A Family of Plants

January 14, 2021
translated by Toshiya Kamei
A photograph of plants seen through a bay of small windows. One window is fogged up
Photo credit: Elsa Noblet / Unsplash

After 140 days at home, one person wants more space; the other, more plants.

I wanted a room of my own, so I talked my husband into moving into a larger house. Now that both of us worked from home, I needed my own workspace. That was my sales pitch. But what I really wanted was a place to be alone while we were at home all the time.

What I really wanted was a place to be alone while we were at home all the time.

My husband took a while to warm up to the idea of moving. Even so, he seemed pleased with our new but not-so-new apartment. In the spacious twenty-mat living room, we got a lot of sun through a glass wall facing south.

“Why don’t we get us some plants?” my husband suggested.

“Sure, honey,” I replied in a noncommittal manner.

On the first night in our new house, my husband stayed awake beside me.

“Can’t sleep, honey?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “it must be this house.”

I smothered my sigh. “More space is a good thing, honey.”

“Do you remember our first apartment? A shoebox. We were happier then.”

“We’re happy now,” I said, trying to hide the pain in my voice. “You’ll see. More space will make everything easier.” I kissed his brow. But as he turned his back to me, mumbling a good night, something stirred inside me.

The following day, a tall potted plant arrived. Apparently, my husband had already ordered it online before bringing this matter before me.

“Look on the bright side, sweetie. Convenient, isn’t it? What would’ve happened if something like this hit us thirty years ago? It makes me shudder to even think about it.”

He hadn’t gone out for the last 140 days, except when we moved. Now he did everything at home. He worked, ate, went to the bathroom, exercised, and slept, without ever stepping outside. When I had no choice but to go out, he would frown and repeat his lecture on personal hygiene. When I came home, he would spray disinfectant all over me before he allowed me to cross the threshold.

When I had no choice but to go out, he would frown and repeat his lecture on personal hygiene.

I had never seen such a plant before. Large, thick leaves sprouted from the trunk marked with round patterns that looked like scales or eyes. My husband placed the plant on a sunny spot in front of the living room window. The treetop grazed the ceiling. When I watered the plant, it seemed to shine with delight, and the green leaves looked darker than before.

“A plant this big suits this spacious place perfectly,” my husband said, flashing a self-satisfied smile. When I gazed up, the tree loomed tall, spreading its branches over my head. Its mere presence brightened up the whole house. Even the dining table seemed livelier than before.

In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling parched. Leaves rustled somewhere. Or so I thought. I rolled out of the bed, went to the kitchen, and poured myself a glass of water. On my way back, I felt eyes on me. The tree seemed to be watching me. Of course, it remained silent in the still living room. The dimmed fluorescent light from the kitchen seeped into the darkness, rendering the green leaves even darker.

* * *

The following day, another potted plant arrived. This one was small enough to carry around. My husband hung it from the ceiling. Thick, leafy vines stretched from the plant. When I poked the vines with my fingertip, they swayed like snakes.

While my husband never stepped outside, his plant collection grew. Pots on the floor. Pots hanging from the ceiling. Large pots. Small pots. Plants with thin, pointy leaves. Plants with broad, flat leaves. Plants filled every corner of the apartment. The living room, the hallway, and the bedrooms. All his plants were unfamiliar to me.

* * *

While preparing chicken rice for dinner, I noticed I was out of ketchup. I pushed my way through the leaves and vines that had invaded the pantry and searched for a spare bottle in vain. The chicken rice had to wait for now. I had to go out and get some ketchup.

“Going somewhere?” My husband shot an accusatory look as he emerged from his room.

“I need ketchup for omelet rice,” I said. He flushed red.

“How many times do I have to tell you? If you bring home a virus, what’s the point of my quarantine?” He sent me off, standing akimbo before the plants growing tall in the hallway.

I walked into the nearest grocery store and grabbed ketchup right away. After checking out, I decided to take a detour in the opposite direction. I strode along a narrow path beside a river. My husband would have loved a stroll like this. Before the pandemic started, he used to wander around aimlessly.

* * *

When I reached home and opened the door, tropical scents wafted out. Our home had turned into a jungle. I stepped into the genkan. The floor felt like short, cropped grass, and my ankles got wet with dew. I entered the house without taking off my shoes.

Our home had turned into a jungle.

Winged bugs buzzed around my ears. Something stirred in the thicket. The entire apartment was brimming with life. The plants formed roots, stretched branches, grew leaves, and flowers bloomed. A large creature breathed along with tiny lives in its embrace.

“Oh, you’re back, sweetie,” my husband’s voice reached me from somewhere. Is he in his room? But the plants blocked my view. I couldn’t tell where his room was.

“Where are you, honey?”

“I’m here.”

I looked around as I advanced. I tripped over thick tree roots, lost my balance, and broke my fall with my hands. My fingertips touched a hard object. I grabbed it. It was the remains of the TV remote control. Sprouts stuck out of each hole where a button used to be.

I crawled along the ground that used to be the floor. My palms found what once were household items. Lightbulbs, parts of the kitchen stove, a back scratcher, a faucet, an empty canister of coffee beans. Based on the locations of these items, I imagined the layout of our apartment. I attempted to guess the direction of my husband’s room.

“Here I am,” his voice said again, from somewhere deep in the thick jungle.

The smell of damp earth after summer rain wrapped itself around me. A mixture of vague fear and warm nostalgia seized my body. Vines near my feet stretched and wrapped themselves around my ankles, calves, and thighs. Numerous leafy branches swarmed toward my back. A moment before they swallowed me, I shifted my weight and let myself go completely.

I lay still on the leafy bed. Leaves gently caressed my closed eyes and cheeks. The forest grew larger while the trees squeaked.

“Honey, I’m home,” I whispered.

Translation from the Japanese

Satomi Hara is a Japanese writer from Tokyo. In 2014 she won an honorable mention in the Mita Bungaku Prize for New Writers. In 2016 she received the Noboru Tsujihara Award in the Bungaku Kingyo Prize for New Writers. She has authored the short-story collection Sato-kun, daisuki (2018).

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in literary translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons.