Writing Exercise: The Last Plant in the Neighborhood

Photo by Christian Widell on Unsplash

This snippet was written from another prompt I gleaned off the Poets and Writers:The Time is Now” list. The prompt I used was:

“The Humboldt Glacier, located high in the Andes mountain range in Venezuela, is the country’s last glacier. Glaciers are disappearing around the world due to climate change, which has also been a factor in declines and extinctions of animal species elsewhere. This month saw the death of George, the last snail of the Hawaiian species Achatinella apexfulva, named after Lonesome George who died in 2012, the last of the Galápagos tortoises. Write a poem about an object that is the last of its kind to ever exist, either in reality or hypothetically. How is the disappearance of your chosen subject significant in its own way?”

As you will see, I bent the prompt slightly and did not go for a poem but instead wrote a short scene. I often do this with writing prompts. I try not to worry about following the guidelines too strictly (unless it is a submission of course) as my goal with exercise prompts is really just to get the ideas churning.

My passage below is a science fiction piece about an adult reflecting on a memory from her childhood when she saw the last plant growing in her neighborhood.

A crowd was slowly growing around the square of earth, and it was impossible for me to see what everyone was looking at.

The people – neighbors, a teacher from my prior grade, my father’s boss, everyone it seemed – were all murmuring to one another, consoling each other, but I didn’t understand what was going on. I tugged on my mother’s sleeve, hoping she would translate the scene in front of me.

“What is it? What is everyone looking at?”

She pulled her arm away, and I saw that she was crying, holding one hand over her mouth. At that age, I always felt cross when I didn’t understand what was happening, and I took it to mean I was purposefully being left out of things. Older now and looking back at the memory, I am ashamed by my selfishness in that moment.

I grew impatient trying to see past the thick cloud of skirts and jeans that obstructed my view of the object, and I left my mother’s side before she could protest. Ducking through the small gaps in the crowd, I made my way to the front of the sea of people. I pushed past dozens of onlookers until the tips of my shoes bumped against something hard. Nearly tripping, I looked down and saw I was standing with my feet against a beam of wood that, with three other beams, formed a square. The wooden square bordered a small plot of earth, and this few feet of dirt seemed to be the focus of everyone’s attention.

In the middle of the box was one tiny yellow flower, its head bent over. Frail petals radiated from its center, but I noticed each petal was tinged with spots of brown that gave the flower the appearance of leopard skin. What should have been a green stem was covered with the same fuzzy gray mold that our neighborhood had seen take over the forest down the road, dozens of trees at a time. That same disease which had destroyed the grassy field in the school grounds, turning the whole thing into a rancid swamp, and eradicating, too, the dandelions on the hill that Ben and I climbed during vacation days. I knew this yellow flower before us would soon become the same moldy, sludgy mess that all those other plants had deteriorated into, eventually sinking back into the earth in a rotten heap.

As I stared at the flower, I felt a sharp nudge in my ribs. I glanced up to see a gray-haired woman much older than my mother looking at me. Her hair was long and wiry, held in place by a floppy hat made of straw.

“Look at that,” the woman said, pointing a bony finger at the plant. “You will not see the likes of that flower again. It’s the last of its kind. You remember how beautiful it is, so you can tell the others. They will want to know.”

At the time, I didn’t understand her words. I didn’t know the woman and what she meant by the “others” that she referred to. Frightened, I ran back through the crowd, back to my mother who I saw talking to one of the guards standing near the gate. When he pointed to me, she looked over and I saw her face overcome with relief. I told her about the old woman and asked her what she had meant about the plant being the last of its kind.

As my mother talked to me, I saw the way she looked down and fidgeted with her rings, which was her habit when she was worried. She explained how the guards had let us see the plant today because they knew it was dying too, like every other plant had in the neighborhood. It had been the last one for miles and miles and they thought maybe it would survive, but it wasn’t going to, and so we all go to see it at last.

We can’t live here with no plants. No plants means no food, no true food at least, she said.

“Why don’t we move?” I asked, envisioning a trip to Guatemala where Ana’s family had lived when she was little or maybe England, where my father had taken his business trip last summer.

“All the neighborhoods are like this,” my mother answered, turning her face away again so I couldn’t see the tears forming in her eyes. “All of them.”

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