THE FICUS PLANT • by Jenya Krein

The day my mom was admitted into the psych ward at Mass General I decided to lose my virginity. I was almost seventeen, and past all romantic notions of sex.

It was not my plan from the get-go. I was to spend the night at Nick’s knowing full well what would happen. He invited me as he always did, coaxed me with his smooth manner and watery brown eyes.  My “yes” rolled out of my mouth like a loose quarter, before I even could account for my tongue pushing the sound off my two front teeth, the short Russian “da” came out of my mouth and the realization dawned only with the clop-skiff-clop of our boots hitting the stairs up to his flat.

I didn’t want him in any way, neither physically, nor emotionally. He had pursued me for some time then, calling, talking to me on the phone, using his most seductive voice. I wasn’t attracted to the man. Also, I wasn’t in the dark about his intentions.

We had met on the street; he called after us, me and my mom. He was picking us up, both of us, addressing her and me both as girls and laughing with a slippery, tacky laugh. My mom flirted back; and instead of amusement, I found her behavior revolting. We left him, glimpsed him trying to follow us. My mom kept saying, arm locked onto mine, that we had to go, we had to get back. Possibly, she felt it was somehow wrong, depraved even, to be picked up by a man so eager to have us both. We left, and I hated her for that sticky, insidious way she flirted that seem to ensnare us into something sleazy or even dangerous.

But I met him again. It was during the day, when I went into class—late and tired and running to the building that was there, next to the tall castle of the TV station where he worked. He was following me, and I don’t think he even remembered that first time we met. His words receded from memory almost as soon as I understood them; meanwhile, I tore down his appearance in my mind: too tall, and too old; being too forward, for his way of talking, his smiling, and his daring to look at me. Yet somehow, I wanted to please him.

In the early morning, I woke up with a dull ache inside, as if my body had come unstitched. I became aware that I had slept for maybe only an hour in this strange bed with the large, hairy presence next to me. I lifted my arm and smoothed it over the expanse of the wallpaper on my right—embossed with lines and flowers, expensive and rough to the touch—as if trying to get a sense, a feel of this new reality. I turned my head and heard him say something silly, something stupid and uncouth, even abrasive. I realized he was referring to what we had done, what he did with me that night. He talked about sex. He talked about me, us. I turned again and then I crouched out of his bed like a crab, not daring to turn around, to expose my nakedness.

I went into the bathroom and I used water in the shower the way you use paint, the way you use prayer, the way you do your laundry by hand, twisting, and rubbing, washing this experience out of me. I cleaned my body, all the tiny little parts, all its hidden fissures and folds, its bare, smooth planes. But it was not the same body.

Later that morning, we had breakfast and he played at being kind and fatherly before he took me outside to the train station.

At home, I was alone. The rooms were empty and seemed as unfamiliar as my body. I had grown up in that apartment, lived there all seventeen years.  There was a tall ficus plant in the corner of the entryway my mother had grown from of a small cutting right after we’d moved in. She’d gotten it from a larger plant in the waiting room of our family doctor.

I slept the day away and when I awoke the next morning, I went to the hospital to see my mother. In a room full of rounded orange chairs and particle board tables, surrounded by ailing strangers, I sat next to her and we talked. She talked. She was different, I thought, so very strange to me.

By the time my mother returned home that winter, the ficus plant had withered and died. She asked what had happened, why I didn’t take care of it. I told her I never watered it because it seemed like someone else’s plant.

Jenya Krein was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia (former USSR). She has a BA in Human Services from University of Massachusetts, Boston. In June of 2018, she graduated from the University of Tampa’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. She is a published writer in both her native Russian and English languages. Her novel about Robert Frost Ne ischezai (Russian, “Don’t Disappear”) was recently published by Ripol Classic Publishing House.

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Every Day Fiction