by Lori Sambol Brody
She’s still bleeding when she finds the squash plant growing alongside her daughter’s trampoline. The plant has sprouted overnight, a shrunken and dwarfed stalk, stunted leaves, and one twisted flower, either a growing bud or already closed for the day. They haven’t planted anything in the front yard for years. Cutworms and gophers and ground squirrels and rats and deer ate many crops. The tomatoes, the Chinese peas, the peppers, all devoured. Even the zucchini she planted her first hopeful spring living in the house when she was five months pregnant with her daughter.
That night, when she tells her husband, he reminds her of the new septic system. A seed must have sprouted from the disturbed soil. That’s the most fertile soil on our property.
She imagines the pipes from the house to the septic tank, carrying toilet paper, soapy water, shit, whatever her daughter dumps down the sink, blood and blood clots, uterine lining, unidentified tissue. The septic tank, dark and close and warm, where bacteria breaks down organic matter until it is released into the leach field. She imagines herself curled up in its warmth.
Her bleeding slows and then stops. The squash plant’s leaves are as big as elephant ears, umbrellaing the ground, a green that is neither bright nor pretty nor of the forest. When she looks on a color chart to determine the color, she sees words like seaweed and pickle. More flowers appear, a yellow that hurts her eyes, flowers the size of her hand. The male flowers spread open to attract bees. A bit of death in life; she warns her allergic daughter. The female flowers with ovaries blooming at the base, the ovary that will fruit. The gardening websites caution her not to pick too many of the male flowers to coat in bread crumbs and stuff with cheese, to leave them for pollination. These websites also recommend to pick the squash young, with the female flower still blooming at one end, to cook while they are tender and sweet.
Her husband wants to make love, and she says, I’m not ready yet. When she was bleeding and having cramps that night, he asked her to sleep on the couch so she would not keep him awake the night before he started a new job. But down in the garden, the fruit grows, the ovaries swell, the zucchini at first a dark green peanut (the color of pickle), then elongating, turning an almost white light green, as if it’s a colored balloon that when blown up becomes paler.
When she reaches into the plant to pick a flower, a zucchini, her skin rises up in hives from nettles on the stalks, fruits, and leaves. She does not remember plants stinging so much. She remembers the rash she got when she was pregnant, the rash that disappeared after giving birth.
She tries to pick the zucchini when they are small but cannot keep up. Sometimes, she’s surprised to find a zucchini grown large and heavy, one she was sure was a bud the day before. She gives her neighbors huge zucchinis the size of her shoes, the size of a six month fetus, and does not know if the neighbors take the fruit because they feel enchantment or pity.
Her daughter tells her, Something’s always moving in the plant. She’s noticed it herself. A small almost translucent lizard dives into the plant, and a larger lizard comes out. The leaves rustle without wind. One morning, she discovers that feet or hooves or paws have trampled leaves into the ground and gnawed on fruit and flowers.
Her daughter lies in the middle of the trampoline. She can no longer jump; the plant has grown over the canvas. Leaves shade the trampoline; tendrils and lashing scout vines intertwine with the springs and metal framing. Her daughter fears the nettles and the bees.
Her husband eats the zucchini bread, the fritters, the zucchini matchsticks with yogurt sauce, the ratatouille, the zucchini stuffed with gruyere and corn, the zucchini coins with feta, the casseroles, the gratins, zucchini sautéed and fried and roasted and grilled. He looks at their daughter, moving macaroni and cheese on her Disney princess plate. He says, We’re happy, aren’t we. It’s not a question.
Near the end of summer, when the plant covers half the front yard and eclipses the trampoline, deep in the plant she finds a female flower with an ovary attached, the ovary in the rough shape of a bean, a curled up embryo. She remembers the ultrasound for her daughter, the fan shape of the image, with odd white swirls and darknesses and shadows, the embryo curled at the bottom. Her husband had joked, It takes an expert to see this, is it really a baby? The heart pulsed during the ultrasound.
She checks the zucchini daily, waiting to pick it until it’s ready. The zucchini plumps; the flower shrivels. More and more it takes the shape of a baby. How her husband will laugh when she shows him, how her daughter will pretend to cradle it, dress it in the American Girl doll clothes for Kit Kittredge. She pulls leaves to shade it from the late summer sun. She waits. Size of a lime, an avocado, a mango, a coconut, a pineapple, a watermelon. Dark green striped skin turning into pale green and white stripes as it lengthens. Limbs grow, small depressions for eyes, the snub of a nose, roundness of its stomach, tethered by the stalk.
Until one day, it takes a shuddering breath.
It opens its eyes.
I don’t want to tell you about the catalysts for this story, as they seem so obvious. I want to tell you that some oak trees survived the drought, the California poppies and lupine bloom, the mourning doves nest in the half-dead mulberry tree. I want to tell you that baby rattlesnakes can’t control their venom and poison oak looks as green as any other plant in the spring. I want to tell you about the red tail hawk dying on our driveway from rat poison, the coyote limping past our bedroom window with a broken leg. I want to tell you how I found the eight week ultrasound of my youngest daughter when I cleaned out my car last weekend to sell. The embryo a bean. It must have been in the glove box for 13 years.
Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. One of her stories will appear in the Best Small Fictions 2018 anthology. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody, and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.