Fiction by Scott Topping
Lisa came home to find that her plants had moved inside.
She didn’t notice them immediately, being preoccupied by her
hyperactive dog, whom she scolded in a cheery voice for jumping on
her and tripping her as she entered the house. “I see you, Zoë,” she said
to the dog. She rubbed Zoë’s face like she was polishing a crystal ball.
The dog continued to jump alongside her as she made her way to the
bedroom. One might think the dog was trying to get Lisa’s attention for
something specific—for instance, telling her that the plants were now
occupying the house—but that wasn’t the case. Though Lisa arrived home
after being gone approximately nine hours and fifteen minutes every day,
Zoë was consistently surprised she was alive. To the dog, her coming
home was tantamount to her being pulled up from the bottom of a well.
On the way to the bedroom, Lisa didn’t notice three viburnums
sitting quite comfortably at the dining room table; nor did she notice the
patches of moss she walked directly over.
Before she noticed anything was different at all, she had changed
out of her dress and into her sweats (which she grabbed from the arms of
a trumpet vine), reassured the dog further, and gone back to the kitchen
where a group of impatiens were in the sink, waiting to be watered. One
was urging the others to join him over by the refrigerator. Lisa saw nothing.
Instead, she walked the familiar path to the pantry, found a rawhide chew
for the dog, patted it again, and went to sit on the living room couch.
At that point, her feet on the coffee table, Zoë beneath her legs
loudly chewing, she saw all. Beside her, a slightly wilted sunflower sat on
the couch, its roots dangling in the water glass she had left the night before
on the floor. Its head tilted perilously close to the ceiling fan. A row of
bug-pocked hostas, just about to bloom, sat in semi-circle around the TV.
A hydrangea crouched coolly in a doorway.
The remote was in Lisa’s hand, but she forgot to turn on the news,
which she watched every morning and every evening to catch the weather
report. The formerly invisible plants were now all she could see. She
pushed herself away from the sunflower.
Lisa wanted to ask the plants what they were doing. “What are you
doing in the house?” she actually said, though not expecting an answer.
Being plants, they heard her, but they kept their thoughts to
themselves. And I mean “themselves” collectively rather than individually:
they sent whispers around the room to each other, just no message to Lisa.
My plants are all inside, she thought quite simply. Who put them
here? She squinted and moved her head slightly back and forth as if the
answer to the mystery might lie in the corner of the room. Notice what she
didn’t think: the plants moved inside by themselves. Who would?
She shivered, imagining someone in her house. She remembered a
story she had heard as a teenager about a family in Manitowoc, Wisconsin,
who awoke to find all the shoes from their shoe store on their front lawn.
Neatly arranged. The story had made all the papers as a funny human
interest story. Even then, Lisa didn’t think it was funny. She felt
With Zoë one pace behind her, Lisa began to creep around the
house looking for, but hoping not to find, the intruder who had moved her
plants indoors. As she wondered about the reason—probably to shock
her into a vulnerable position for attack—she saw a fern move by the
bathroom sink. It wasn’t swaying in the wind. There was no wind. Its
movement came from its bottom rather than its top half. It appeared, in
short, to be walking.
Lisa wished she could have passed out at that moment, like women
do in old movies. Even a shriek would have been satisfying. Unfortunately,
it wasn’t in her constitution to have such outward signs of emotion—even
when confronted by walking plants.
Having no dramatic outlet, she sat on the floor, holding the dog’s
head near her face, gently pushing off every third lick or so with her hand.
She had continued the search for an intruder and found no signs.
She called the police, but that was no help. From the minute he arrived, the
cop seemed to insinuate that it was her fault. “Did you lock the door?” he
kept asking. He was egg-shaped, like one of the Weeble people her
brother had played with when they were little.
As she tried to explain what had happened, she could imagine the
cop repeating her words to his friends back at the station, telling them with
much dramatic flourish about the nutty woman with plants in her house. She
didn’t dare tell him that she had seen a fern walk.
At least the dog didn’t seem to think she was crazy. Zoë licked
The last thing the cop said to her was, “Why don’t you just move
them back outdoors?”
Though she called him a dumb ass under her breath when he said it
(which caused a small uprooted tomato plant near the magazine stand to
jiggle), she attempted to do just that after he had gone.
She grabbed a bush but was immediately startled by what seemed to
be resistance (or even the beginnings of a tug of war) from the plant. Shaking
her head and gaining new resolve, she ignored what she felt, explaining to the
dog that plants couldn’t pull, and took it back to the mound it had occupied in
the side yard. There she knelt, carefully burying its roots. The ground was
moist and warm.
She noticed that some of the landscaping bricks she had installed last
summer were crumbling. Also, the mound itself needed new mulch. “I’ll
have to get to that after we get this re-planting done,” she said to Zoë.
Looking around the virtually plantless yard, she remembered her initial vision
of a birdbath over by the birch tree, a stone path, and a bench. She really
hadn’t had much time to work on her yard this year.
She began to re-plant the others with Zoë tagging along. All was
going well until she noticed another hole where, just moments before, she had
patted the earth firm. She went inside to find a tuft of elephant grass leaning
cockily against the fireplace. Its message was clear (and not unspoken,
though still unheard by Lisa): “Not so fast. We’re not giving in this easily.”
Again, she sat at dog level, but this time she kissed Zoë back.
It was only after she had given up and lived indoors with the plants for
three days that she began to hear their quiet barking at night. That and the
frequent shuffling across the wood floor kept her awake.
Within a week, she had grown accustomed to the noise. Things were
as they were. She just couldn’t invite anyone over. Otherwise, she enjoyed
the company of the plants. They even had a calming effect on the dog. Some
days Zoë greeted her in only a half-frenzy.
By the end of the first month, she was sleeping with a Mexican heather,
which began to curl at her feet, then edged its way, over a few days, to her
head. She was having coffee in the morning with a tulip, the beginning of a
regular routine. “I heard that coffee grounds were good for plants,” she said.
Three months later, when she pulled in the driveway and discovered her
entire yard was dirt, she wasn’t even mildly shocked. She wasn’t surprised
when she stepped indoors onto the grass. No need to call the Weeble cop.
She knew it was her fault.
“It’s about time you came in,” she said to the grass. “Yes, I see you,
too,” she said to Zoë, who nuzzled her leg without tripping her.
Scott Topping teaches at Southwestern Michigan College and writes
primarily for personal amusement. “Lisa’s Plants” is his first fiction
publication. He is currently working on a work of non-fiction centering
on his life-long idol, Ring Lardner, who was also born and raised in
southwestern Michigan. Topping continues to live in the same town where
he was born and raised: Dowagiac, Michigan. He can often be found with
his wife at the local watering hole, The Wounded Minnow.
On “Lisa’s Plants”:
I wrote this as a love note of sorts for my wife, Lisa, who loves to tend
to plants and birds in the backyard. I wanted her to know I understood
how bad it felt to be taken away from her joy by the necessities of work.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 1, Number 2
Copyright © 2006
by Leah Browning, Editor.
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published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors