Mr. Thing

There I was, on a forbidding February night, kneeling on the floor in my warm communal living room with my housemates, each of us with pencil in hand, poking indentations—but only so deep—into the dirt in about forty small plastic pots we’d arranged in a series of concentric circles. Poke, poke, poke: I’d never done anything like this before, this simple act to which my housemates attended with a ponderous silence. When we were done poking, we proceeded to drop one seed, only one, said Helen, into each indentation. I guess I was bored or nervous or who knows why, but I stood my pencil up in one of the pots and said, Look my plant’s already grown! But Helen said, No, we don’t joke while we do this, it’s a sacred act, a form of prayer, and Star said, It’s an affirmation that we live on this Earth, that we create life, and Deb said, Yeah, and we create life without those icky men involved, which I knew by then was Deb being sarcastic, and I was prepared to cast a scolding look at Deb, but Helen and Star laughed.

My three new housemates were recent graduates of the nearby state university. I met them at a women’s coffeehouse, where I’d been asking anyone I met if they knew of a room for rent. Someone pointed me at a pale, plump, fair-haired woman with a wide and welcoming smile: Helen. She and two friends had rented a big house and needed someone to fill the fourth bedroom. Was I interested? I too had earned my BA the previous spring, from the private liberal arts college across the river, and since then, I’d already managed to get myself into a botched living arrangement, and I needed out.

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