Dionaea Muscipula Girl
Tula did not know when her daughter changed, the exact moment her atoms and cells realigned. One day she was there, soft flesh and hard bone, full bottom lip and wild, wild curls. Cocoa eyes, built like a board. Just starting to walk with purpose. Then, Tula knocked on the bedroom door for breakfast and the girl was gone, replaced, a Venus flytrap taking root and biting in her daughter’s bed. Maybe it made her a bad mother, the not knowing, not having noticed, but Tula didn’t waste time thinking about that. Instead, she sat at her daughter’s desk and opened the Hewlett Packard and Googled her daughter’s symptoms, landing on WebMD.
Step 1: Choose gender and age range. Tula answered: Female, 13-17 years.
Step 2: Assign symptoms to the body map. First, Tula clicked the Select Skin option. Out of the thirty-eight skin symptom possibilities, Tula chose four: color change, hair loss, rash, and yellow skin. Green skin was not an option. Then loss of voice, muscle weakness, difficulty walking, and unable to blink or close eyelid. For several minutes Tula zoomed in and out on the female figure, sifted through lists of conditions for the abdomen, the hands, the head, adding choices to her list.
Thirteen selected symptoms resulted seventy-nine possible afflictions, the least likely being late-onset Pompe disease and head lice. Contact dermatitis — a skin irritation or allergy — ranked highest. Contact dermatitis is common, millions of cases every year, and can be treated with corticosteroid skin creams and other ointments, or doctor-recommended oral medications. In most cases, WebMD assured, contact dermatitis clears up in about two to three weeks.
Tula wrote down the names of creams on a pad and ripped the sheet and turned to her daughter’s bed. Twelve lima-bean-shaped lobes sat open as a bible, insides the color of cranberry sauce. They were large — the biggest about the size of her middle finger — and stretched out on the bed, getting comfortable. Tula dropped her pinky in a mouth, and the trap snapped, the pressure pleasant.
I’ll be right back, sweetie, Tula said and wiggled her finger inside the mouth, imagining how she’d squeeze her daughter’s shoulder after a bad day or in moments of frustration. Sit tight.
Walgreens was packed. A giant vinyl sign hung over the entrance: FREE FLU SHOTS HERE! Babies wailed and scrub-wearing women pushed old men toward the pharmacy. Tula sliced through the line to aisle five and filled a basket with Cortizone-10 intensive healing cream, Original Blue Emu, Topricin, Cortaid, Exederm Flare Control, and Eucerin Advanced Repair, also grabbing three bottles of Hyland’s Sulphur tablets for rashes and eczema, a box of latex gloves, and some chicken noodle soup — the good kinds, labels that said “homestyle” and “organic” and came in stiff plastic bags instead of cans. After checking out, Tula stepped in the flu shot line because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Back home, Tula, gloved, coated her daughter in lotions, using different ointments on different lobes to compare results. She thought about dropping dollops like sour cream in the mouths but changed her mind. The bottles clearly stated FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY, and Tula still thought of her daughter as human. Are you warm enough? Tula asked. Let me get you a blanket. She took a crocheted throw from the hall closet, her daughter’s favorite, and tucked it gently around the plant.
For the rest of the day, Tula sat on her daughter’s bed and reapplied lotion and dripped Sulphur broth into the traps each time they opened, also eating two bowls of soup and coating her body in creams, just in case. What if her daughter was contagious? What if this was a permanent condition? What if they both ended up this way?
The lotions did not help. Three days passed with no visible improvement; on the contrary, Tula’s daughter wilted. Heavy strokes of brown appeared like bad lip liner on one of the traps. Tula packed in fresh soil from Home Depot — the most expensive brand she could find — and watered her daughter with more Sulphur soup, not minding how wet the bed became. After her daughter healed, she would buy her a new one. They would go together and test every mattress, debate the pros and cons of firmness. They would drive to Bed Bath & Beyond for sheets and pick up green curry for dinner and watch a movie and Tula’s house would smell again, smell like almond milk and used soccer cleats and rosewater perfume and Tabasco and berry lip balm and hair in a flat iron.
She thought about calling a doctor, but there would be so much paperwork. And what about transportation? Her daughter was in no condition to move. So she called her Zumba instructor and neighbor, Natalie.
What gives, T? Natalie said.
Tula shut the door behind her. Thank you for coming. I’m not sure what to do.
The women walked into the kitchen, and Tula turned down a burner on the stove, the soup just before boiling over.
Natalie looked at the label on the empty soup carton. You know this crap is just filled with sodium. What have I told you?
It’s for my daughter.
I didn’t know who to call, Tula said.
Her friends would gossip. Her mother would scold. She didn’t have a husband. Natalie was not Tula’s first choice, she was her only choice. And she liked Natalie well enough. Over a few post-Zumba drinks, they had shared work stories and family stories and stories about lovers, and Tula was happy for the cocktails when Natalie went into detail about Portia and Cat and Matilde, happy to attribute her blushing to the alcohol. Tula had told Natalie about her husband and his mistress. Natalie always used the word mistress; it made the whole situation at least sound better, more sophisticated. Natalie used the words Dick and Cunt, and Tula blushed more and only half-heartedly told Natalie to lower her voice. Natalie was different, a horse of colors, or whatever that saying was, and Tula thought that was just fine.
It’s my daughter, Tula said. She’s changed.
Tula, everybody hates their mother, Natalie said. At some point, at least. Hate to tell you you’re no exception.
Tula shook her head, exasperated, trying to hold back tears. No. She’s changed.
Natalie took off her coat and dropped it on the table. Okay, then, let’s have it.
Take these first, Tula said and handed her a pair of gloves.
Natalie took them but didn’t put them on.
Come see, Tula said and walked down the hallway to her daughter’s bedroom, picking at her nails.
Natalie pushed past her and looked at the bed, hands on her hips. The lotion had dried and flaked like shaved coconut. The lip-lined lobe, now a tie-dyed mixture of black and yellow, lay lifeless in the dirt.
I’ve tried lotions and ointments, crushed pills into water. Nothing.
Natalie leaned over and blew hard on one of the lobes. The mouth closed slowly, the reflex dulled and sluggish.
Well, for starters, it’s damn dark in here.
Natalie pushed back a curtain and turned the blinds. Plants need light, right?
What are these things called?
It’s a Venus flytrap.
Right, right. They eat flies. Have you fed her? Natalie rubbed one of the leaves, her fingers coming away white. What is this?
Lotion, I told you. I thought it might be a rash. I looked online.
Natalie laughed. Don’t think WebMD will be much help here.
You should wear the gloves. I don’t know if it’s contagious.
Natalie did not put on the gloves.
So what do I do? Tula said.
Maybe Google how to care for flytraps? She laughed again.
This is serious, Natalie, Tula said. She can’t stay this way.
Well, whatever you’re doing right now is killing her. Look.
Natalie lifted the discolored lobe, and the dead black dripped down the stem like rain on a window. The trap had begun to shrivel. Natalie released, and Tula felt the drop in her chest.
What happened? Natalie asked.
A tear fell, and Tula covered her mouth with her hand. It was sudden, she said.
For days she had searched her memory, going far, far back. Her daughter was conceived on Christmas Day, and Tula had always thought that was a good omen. Her birth was easy, if long, and she was a good baby. She slept hard and ate happily and grew without hindrances. At school, her teachers used the words precocious and intelligent. She had friends, always on the phone with some girl or boy, always out on Saturday nights. Tula thought she was happy and had never asked if she was otherwise. Why would she? Even when Tula told her about the mistress and the separation — because Tula also did not use the word divorce — her daughter finished dinner and slept and got up and went to school, and life continued without interruption. And Tula had thought, Yes, good. No need for any further discussion. They carried on never discussing, and now Tula could not say if this change was purposeful or accidental or malicious. She had no way of knowing if her daughter was happy or sad or angry, and even if she reappeared as she was, back to her normal human self, Tula still wouldn’t know, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Again, Tula opened the Hewlett Packard. Natalie called a local nursery. Together, they made a new list.
The nursery told Natalie Venus flytraps are difficult to care for in non-native environments. They only thrive in acidic soil with good drainage. Do not use regular potting soil. Must buy sand and peat moss (it’s best for drainage and moisture retention). Never fertilize. Tula lifted her daughter from the bed and gently shook, and Natalie raked off the soil. Natalie suggested moving the girl to the backyard where she might be more comfortable, but Tula refused. Her daughter would stay in her room, in her home, so, instead, the women covered the bed with small stones from the backyard and set the flytrap on top.
Also, the nursery said, do not use tap water because it is too alkaline. Rain water is best. Tula found a rainwater barrel kit on Amazon, added it to the peat moss and sand and humidifier already in her cart, to be delivered in two days, thanks to Prime and Sunday delivery.
Natalie went to Petco for flies, and Tula waited.
I don’t understand this, she said to her daughter. If there were signs, I’m sorry I didn’t see them. If you tried to say something, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. I can be better. We can be better.
Two to three weeks passed, and her daughter brightened. New lobes sprouted. She looked healthy, and when Tula released flies into her daughter’s room, the traps snapped eagerly. Tula special ordered more flytraps to keep her daughter company, and soon the bed disappeared beneath their roots, all the mouths intertwining, wrapping themselves lovingly around each other. Still, Tula could always pick out her daughter, and at night, she settled her pinky into one of her daughter’s mouths and asked, Are you happy? Do you know you are home? Do you know you are loved? And the trap squeezed, and Tula waited for the release.
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