By: Quest Editor | February 1, 2023
In The Greenhouse
When we first moved into our house, my greenhouse that sat on the edge of the woods was nothing but an abandoned glass shell. With the help of my mother, we spent our first summer rebuilding it to its former glory. I then bought all the tools I would need to maintain plants, and took the mantle of growing and tending to the plants and greenhouse. Three years later, my greenhouse had flourished into my favourite place in the world.
I closed the greenhouse door with an extra push, so that it wouldn’t get stuck on its rusty hinges. Breathing in the smell of soil and pollen, I picked up my watering can. I heaved it over to my blossoms, which sat in rows of pots along the right side of the greenhouse. I poured water into my pot of zinnias, their orange, red, and pink bulbs swaying with the gentle force of water at their stems. I bid them good morning as I moved onto my geraniums.
“Good morning, farm,” I said, walking up to the back of the greenhouse, where there were pots growing tomatoes, parsley, and lettuce. “Anything for me to harvest today?” None of the crops were fully ripe yet, and I reassured my plants that they could take their time growing, as I opened up my compost bin, taking a scoop into the smelly homemade fertilizer and placing it in the pots.
“I hope that helps you guys,” I said to my tiny farm. “I’ll be outside if you need me.” Along the outside left walls of my greenhouse were large wooden boxes that grew mini-fields of white daisies. My mother helped me buy the wood and build them for this purpose. It was one of her hidden talents, being able to build stuff with wood. Not one that you would expect upon first glance, especially since her job is throwing events for clubs and workplaces in rented venues. The daisies soaked in the warm morning sun, and I unraveled the hose, turning on the water. I poked the daisies under their delicate white petals, into the tangle of stems. I told them about how Mom was unfortunately coming home later tonight from work, and turned the hose off once the box overflowed with water.
Once I had finished tending to everything that my plants needed, I went and grabbed a folding chair that leaned against the back of the house. Instead of returning to the greenhouse, I carried the chair to a large oak that sat to the left side of the greenhouse. I opened it up and sat down in the shade, closing my eyes to let the cool summer breeze brush against my sweaty skin and hair. I sat in the shade for a long while, even dozing off to sleep every once in a while.
My mother was in the kitchen sitting at the round table, with tonight’s dinner cooking from a pot on the stove.
“How was your day, Charlotte?” my mother asked as I opened the cupboard for a cup. “Lovely as always,” I said. Any day in my greenhouse is a day well spent. I poured myself a glass of juice and sat down across from my mother. She wore a
pensive look on her face, and her fingers twitched. I recognised her twitching fingers, it meant she was nervous about something.
“This weekend, the Town Hall is having a little banquet,” Mom said.
“What are they celebrating now?”
“Well it’s honestly just an over-glorified meeting this time around, but I need your help with it.”
“Why?” was all I asked.
“I just need you at the snack table to serve them to the guests.”
I took a slow breath, so my mother wouldn’t think that I was sighing in annoyance. “Okay, I’ll do it,” I said, taking another sip of juice.
My mother looked unsatisfied with my answer. I thought I did what she wanted, but I knew she was looking for something more. Did I have to explain myself to her? Tell her why the thought of serving strangers at a party made me nervous? I gave myself a couple of moments to see if I could convince her to change her mind, but nothing happened.
I stood up. “I’m going to change,” I said. “My clothes are dirty from gardening.” My mother sighed as I escaped to my room.
When I closed my bedroom door, I could breathe just a bit easier. It wasn’t that I was afraid of my mother, far from it. We just had very different career aspirations, that’s all. When I returned downstairs for dinner, my mother didn’t tell me anything. A part of me knew I’d made her upset in a way I couldn’t fix, and another part of me didn’t care. I liked silent dinners more than the next person. Most of the time, a nice dinner, accompanied by crickets chirping outside, was more than enough.
The drive to the venue the mayor had rented out for his party was a short drive from our home. I wore the only nice dress I owned, which was a white floral sundress that I got for Easter a year ago. My mother wore a blue dress, and had her hair done up. The drive was silent.
Other employees had already begun setting up the tables when we arrived. My mother directed me to an empty room and told me to wait until she was ready for me to start my job. The room was filled with stacks of folded chairs, and I just stood in the middle, scratching my wrists while I waited. I eventually forced myself to stop, since my skin was turning bright red.
My mother returned about 15 minutes later, and explained what my job was. I was to stand at the snack table, where there was an assortment of appetizers. Mini quiches, deviled eggs, and spring rolls that were probably bought from the frozen food section were laid out on plastic platters with small tongs next to them. I was supposed to serve whatever the guests asked for. The other employees seemed busy with other jobs, and so I was the only person who was going to serve food.
“You won’t even have to talk that much,” Mom reassured me. “You’ll be fine.” Mother’s co-workers laid out circular tables, covering them with white tablecloth. I kept my hands behind my back, thinking that it made me look professional. Despite my mother telling me I won’t talk much, I ran through the things I should say to people when they came up to me. It also helped to pass the time until the guests arrived.
The guests drifted into the hall. Chatter grew, and my mother was flitting around the hall, attending to her duties. People approached the snack table, and as embarrassing as it was to admit, I couldn’t bring myself to speak. It was as if a ghost covered my mouth with its cold hand. The guests peered at the food laid out, and began grabbing the plates and tongs and served themselves appetizers.
So I stood behind the snack table, watching these strangers serve themselves, like I was a statue overgrown with ivy, and they were hiking through a forest. I shouldn’t have bothered planning what to say in my head. No one spoke to me.
The conversation in the hall grew to mindless white noise. The food grew cold. My legs ache from standing for so long. My heart seemed to be beating faster than it should be, since I
wasn’t moving at all. I watched all those people, who must’ve been people who worked in town hall, who lived in the same town as me, and yet the only person I recognised was my mother. But I knew that no one recognised me, because I was just a statue of a forgotten human, covered in vines and ivy, so you couldn’t see its face.
The guests began to sit down, and the mayor stood in front of everyone with a microphone in hand. Even my mother sat down at a table in the middle. All eyes were on the mayor, so no one noticed the girl leaving the hall. I left the venue through one of the back doors.
As I stepped outside, I gave my mother one text. “I’m walking home. I don’t feel well. I’m sorry.”
The sun was setting as I walked home alone. The orange and pink sky hung over the empty street. The breeze touching my face and the back of my neck felt like stone cracking. The dress shoes I wore for tonight hurt my toes and heel. I ended up taking them off, walking the rest of the way home in my sock feet. Thankfully, my home wasn’t that far off.
My body was so tired, and yet when I stepped inside my house, I fell back into my usual routine as if I was a robot. I went up to my room, changed into my gardening clothes, and made my way down to my greenhouse.
“Good evening guys,” I said to my plants as I entered the humid greenhouse. I grabbed my watering can, and filled it up with water, so that I could water the flowers I was unable to earlier in the day.
I could breathe a little bit easier. I knew I shouldn’t feel so calm, knowing that my mother would be furious when she found out I left early, even if I told her. Instead, I talked to my plants as I finished up my daily check ups on them, practically forgetting about the party.
I had gone to bed before my mother came home that night, which meant that I had awoken to her sitting in her chair at the kitchen table, arms crossed the next morning. “You have some explaining to do,” my mother said.
I tensed, walking past my mother to the fridge. “There isn’t that much to explain,” I said. “You left, without telling me.”
“I texted you.”
“I gave you a job to do, and you walked out on it. Do you think that would fly in a real job?”
“This was nothing like a real job,” I opened the cupboard now, grabbing a bowl, anything to distract myself. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Maybe that’s part of the problem,” my mother said. “You usually don’t.”
She was missing my point. “The guests didn’t even know I was an employee.” “Did you even say anything to them? How could they have known?”
I turned around, looking my mother in the eye. “If this were a real job, I’d wear a uniform with a name tag or something like that. It would be obvious. But I was just a random girl standing there, and I didn’t even need to be there.”
“That’s not true.”
I scowled, turning back around to grab a bowl of cereal. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Next time I’ll go up to you and tell you I’m leaving.”
“Charlotte, that’s–” My mother said. But I had poured my cereal, and poured my milk as fast as possible. I grabbed a spoon and left the kitchen before she could get another word out.
As I ate my cereal in my room, I wondered if I could have actually tried to explain to my mother how I felt. But I thought I did, I thought. Or was trying to at least. Mom wasn’t wrong to be upset at me for walking home alone, but she also thought that I was needed. Which had turned out to be true.
When did my mother even notice I was gone anyways?
I finished my breakfast, and tried not to cry. I didn’t leave my room until my mother had no choice but to leave for work. Once she had left, I went out to my greenhouse, and grabbed the hose to start watering my daisies.
My mother returned home earlier than usual. When I saw her blue car pull into the driveway, I went inside, already knowing that I couldn’t avoid this conversation. Mom sat down in her usual seat, and looked at me with apologetic eyes that I couldn’t meet.
“I’m sorry for getting upset earlier,” Mom said.
“You don’t have to apologize for that.”
“I feel like I have to. I was worried when you just disappeared.”
I was so tempted to ask her how long it took her, but I stayed quiet, staring at the scratches in our wooden dining table.
Mom took a deep breath. “The reason I made you come help me was because…you’re always in your greenhouse. And I love that you’ve found something you’re passionate about, but you can’t spend your entire life in that greenhouse. You need to go out and talk to people sometimes. I was just hoping that helping at that party would make you do that.” “Well, it did the opposite,” I said.
I glanced up at my mother, and she was staring at me, trying to find the answers to why I am the way I am. I wished I knew those answers as well, but I could only ask questions. “Mom…” I asked softly, surprised that I had decided to go through what I’m about to ask. “When did you notice that I was gone?”
Mom didn’t say anything for a moment, and I expected the worst. My body prepared to run off, and yet I stayed frozen, like a statue sculpted in a running stance. I couldn’t look at her, instead I stared at the door leading to my greenhouse.
“I saw your text about 15 minutes after you sent it, and I knew it was too late to try and stop you then,” Mom admitted.
It was better than what I was expecting, and yet I still stood up and ran away. “Charlotte,” Mom said.
“I just want some alone time,” I said, and I put my boots on and went outside. Mom didn’t stop me from going out into the summer evening and into my greenhouse. I picked up the hose and began to water the daisies. The rush of water filled my ears, and the sweet smell of the flowers calmed my heart. I almost forgot about everything going on in my life. Almost. Mother’s voice rang in my ears about how I spend too much time gardening. But I ignored it, kneeling down to check on my daisies.
Only to see spots on their leaves. Some sported white spots, others brown, and some had wilting yellow leaves. I turned off the hose. “No, no, no,” I said to myself. “You guys can’t be sick, you were fine yesterday.”
I put my gloves on and grabbed a small shovel. Taking one of the smaller infected pots, I dug out the sick daisies, separating the roots from the soil. I grabbed the bottom of their stems and pulled out rotting roots.
I inspected the rest of my daisies, and saw that they all had wilting spotted leaves. They must’ve also had rotting roots, and I had no idea.
My vision blurs like an unfocused camera, and hot tears fall down my face. I held my rotting daisies, crying like I had lost a friend. I knew I was crying too much for a bundle of plants, but I couldn’t stop.
My mother placed a hand on my shoulder, and I jumped. I hadn’t even heard her come outside.
“What’s wrong, Charlotte?” she asked.
“My daisies are sick,” I said, with an embarrassing sniff. “I must’ve overwatered them.” “Oh…I’m sorry sweetie.” Mom rubbed my back, yet I tensed the more she touched me. I took a step away from her, and began to re-pot my dying daisies. I kept crying, and my mother sat watching me, not knowing what to do.
I kept expecting her to get angry at me. To tell me that there’s no use crying over flowers, daisies of all things. Who would cry over such a common flower? Me, it seemed. They were my daisies, and I didn’t know if I could save them.
But knowing that my mother was watching me mourn my flowers after she told me that I had to leave the greenhouse made me feel worse. I believed that this must’ve been her least favourite part of me. That I cried over common blossoms.
I repotted the daisies. I would have to go back later tonight or tomorrow to fix everything. I stood up, and wiped my eyes with my sleeve.
“I’m going to bed,” I said.
“But it’s so early—”
“I’m going to bed.” And I ran into the house before my mother could stop me. I dashed up to my room, but my mother followed me. I was about to open my bedroom door, when my mother said, “Charlotte, tell me what’s wrong.”
I stood there with my back to Mom for a while. I half-expected her to leave, but she didn’t budge. A minute must’ve passed, but it felt like an eternity.
“I…was upset that my daisies got sick,” I said, my voice rough. “Now I’m going to have to repot them for a chance at saving them.”
My mother was silent. I expected her to say something, or to just leave me be. I answered her question after all. But when she didn’t speak for a long while, I realized that she was waiting for me to continue.
“I’m upset for not noticing it sooner,” I said. “I wish I noticed sooner.”
Mother gently rubbed her hand on my shoulder. I didn’t tense up. “I wished I noticed sooner as well,” mother said. “I’m sorry.”
I frowned at her. “How could you have known?” I turned around. My mothers eyes were wet. Before I could say anything, she gave me a hug.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I only wanted to help you, and I failed.”
I hugged her back. My mother’s breathing synced with my own, her warm breath fanning my neck. I smelled the remaining hints of the rosy perfume she always wore to work. I held tightly onto her for a moment, enjoying the warmth.
“I’m sorry too,” I said as she pulled away from me.
“I don’t have work tomorrow,” Mom said. “Would you mind if I helped you in your greenhouse?”
“You would want that?” I asked.
I smiled. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
Mom ruffled my hair. “I’ll go make dinner for us.” She kissed me on the forehead before going downstairs.
Mom drove us to the only hardware store in town, which thankfully sold the soil my daisies needed. Mom rolled the windows all the way down, and the wind blew all the hair out of our faces, drowning out the music on the radio.
Back home, I gave Mom my spare pair of gardening gloves. I could tell that they were too small for her, but Mom didn’t complain. I pulled out the first box of daisies, and explained how we were going to repot them. We split up into two simple duties. I would dig the daisies out, and Mom would pour in the new soil. We worked mostly in silence, unless I pointed out the bumble bees and butterflies that would flutter by.
When the daisies were repotted, I gave my mother a tour of my greenhouse. She had never really seen it before. I showed her my flowers, and let her water them with my giant can. We fertilized my tomatoes and lettuce, and I laughed at the disgusted faces she made at the smell. I showed her how I pruned my plants, and I even let her try to cut a bad branch off. She struggled to squeeze the pliers, and looked very proud of herself when she finally snipped the bad stem.
“You have very strong hands from doing this, huh?” she said.
“Yeah, thanks,” I said, suddenly shy.
My mother smiled at me. “Thank you for letting me spend time in your greenhouse.” “Anytime. Thank you for helping me.”
I gave her a hug, dirty clothes and all. “Do you want to garden with me on your next day off?”
“Of course,” Mom said. “Although, now I would like to lie down.”
“I know just the place.”
I ran into the garage to get a folding chair for mom, and I led her to the large tree in our backyard, whose branches just touch the edge of the greenhouse roof. I set up her chair in the shade, and laid down on the grass next to it. Mom sat down, letting the summer breeze blow away the sweat on our bodies.
My eyelids grew heavy in the cool shade. “Mom?” I called out.
“I had fun today.”
“So did I, sweetie.”
We said nothing else, listening to the rustle of the leaves, and admiring the rays of sunlight that broke through the foliage. And for me, there was nothing else that we needed to do. Just being together was enough.