The Greatest Gift | Teen Ink

The Greatest Gift

December 14, 2018
By work_in_progress312 BRONZE, Carol Stream, Illinois
work_in_progress312 BRONZE, Carol Stream, Illinois
1 article 0 photos 2 comments

When Imala Johnson received a money plant on her twelfth birthday, her entire family congratulated her. Why she was being clapped on the back for the gift-plant she, like every other twelve year-old in the banquet hall, had no hand in choosing was beyond her. True, her cousin Louisa had received a healing aloe three months ago on her birthday, but what was that in comparison with the near-guarantee of success that came with a money plant. Guess she wouldn’t be getting compared to her anytime soon. As her aunts and uncles whooped and cheered along with her parents from the audience, Imala looked down at the sprout nestled in her lap and tried to imagine it as a grown adult, with long, sprawling vines wrapping around the entirety of her townhome’s veranda and the success that that would entail. She couldn’t. She couldn’t see the plant as anything other than a little sprout, much less herself as anything more than a small child. And when on the car ride home, her parents began discussing potential top-tier universities to begin preparing her for, Imala could feel the plant’s future phantom vines enveloping her in a suffocating embrace.

Imala’s money plant soon found a place in between her mother’s succulent cactus and her father’s thorny rose bush on the veranda. An established gift-plant schedule was hung in her room, complete with daily misting, weekly watering, monthly liquid fertilizing, and triannual cautious shearing. At first, Imala was all too aware of the plant to even consider deviating from the schedule, but every now and then she’d slip up and forget to water or fertilize on time. When the money plant became infested with aphids five months in and Imala’s straight A’s became speckled with a couple of B’s, her mother took over its care routine. Imala’s grades went back up and everything was well. Until it wasn’t.

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Her mother’s oh-so healthy cactus began to dry out after the diagnosis. They lowered her mother into the ground holding its shriveled remains. After the funeral, the rose bush, neglected by her heartsick father, began to wilt. As for Imala’s money plant; well, it fared worst of all. Having flourished under the care of her mother for years, Imala had not only forgotten how to care for the plant, but the reason she had for caring for it. After all, the cactus’s gift is resilience. What good had that done her mother?

And so, never-opened curtains concealed the veranda with the dying plants from father and daughter as they tumbled further into their sorrow. Her father threw himself into his work while his roses clung to life. Imala fell into the comfort of apathy. Her grades plummeted. Newly bought sketchbooks and paintbrushes stayed in their plastic wrapping. The persistent buzzing of her cell phone dwindled into radio silence. And the money plant withered away.

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“Imala means strong-minded” was how the first postcard from her grandmother began. It was followed by a phone number, as if Imala didn’t already have it. She knew that even if this card was supposed to pull on her guilt-strings, it wasn’t. She didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. The last time Imala called, she got yelled at for not calling enough. Or maybe it was not caring enough. But that “strong-minded” bit wasn’t wrong. Not in the slightest. When Imala set her mind to something, it would get done. Or, at least, it used to get done.

Imala went back inside with the post card and week’s worth of mail, passing framed art projects and certificates of excellence without a second glance on her way to her room. Then, she paused before a picture. It was her, money plant settled between her knees, sitting on that d***ed stage. It had already been two years since then. What Imala could only remember as apprehension towards the gift wasn’t showing on her face then. She obviously looked nervous and taken aback, but hidden beneath that, only visible if you looked closely, was curiosity and even a little bit of pride. She, not bound-for-med school Louisa or anyone else in the family, had gotten the money plant. It was hers.

Suddenly overcome with the long-forgotten desire to check on the poor thing, she raced down the stairs, taking them two at a time, past the kitchen with its unwashed dishes, to the kitchen’s screen door. Pushing back the curtains and sliding the door open, she stared at the near remains of the Johnson family gift-plants. They weren’t dead (the Seattle rain must have kept them barely nourished), but they weren’t really alive either. Her father’s wrinkling roses drooped in shame. And her money plant? Sadness couldn’t begin to describe what she felt when she saw its leaves bleached of both color and health. Its vines should have started to wrap around the veranda by now, but it had not only been stunted, it had shriveled. Like her mother’s cactus. Overwhelmed by long-suppressed grief, her melancholy clawed its way up her throat, down her cheeks, out her nose, and wracked her with inhuman, uncontrollable sobs.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see her father, whose presence had diminished so much that she hadn’t even noticed him working at the kitchen table behind her.  He looked at her with those sad solemn eyes and said matter-of-factly,

“Looks like we’ve got some work ahead of us.”

Imala wrapped her arms around him. He tensed, but then returned the hug as she clung for dear life and sobbed into his shoulder, comforted by the thought that, whatever had happened before, after the money plant was freshly sheared and cared for, it just might grow to wrap around the veranda one day.

 


 


The author's comments:

Imala, like all twelve year-olds, recieved a gift-plant on her twelfth birthday. Her mother's cactus gave her the gift of resilience, while her father's rose bush gave him a soul like no other. And Imala? Imala got a money plant. 


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This article has 4 comments.


Sparaxis GOLD said...
on Dec. 29 2018 at 8:18 am
Sparaxis GOLD, Saint Marys, Georgia
13 articles 17 photos 318 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you keep on picking on me, I'll mess up again. This time, on PURPOSE."

This website is good at bringing people together, I can tell you that. Part of the reason why I like it was that plants are involved in the story. The other part is that it is well written.

on Dec. 27 2018 at 3:34 pm
work_in_progress312 BRONZE, Carol Stream, Illinois
1 article 0 photos 2 comments
@Sparaxis, thanks so much for the comment! This is my first time posting on here and it's so nice to see someone from so far away taking an interest in what I write!

on Dec. 27 2018 at 3:33 pm
work_in_progress312 BRONZE, Carol Stream, Illinois
1 article 0 photos 2 comments
@Sparaxis, thanks so much for the comment! This is my first time posting on here and it's so nice to see someone from so far away taking an interest in what I write!

Sparaxis GOLD said...
on Dec. 26 2018 at 9:08 am
Sparaxis GOLD, Saint Marys, Georgia
13 articles 17 photos 318 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you keep on picking on me, I'll mess up again. This time, on PURPOSE."

This is very interesting. I like it.


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