A Flytrap But For Happiness
by KARA VANDERBIJL
On a cold day in early March, during work hours, the Lincoln Park conservatory is mostly empty. Its few visitors pause in the palm house, where it's warm. We shed scarves and sweaters and tie up our hair. We're covered in a glorious sheen of sweat.
"Are you getting dripped on?" I ask my friend. She's burying her face in a plant at toe level. Her laughter comes through a veil of humidity. I'm lightheaded from sudden muscle relaxation and birthday breakfast mimosas, champagne with a drop of orange juice. Everything's so lush and slow, it's seductive. It smells sexy in here.
Do flowers smell different to different people?
Why are the undersides of so many leaves purple?
Why is that man talking so loudly on his cell phone?
How old are these koi?
Mimosa pudica, sensitive plant: Where have I seen that name before?
Mimosa — obviously, we giggled it while my friend fried bacon and stirred a chocolate gravy for biscuits out of a can. I poured champagne into tilted mason jar goblets. We were up early because we went to see the sunrise, read Mary Oliver on the banks of Lake Michigan and watch Chicago twinkling on the horizon. I was drunk before 9 a.m., because I turned 27 and Chicago turned 178.
Pudica sounds dirty, like pute, a word we shouted at girls we didn't like in French high school. I'm telling my friend about this article I read in the New Yorker about plant consciousness, and when I go to email her the link, l see this:
Mimosa pudica, also called "sensitive plant," is that rare plant species with a behavior so speedy and visible that animals can observe it; the Venus flytrap is another. When the fernlike leaves of the mimosa are touched, they instantly fold up, presumably to frighten insects.
In a hot bath oolong unfurls its fists, relaxes into the steam. The second cup is best. After three, the leaves' liquor weakens. I sip even the sediment. I wear a green sweater. Everything's growing. My razor is rusted. My windows yawn, jaws cracking.
Conservatory: The interior of a tea salon in a dicey neighborhood in Marseilles, France. Monsieur Kim, its owner, employed his stepdaughter to whisper to patrons about green, black, and white varieties while chocolate tarts heated in a concealed microwave. The tarts were the only thing manufactured about the place, and even they probably came from some neighborhood patisserie. M. Kim brought tea back from trips to China and Japan, which he then stored in giant tins behind the counter. We'd come in twice, three times a week to sit in the dark basement of his shop, hung with gauzy drapes, and we'd sip tea and get high on incense. I was new to tea and drowned cubes of sugar in it. We ordered teas with fancy names: In the Mood for Love, Imperial Jasmine, Thousand and One Nights.
We invited boys, but they didn't come. Just as well. It was a place for teenage girls and people in love. It was a sacred space that, like us, would have crumbled if criticized. Here we talked about the boys who — we were convinced — just needed more time to steep. We fell asleep on each other's shoulders after the caffeine wore off and the sugar dipped low. We waited for our futures to brew.
The store shuttered not long after I left France, and I lost the heart to visit its gated front on subsequent visits. Were we the ones keeping it alive? Where do teenage girls in Marseilles go now to eat microwaved chocolate tarts and drink Imperial Jasmine and sigh about boys?
Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. You can subscribe to her Tinyletters here.
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