Rooting Powder: A Short Story

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Josh touched his finger and thumb around the stem of the seedling and lifted it from the crumbled mass of compost and roots spread across last month's National Geographic. He held it up to the kitchen window and examined the curled seed leaves, giving way to the first jagged leaves that said, "I will be tomatoes." He slid the tip of a bamboo skewer into the knot of roots, freeing them until they hung like tentacles ready to feel for water and nutrition. The miracle of life never ceased to strike awe in Josh, how he could place a hard seed into moist compost, add sun, and turn the dot into food.

He dipped the seedling's damp roots into a tub of white powder, bored a hole in a pot of fresh compost, and dangled the roots in, gently tamping the soil around the stem. As he added water, he imagined he could see the roots stretching down into the warm soil, searching for nooks in which to unfold themselves and take hold, establish a footing, settle in for the summer.

"I have the most amazing idea," said Dani, skidding into the kitchen and thrusting her tablet over Josh's shoulder. A wave of energy followed, as if she wore a cloak of possibility that whooshed behind her and swirled around her feet. Josh felt himself shift, his body instinctively moving to protect his seedlings.

"Let's put wheels on all the furniture," Dani said, her eyes flashing in sync with each punctuated emphasis. "That way it will be like coming home to a new house every day."

Josh glanced at the video on Dani's screen, a stop-motion video of a room in constant flux, the couch vanishing from under the window and rematerializing by the bookshelves, the small chrome coffee table flitting from spot to spot, the lamp traveling in circles, like a migrant bird looking to roost.

Josh dusted the soil from his hands and rubbed the back of his wrist against an itch in his beard. Last week Dani had sent him an article that claimed the "lumbersexual" look was passé. He'd deleted it. "I kind of like things the way they are," he said.

"Variety's the spice of life," said Dani, inching around him, her slender hand finding its way beneath his shirt. She looked up at him from behind a thicket of curled auburn hair and frowned. "You used to like spice."

Josh felt the edge of Dani's nail catch in the hair on his abdomen. He still liked spice. Of course he did. In India they'd eaten goat curry made with bhut jolokia—the killer ghost chilies. In Morocco they'd learned to mix legumes with fruit and fragrant spices cooked in ceramic tagines. In Peru they broke the cardinal rule of healthy travel and gorged on savory papas rellenos bought from a street vendor. Even before Dani, he'd had a taste for the spicy life: No food too hot, no woman too adventurous, no destination too untamed. But lately he found he enjoyed the stability that Dani called "a rut." He didn't feel stuck on a track or trapped on a one-way street—all the things he'd heard her say over the past few months. He felt settled, like an adult, rooted.

He studied Dani. Her eyes sparkled with the sense of excitement he'd always found endearing. It was the look that told him something fun was about to happen, some uncharted territory was about to be discovered, an innovation adopted early, only to be abandoned when "the masses" caught on. And suddenly he felt tired. Not the deep weariness he saw in his parents as they trudged towards retirement and the glitter of a 401k, nor the flattening exhaustion he'd felt as he'd staked his place in the tech world. It was the kind of tired that made him want to sit in his favorite chair—the one Dani called his grandpa camp—the worn pillow at the base of his spine, just how he liked it. He wanted to re-read his Tolkien, sitting by the window in the spot where the afternoon light fell just right. He was content to look out at the familiar landscape, the shelves of beloved books, his forest of well-tended plants, the artwork they'd gathered on their travels.

He had a fleeting vision of himself zooming around the room in his armchair-cum-chariot, propelled by Dani and her constant quest for something new, for change and adventure, for never being satisfied with anything the way it was. And suddenly he had another vision...of sitting in his chair, by his window, with his book, and his plants, but alone. No wheels, no change, no Dani. And it frightened him how comfortable that felt.

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