Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: Tell the story of a houseplant. Your oldest, your most cherished, one you couldn’t keep alive? Big Monstera or tiny bonsai?
By Jane Dudeney
It was the last thing she’d given me, and I wasn’t ready to let it go. We didn’t know at the time that it would be the last thing she’d ever give me. We thought there would be many more years of impromptu gifts, but life doesn’t always turn out that way.
The stupid thing was, she knew I couldn’t keep anything alive. There was a reason I remained pet and child-free. I could just about cope with flowers because they’re not meant to last forever, but I avoided house plants as they needed nurturing, care—things that I’d frequently forgetten about. I would then find the remnants of their corpses wilted or disintegrated when I finally remembered there was something that needed attention other than me.
“It’s a cactus,” she’d laughed, putting it on the windowsill above the sink in my kitchen. “They don’t need much at all. In fact, your neglect will probably be the best think that ever happened to it. And look, it’s cute!”
It wasn’t cute. Ever since the original movie of Jumanji, where the giant purple flowers were basically serial killers, I’ve been wary of any type of plant. And cacti, in general, creeped me the hell out. This one, apparently, was called a Moon Cactus It had a bulbous red, slightly spikey head sitting on a green …. Stalk? I didn’t even know. It wasn’t cute.
But then she was gone, and this was the last, stupid thing I had to remember her by. And although I eyed it suspiciously each morning, occasionally flicking some water at it as I couldn’t quite trust that it didn’t need me to do anything, it was also a reminder that she’d been here, a vibrant spirit in an otherwise mundane existence. So I named this creepy thing Luna, in the hope I’d see it as a less creepy thing.
I grew accustomed to Luna’s presence, and less worried that it would shoot barbs at my neck and kill me (that movie has a lot to answer for, seriously). And for a year, Luna thrived. And by thriving, I mean it looked exactly the same as the day she gave it to me, something I’d never achieved before. She was gone, but this little cactus remained.
But then something went wrong, and I didn’t understand what, but it wasn’t looking good. Luna was loose in the soil. I’d tried moving it away from the window, somewhere cooler, somewhere warmer. Nothing worked.
I spotted some sort of damage to one side of Luna, but I didn’t know how long it had been there. Then these white dots appeared. I googled. And google told me that cacti can get wounds that become infected. And that these white things all over Luna, meant that she was dead.
It was only a cactus for God’s sake! But it was also so much more than that. My heart broke all over again, my inability to keep the most important things in my life safe, breathing, alive.
But I knew at the same time that this was the time to let go. I’d had an extra year to work through things, process thoughts that needed to be processed. I wasn’t ready to let it go, but it was probably the time to do it.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Jane Dudeney studied Psychology at the University of Surrey before floundering as an editor for nursing journals and ending up working in Student Support with a responsibility as a designated safeguarder. It was this role that led to inspiration for a YA contemporary novel with which she was lucky to longlist with in the Write Mentor Children’s Novel Award in 2018 (subsequently winning a year of mentoring for being the highest ranked entry with a BAME main character). Following mentoring from the wonderful Simon James Green and Emma Smith-Barton, she also entered the same novel into "Undiscovered Voices 2020", a competition by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and was long-listed as an "Honorary Mention" at the back of the winner's anthology.
Jane now works as a Senior Training and Development Adviser for the Open University and is currently working on the eternal editing of her YA novels while embarking upon her first adult contemporary.