Photograph by Erica Plouffe Lazure
Janissa skipped the aerated charcoal. The most crucial layer of a terrarium and she forgot it. Again. As though the tiny black moisture-sucking, oxygen-supplying chips weren’t sitting right there, begging (if charcoal chips could beg) to be layered just under the soil and over the dry moss. She’d been distracted (again) by her sister on the phone, who was bitching (again) about her kids in foster care. Janissa tried with every bit of measure she could muster, given the circumstances, not to lose it. Seriously. If the cops bust you dealing drugs, with your kids in the backseat, twice, what do you expect?
“Social Services will sort it out,” Janissa said, shaking the dirt from the thrift shop fish bowl. Starting over. Sorting out the stones. Laying down the rock. Dry moss. Charcoal. Soil. Layering each strata of the tiny green world into being. Grey then brown then black then brown again. “Won’t they?”
“It’s not fair,” Marnie said. “It’s a free country. My kids belong with me.”
Janissa lived halfway across the free country, or she’d offer to take the kids herself. But the tiny cabin in the woods was good for her and only her. Good for getting away. For starting over. Just that morning, she found a cluster of mushrooms, tiny grey caps, like enoki but meatier, waiting to be foraged. She dug her trowel deep in the earth, protecting their tiny roots from the shock of displacement, and carried them back, balanced on the hollow shell of the shovel, to her kitchen table. The live moss, which she’d found that morning, awaited. Amid its lush pincushion green velvet, an army of tiny hair-like feelers, stood curious, awaiting the return of sunshine, of their new home.
“They’ll get there,” Janissa said. “You’ll have to be patient.”
“Ugh. You don’t care about anyone but yourself,” Marnie said.
With her pinkie, Janissa mashed a hole in the soil. She knocked off the excess dirt on the mushroom cluster, and tucked it in. Then a tiny fern. A small succulent. A world in miniature, like a fairy garden, with its very own toadstool. She pushed back memories of her and Marnie’s adventures in the city, two pixie-fairy-types with poet blouses and flowing hair, absorbing a few stems and caps that would bring a reliable playful glow to their endless parties. But that was long ago, even though Marnie still seemed to be lost somewhere in that era. A mother of two, unable to escape her wild former self.
“I wish I could help,” Janissa said. She took up the moss, carving its contours, plaiting the terrarium’s top layer, like a quilt. The kitchen shears cut steady through the thick green, piece by piece. She pictured her terrarium, finished, covered by a clear glass plate, sweating in the sun. Photosynthesizing. Growing. She wondered about the moss, absorbing, protecting. About the cluster of mushrooms blooming. About her tiny little new world, now out of its element, forced to start over, adjusting.
Erica Plouffe Lazure is the author of a flash fiction chapbook, Heard Around Town, and a fiction chapbook, Dry Dock. Sugar Mountain, a flash fiction chapbook, is forthcoming by Ad Hoc Press (UK) in Fall 2020. Her fiction is published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Carve, Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, The Southeast Review, Phoebe, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), Hippocampus Magazine, Litro (UK), and elsewhere. She enjoys snorkeling, hula-hooping, and guitar and lives and teaches in Exeter, NH and can be found online at ericaplouffelazure.com.