Unnerving Houseplants

by Madeline L. Taylor

Margot could feel the motors’ vibrations through the ground, pins-and-needling her feet, but she longed to be closer — not because she enjoyed watching racecars, quite the opposite — but because maybe then she could feel a whiff of a breeze from the cars streaking by. Back in their seats, there was no force strong enough to move the air and so tendrils of damp got stuck in her ears, between her tits, under her arms. Name any preposition and a body part: there was dampness present. It didn’t help that next to her sat someone who was making the beads of sweat trickling down her chest feel like a caress.

Last night, Margot had moved her houseplants to the bathtub. She sat on the edge, porcelain sticky against her thighs, and held her fingers under the jet of water until she felt the tepid heat turn cool and yanked the faucet to the shower setting. She closed her eyes; the stream of water bouncing off the leaves refracted into mist and she let it settle on her lids. She wondered who needed the water more. She was thankful the plants seemed willing to share — or at least incapable of saying no.

A cold hand slap just above her knee startled Margot’s eyes open. Shannon explained herself: “Mosquito.” Sure enough, Margot cast her eyes down and there was a dark streak across her leg, overlaid above a red outline of Shannon’s hand. She shivered.

“I know, they’re the worst,” Shannon misinterpreted as she felt the shudder run through Margot’s body. “Hand me a napkin, babe?”

Josh handed a napkin embossed with the arena’s logo to Shannon. He barely looked over to see why such an item was necessary, Margot noticed, and she rolled her eyes; figures this dude couldn’t drag himself away from the racetrack to even bother looking at his girlfriend.

“Thanks, I got it,” Margot choked out as she took the napkin from Shannon, who had already started wiping the mosquito remains off her thigh. This backfired; when Margot’s fingers collided against Shannon’s, she felt her temperature drop farther into fever-dream territory. Frantically she scrubbed at the stain, trying to scrape every fragment of wing off her skin. When she finished, she crushed the napkin in her fist and held it there, unsure where to put it, unsure what was an appropriate place to discard the remains of an insect and a feeling and a tension.

By the time they got up from their seats and Margot followed on their plodding path out of the stadium, the napkin had disintegrated into a sweaty mess of fibers in Margot’s palm. She noticed, as she climbed the stairs, that there was still a streak of her blood, loosened by the mosquito, on her thigh.

At home, she went straight to the shower and turned the tap on the coldest setting. She stripped off her limp clothing and stepped into the tub.

It is unnerving, Margot realized as her foot sank into the turgid soil around her favorite fern, to smell warm earth releasing its scent into cool water. It is unnerving to watch insect blood wash off your leg and trickle down into the soil. It is unnerving to find growth in a place where you expect sterility. It is unnerving how delightful it is to ignore those nerves.

The sensible thing to do would’ve been to turn off the water, wrap a towel around herself, remove the plants from the shower, hang them up in their appropriate places, and then resume her shower. Margot felt a thrill in deciding against doing the sensible thing. By the time she stepped out of the shower, every inch of porcelain was coated in a spattering of organic matter, and Margot’s own feet and ankles were filthier than when she first entered. It felt good — it felt perfect — to find cleanliness in the place she most expected it, but in the way she least expected it.

Margot walked to her room, tracking water and dirt behind her. She stood in front of her air conditioner and turned the temperature down to the chillest setting; she stood until every inch of her had dried. She tried to keep herself from scratching the welt that the mosquito had left on her leg. Of course, she failed; it felt marvelous to run her nails over the swollen skin until the blood burst forth again.

Madeline L. Taylor is a writer, program operations associate director, and writing instructor. She holds a BA in English & Creative Writing from Barnard College, where she received recognition for her non-fiction writing with the Schwimmer Prize and the Estelle M. Allison Prize for Literature. Her work has appeared most recently in the New York Times “Tiny Modern Love” column. She lives in New York City with her fiancée and their two cats Ginkgo and Juniper.



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