Pulpy didn’t like the way the flower man was looking at Midge. He was leaning against the counter by the cash register, just looking.
‘Excuse me,’ said Midge. ‘We’d like to buy a plant.’
‘Well, you’re in the right place.’ The flower man winked at her. ‘Would this plant be for you?’
She shook her head and her lopsided scallops bounced. ‘It’s a gift. For someone else.’
‘A gift, hmm? In that case, I would recommend this plant here.’ He pointed to a tall, spiky one and pushed his hips away from the counter.
‘Ouch,’ said Pulpy, ‘that looks sharp.’
The flower man nodded. ‘The leaves will cut you if you brush against them. But this is a fine gift because these plants live a long time. They’re very good on water.’
‘I’m never good about watering,’ said Midge. ‘I just can’t tell when they need it.’
The flower man leaned forward, and Pulpy could see a few dark hairs peeking over the collar of his green-and-white-striped shirt. ‘I’ll tell you a trick. You have to get your thumb right in there, stick it in the dirt, like this –’ He burrowed his thumb in the soft, dark soil next to the stem of the plant, and left it there.
‘Oh,’ said Midge, and smiled at him.
The flower man smiled back. ‘And then you pull it out and have a look.’ He showed her his thumb. There were bits of earth stuck in the creases of his pink skin, and under the nail. ‘See? If there’s dirt on it, like this, you don’t need to water your plant. But if your thumb comes out clean, it’s watering time.’
Pulpy watched Midge watching the flower man and his big, dirty thumb, and he put his arm around her and pointed to a different plant. ‘Actually, I think we’ll take that one there,’ he said. ‘The one with the yellow leaves.’ ‘That one?’ The flower man shook his head, but he was still looking at Midge. ‘No, no. That one’s not a good gift plant.’ He stroked one of the long, spiky leaves of the plant he’d had his thumb in. ‘See? They can be friendly, if you treat them right.’ He looked at Midge some more.
‘We’ll take this one,’ she said.
* * *
‘Ow,’ said Pulpy on the bus to Dan and Beatrice’s place. ‘Ow, ow, ow.’
‘Oh, hush,’ said Midge. ‘I’m sure Dan and Beatrice will have bandages.’
‘I got blood on their plant.’ ‘The leaves are dark. They won’t notice.’ Before they knocked on Dan and Beatrice’s door, Midge checked her shadow and tried to make her hair more even on both sides.
Pulpy sucked on his throbbing finger.
Beatrice answered the door. She was wearing a silky top with wide-legged pants that were tight at the waist. A strip of bare skin showed in between.
Pulpy saw Midge’s mouth form a tight line, and then the three of them smiled at each other and said their hellos.
‘We brought you a plant,’ said Midge. ‘Ooh, that’s a nice one!’ Beatrice took it from her. ‘It looks artificial!'
‘Be careful.’ Pulpy held up his finger. ‘The leaves are sharp.’
‘Oh, poor baby!’ Beatrice set the plant down and seized Pulpy’s hand. ‘You need a Band-Aid! Does it hurt?’
‘No, no, I’m fine.’
‘But it looks like it hurts! Your nice, long finger!’ She cocked her head back. ‘Dan! Come and take Pulpy and Midge’s coats!’
‘What’s she yelling about?’ Dan strolled toward them, wearing a shiny shirt. ‘Hi Pulpy, hi Midge. Here, let me get that.’ He helped Midge off with her coat, and Beatrice disappeared down the hall. ‘What is this, wool? Very nice.’
‘It keeps me warm,’ said Midge.
‘I’ll bet it does.’ Dan looked over at his wife, who was rushing at them with a first-aid kit. ‘What are you doing with that?’
‘Pulpy has a wound. Pick up that plant there, will you? They got us that plant.’
‘I’ve got my hands full with the coats here, dear.’ He rolled his eyes at Pulpy.
‘Where’s your bathroom?’ said Midge.
‘I’ll show you,’ said Dan.
Beatrice ripped open the Band-Aid with her teeth. She pulled off the non-sticky strips and let them flutter to the floor. ‘Give me your finger,’ she told Pulpy.
Midge headed down the hallway with Dan, looking back at them over her shoulder.