up the spare room for me, please?”


“Are you okay?”


“Don’t be… Never mind, Mom, but I’m coming up because I’m getting an abortion.”


“You’re pregnant?” She asks. I can imagine the look on her face, brows furrowed, leaning against the wall, running her hands through her wild, curly, black and white hair.


“Yeah,” I say.


“Okay, honey,” she says. “I’ll see you in a few days.”


“I’ll be there tomorrow,” I tell her. “It’s the only appointment they have. So I’ll probably just go straight there, and then I’ll drive down to you.”


“Okay,” she says, uncharacteristically without words.


*


My Mom’s house is hard to find, tucked away past many narrow roads that weave in and out of copses of pine trees. It is the kind of place that can’t be found without directions because it is truly magical and not for the kind of people who won’t appreciate it. Sometimes I wish I’d had the opportunity to live here with her in this tiny magical snow globe she made herself, but I know that it is the product of extreme grief. And that isn’t something I want to be too involved with. Mom channeled all the pain and grief she felt when my other mom, Mama, died six years ago, into creating a hospice for the last of our chihuahua army, Pickle and Matzo. And when they died, she made her heartbreak into this meticulously magical little homestead. I channeled mine into alcohol, and then into sobriety.


I appreciate the sound of my suitcase’s wheels on the cobblestone path for about ten seconds. Then it becomes annoyingly bumpy, so I yank it up by the handle with a grunt.


“No, don’t do that,” Mom says, rushing from the front door. “Don’t lift heavy things.” She takes the suitcase from me.


“It doesn’t matter,” I tell her. “My appointment is in three days. You’re going to have to take me, though. I can’t drive afterward, just to be safe.”


“Oh,” she says. She puts my bag down in her foyer, which is more like a jungle with hanging plants: giant Monsteras, Pothos that stretch from the ceiling down to the floor, fluffy Chinese Evergreens, and stark white Peace Lilies dotting dark leaves. The windows are all covered in multifaceted stickers, spewing rainbows onto the plants and down the hallway.


“Okay, let me show you what I’ve done in the garden,” Mom says, gesturing back out the door.


“I really need to take a nap,” I tell her.


“Garden first,” she says. “It won’t take long, I promise.” My Mom is notoriously terrible at keeping promises like these. Her tie-dyed caftan brushes the stones as she leads me down a different path along the side of the house.


“That doesn’t hurt?” I ask her, looking down at her bare feet.


“No,” she says. “Now look what I built.”


Down the path, just out of view of the house, a little hut comes into focus. It’s built up against a tree, with a dark wood wavy roof and small tinted windows. At first it looks like an outhouse, but then I see it has a door, glass, and coated with the same rainbow film as the foyer.


“The only part I didn’t do is that decorative trim, I hired a guy in Circleville to do that.”


Mom opens the glass door and inside is what can only be described as a shrine. There are photos of Mama in there, like a gallery wall of Mama, all in different frames and forms. Photos, drawings, well-loved trinkets like her turquoise ankle bracelet, tacked up between frames. A giant slab of wood hangs front and center, where Mom has used a word burner to write Susan in flouncy lettering. Below the slab is a single shelf, bolted into the tree. On it is Mama’s urn, with two candles on either side.


“Wow, Mom, this is…” I don’t know what it is. It might be unhinged, to be really honest. “I thought we were going to spread her ashes together at some point.”


“Well you haven’t been back,” Mom says, crossing her arms. “So I decided to go a different route.”


“Do I… have a say?” I ask, treading lightly. “I thought we were going to spread her ashes on Kelley’s Island.”


“Your Aunt Sarah made me that,” Mom says, pointing to a crocheted pride flag pinned to one of the walls. “Isn’t it nice?”


“Really nice,” I say.


“Does this make you happy?” I ask her, gesturing to the photos, the flag, the urn, the dark space under the shelf where the light doesn’t reach.


“Of course it does, honey,” Mom says with an almost disbelieving tone.


“Okay,” I say. “I’m going to take a nap now.” I walk back up to the house and drag my suitcase into the guest room, where I close the door and plop onto the bed.


For a long time, I can’t sleep. I just keep picturing the urn, matte bronze, in that weird tiny hut all alone. It seems like something more creepy than just a place to remember my other mom. It reminds me of Helga’s shrine to Arnold in Hey Arnold. I wonder if my Mom is slowly losing her mind out here, isolated with no pets, no friends, not even the sounds of cars or the sight of neighbors.


I open up Zillow on my phone and scroll the For Sale listings for Circleville. There are plenty of sweet little houses in town, nearer to civilization, in need of a lesbian hippie’s tie-dyed touch.


“Lucy?”


I wake up to the sound of knocking on the door.


“Lucy, are you up? I made some dinner.”


*


“I got this Crockpot recipe book.” Mom winds in and out of anecdotes about her Crockpot and all its magical assorted uses. I make a mental note to buy her an air fryer for her next birthday. She shows me photos on her outdated iPhone of mulled wine, corn chowder, and hot chocolate.


“Do you get Amazon out here? Because I need to order some stuff I forgot. A heating pad, some maxi pads… Do you have Advil or Tylenol?”


“No pain killers here,” Mom says. “Now look at this one, I’ll probably have to go to one of those fancy co-ops in Columbus for some of the ingredients, but doesn’t this stew and bread combo look good?”


“Mom, Amazon?”


“No Amazon,” she says. “I also want to try this one.” She flips to a page with a flap of newspaper sticking out.


“Jesus, Mom, am I going to have to go to Columbus for all this? You don’t even have a heating pad?”


“I’m post-menopause. I can grow the cucumbers for this one,” she says excitedly, tapping her finger at a page.


“Mom!” I slam my hand down. The silverware rattles against the raw wooden table and the water in our glasses shakes. “I need your help please. I’m asking for your help.”


Mom looks up from her recipe book and stares into my eyes.


“Walmart,” she says, and gets up from the table. “I’m going to work in the garden.”


*


When I pull back into the driveway after my Walmart excursion, my mother is still in her patch of tomatoes. The late summer sunset bathes the garden in yellow-gold light. Rosemary and Basil grow like weeds, pods of almost-ready Okra rustle against their leaves. Before moving out to Circleville, the only thing in a garden I ever saw my mother tend was a wine bottle tree.


“I couldn’t find a heating pad,” I tell Mom, peering into her basket of tiny jewel-like tomatoes. She picks them delicately, carefully, like a master chess player making a move. “Did I hurt your feelings?” I ask.


“Look at all of this,” Mom says, looking up at me. “Look at all the life here.”


“It’s beautiful. You’ve done a really good job. A wonderful job.”


“I know I have,” she says, removing a small green caterpillar from a tomato and tossing it into the grass. “I did it all myself.”


“Yes, you did, it’s remarkable,” I tell her.


“That’s why we’re not scattering Susan’s- your Mama’s ashes. Not together, at least. Because I did this all myself. I made you all myself too, you know. When I was pregnant with you, Susan was in rehab, mhm, you didn’t know that,” Mom says. She delicately places her hand over her post-menopausal uterus, as if there’s something inside. “No one was tending me. I was tending me,” she pauses. “And you. By myself. Then Susan left, then you left. And now I need something to tend.”


“What are you talking about?” I ask her, stepping back. The light around us has changed just slightly. The sun is beginning to pull itself below the trees. She sounds off her rocker, like Mama died on purpose, instead of from cervical cancer, like all our old pets offed themselves, like I don’t care about her.


“You left me alone. You went back to Texas, and I was alone, so I came out here, and I made all this life here.”


“Mom, that’s not fair, I had a job I had to go back to after Mama died. I couldn’t stay forever, you know that. You knew that. I’m proud of what you’ve done here. If you don’t want to scatter her ashes at Kelley’s Island… that’s… fine. That’s okay.”


“That’s not what I mean,” she says. “I still want to. Just, I think, alone.”


“Alone?” Tears begin to well up in my eyes. Alone? Without me? Scatter the ashes of my Mama? It was always us, Mama, Mom, and Lucy. “We’re a family, though.”


“Maybe,” Mom says.


“You’re-” A sob catches in my throat. “You’re being cruel.”


“You’re taking something away from me, Lucy.” Her eyes move, almost imperceptibly, from my face down to my abdomen. I take in a shocked breath.


“What?” My brain feels like it’s glitching. “So what are you now, pro-life? Or something?” I look down at my mom kneeling in her garden, knees in the grass, soles of her feet covered in dirt, her curls dancing with the breeze, her tie-dyed caftan faded from decades of washes.


“I’ve never met a bigger hippie in my life. You’re a hair wrap-wearing lesbian who lives on a plot of land in rural Ohio. You threw a party when they passed Roe v. Wade. You smoke more weed than most 20-somethings I know. And a garden made you pro-life?” Instinctively my hand floats down to my belly.


“I’m not,” she says. “But, you’re staying in Texas, right? You don’t have any plans to move here?”


“Move where?” I ask. “I don’t live here, this isn’t my home. I grew up in Columbus. But now Austin is home. You can’t expect me to move to Circleville.” I say it like it has a rancid smell.


“You could let me…” she says, looking up at me, at my stomach, from her plot of dirt. “Then I won’t be alone out here.”


“You have to be kidding,” I say, turning away. I can’t look her in the eyes, this person who is so far from who I thought was my mom.


“Or you could keep it. We could do this together, honey,” she pleads. “Like a family.”


“Like a family? We’re still a family, Mom, whether or not we have Mama, or a baby. Or every chihuahua from the SPCA. I might, someday, by the way. But you never asked. Not now.”


My Mom continues reaching for tomatoes in the fading light.


“Let’s go inside,” I say. “Let’s just have a cup of tea and talk about this. I don’t want you to be lonely, that’s the last thing I want. My appointment…” I glance down at my watch. “I’ll need to be picked up. Let’s just go inside and talk.”


“I don’t think so,” she says.


“Mom…Mom. Mom, please,” I say. She doesn’t look at me. “Fine,” I say. “I’m leaving. I’m not welcome here. Whatever’s happening here. I’m going to go up to Columbus.”


I stomp my way back into the house, raging furious and cascading tears. I grab the only thing I’d unpacked, my cell phone charger, and throw it into my bag. I drag my suitcase back down the cobblestones, bouncing and clopping, and toss it into the car.


“Bye, Mom,” I say. She doesn’t answer.


When I drive away, she is still picking tomatoes in the dark.


*


When I pull my suitcase into the pitch dark motel room, I know this is not the place I want to sleep the night before an abortion.


I flip on the light and it illuminates the lampshade, tinged orange and black from what my nose can only discern as a smoker. The bed is hard as a park bench and smells like mothballs. I pull back the sheets, at least there are no bedbugs. I put my hand on what is supposedly inside me, wishing it was something I could see. Just a peek, like at the corner of a birthday present sticking out from tissue paper. I don’t need to know it all, the whole thing, I just want to know that it’s really there. Amanda said it was, when she stuck the probe in my vagina. But I sort of want to see it to be sure.


I imagine what this night could have been. Mom calming my nerves, telling me it’s going to be okay, that I’m a radical badass bitch for taking charge of my life, that Ann Richards is watching over me. I imagine myself wondering out loud if I should call The Guy From The Health Food Store to tell him what I’m doing, and Mom would say hell no, fuck any man who thinks he has an ounce of control over your body, don’t you remember what I said about you being a badass radical woman? And then I’d look at the mezuzah on the doorframe as my little spot of comfort, the one I can find in places I know are safe, like synagogues and Jewish delis, and know that everything will work out.


It’s all wishful thinking. There are no mezuzot at Motel 6, and there are no empowered moms. I wonder if my mom will secretly start donating to batshit crazy organizations like 40 Days for Life or if she’ll start her own niche organization like Leftist Liberal Lesbians For Life.


I dial her phone and let it ring all the way to voicemail. Hi, this is Miri. The service out here is garbage, leave a message, peace.


“Mom, I-- nevermind.” I hang up.


At what I figure has to be the blackest moment of night, where the only light in the room is the digital radio clock that says 2:30 AM, my phone rings.


“Hello?” My voice is husky from sleep.


“Lucy. It’s Mom.”


I don’t say anything, I just let the silence sit, waiting to see what she’s waking me up for.


“Have you thought about what I said?”


“Are you serious?” I ask, sitting up straight in bed, the ancient mattress crackling under me. “You woke me up to ask me that?” There is silence on the other end. “No. No, absolutely not. What happened to you? Who are you? Did you get lost at sea? You’re losing your mind! I was really hoping that…” I choke on a soft cry. “You were calling to tell me that you support me, that you love me, that I’m the radical child you always dreamed of, that Ann Richards is my guardian angel or something.”


“What?”


“Nevermind,” I tell her. “Don’t wake me up again.”


“Please just call me after so we can talk,” Mom says. I huff angrily, thinking of the over-the-phone chiding I would be subjecting myself to after the procedure.


“I don’t think I will.”


*


“We’ll have to sedate you a little,” the nurse says. “You’ll be awake, just relaxed. Like laughing gas.”


“Okay,” I tell her, my teeth chattering.


“It’s going to be okay,” she says. “It’ll be over quickly.”


There are a few other people in the room, doctors and nurses, and some sort of person whose job it is to hold people’s hands while they get abortions.


“Is thissss your day job?” I ask her. My speech is starting to tilt into a slur as the sedation kicks in. I can’t remember her name.


“Yes,” she says with a chuckle. “Among other things here.”


“That’s nicccce…” I tell her. “Tell me your name… again…” She tells me, I think, but I’ve drifted away in some sort of fuzzy place.


*


I am in a room, in my gown. My eyes are flickering open into the dim, blush pink room that feels like walking inside a sunset. I see some other people too, in their own soft recliners, taking miniscule bites of chips, sips of water, rubbing their eyes.


“How are you feeling?” The hand-holder asks me.


“Tired,” I tell her.


“Do you have any pain?” She asks.


“I don’t think so, I-” I reach down toward my groin, but she stops me.


“Don’t touch,” she tells me. “I have this little bag, it has everything you’ll need, directions, antibiotics, copies of your signed forms. You can go soon, in about an hour. Here, have some chips and juice. It’ll help.”


“Like Lupin said,” I say, my mind slipping in and out of the sunset room. “It’ll help, it’ll help. Is there chocolate? What’s your name again?” I ask her.


“Betty,” she tells me.


“That’s a nice name.”


“Thank you,” she says, smiling. “Do you have someone to take you home, Lucy?”


“No,” I realize. “I don’t have anyone. No one is…” I feel myself begin to cry. Tears roll down my cheeks and plop onto my gown.


“It’s okay,” Betty says. “We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry about it, honey. Just take some deep breaths. It’s normal to feel a lot of things after an experience like this, plus the sedation.” There is a knock at the door, and Betty sticks her head into the hallway for a moment. A spear of fluorescent light edges its way into the room, and a couple of the others shade their eyes.


“Someone is here for you,” she says.


My Mom fades into view.


“Hi honey,” she says, sitting down next to me. “I can’t lose you over this. I can’t.” She has tears in her own eyes.


“Mom,” I say. “You’re here. I found the perfect job for you…”


Her smile is sweet, perfect even, with her slightly crooked front teeth and curly hair, like a cloud, or a halo. “Here, I brought you a heating pad.”

 

Marlana Botnick Fireman is a writer, editor, and illustrator in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans. Her work can be found in Hey Alma, Reckon Review, Creation Mag, Ellipses, Masque and Spectacle, Feels Blind Literary, and forthcoming in The Hooghly Review. Currently she serves as an Associate Fiction Editor for Bayou Magazine. When she is not writing or reading, she is gardening with her partner or cuddling with her dog Aiko. Marlana was born and raised in central Ohio. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter @firelightdisco.

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