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An ekphrastic sudden fiction piece written for Mackenzie Davis' challenge

By Suze KayPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 3 min read
Top Story - January 2024
Photo taken by Rebekah Conard, of Golden Barrel Cactus at Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee, WI

It was well after 8AM, but Lola could hardly tell. All that crossed through the blinds was a weak, grayish light. In her old apartment, light poured in through her tall windows as soon as the sun rose. Not here, in a ground-floor apartment where all the windows faced a neighboring building.

She shook Randall, snoring at her side.

"Hey, we're going to be late."

"For what?" he murmured blearily.

"The plant sale, remember?" He moaned and pulled the blanket over his head. "All right, I'll take first shower."

By feey on Unsplash

Lola waited for the water pressure to fill her fancy filter. She'd installed it when she noticed her hair was getting crunchy. Google told her the tap water probably had too much chlorine, but it wasn't a problem $150 couldn't fix. Google seemed less certain that her Britta filter was up to the challenge of making the water drinkable. She tried not to think too hard about it.

It certainly hadn't made the water safe enough for plants. Within six months of moving in with Randall, all of them withered and died. The finicky calathea finally succumbing to its long war against spider mites hadn't been a surprise, but to lose her long-limbed pothos, her little pilea pot, and even the hardy snake plant had been a major bummer. Watching a sickly yellow crawl up their stems had cracked her heart, and tipping them, soil and all, into the bin had broken it completely. Randall didn't get it.

"Just buy new ones," he said. "Plants never last long anyways."

But they had, before the new apartment. When she finally connected the dots between the sourish, bleachy smell of their water and the demise of her beloved leafy friends, she felt such shame. Why hadn't she taken greater care? Why had she just watched them die, and not gone to Google earlier?

In mourning, she bought a cactus at the grocery store. Hard to kill. It was a pathetic thing, just a tiny, round ball of spikes that sat on the windowsill by her bed. Well, it started off round. Now it was starting to stretch a bit, growing a thinner knobbly bit on top like it had been clonked on the noggin. But that's what you got when you spent five bucks on a subpar product, she thought. The plants that Lola would buy at the sale would be better.

By Howie Mapson on Unsplash

Randall refused to get out of bed, so Lola went to the nursery on her own. She pretended to pout about it, but was secretly glad: it meant she could stop in at Starbucks and buy a latte without having to hear him moan about the prices or over-roasted beans.

Latte in hand, she walked through the nursery's narrow aisles. She inhaled the good, green scent of growth and fertile soil. She felt her sides stroked by fronds and leaves as she passed by leggy plants, occasionally stroking one back. She wanted to look first, before she decided who to take home with her.

She followed a narrow hallway filled with shade plants into a sunlit greenhouse. The air felt dryer there. Sunbaked. The Cactus Room, a sign tacked to the wall stated. In the corner, a cluster of proud, fat bulbs drew her eye. Each was at least six inches across, green and happy, with long stripes of spikes that drew up their sides to gather in a fuzzy nest on top. She smiled.

"I think I've got one of you at home," she whispered to the cacti. "But who are you?" She looked at the plaque below. Golden Barrel Cactus, it read. Requires full sun.

She thought guiltily of the gray light in her bedroom, the blinds she never drew open. She thought of the thin growth topping her little friend at home, seeing now that it wasn't a bad cactus. It was just desperate for light. She thought of her hair growing drier, her secretive joy at buying a latte for herself, the fact that she was here on her own when Randall said he'd come, too.

Lola left the nursery empty-handed. She had some housekeeping to do before she was ready for new friends.


I hope you enjoyed this small slice of life. I wrote it for Mackenzie Davis' Ekphrastic Challenge. Check out the comments on her story for more delightful pieces of short fiction! Thank you to Rebekah Conard for submitting the beautiful photo that inspired my story. And make sure to subscribe to Poppy to see what she comes up with for the photo I submitted.


About the Creator

Suze Kay

Pastry chef by day, insomniac writer by night.

Find here: stories that creep up on you, poems to stumble over, and the weird words I hold them in.

Or, let me catch you at

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (35)

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  • Rebekah Conard4 months ago

    Congrats on the Top Story! It's pretty neat that my photo ended up on a featured story. Great work!

  • Tracy Kreuzburg 4 months ago

    Enjoyed reading this. Well done!

  • asim mujahid4 months ago

    very well

  • M. A. Mehan 4 months ago

    Not the pothos 😭 those poor fictional plants broke my heart! Now I need go show some love to my leafy babies Congrats on top story!

  • Yokopi4 months ago


  • Heather Hubler4 months ago

    This was a truly wonderful story. I loved the parallels drawn between her relationship and the life of the plants. So well done :) And I could have sworn I was subscribed to you!

  • Apurba Deb4 months ago

    So Amazing!

  • Rene Peters4 months ago

    Congrats on Top Story!

  • Paul Stewart4 months ago

    Yeah! There we go. Congrats on a deserving Top Story!

  • Bravery TE Walker4 months ago

    Get rid of Randall, Lola. His bad vibes are killing your plants XD The pothos dying hurt my heart, as I have my own pothos growing out of my fish tank. It must be over seven feet long at this point. The nerd in my kept thinking if Lola's problems would've been partially solved if she put dechlorinator in the water before watering her plants, lol.

  • Stephanie Hoogstad4 months ago

    I think that Randall’s negative energy killed the plants as much as the bad water. What a wonderful metaphor you’ve written here. Congrats on the Top Story!

  • Kenny Penn4 months ago

    I don’t know how I missed this little gem, so I’m really happy it made top story! It’s great Suze, a little sad but there’s a lesson in it too, loved it

  • Back to say congratulations on your Top Story! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Mackenzie Davis4 months ago

    Woot!! Top Story!!!!

  • Babs Iverson4 months ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!!

  • Oneg In The Arctic4 months ago

    Such a simple yet complex story of daily life and the desire to be better. But sometimes we end up looking back instead and asking, "why didn't I take better care?"

  • Lamar Wiggins4 months ago

    Congrats, Suze! I love plants. I kept one alive one time for at least 12 years. Your story was very realistic in conveying the emotions that develop for a simple, yet beautiful thing like a plant. Well done!

  • Poppy 4 months ago

    YAY TOP STORY👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 so well deserved 💛

  • Dana Crandell4 months ago

    Congratulations! Well deserved!

  • Cathy holmes4 months ago

    Wonderful job. Congrats on the TS.

  • Rachel Deeming4 months ago

    This was a great story. I love the connectedness you create between Lola and the cacti and the empathy that she feels for them when they don't survive. Randall - I hope he's part of the housekeeping that she's got to do when she gets home. A hopeful ending. Loved it.

  • Poppy 4 months ago

    This is just gorgeous. I love the use of include images too. Made it feel cozy with a cottage kind of feeling. The whole story made me want to go and buy plants but I’m not good at looking after them no matter the environment 😂. You have a way of making the simple things in life seem beautiful with your writing. That ending was incredible too. And thanks for my mention!! I have the story about your image written but it’s currently 403 words too long😂😭

  • So cute when she chats with the Cactus... ""I think I've got one of you at home," she whispered to the cacti. "But who are you?"

  • Dana Crandell5 months ago

    I love the depth and complexity of the story you created. What a wonderful flight of imagination, with a great epiphany for the protagonist at the end!

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