Getting Our Names on a Plant

by | Sarah Day 1 - Group B

I’ve worked on two stories for this assignment. One is science-fictiony and uses “we” as a decidedly collective voice. It seems to work (more or less), so I’ve decided to submit the other because I have questions about it vis-à-vis POV. It was originally started using “they” POV. I’ve changed the POV to “we” (as well as adding more story to it) BUT it slides back and forth between “we” and “I”! It sits okay with me but I often get into trouble with POV and wonder if that slide makes sense. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to everyone else’s stories!

Getting Our Names on a Plant

We’ve been up since dawn and rush out of our cottage, THANKS BE TO THE SWEET PEA carved into the gate. Gerald mutters I’m driving erratically, nervous for our fragile cargo, this precious bunch of petals we’ve potted and perfected these last twenty years, our prized sweet pea specimen we know will garner us a blue ribbon, if not a silver cup. Gerald studies his dirt-packed nails as we barrel down the A1 Motorway, South Mimms to Stotfold for a duty visit to his mum in Allsworth Home on the way, then finally pull up to the national garden club, two cheese baps and a Spotted Dick slumping in the boot.

A third shout of our names draws us to the registration table. We shuffle forward, our charity shop shoes polished, our straw hats bent over our beloved, shrouded plant. Ours is not your single-name-eponymous sweet pea — not your pink-flushed Mrs Bernard Jones, not your wavy bloomer Ethel Grace nor your heady Lady Grisel Hamilton. Certainly not the showy King Edward VII. This Lathyrus odoratus, with its two-toned purple petals and giddy fragrance, was raised by long mutual tending, seeds sown before sunrise on St. Patrick’s Day.

We hold our breaths as we spot Mrs. Stapleton from our local garden club. In her constant bids for first place with her peonies, she has slept with all the garden judges, male and female, first plying them with her cache of fine brandy.

Mrs. Stapleton’s tactics can work two ways, I think. I pat Gerald’s tweed jacket, ask him to wait and guard our plant. I will take care of matters. I march over to Mrs. Stapleton, who is hovering over her entry. I gently push back a strand of hair from her eyes, whisper in her ear, grab a manicured hand, and lead her out back to the potting shed.

Ten minutes later, I unrumple my wool skirt and jumper, leaving Mrs. Stapleton panting in the dirt. Gerald and I hold our breaths again as we take our turn at the judges’ table. In rehearsed unison, our two right hands peel back a freshly ironed cloth napkin to reveal the Gerald and Gladys. At home we practiced a Ta-da! to accompany the reveal but decide on restraint for today.
Their heads bob like buoys, or like old-timers recalling the days of their youth, when they marched by the Thames on Labour Day, red and heavy gold-fringed trade banners held aloft — a heady time of collectivity. In unison, they nod and raise their hands in assent. A certificate is signed, seals pressed in, the press notified.

We gather ourselves and accept the honor, bowing our heads in requisite humbleness. Thank you for a lovely time, we whisper as we grab the parchment and rattle off in our old sedan. We hurry home to give the dog his dinner, our son Roger living too far away to help us out.

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15 Comments

  1. Mikki Aronoff

    Couldn’t figure out how to edit once posted. What looks like two separate paragraphs (one starting with “Ten minutes later” and the other “Their heads bob” should really be one paragraph,.

  2. Sarah Freligh

    Mikki, wow, two stories! Amazing! I’m betting/hoping I’ll see the sci-fi one in the journal soon.

    As for this one, I think it totally works, I love the back and forth between we and I and the specifics you get from the narrator/I’s very particular and idiosyncratic worldview–past and present. There’s a sweetness, too, to their memorializing their younger selves through the named plants, the evocative gestures.

    For giggles, you could totally go with a collective “We” of the garden club as narrators as they go about unveiling the “Gerald and Gladys.” The different prospects would, of course, shed a different light on G&G from a different angle, that of the collective group. In some ways it would give you more latitude for, ahem, commentary.

    • Mikki Aronoff

      Oh, no no no no no, don’t be impressed. These were oldies but NOT goodies I dug out because I could see how they’d work with a different point of view (and a lot more elbow grease).

      That’s a really interesting idea you have about telling the story from the garden club members’ point of view. I can see how it would give me “more latitude for, ahem, commentary.”

      Thanks for your comments and the encouragement!

      mikki

  3. Sarah Freligh

    Yes! Ahem! Commentary! I expect they have much to say about the pair of them.

  4. Traci Mullins

    Oh, this is SO good just as it is, Mikki! I love how you handled the unusual topic from beginning to end, and the characters are so well wrought. Great use of detail throughout. Re: POV, I think you pull off the “we” very well because you keep it their story, not anyone else’s. The only thing I thought of is perhaps having them come up with the seduction of Mrs. Stapleton together rather than the woman “taking care of it herself.” I can imagine them enjoying this secret together and the man sending her off behind the potting shed with a sly wink. This was great fun to read.

    • Mikki Aronoff

      OMG, Traci, that’s a tasty idea! Can’t wait to try it! 😁 Thanks for the lascivious suggestion! ❤️ mikki

  5. MaxieJane Frazier

    Mikki, I just love so much about this piece. That Gladys (my maternal grandmother no less) sleeps with the competition to get ahead is a lovely surprise. You land the ending so beautifully–how the absence of their son has almost made them into people who can’t be helped at the grand scale. I loved that shift at the end: that surprise at the double meaning.

  6. Nancy Stohlman

    Oh I cracked up at this line: In her constant bids for first place with her peonies, she has slept with all the garden judges, male and female, first plying them with her cache of fine brandy.
    And
    Ten minutes later, I unrumple my wool skirt and jumper, leaving Mrs. Stapleton panting in the dirt.
    What I love is how specific this world is. Reminds me a bit of the movie Best in Show (dog shows), in which the specificity of the world itself becomes part of the humor. This, too: the plotting, the scheming, the IMPORTANCE of this win is both fascinating and hilarious. xoxo

  7. Kathryn Silver-Hajo

    This is delightful, Mikki! Who knew a pea plant competition could be so entertaining?

    Such great scene-setting and humor throughout. We’re right there in the English countryside with the prize-winning peas, duty visit to mum and slumping Spotted Dick (oh my!) And, that naughty, naughty Mrs. Stapleton

    I actually think the POV shifts work just fine here. There is both an I and a we at play so no worries there.

    Tiny suggestions:
    I’d say, “the judges heads bob..” At first I thought it was the plants’ heads

    Also, maybe consider ending with the penultimate sentence?

    Maybe title the story “Gerald and Gladys?”

    Such fun!

    • Mikki Aronoff

      Thanks for your reading and lovely suggestions, Kathryn. I’d already changed that one sentence to “the judges’ heads bob” but I’ll have to try on your other great (as usual) ideas. Thanks again!

  8. Chelsea Stickle

    The whole section with Mrs. Stapleton’s dealings and then how the narrator deals with her are fantastic. I love that the distraction works. I don’t have a problem with the us/I POV. I’ve used it myself and it’s fluid here. Works great.

  9. Kathryn Kulpa

    This is such fun, Mikki! Nancy’s comparison to Best in Show felt spot on: the killer, cutthroat competition behind the seemingly peaceful and benign world of a flower show. I love how “the Gerald and Gladys” becomes an entity, and how that phrase works as both the name of the flower and the name of the ‘we’ narrator. I didn’t have a problem with her occasionally doing things as an ‘I’ rather than a ‘we,’ because it was clear they were a couple, but I do like Traci’s suggestion about having Gladys clear her scheme with Gerald first, rather than taking off on her own … teamwork in everything!

    Perfect timing, too. I was on a nature trail earlier today and there were tons of sweetpeas in bloom, and a friend was commenting she’d love to get some for her backyard. I’ll have to refer her to Gerald & Gladys!

  10. Suzanne van de Velde

    Hi Mikki — This is so much fun. I admire how you layer this couple’s mix of tenacity and eccentricity with such skillful specificity — such as “two cheese baps and a Spotted Dick slumping in the boot.”

    As to the issue of jumping to “I” — It’s not glaring for me. Not sure if this would work, but when the narrative choices make the third person “we” invalid (for instance, when the speaker sequesters Mrs. Stapleton), perhaps you could switch to a singular pronoun — he or she, depending?

    I wasn’t quite sure what bedding Mrs. Stapleton accomplishes in their quest to win….but the images are unforgettable!

    Also, if you could somehow graft a Miss Marple-style murder series here, it would fit in here perfectly!

  11. Catherine Parnell

    Mikki! These characters are delicious, just delicious. I love the subversion in this piece, the way you upend the entire floral scene. So good!

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