It was a simple plant. Darnell liked that. It didn’t try to overburden anyone with frilly petals or exotic fragrances. Even the geometry of the leaves demanded nothing of the viewer. Large and flat, Darnell would hesitate to describe them in any term more poetic or complex than ‘leaf-shaped,’ or ‘lea-coloured,’ or, if he was feeling particularly wordy, ‘very big.’ There were, however, a great many of them. They cascaded outwardly over the hanging pot like a waterfall, bushy and plentiful in a way that reminded Darnell of his hair when he had been going through a certain phase. But unlike a younger Darnell, this plant was not crying out for attention nor did it need any identity to desperately cling. This little fern knew exactly who and what it was. It had no need to rub any of this in your face or shout it from the top of a mountain. No, it was the quiet and polite sort of certainty. The kind that would keep to itself, but would happily tell you if you stepped in close to ask: “Hello. I am a simple fern. I get lots of water and I’m grateful. Everything is pretty alright.”
Darnell lifted his blue watering can over the fern, coaxing out a calming shower of tiny, clear beads. He watched in placid contentment as they slithered over the dry, brown leaves. “But little buddy,” asked Darnell, “If everything is so hunky dory, why’re your leaves gone all brown? Why are some so shrivelled and dry they fell right off?”
There was no reply, of course, because he was talking to a plant. Darnell was a grown man—depending on who you asked –and knew full well that plants were among the worst conversationalists found in nature. But his schedule ended at watering this plant, and there was still much time left in the day. Darnell was not looking forward to yet another day of silent, inward contemplation. He would much rather be having some intelligent conversation and he didn’t much care if his speaking partner was himself pretending to be a plant.
“I dunno. Everything’s fine, I guess. The soil is good and I get watered every day, and that’s more than a lot of plants can say right there,” the plant drawled, “I really can’t complain, can I? It’s pretty alright.”
“Sure, little buddy, I get what you’re saying. But, and I’m not trying to bring you down or nothing, I really think you should know that you aren’t looking too hot. I get that, being a houseplant, you don’t really have a mirror. But trust me, it’s pretty bad.” Darnell reached out and pinched one of the brown leaves between his thumb and forefinger. Once thick and waxy, it had become thin and more akin to a dry paper towel in texture. Despite the grim plant prognosis, Darnell couldn’t help but chuckle to himself as he continued to talk to a hanging houseplant. “Yup, all brown. Doesn’t look so good.”
“Really? That’s probably my fault. You’ve been watering me all this time, just like any decent person would. I guess I haven’t really been drinking any of it. I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to be sorry, little buddy. I’m not the one who’s falling apart!” Darnell chuckled again at his pun.
“Then…” The plant’s dialogue trailed off for a moment as Darnell bent down to grab a handful of the doffed leaves. His sickly cargo was so delicate that, by the time he had stood back up, most of it had crumbled right through his grasp. “Then I guess I’m sorry that I’m not going to make it. I’m sorry that all the water you gave me was for nothing. I’m sorry that all the time you spent trying to make me live a good life was wasted, I really am. I just want you to know that, Darnell.”
Darnell swallowed. “Little buddy, why do you have to say things like that? Come on, chin up! You’ll make it through, I know you will!”
“No. I won’t. And I know it makes you sad, and that’s why I’m so sorry. I mean that.” A breeze blew in from an open window, rustling the fern’s leaves and causing the suspended pot to hesitantly spin in place.
“Then let me help, little buddy!” piped Darnell. He walked over to the window and closed it firmly. “That’s why I’m here, after all. Together I know we can get you through this. Give it a chance, we’ll figure something out!”
“There’s nothing to figure, Darnell.” After the breeze was cut off, the plant continued to turn until it had done a complete about face. Darnell fought to not think of it as the plant facing away—it didn’t even have a face. “This isn’t something that either of us can fix. Every day is a cruel joke, a dark and dank cavern that I must escape with only a spoon and a candle. Every time I think I see light, my candle goes out and I’m left even deeper in the darkness. You can’t help me escape this, Darnell. Nobody can.”
“Now you just stop right there. We’ll get you looked at. Once you’re checked out and we know what’s wrong you’ll be good as new in no time…” Darnell spun the plant back to its starting point. “Once you’re drinking again you’ll feel good as new, just like old times.”
“That isn’t the problem. It’s the solution. I can’t stay here any longer, Darnell. Don’t make this any longer than it has to be.”
“But I’m right here!” protested Darnell, yelling to himself in an empty house with all the windows closed. “I’m not just going to let you wither away. I’m going to help you!”
“You can try, Darnell. But there isn’t anything you can do to help. I don’t feel it anymore. All I feel is lost, cold, and tired. I just want to sleep. And the moment you aren’t here, I’m going to do it.”
Darnell backed into the wall and pressed his fist against his jaw. “You’re just going to leave everyone? Just like that? They’ll all be devastated. It’s so selfish!”
“Yes,” the plant admitted, “But no more selfish than anyone asking me to live in misery so they don’t have to feel sad.”
“But…” Darnell began, trailing off as he slid slowly down the wall until he was sitting with his arms resting on his knees. “I guess that is pretty selfish, isn’t it? I mean, they’ll get over it eventually. But you, you’ll be in pain your whole life.”
“And they won’t have to keep worrying about you anymore. No more pitying looks, or people trying to understand things they can’t. Now they won’t have to understand because I’d be gone. No more trouble, no more pain, no more—NO!”
Darnell jumped to his feet and jabbed a finger at the plant, glowering at it with watering eyes. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go! This is wrong! It was supposed to be different! Helpful!”
He was too angry for anything as childish as pretending to be a hanging fern. Still, he knew exactly what it would say—what he would say, clear as crystal chiming in the back of his mind. You knew exactly what would happen if you asked yourself for advice. You already know everything you need to know. The only thing left is to do it.
Darnell stifled a sob and stormed out of the room, the potted plant still swinging from his accusations. A few of the leaves dislodged, performing mid-air pirouettes as they fluttered down to join the mess below.