Poppy begins with a tip she saw on the television. Wet a bar of soap and scrape your fingertips over it; the soap gets under your nails and prevents the dirt getting in.
She takes the tray of seedlings to the sunniest end of the yard and counts her pots out in rows. They were donated by a neighbour and she enjoys the way they are a hodge-podge of different sizes and colours. She deliberately arranges them as strategically randomly as possible.
She counts again and again, switching the pots into groups like a sleight trick of cups and balls and struggles to balance the ratio of seedlings to pots. She can’t afford more pots, but badly wants to protect the fledgling seeds from suffocation or stunting.
When she feels her complex fractions are complete she takes the specialist seedling compost and slowly tears open the bag, annoyed at the stretching plastic and jagged edge, but feeling good, tentatively touching the goodness inside.
She generously fills the first three pots and tamps down the springy compost. She makes an indentation before prizing out the first of her delicate plugs; a pathetic, tender aubergine stalk.
She imagines how the fruit will grow, the tiniest baby, transforming from speck into gigantic, shining, tangible thing. She imagines picking the vegetables to eat; she imagines hosting rustic, boho dinners for friends she’s yet to meet. She imagines selling her bounty at farmers’ markets, organic artisan produce that she has nurtured from nothing. She imagines the people she will meet there. This could be the change.
She beds the first sprout into the earth, then realises it’s not earth, it’s detached from the earth, separated by air and plastic and concrete. This is dirt. She presses down the coarse, fluffy dirt with a thumb, constantly calculating three seedlings per pot and fifteen altogether, five pots, then twenty lupins but they’re not so big, so four per pot makes five. Over and over she calculates as she transplants each stem, the first pot meticulous, each further pot exponentially more haphazard and slapdash.
She measures time by the clouds, working furiously whenever the sun is shrouded. In between she slows to a crawl and allows the warm air to spill over her, from her head and down her face, dropping over her shoulders down her arms.
Despite her arithmetic she has a surplus of each type and some pots end up mixed which causes her great consternation. When all the pots are used up seven plugs remain and they’ll just have to wait because she can’t face the shop again and can’t justify the expense.
As she waters the baby plants she’s frustrated already by how long it will take for them to grow. She feels scorn as the tightly packed soil initially rejects the water and each pot fills up and the fragile seedlings strain to hold their heads above.
She finds it hard to reconcile the point of all this as surplus water seeps from underneath each pot and forms a shallow stain around the base.
The benefit has passed, the joy in this thing faded. How can she be expected to tend to them every single day, what if she forgets to water them or just doesn’t. Why did she plant flowers that she can’t even eat and that no one will ever see.
As it happens it’s mere days before the little plants are neglected to death and shrivel, dying in the sun, so much potential ungrown.