A Little Salt in the Soil – Sarah Wheeler

Valencia brought home basil from the grocery store, the kind with soil in a flimsy plastic pot, and set the plant on the apartment kitchen window sill. She poured a little water in the soil and named the basil Bonnie. That night when Milo came home, she made pasta with cream sauce and strips of fresh basil.

“What is that amazing smell?” he asked from the living room.

“I got basil today.” She carried the whole plant to the doorway between the kitchen and living room and held it up for him to see. “This is Bonnie the Basil Plant,” she said.

“Nice to meet you, Bonnie. I think I’m in love with you,” Milo replied.

“Ha-ha,” Val said.

The next morning, Valencia grew conscious of the fact that Milo had been in the kitchen for a while and hadn’t brought her coffee yet. She flipped back the covers and tilted toward the door. In the kitchen she found Milo bending over the basil plant, whispering.

“Mi? What are you doing? Why haven’t you made coffee?”

“I got distracted, sorry.”

Val started the coffee.

A couple weeks later, she had a late shift at work, and when she got back at nine, Milo wasn’t home. She looked around the house for him but knew he wasn’t there. His car was gone. She texted him. His response: sorry had to run an errand.

In 20 minutes, he walked through the door carrying a small grow lamp and the basil plant. He saw her puzzled glance at the plant. “I didn’t want to leave her where the cat might eat her,” Milo said.

“Why didn’t you just put it in the cabinet?”

Milo shrugged.

Val didn’t say any more about it, even when Milo put the plant on his nightstand before bed.

The next morning, after Milo left for work, Val stood before the basil. She stared with her hands on her hips. “What is going on?” she said out loud.

I let him touch me.

Val thought she heard a crinkling sound in the room, but looked around, saw nothing odd. The cat made a ball in the middle of the bed, sound asleep. Val leaned over the leaves, examining; she lifted the pot to eye level.

He thinks he’s in love with me.

Val smelled the plant, still smelled like basil. She bit into one of the leaves, still tasted like basil.

The front door slammed and Val almost dropped the plant. She crept down the hallway, until her husband rounded the corner and collided with her.

“I forgot something. Just have to grab it and I’m gone,” Milo said.

She let him pass, but once he was in their room, she tiptoed back to the doorway and peeked around the corner. Milo was on his knees with his face very close to the plant, stroking the stems delicately. He had switched on the fluorescent lamp clipped to the pot. She could see his lips moving, but couldn’t hear any words. She returned to the kitchen and waited until Milo came out with a book of stamps.

“Found em!” he said, not meeting her eyes.

For the next few days, Val sprinkled a little salt into the soil just before watering. In a week, the tips of the leaves were browning.

“Valencia!” Milo called to her one day. “What’s wrong with Bonnie? Are you watering her, too?”

“I don’t touch it except when I’m cooking,” Val said.

“What have I missed? I’ve repotted her, watered just enough. Kept her under the grow lamp. I’ve done everything the guy at the nursery told me.”

Val maintained her regimen of salting and watering.

Finally, the leaves started falling off and not growing back. Milo left for work one morning, devastated.

“I’m taking Bonnie to the herb specialist this afternoon,” he said.

“It might be too late then,” Val said. “I’ll take it before I go to work.”

As soon as he left, she took the plant in the terra cotta pot and the grow lamp, and put them in a paper grocery bag. She grabbed the garden trowel. She took everything to the park near their house. Under a group of bushes, where the earth was bare and soft, she dug a hole and placed the packet there. Each scoop of black soil whispered over the crinkled bag.

Please. Stop. Please. Stop.

Val finished burying. “Goodbye, Bonnie,” she said.

As soon as he got home that night, Milo asked where the basil was. Val told him that the nursery had said there was no reviving the plant. Rotten roots.

“The roots! I never thought to check the roots.”

“A fungus,” Val added, patting Milo’s back.

They agreed not to try to raise basil again, as the herb proved too delicate for them. When they took walks, though, Val noticed that Milo always slowed down when they passed the spot where she’d buried the basil. When they saw herbs growing in their neighbors’ container gardens, she felt him tense. His gaze lingered a little too long on the oregano. Where rosemary bushes grew by the sidewalk, he ran his hands through the stalks as they passed.

 

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SARAH WHEELER’s work has earned a Glimmer Train honorable mention and is published at The Glass Coin, Bluestem Magazine, and Poplorish. She is also the flash fiction editor at Newfound.org and copyedits for Ruminate. She reads, writes, works with animals, and hangs out with her husband. She occasionally blogs at http://www.sarahjwheeler.com.

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Image: tookapic

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