She’s round and teenaged, and not quite sure of how big she is or where her edges are. The teacup can feel a little small, but when she looks around it around fits her quite nicely. She’s cozy and can curl up like a cat in it if she wants to. Sometimes though, she gets riled up or distressed. Her face is panicked, she feels like she has to get out — it doesn’t matter where she is, she just doesn’t feel safe there anymore. She begins to rock back and forth in the teacup, flailing with her trunk for contact with something to stabilize her. The cup tips over and she stumbles out. Unaware of her size, she starts trying to crawl into other people’s teacups with them, chipping and cracking their saucers with her feet as she tries to scramble up the edges of their cup. Eventually they poke their trunks up and over and push her away. She shuffles away, ears hanging and trunk limp, eyes staring at the ground with heavy lids. She plomps her backside onto the ground in an empty space among the cups, ears hanging heavy over her eyes, looking up excitedly now and then at the sound of shuffling. She’s hoping to see an ear or a trunk peeking over the edge of the cup, waggling at her to say hello. Instead, she sees worried eyes ducking back out of sight when they see her shift to pop up and waddle over to them.
Eventually, cold and mopey, she wanders back to her teacup, where it’s warm and cozy. She’s decorated the inside and it smells like mint and lavender. She pours herself a tea bath and steeps, warming herself from the inside, spouting tea through her trunk. Cozy, a sleepy smile on her face, she drains her cup and shakes the water from herself like a dog, emitting a contented little trumpet. A cup over, a periscopic trunk appears, curious. She pokes her head out from her comfy nook in her own cup and waggles her ears happily. The neighbor trumpets a hello and their teacup scooches closer.
She feels the impulse to throw her top legs over the side of her teacup, leaning over so her head is nearly in theirs. Her excitement for contact nearly overwhelms her and yanks her over by the toes, but she pauses. She toots curiously to her neighbor and waits for them to pop up fully. She hoots with glee and so do they. Their ears waggle back and forth and they each sway side to side, happy to be together.
She paws back and forth at the entrance of the cave, growling and snarling. Her ribs protrude through her scraggly, patchy fur. Her back is hunched as though she once arched to pounce, and has been waiting for years for her prey to cross her path. Her fur is patchy, rubbed raw, a colorless grey brown. She nearly disappears into the cave wall, but her narrowed yellowed eyes gleam in the half light.
She guards the entrance dutifully, and the light itself seems to recoil from her. When rays of light do dare to trespass across her doorway, they seem to disappear into her. Behind her the cave is a swallowing darkness, and that darkness is her charge.
At night, though, when the threat of light sinks below the horizon and the world rests in its own shadow, she rests her guard. She curls inside the opening of the cave, head resting on the ground. Her eyes scan the night, but slowly they flicker closed.
She yelps awake to the sound of yipping and snapping, and a heat pressing against her fur. She snaps opens her eyes and leaps to her feet, growling and sneering. Between her feet, one of her pups dances out of the darkness towards the sound. She snaps it up by its scruff and tosses it back into the darkness behind her, prowling forward and snarling.
She steps gingerly towards the sound, feeling the warmth wrap around her and soften her senses. As she steps towards the edge the cave, she sees her pups playing in the light and the warmth of a crackling fire. They gaze into the light, and then up at her, inviting her to step into the light with them.
The cactus slumps over and scowls, folding his arms folded in front of him and shards protruding from his shoulders. His eyes dart shiftily back and forth, trying to catch someone talking about him or judging him. He’s certain they must be, but instead finds that actually no one seems to be paying him any attention. His brow furrows at this and he pushes out his spikes, scowling and hoping someone will notice how impressively pokey he is. Instead, people continue to seem to go about their day without seeming to particularly notice him. Some, he senses, are even giving him a wider berth. This satisfies him slightly. Beneath the spikes though, he softens, hurt that they’re afraid of him.
He doesn’t mean to be sharp with the people around him, but he feels impatient. His spikes are highly sensitive, and on days like today when they’re all stuck out everywhere, it feels like the breeze of someone walking by causes him to wince. He keeps trying to pull them in a bit, but they feel sticky and stubborn in his skin. He’s nervous that if he does reel them back in, people will notice how soft and green he is. There’s nothing more embarrassing, he reminds himself, than people knowing you’re a plant under all those pokes. So he keeps tumbling through his day, scratching himself and the furniture, trying not to run into people as he trips over his own needles.
It’s tiring, navigating all the physical limitations of a particularly spikey day, but the more he tries to relax, the more his tension pushes his needles out. Eventually they’re so long that he’s sure everyone can tell how he must be feeling, and all he wants to do is hide. This is even worse than being planty, he mutters to himself as his spikes poke his computer screen at work. He wishes he should shake and let the spikes fly off him like a dog shakes off water.
Eventually, out of the corner of his eye, he sees the face of a friendly succulent.
“Want to go for a walk?” It asks gently.
The spikes droop drastically. He hadn’t realized how much energy he was exerting just to keep them tense. “Yes please,” he says.
They go for a stroll in the sunshine, soaking up some much needed nutrients together. The succulent shares what’s happening in its life, and he is grateful for the distraction — the chance to get outside his own spiky brain. It’s been having a tough week as well, and he appreciates the chance to remember he isn’t alone. It smiles warmly to him and stretches up towards the sky. He does the same, uncrossing his scratchy arms and reaching up towards the hot sun. The tightness softens and the pores around his needles soften enough that he can let them retract a little. He realizes he’s breathing more than he had been all day. Being so pokey was really so much work.
The Tube Man
He is deflated, puddling on the ground with his arms folded over his head and his head in his chest. He feels aimless, blowing in the wind without any clear direction. At the same time, he is stuck — he can’t seem to find a sense of agency or clarity. It seems like it would be simpler just to stay still, just to lay right here. Why bother trying to show up and perform, when he doesn’t even know where he’s going or why? He wonders gloomily whether anyone understands what he’s going through. With the thought, he seems to sink even deeper into himself.
As he lays there contemplating his solitude, the man who works in the building behind him strolls outside and places a familiar looking cube a few yards away. There is a loud whirring, and a beautiful blue billowing towards the sky. He watches as it takes shape, and he gasps in a puff of air to see a light blue tube woman next to him swaying gently in the breeze. She smiles cheerfully, enjoying the cool breeze blowing through her in the warm sun. Her left arm billows upward in a wave to him. He feels full of a warm rush all the way from his base through the tips of his pointed hands. He throws his arms overhead, and they carry the rest of him up into the air, scurrying about in elated squiggles, Her plastic paws come to her mouth and she bounces up and down in a blustery giggle. She sways happily side to side.
His whole body feels full of butterflies and he rolls up and down, twisting nearly into knots from glee. A gust of wind comes, and they both swoosh nearly off their bases. They bounce side to side together in the strong wind. As he rights himself, she stretches out her arms, and when he bounces back up, she catches him in a hug.
Her roots unfurl deliciously into the damp earth. It has been raining, and fresh nutrients have washed their way towards her. The water softens the soil and she can stretch down and down freely, reaching and growing outwards in every direction for nutrients. Her roots tingle with the ache of new growth, bringing new information about what exists beneath her, what came before her. She grips through the tiny toes of her new roots as she yawns a big inhale and reaches up towards the watery sunlight breaking through.
Her leaves dance with joy, thirstily drinking in the fresh cool light. They quiver and twist playfully, drawing her out into the world around her. She can feel the explorations of her roots lifting up through her core, grounding her, while the gleeful leaves and buds brighten her spirit with new views, higher and further than she’s ever been able to see before. The trees nearby whisper their own stories on the wind, and she responds in kind, her leaves murmuring excitedly back off the new worlds they can see. Beneath, the roots speak softly, the ripples of their unfurling and growth meeting in a silent harmony.
Illustrations by Swedian Lie