Hurricane Florence is barreling toward us. To prepare we buy sandbags, candles and non-perishables. We hide out in the bathtub, the four of us—Mom, Dad, Gretchen and me—with the floral couch cushions over us like the grass over a grave. In our parents’ arms, Gretchen wants to hear ghost stories. Stories about the undying. Stories about what will happen to us. Dad tells a story about a man with a hook for a hand. Mom says everyone dies, even ghosts meet an end eventually, change is the only constant. But we’ve been in this tub for hours and nothing’s changing, Gretchen whines. Mom says we have to take the long view. So we yank threads from the floral cushions, cut them with our teeth and start braiding them together for survival bracelets. Gretchen’s is all shades of green in a staircase. She weaves mine in pink chevron. Our teeth fracture granola bars and send the crumbs down the drain. We drink the water in bottles around our legs until they’re empty and we have to turn on the faucet, wetting our feet whenever we need refills. Gretchen wants to sit underneath and fill herself up. Mom and Dad tell more ghost stories to distract from the hunger. When we run out of granola bars, Gretchen forages for mushrooms unfurling along the edge of the tub. Pops one into her mouth like she’s sneaking a cookie. She chews slowly like she’s savoring it. My stomach rumbles. Our hands dart into the unsafe space outside the cushions. There are always fresh mushrooms waiting. We lift up a corner and peek outside. The mushrooms had multiplied across the top of the tub, down the side and across the floor. Dad says all mushrooms are connected, that they communicate through an underground network. Kill one and another will rise in its place. Perhaps the closest thing to immortality in the natural world. Gretchen whispers “undying” like she’s found her answer. There are no ghosts, only fungi. She strokes the nearest one. In the corner we spy the original mushroom holding its umbrella high over the others. Immortal Mother Mushroom, we praised as we ate Her children, destined to die and rise again. Our mouths full. Our tongues tingling. Everything good comes from Mother Mushroom. When Sunday, or what we think is Sunday, comes along we use mushroom caps for the Eucharist. We adapt hymns. We brew stews. We’ve never been happier.

7 Comments

  1. John Steines

    Hello Chelsea. I’m struck by the magic of the bathtub, not sure how four of you can fit in there, then taking it as metaphor or similar, safety in waiting, protected. I think of the Japanese people who survived A-bombing by being covered over by a bathtub. I love the fun of waiting on time and the storm for action, the passing of that wait in storytelling, fantasy, snacks…family humor, and how ‘waiting’ can be such a long journey when time is stretched as a result of stress & drama
    . The mushroom fantasy is wonderful, like you’re there for days and days and mushrooms have grown in to help you, keep you company, feed you, maybe even take you on journeys. It’s a fun read. Thank you. j

  2. Meg Tuite

    Hi Chelsea, The mushrooms are fantastical! “When we run out of granola bars, Gretchen forages for mushrooms unfurling along the edge of the tub.” LOVE how you move into this strange arena. I would love to read even more strange concoctions coming up from the tub for these kids to survive! This is a beauty! LOVE!

  3. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Chelsea, I love the movement in this tome. How it starts as a survival piece in a bathtub (ha!) against good ‘ol Hurricane Florence. And I absolutely was thrilled by where it continues to surprise me, with the ghost details, and the food (granola bars!) and then… those magical mushrooms!!! And the extended metaphor relating back to the title, which derives from this newly found devotion to the fungi. I love the whimsy, the fanfare, can hear the trumpets!!! Brava!

  4. Koss Just Koss

    Love this, the strange details (like making survival bracelets) and how mushrooms become a substitute religion. It’s strange and wonderful.

  5. David O'Connor

    Chelsea, I love this, so good. It’s a combination of Lorrie Groff (Eyewall, I think) and Steven Crane’s The Open Boat. I love the title and movement of the piece, I love this line–Everything good comes from Mother Mushroom. And the title fits well, great work!

  6. Nancy Stohlman

    Oh, I love the way we go fully weird here. It makes me think of the movie Mother–please watch immediately if you haven’t.
    What you handle so beautifully is the transformation–it’s a weird scenario to begin with, but we go over the edge slowly, a frog being slowly boiled without knowing it. First it’s just a mushroom. By the time we reach the “sacriledge” by the end (which, YES), we have normalized everything that came before. A slow but steady over the edge
    I was particularly struck by the implication of this line: Our hands dart into the unsafe space outside the cushions.
    Because yes. We are no longer safe, if we ever were.
    xo

  7. Adrian Frandle

    “there are no ghosts, only fungi” the weird uncanny simplicity of this is wondrous, especially against the fantastic setting.

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