“Dormancy isn’t required, but it’s a good idea if you want your King to flower; they can handle pretty good-sized prey, even up to moths and large beetles. You still want to be careful with feeding, don’t feed live if you can avoid it—just don’t worry too much if your King snatches a few snacks without your approval. They actually wrap their leaves around the things that they’re digesting. Hard to grow, intermediate to care for.” Marya smiled slyly. “Your boy would love one.”
“You’re probably right.” I straightened. “How much are they?”
“For you, my darling, thirty dollars even, and you bring me a picture next time you come in, let me see how the new beauty is rooting into the office.”
“You’ve got a deal.” I looked over the tray again before pointing to a sundew near the back. “I’ll take that one.”
“A wonderful selection. Come now, you sweet thing, time to move to a new home…” She cooed to the sundew as she plucked its pot from the tray, mixing endearments in English and Ukrainian. I smothered a smile, following her out of the room.
Marya was a botanist before she moved to the United States. She probably could have continued working in the field, but instead, she’d chosen to do what she loved best: spend all her time with plants, and occasionally foist them off on people who promised to keep them alive. The cut flowers and cheap stuffed toys with “Get Well Soon” slogans were a sideline, another way of meeting expectations.
“Everything is well with you and your boy?” Marya asked, as she rang up my new sundew. “No more headaches, no more bad dreams?”
“Lots of headaches, lots of bad dreams,” I admitted. “SymboGen still has me under observation. I have to check in tomorrow for another review.”
“Such a shame. They should find something else to spend their time on.” Marya handed me the bag containing the sundew. “There’s a care sheet inside, and don’t hesitate to call if either of you has any questions. There are no bad questions in horticulture. There are only bad people who kill their babies through overwatering.”
“Thank you, Marya.” I took the bag, smiling.
“Now go on, see your boy,” she said, and made a shooing gesture with her hands. “He’ll be excited by what you have to give him.”
“If he’s not, he can’t have it.”
“Never ‘it,’ never ‘it,’ ” Marya chided. “None of God’s creatures is an ‘it,’ even if they’re not a boy or a girl or a mammal or a pretty bird. Call them ‘he’ or she’ and be a little wrong, but never take away their individuality like that.”
“Sorry, Marya,” I said, and waved as I left the store. Tumbleweeds followed me to the door and sat there, staring at me through the glass with his tail wrapped around his legs, as I walked toward the hospital. Nathan would be waiting for me.
The nice thing about spending most of my remembered life in hospitals is that it’s become virtually impossible for them to make me uncomfortable. They’re more like home than home is. I’d been awake for almost a year before I realized that normal people aren’t supposed to find the smell of bleach and floor wax comforting. I walked through the main doors of the San Francisco City Hospital, made my way to the elevator, and pressed the button for Nathan’s floor. All business as usual.
A few orderlies nodded to me as I passed. I nodded back, and kept going. Nathan’s lunch hour was never as long as we wanted it to be, and I’d already spent too much time at the florist’s to spend more in being social. I looked down at the brown paper bag in my hand. It was worth it.
Nathan’s research assistant wasn’t at her desk when I reached the ninth floor. I kept walking until I came to Nathan’s office. The door was open. I stopped, knocking on the doorframe. He raised his head and smiled.
“Hey there,” he said. “Come on in, babe. I’ll be done with this in just a second.”
“Babe, darling… this is one of those days where I don’t get to have an actual name, isn’t it?” I crossed to the chair in front of his desk and sat, making sure to hold the bag where he could see it. “Doctor, I’ve got a pain.”
Nathan ignored my joking attempt at a come-on, eyes going to the bag. “Someone called you ‘darling’?” he asked, in a carefully casual tone. “Was that someone by any chance black-haired, wearing a leather belt, and originally from the Ukraine?”
“Funnily enough, that’s a very good description of that someone,” I said. “How did you guess?”
“Experience and greed,” he said, and held up a finger as he turned back to his screen. “Just let me finish this before I get distracted by trying to convince you to let me look inside that bag.”
“Paperwork?” I ventured.
“Oceans of it,” he said. “Sometimes I think that’s the downside of going green—you can’t look in and see how buried I am by measuring the piles on my desk. Now I look exactly the same whether I’m busy or not, and so people feel like they’re doing me a favor by giving me something to do. Some of them also—not you, you have a free pass at all times—feel like they’re allowed to intrude without asking whether I have time to deal with them.” He typed as he spoke, making quick notes on what had to be a seemingly endless succession of reports.