Monday, July 9, 2018

The Boy Who Loved a Cactus

                                         The Boy Who Loved A Cactus
                                              By Valerie L. Egar

            The boy spotted it in a greenhouse full of plants. It was in a small pot, in the corner, with a few other cacti. No one, including the greenhouse owners, paid the tiny cactus much attention. It didn’t need frequent watering like the other plants. It didn’t grow quickly and hadn’t needed repotting.

Most people who visited the greenhouse didn’t like the cactus. Its sharp spines pricked fingers. Because it had a red bulbous top on a green stalk, most people thought it looked ugly. It didn’t bloom like a gardenia or an orchid. It was tiny. Most people passed it by without a thought. Not the boy.
People teased the boy about his red hair, calling him “Red Top,” but here was a plant with a red top. The boy was small for his age. The cactus was small, too. He like that the cactus had spines. It meant the cactus could defend itself and he admired that.
“Oh, a cactus,” said the sales clerk, wrinkling her nose. “It’s a dollar.” The boy fished four quarters from his pocket and carried the cactus home.
 The boy put the cactus on the windowsill in his bedroom. Every morning, he said good morning to the little plant. Before going to sleep, he wished it good night.  Once a week, he gave it a teaspoon of water.
Occasionally, he took the cactus for walk. He showed the cactus the moon and the river that flowed near his house. “No rivers where you were born,” he told the cactus. He took the cactus to see a forest. “These are trees,” he told the tiny plant.  “No trees in the desert where you lived.”

The cactus grew and the boy became a young man. He had repotted the cactus several times, but because it grew slowly, it still fit on the windowsill. Though he gave up taking it for walks, he still talked to it. “Wish me luck, I have a math test tomorrow,” he might say. Or, “I’m glad I have you, but I’m lonely.”
One day, after school, the boy brought a girl home to visit. She was pretty and the boy liked her. When she saw the cactus, she laughed. “That’s the ugliest plant I ever saw.” The boy blushed. Because he wanted to please her, he put the cactus in the closet.
It was dark inside the closet. The cactus balanced on top of a box and waited. The shoes reeked. When the girl left, the boy was so happy she said she would like to see him again, he forgot the cactus until the next morning. When he remembered, he absentmindedly put it back on the windowsill.
Every time the girl visited, the boy put the cactus in the closet. The cactus grew pale, but the boy didn’t notice. He was too busy trying to please the girl. He bought opera tickets, even though he didn’t like opera. He dressed in fancy clothes, even though he preferred comfortable ones. One day the girl brought him a present— a plant with big red flowers. It didn’t fit on the windowsill. It required special fertilizer. It wilted easily, but its leaves yellowed if he gave it a drop too much water. The plant was a lot of work.
Meanwhile, the cactus continued to wither. The boy didn’t talk to it anymore and its time in the closet grew longer and longer.
“You still have this ugly thing?” the girl said one day when she opened the closet. “It’s almost dead. I’m throwing it out.”
The boy looked at the cactus. He looked at the girl and knew he’d made a mistake. In trying to please her, he pretended to like things he didn’t like and given up things he loved, like the little cactus. He gave the difficult flowering plant back to her and said good-by.

The boy put the cactus back on the windowsill and gave it a teaspoon of water. “I am sorry,” he said over and over, “please forgive me,” as the cactus recovered. “The next girl will need to love you, too.”
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author. 
Published July 8, 2018, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

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