THE BOTANIST by Seth Wade

THE BOTANIST by Seth Wade

I smacked the peach cobbler pie into his face, then backed away. The pie tin fell and the remaining crust and filling made his face look like paper mache. I had thought the whole thing would be weird, but it just felt silly, if not a little boring.

He took a long breath in and out, didn’t open his eyes.

“Thank you,” he said.

I took the two twenty-dollar bills off his nightstand and left.

The next time, it was lemon meringue.

He was renting a room in the basement of some family relative. He never told me who, and I never saw them. The household contained seven cats. They pissed everywhere. In his bedroom, one cunning Persian had taken to crawling into the ceiling and shitting above the plastic ceiling tiles, which made some of them sag and pop out of place.

You’d be surprised how quickly I got used to the smell.

“Oh,” he moaned. 

This time he opened his eyes and licked the cream from his lips. He offered me another forty dollars to watch him masturbate. So I watched.

There was blueberry, key lime, apple, banana, cherry. It never thrilled me, but I found his passion for the whole ritual fascinating. Plus he was a grad student in botany, which seemed so exotic to my adolescent self. We both played video games and enjoyed horror movies. I thought we could be friends. In some ways, we were.

We bonded most over his plants. His little soldiers, he called them: sage, mint, ginseng, feverfew, yarrow. And his babies: dianthus, lavender.

None of them seemed healthy. Petals curled, leaves yellowed.

The once-purple fronds of his lavender browned and limped, yet lived.

“Is it all the cat shit?” I asked. “Toxoplasmosis or whatever—”

“Don’t be ignorant,” he replied. “Toxoplasmosis affects only mammals, not plants.”

“Oh.”

Eventually he switched to pie crust filled with shaving cream. It was cheaper.

And eventually he showed me his collection of AK-47s. They were in a wardrobe in his bedroom that I’d assumed was for clothes.

Of course, I saw this coming. We’d discussed politics before. We disagreed.

One night he couldn’t climax. Some notification on his phone he suddenly received. Fake news.

Leaving, I headed up the storm cellar stairwell—then I heard footsteps.

Someone was coming down the stairs.

I ran back and returned to his room.

He was bent over his lavender with a pair of scissors, snipping into the soil, at the roots.

He jerked his head toward me.

I fled, crashed into some woman carrying laundry, and flew out the storm cellar doors.

Years later, he texted me and tried to make amends.

Among other stuff he told me that I didn’t care about, he shared how the ceiling of his bedroom collapsed. Tiles and shit rained upon him. He’d gotten a concussion.

I replied, There are parasitic fungi that infect the brains of ants and control them like puppets, making them kill themselves.


Seth Wade is a tech ethicist studying and teaching at Bowling Green State University. You can read his fiction and poetry in publications like Hunger Mountain Review, Strange Horizons, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, HAD, Apparition Literary Magazine, The Cafe Irreal, the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Gateway Review, and now X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. His work is also forthcoming in hex and BAM Quarterly. You can follow him on Twitter / X: @SethWade4Real.

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