Picking up his legs and raising them six inches above the bed, he held his breath, lifted his legs, and tightened his abdomen.
Thirty-one seconds later, he dropped his legs, slowly releasing his breath.
He repeated this exercise seventeen times.
Then he repeated this exercise seven more times.
He created this exercise on his own and it was the only exercise he knew.
He now felt warm.
He kicked off his blankets and swung his left leg over the edge of the bed, yet still laying flat on his back.
“Am I disciplined?” He asked the silence of his bedroom.
He looked at his left leg, at his square fingertips on his left hand.
He imagined a plate of noodles.
He felt limp and old, lying there.
I am a vermicelli noodle on the edge of a plate but I want to be thick and strong, he thought.
He said aloud, “I want to be strong and thick!”
If he saw a single vermicelli noodle about to slip off of someone’s plate, he would push it back nearer to the center, not wanting the last bite of someone’s dinner to be compromised.
Things will slip if you let them, he thought.
“When was the last time I watered my plant?” He asked the silence of his bedroom.
He thought about the soft edges of his plant.
He thought about his own soft edges.
“I value that this shape and skin are mine,” he whispered to his fifteen dollar feather pillow.
Even if he was limp and old, at least his legs and hands were his own.
He flung his right leg to the edge of his bed and held his breath.
His torso was sliding slowly off the edge of the bed, both of his feet touched the wooden floor.
He was leaving softness behind, now.
Alex squinted at the plant across the room and then began to stare at his sock-covered-feet.
Floppy, dusty, and gray, like the sky. When was the last time he saw his toes?
In the winter, I do not think enough of my toes to really see them, he thought.
“Let’s Have A Look!” Alex shouted to the dark and silent bedroom and flung off his socks.
He looked at his pink and dirty toes and decided he would rather look at his plant.
The plant looked well, as well as a plant looks when a room is very dark.
Did he water the plant on Thursday or on Saturday?
He liked to touch the plant when he was reading at his desk. He was careful not to water it too much, or touch it too much, because Michelle told him that succulents barely need any water at all.
He thanked his sister for the plant but always wished he had a plant that needed “round the clock” care. He hoped for something to really sink his time and effort into; a needy plant, maybe one with a silky stem and wither-prone whorled leaves. He would sometimes need to cancel his afternoon appointments and meetings, rush home in traffic in order to adhere to its strict watering schedule.
A delicate white flower blossoms on the winter solstice and each month after melts away like a cheese puff on the tongue. Its blossom alternated odors, sometimes smelling of Yankee Candle Linen and a Coors Light.
This was a plant that no one had yet heard of, but still regarded highly.
The kind of plant that he would have to leave a key to his apartment with his neighbor next door, if he ever went out of town, with an extensive bullet point list outlining care. He would write his list of “Plant Get-To-Dos” in a small notebook upcycled from plastic yogurt cups and humanure.
When guests would arrive for his semi-weekly ecologically themed dinner parties (and sometimes in-house acoustic concerts), he would tell them the story about how he found it, and how long his “chlorophyll baby” had been growing with him.
“Yes, I’ve had it for ten brief years,” he would sigh, and those listening and sipping his fair-trade decaffeinated lemongrass ginger tea would marvel.
“When I found it inside of a dead baby possum’s mouth on the central Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail, it was only a seedling.”
“My life was changed forever that day, by something about as big as three eyelashes glued together!”
Alex imagined briefly caring for several plants at a time, then building a greenhouse. Eventually he would start a combination orchid/bald eagle sanctuary someplace extra breezy, like the west coast of Florida or maybe North Eastern California.
Or wherever orchids grow best.
Or wherever eagles will remain sexually active.
Orchids are extremely finicky and they have spikes, he remembered hearing that once. Bald eagles can’t really mate in captivity, he was only assuming at this point.
He did not feel inclined to learning more about eagles.
Alex let himself slowly fall off the bed, his back scraped against the mattress, the mattress pushed his shirt up.
He walked across his bedroom barefoot, smoothed down his shirt, picked up his phone from his desk and typed, ‘Rhipsalis Water Care,’ into a search bar.
Fingerlike cylindrical branches jut out from the main stem in segments, covered in white hairs that are not spiny, but soft.
“Should be allowed to go dormant in fall, meaning no water at all,” he read aloud to his left hand sternly.
He was on a break from teaching English classes at the community college.
He needed to create lesson plans for January. It was December 8. It was 6:45am.
It was winter in Iowa. Winter in Iowa is just like winter in Ohio and that’s just like winter in Minnesota and a little like winter in West Virginia.
“The plans must wait!”
Alex reached for his phone again, looking at his plant.
‘Where do Orchids grow best?’ he scrolled for thirty seconds and flipped his phone screen down onto the dry soil next to his plant.
He got onto his knees again, the cold hardwood floor nagging and he began to feel prongs of pain in his left kneecap.
He pulled the green curtain to its full length from the window behind his desk. He wrapped himself in the curtain as though it was a polyester ball gown and he was waiting for his date to arrive.
Sneaking and stretching up to see out, pulling the curtain tighter to his body, peeking and pressing his face against the glass.
“It’s fun to pretend like I have something important to do!”
He shouted to his socks slumped under his desk.
He caught a figure outside his apartment.
“I see you, Woman In A Pea Coat!”
He tapped on the window. The woman could not hear him, he was on the eighth floor. Alex could have been on Mars, he was that far away from her being able to hear him.
She was carrying a large poinsettia with both arms wrapped tightly around its base.
She heaved from side to side as the pot glimmered in the distance, its shining gold foil and blood red leaves reminding everyone of its purpose.