By Evan Mielke
The terminal bud of the Mother-Root splits open, yawning like so many pink and blue tongues.
“Hey, girlie. How are you feeling today?” the Researcher asks.
“Okay not great.”
The twisted thing shudders.
“The light is not bright I am cold.”
The Researcher clucks.
“I’m sorry, dear. Let me adjust that for you.”
The Researcher fiddles with a dial on his wrist: a butter-rubber molded band alight with muted LEDS.
Overhead, the “sun” brightens, basking the single, raised hillock of loam.
The Mother-Root sighs.
“Thanks feels good feels nice you are good friend.”
The Researcher grins at the Mother-Root. The Mother-Root sighs, sloughing a meaty layer of cellulose off an old node.
With tentative fingers, the Researcher holds the skin up to the light. It feels warm, alive in his palm, pinpricks of static dancing along his age-line. The Researcher stretches it out like a sheet of pulp-paper and watches the Mother-Root through it. The Researcher thinks she is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
The Businessman smells like oxblood six-speed shifters and ice-water.
“We’ve dumped billions into R&D,” The Businessman snarls. “And what do we get?”
The Businessman looks around the boardroom and is met only with salt-and-pepper beards, liver spots, and silence.
“We get talking tulips.” The Businessman wipes an indignant bead of sweat from his temple. “And sure, it’s cute. But really, what can a plant say? What can it do?”
There is a geriatric groan, as if from the coffin-like table itself.
“Gentleman,” The Businessman continues, “we are profitable, thanks to your wisdom and foresight.”
Another groan. This time, it is more genial.
“But I am here to do more; exponentiate earnings, so to speak. In order to do that, we need to liquidate the red. And right now, your plant project is one great, gaping hole.”
The Researcher finishes his notes for the night. With a casual flick of his wrist, he powers down the “sun.”
Yard by yard, the enclosure falls in to shadow. Fireflies stir, abdomens flexing: their luminescence mills about the Mother-Root.
The Researcher hears throaty, slurping sounds, bio-bright bugs ensnared by the Mother-Root’s stamens. Plucked one-by-one from the moist air, their light disappears down the Mother-Root’s maw.
The fireflies don’t seem to mind. They swirl in drunken whirls and loops, pitch and yaw of little concern. This is a dance of willing death.
It is silent, and the Researcher feels his feet in the soil.
Then, the Mother-Root begins her song.
The Researcher has listened before. But every song is different.
This song starts out slowly, like the cooing of quail at a dry riverbed.
The domed, blacked-out enclosure reverberates as the Mother-Root reaches crescendo, approaching whale tones.
The Mother-Root quiets abruptly.
There are no crickets. Only lighting bugs. It is silent again.
Tears coalesce at the Researcher’s chin.
The Businessman sits in a chair in an office on the 74th floor. The building—a plate-glass and cell-phone-tower studded monolith--is 75 stories high.
The Researcher stands in front of him, his legs unsteady.
The Businessman smiles like a mako.
“So you’re the head here, the tip of the top?” The Businessman asks.
“I’m the lead researcher.”
The Businessman stands, inches shorter than the Researcher. Yet, the Researcher’s knees wobble.
“Well…” croons the Businessman, turning towards the window, “Twenty years and fourteen billion dollars.”
“It’s a process,” stutters the Researcher.
“With what goal?”
“To learn from her.”
The Businessman spits on the almost-opulent carpet.
“What does a fucking tree know that we don’t?”
The Researcher locks his knees.
“Her medical potenti-”
“Her? It’s a she?”
“Yes, it’s a she.”
“We’re scrapping the project.”
“The board voted. We’re selling her to the pharm companies.”
The Researcher took a step forward.
“You can’t do that. She’s…it’s my life’s work. Her medical potential is infinite.”
The Businessman turns and places his hand on the Researcher’s shoulder.
“We’re trimming the fat. Don’t worry, your plant will be put to good use.”
The Researcher cannot sleep. The Researcher thinks about the enclosure and twenty years of yellowed notes and gigabytes to terabytes.
When the Mother-Root was a seedling, the Researcher remembered singing 59th Street Bridge Song, Jack and Diane two kids from the heartland at the Mother Root’s burgeoning body.
Now, the Researcher sweats under the covers. The Researcher shivers on the top of the covers.
In the morning, the “sun” rises and the Researcher is bleary, Botox-bloat eyelids.
Out in the enclosure, the Mother-Root is in half-blossom, welcoming the UV.
The Researcher has catalogued this behavior—it is nothing new. The Mother-Root needs the rays. The Researcher thinks it is natural, as understandable as breathing and drinking. There is nothing strange about the Mother-Root. The Mother-Root is as alien as grass.
After the Researcher eats refrigerated bread and unsalted butter, he walks to the Mother-Root.
The Mother-Root is fully open and if James Marion Sims were there, he would have no words.
“Hello friend I am everything alright I am growing more growing more.”
The Researcher nods.
“Friend what is wrong what is bother why sad?”
The Researcher just looks at his creation.
Plant and man are quiet for some time.
“Friend I have gift.”
One of the Mother-Root’s stamens extends, a bone-joint, off-white thing. The stamen flexes, glowing neon-green.
The Researcher steps backwards.
“Friend you are my friend my old friend you must take gift I want to thank my friend my good friend my warm friend.”
The Researcher leans forward and brushes the Mother-Root’s stamen and it grips the Researcher’s wrist like a child’s finger.
The Mother-Root sighs.
A fine column of dust rises from the Mother-Root’s stamen, filling the Researcher’s nostrils.
The Businessman whistles a Beelzebub tune as the enclosure’s doors slide open.
The decontamination chamber whirrs. There is a deflating hiss and the Businessman’s lapels flutter.
The Researcher is not in the living-quarters. The Businessman scratches at his oily nose and walks out into the “sun.”
The Businessman stops whistling.
The Businessman has never seen the Mother-Root before.
The Mother-Root is enormous, five-feet tall at least. The Mother-Root is vibrant neon, a mass of gnarled branches and knobs.
The Businessman grins, but his eyes don’t roll back into his skull. The shark is wary.
“My god, you’re hideous.”
The Mother-Root shudders, the stench of ground-beef slop filling the air.
“I know you not friend you are friend’s worst not friend.”
“Where is he?”
“Why he is here he is with me.”
“I don’t see him.”
“But my friend sees you.”
Lodged in the Mother-Root’s body, a LED-studded wristband.
The door behind the Businessman shuts.
The shark has stopped moving.
Overhead, the “sun” burns brighter than anything the Businessman has ever seen.