A Small Japanese Garden

Original by Ronit Yedaya, translation by Yaron Regev

On Friday mornings I place all the plants in my bathtub so I can water and wash them. Once a week, I spoil them with a bath. But, and I closely supervise this, should any plant demonstrate signs of thirst on any other days – drooping leaves, or something of the sort, then it will get extra water in a cup without being transferred to the bathtub. (First chance I get, I should buy a funnel so I can spray them gently.) Anyway, on Friday mornings I place the plants close together in the bathtub because it seems to me they enjoy that sense of togetherness – the thin leaves with the thick, the narrow with the wide, and the dark green with the light green, and the one with the yellow stripes.

They all mingle together until the following morning – unless I need to bathe myself, or if I go out in the evening. From above, it looks like a small Japanese garden, and there’s even an orchid flower I was once given. It’s epoxy-colored, like a cherry blossom. I need to buy him a female orchid, or a male, because I’ve read it’s important for pollination, or mating, or happiness, or something of the sort. I try not to harm any flowers as I gently spray them all with water from the showerhead.

I try not to overdo watering Ossie, which is short for Oswaldo, my ex-husband, a small, strong, hairy South American man who liked to eat lots of meat and is, nowadays, a bonsai plant. He’s quite miserable if you ask me, because he was supposed to be a normal tree, small, but still a tree, and today he is a miniature after having his roots tied up like feet on a Chinese girl, and therefore he cannot be watered too much. He is as distorted as a dwarf with a thick, wildly disproportionate neck – the trunk – from which the main branch was amputated and the wound smeared with a black material that prevents growth, which is why he only has this thin, fine, very long branch growing from the side, only a few small leaves gracing the tip.

Ossie is the veteran of the bunch. I would never have bought him, but I received him as a present from Motti. I had brought Motti a cheesecake for his birthday. That was the norm in our office. Motti loved cheesecakes. Next day, he brought me Ossie wrapped up in cellophane. That was a day after the real Ossie and I were divorced, and after all the mess with little Mika, and the diamonds he’d stolen when he returned to meat-loving Argentina. I occasionally watered Ossie with strong Turkish coffee, because that was what Oswaldo had liked best, and also because that was how we’d met, in a restaurant at the diamond exchange building. He had ordered a small, strong cup of Turkish, and I had dared (perhaps because I had been young) to tell him: that was exactly what I love. We chatted a little and he used the opportunity to ask me if I wanted to work for him, and I said yes, because I wanted to leave Fox and Sons’.

Then there’s the plant, Motti – which is a short enough name so it didn’t need any further abbreviations – a work colleague…well, my former boss to be more precise. He loved having sex in the office and shouting, “I’m shooting, I’m shooting,” when he came. At first, Motti the plant, drank and drank and grew and grew, and I was afraid he was trying to take over the space of all other plants and obscure their view. But after I cut off his water supply for a month, he turned into a weakling of a ficus and has been showing signs of dying for a year. And, in the same way a dying child has his name changed to one relating to God, like ‘Ahuvia’ or ‘Jusea’, I renamed him Zacharia.

As for the twin plants called Shula (black maidenhair ferns), I had absentmindedly left them out in the sun once after putting them on a windowsill to enjoy the rain. The sun emerged before they had managed to drink their fill, and their leaves had blackened and fallen, but I did not give up and kept treating and soothing them, until, about a month later, they made a proper comeback with wild blossoms and thankful gurgles every time I watered them.

Then there is the small plant – some of the plants here are still nameless – in the purple container with the white flowers. The same plant can also bloom with a red blossom, both are enchanting! It is a breed of soft cacti, which means the leaves aren’t very fleshy, and the thorns aren’t prickly. Perhaps it is genetically engineered.

My Mom used to have one, real big, right over the toilet tank (I almost blurted bank), and I recalled how Oswaldo used to sell the diamond dealers Viagra pills he’d smuggled from South America. He’d say how it was easy money in the bank, and that there was one of his customers, Yehuda, sixty-plus, who said he had taken two and fucked the brains out of two Russian girls all night. The kicker was that Oswaldo had warneD all his diamond dealer friends it was dangerous to take more than one – but had failed to mention the pills were all fake!

Anyway, Mom used to water this particular plant with love and lots of water (it was from her that I learned to water them in the bathtub). It was given to me as a present from Marina, who was with me in Hadassim. She had come from an orphanage in Ukraine, and I had come straight from home after Dad had gone to America and Mom had had too much of a hard time with my behavior. Or, as I once heard her say to someone from the diamond dealers’ wives association (NILA), ‘behaviors’. I don’t want to say a word about little Mika, not now in any event.

Sometimes I get in the tub without filling it. Just to lie there quietly, surrounded by plants like Pharaoh and the sarcophagi and the servants and house animals, and the boat that rows them to the fields of serenity on the surface of the sun. But never on a Friday, because then they are Lillian’s guests on her balcony. I think she became attached to them when I was at Motti’s after he had broken up with his wife, and before he had moved in with Anna. She, Lillian, had suggested I move them to her place when it was raining instead of watering them in the tub. “The rain is good for them,” she said. The cold too. Although I’ve always thought that Ossie prefers the heat, the fact remains that he now enjoys the warm climate of South America.

And perhaps my apartment is actually a sun boat on its journey to the fields of serenity?

Yaron Regev is a published author and translator who is equally comfortable writing in Hebrew or English. He is the author of two graphic novels, Ghosts of Love and Country (2019) and the soon to be released Descartes’ World, an upcoming YA fantasy series called The Door Behind the Sun, and several adult novels.

Ronit Yedaya lives in Israel and has published seven novels. Her latest novel, Mini-Me, was published in 2019. She is currently head of the creative writing department at the Minshar School of Arts.

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