Jessica looked at me. “You know about plants.” She thrust her phone at me. “What is this? I need to get it now!”
I looked. “I think it’s a butterfly palm. It’s a nice plant. Why are you getting a plant. Plants die just by looking at you.” I had know Jessica for years and she is the only person I knew who could kill a spider plant. She could kill anything green. She always swore that lettuce wilted faster around her.
“But my mother is coming to visit.” Jessica said. “And last time she was here, she gave me this plant.”
Mrs Ford, Jessica’s mum, was an avid gardener. She even wrote the gardening column in the church magazine. “So what happened to the plant. It looks pretty healthy and it must have been hard even for you to kill.”
Jessica winced. “I hate plants. Mum was always so obsessed over them and knew all their Latin names and everything. It put me off them for life. As soon as she was on the train back, I took it to a charity shop.”
I looked at the luxuriant plant in the picture. “Next time donate it to me. That looks beautiful, and they can be expensive.”
“What am I going to do?” Jessica said. “Mum is bound to ask questions.” Her shoulders slumped. “I feel such a disappointment.”
“She’s not disappointed in you.” I said firmly. “You two just have different skills. You know how she always gets you to check the bills and she can never cope with numbers.” Jessica stayed downcast. I gave her a quick hug. “I’ll take you shopping for plants tomorrow. We’ll pick up a nice butterfly palm, put it in a dark corner and keep her distracted with your knitting.” Mrs Ford loved Jessica’s knitting.
The next morning I was regretting my offer. Jessica was hopeless around plants. “This one looks great,” I said, picking it up.
“Hang on,” Jessica said. “We can’t get one too healthy or mum will suspect something.”
“How about this?” I found I sad specimen in the corner, heavily marked down.
“Mum would have a fit if she thought I had neglected her plant so much. You know what she’s like – they’re her babies.”
“What about this?” I picked up a slightly wilted one from near the heating duct.”
“Mmmm” Jessica was undecided. “Do you think it is the right size? I mean, it’s a little bigger than the picture.”
“Your mum was last here six months ago.” I said. “You always visit her, remember. The plant should have grown.”
Jessica looked the plant over, turning it this way and that. “It looks too nice to take to my house.” She ran a finger over the leaves.
“Which is why you are giving me that plant as soon as your mum is on the train and I’ll keep it safe for you. You can even tell your mum that I asked for it.” I said. “Come on, let’s pay for this and get it home. Your mum will be here in an hour.”
Jessica picked her mum up at the station while I finished the finishing touches on Jessica’s flat. It was a bright, sunny afternoon but the unsparing sunshine couldn’t find a speck of dust or scrap of lint anywhere. I made the coffee and put out some biscuits as I heard Jessica’s car draw up outside.
Mrs Ford came in and gave me a warm smile and a hug. “Mandy, it’s good to see you again. How are you doing? Still with Dan?”
“Dan who?” I grinned. “I’ll get you a coffee Mrs Ford.”
“Hmm, let me see, was it Kai? Or Jude? Or wasn’t there a Jason?” Mrs Ford teased as she slipped out of her jacket and looked around the room. She spotted the plant and walked over to pick it up. “That is a beautiful plant.”
Jessica rushed over as her mother expertly checked the dryness of the soil. “I bet you didn’t think I could keep a house plant alive all this time, but I did. I think I’ve done okay, actually. I call her ‘Gertie'”
“Jessica, I love you dearly, but I do wish you wouldn’t panic and fib.” Mrs Ford sighed. “I gave you a house plant last time because I thought the room looked bare without something green, but I know you very well.” She shook a sorrowful head at her daughter. “The plant I left with you was artificial.”