Know Thy Roommate

The first week in my house, Hermann ate my bookshelf.

Overgrowing his ceramic pot, his green leaves and tentacly vines encroached on the shelves, one by one, covering my books with ivy-like foliage.

Hermann is a plant. At least, I thought he was. Now, I’m not so sure.

He was an odd find at a yard sale eight weeks ago, and I couldn’t leave such a lonely, over-pruned plant sitting in the cold rain. The sight hurt my heart, as if someone had given the Queen’s roses a buzz cut during full bloom.

It needed a loving home. So, I brought it to my house and named it Hermann.

Today, he sits as if plant-purring at me, draped between my bookshelf and curio cabinet, resting the way plants might, if planning. I wonder what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s preening in the cabinet mirror, or trying to figure out how hinges work so he can make his viny way through the door. I have a feeling he might get there someday.

I haven’t tried to rein him in. Maybe I should—but I’m a strong advocate for freedom of all living things. That includes plants, doesn’t it? Maybe I should be more careful, but I like letting Hermann wander around the house. I think he deserves a chance.

Now, Hermann’s vines cover the entire bookshelf and he’s headed for the sofa and end table. Tiny leaves curl around my bookmarks. I imagine his little humming plant thoughts working away at titles, choosing this one or that one—I can almost hear them. Do plants read? Hermann didn’t seem interested in books at first, at least not three weeks ago. Then, I noticed a slight disarray on the shelves, as if small fingers were tipping out volumes and then pushing them back. A week later, Hermann managed to knock selected works off the shelves in alphabetical order. I think he’s getting smarter.

I think he’s trying to tell me something.

Last week, he went for Shakespeare.

Maybe he’s hungry for knowledge.

Three days ago, I started reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn out loud to him. I thought he might like it. He didn’t rustle for hours afterward, but he’d consumed the end table by morning. I’d also left my copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel on it.

This morning, his fallen leaves spelled out my name on the floor. I’m touched, but I’m getting a little nervous. When I come home from work today, I think I’ll talk with him.

I climb the last steps to my front door, thinking about Hermann, as I have all day. As I place my key in the lock and turn it, leaves curl out from under the door, arranging themselves into the word “Bienvenue” on my doormat. A tiny vine threads through the crack in the door and winds around my key. As I apprehensively push open the door, a tendril drops from above, sliding over my shoulder. It coils around my wrist and I’m tugged inside my house, into evening darkness, hearing a distinct rustle of approaching familiar leaves.

A lamp turns on. I look up to find Hermann towering above me—he’s grown! I must have left plant fertilizer in an unlocked cabinet. But the foliage bends aside and the tendril tugs me over to the sofa. There, I find a hot cup of tea awaiting and Les Miserables sitting open on the coffee table.

A page is marked.

I look at Hermann. He rustles a little, as if waiting expectantly. “Thank you,” I say. I sit on the sofa and pick up the book, the fragrance of lemon tea wafting around me. As I read aloud about prisons and escapes and freedom, Hermann’s tendrils creep past me, rustling over to the window. Framing it with his vines and leaves, he seems to peer wistfully outside.

I close the book in sudden realization.

“I understand, Hermann.”


I go search for a shovel. Some living things simply aren’t meant to be contained. I’m so glad he told me. I know a perfect spot he’d like in the back garden, where he’ll never be enclosed again: in the sun, and at the edge of the forest, if he chooses to explore farther. I’d like him to have a choice. I’m sure he’ll tell me when he’s ready to move on. And, in the meantime, I have some lovely books about the outdoors that I think he’ll enjoy.

Sandra Siegienski is a speech pathologist in the Pacific Northwest. Her fiction has appeared in The Colored Lens and The Timberline Review, and has placed in multiple contests, including the Mike Resnick Memorial Award and the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. An enthusiastic student of languages, culture, dance, and history, Sandra is currently writing a variety of sci-fi/ fantasy and young adult novels as well as short stories.

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