Sprouted by Natalie Rogers

Mine sprouted right through the top of my head. Everyone told me I should feel lucky, there were worse places it could pop up. Imagine the belly button? Or that crease in between the pinky toe and the toe next to the pinky toe? I tried to see the deeper meaning in my sprouting spot, though after years of research by botanists, herbalists, pathologists, and dermatologists, no official cause as to why these plants emerge from the body parts they do had been determined.

Why couldn’t it have taken a subtler route? Somewhere hidden, not drawing attention from the masses, like a row of daisies up the spine or a patch of baby’s breath beneath the feet. 

It didn’t hurt like I thought it would. It surfaced from the soft spot on the top of my skull and pushed its way through a hair follicle, reaching for the sunlight like any other photosynthesizing plant, I assumed. The usual messy bun I twisted my hair into became compromised, and I had to start managing my golden locks into an even messier braid that swished like a pendulum between my shoulder blades when I walked.

The brain is the most important organ. I told myself that had something to do with it. Maybe all that random knowledge I retained through my twenty-nine years—male seahorses are the nurturers of their young, the directors of E.T. recorded hands squishing grape jelly to make the sound of E.T. walking, the two stone lions guarding the New York Public Library are named Patience and Fortitude—finally grew into something more.

Within a month, my sprout had only grown two subulate-shaped leaves that curved up from the base of my scalp and was three and a quarter inch tall. Len’s had bloomed, a few years ago, a gray, soft-petaled flora on the top of his right hand. The same hand that was currently stroking my spine, our morning routine, my very own bouquet of lust that had been waking me up like this for the past seven months.

“Babe, I’m running late,” Len said. “Will you do breakfast this morning?”

I groaned. My sprout withered.

“I cook breakfast every morning. What does it matter if you’re running late or not?”

Len rolled onto his back, flowered hand to his chin, digging for some dirt to try and prove my statement false. He could be there all day.

I met Lennon Johnson on the 1:53 a.m. train back to Union Station during my last semester of grad school. It was obvious he was searching for my bloom, his green-gray eyes scanning all visible areas of my exposed flesh, looking for any signs of plant-life. When he told me his name, I asked if his parents were hippies who loved The Beatles, and he said his parents hated bugs. I pictured a couple with dandelions for brains. 

Len was charming, smart, and romantic as roses. On the train that night he told me stories about his travels, all the places he backpacked through after college and before he settled down in his career.

I was enthralled by his experiences. The train rides to Manhattan were the most adventurous trips I’d gone on besides that one time I went to Disney World when I was four years old and my parents lost me on the It’s Tough to Be a Bug! attraction in Animal Kingdom. Len fed me promises of seeing the world together, and I believed him.

After dating for two months, he moved into my studio apartment located above a juice bar that caused it to always smell like celery. It had red brick walls and exposed wood beams and a shower so small my elbows hit the white-tiled walls when I shampooed my hair. I cooked us Pinterest dinners my mom sent me via Facebook Messenger, and Len always did the dishes. Well, he rinsed them before putting them in the dishwasher. We took weekend trips as much as we could. Beachfront Airbnb’s in Rhode Island, camping trips in Sutton Falls just a few hours over the Massachusetts border. I was a weekend warrior, living as wanderers do, at least that’s what Len told me.

As a freelance copywriter, I had freedom and flexibility, but also a below-average salary. Lennon landed a journalist gig for a local online blog, so he couldn’t really help with rent, but he was in between houses and had flowers on his hand and he told me he loved me. 

I started his eggs while he finished packing for a weekend trip to the city to write a piece on a Talking Heads cover band playing at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. I secretly looked forward to some alone time, but I told him I’d miss him anyways.

The next morning, I was amazed to see a baby bud finally starting to open at the end of my sprout. Most everyone’s bloom typically appeared in the first two weeks of their growth, so I had started to get concerned. Today it even looked greener, the stalk more rigid, and the leaves extra veiny and lush. I decided to celebrate by staying home and starting a travel memoir I scored from a Little Free Library at the park last summer. On the last page was a drawing of a tiger lily that someone had penned in black ink. That simple sketch was the closest thing to an emotional connection I had felt in a long time.

When Len returned late Sunday night, he didn’t even comment on my new addition. A thick, seafoam-green stem topped with a single white petal now adorned the top of my head. I figured he’d be shocked to see how much it grew in the two days he was gone, but he just passed out diagonally across the bed after inhaling the Chipotle leftovers I was saving for lunch the next day. One of my leaves started to brown around the edges.

My mom took me out to lunch a few weeks later where she commented on my lack of growth.

“Did you even read the article I emailed you? Margie at work said she mixed a little Miracle-Gro in her shampoo for a week straight and hers grew six inches. Six inches! In a week! Can you believe it?”

I told her that stuff was poison. I wouldn’t even use it in my vegetable garden, let alone massage it into my scalp. It just needed time, I told her, even though it hadn’t grown much more since Len came home from his trip. She stared at me, with that mom look moms get when they’re trying to decide if they should teach you a lesson or let you figure it out on your own. I suppose the latter won because she just corrected her posture and tucked her hair behind her growth and pushed around the remaining contents of her arugula and quinoa salad. 

My mother embodied beauty. The single red rose tucked behind her ear just added the finishing touch to her all-around perfection. She was a late bloomer, too. It wasn’t until she met my father in her late twenties that the thorny vine protruding upwards from her collarbone started to branch up the side of her neck and blossom into the most stunning growth I’ve ever seen. Her pin-straight obsidian bob was a stark contrast to her crimson floral adornment, but her dark features complemented the rose’s hypnotizing intent. My whole life I’ve watched men and women crane their necks to keep her in their passing gaze, her rose, emanating such elegance that other growths shriveled in envy.

Trying to hide the slight downturn my lips made thinking about my mom’s comment, I was reminded of my youth, living at my parents’ house until I turned twenty-five. My mom was in a constant state of worry, fear that my sister and I would be cursed with some “hideous growth” like our Uncle Ralph. Maybe that’s why mine took so long to sprout; it too feared the malignant maternal judgment. Everyone tried not to judge based on where a sprout chose to unearth, but some were less fortunate, shrubbery sticking out of nostrils, or wrists wrapped in vice-like vines, their growth a punishment for some unknown secret.

I couldn’t stop Googling “Why Has My Sprout Suddenly Stopped Growing” ever since my mom got into my head about Margie and the Miracle-Gro. The only results I received were that I needed more water, or that I was drinking too much water, but finally, on page thirteen, I clicked on a link that took me to a site reminiscent of Netscape, 1996. It had information about crystal energy and chakras and theories on how a sprout was the “third eye of your mind.” It’s all a load of shit, but I took the “What is your sprout telling you?” quiz anyways. Twenty-five irrelevant questions later—like “Do you believe in animal reincarnation?” and “What’s your favorite secondary color?”—the results told me, “Your roots, they need to grow, but this you already know.” All I knew was that this was a complete waste of time and I needed to stop letting my mother’s irrational concern get to me.

 I sat in front of my mirrored closet door the following Sunday night still thinking about the lunch I had with my mom, gently massaging the tips of the browning petals on my now fully-bloomed peace lily. It finally blossomed five days ago, and that morning when Len woke up and saw it, he commented, “It’s so . . . white,” and promptly fell back asleep.

I read somewhere that channeling positive energy into plants could help them grow and stay healthy, so lately I’d been reciting positive mantras while lightly caressing the dead parts between my thumb and pointer finger.

You are a beautiful flower.

You are a strong, beautiful flower.

You are a strong, smart, independent, beautiful flower.

I’d become Margie.

Len crept up behind me while I was loving on myself and dug his fingers into my ribs to tickle me. I felt something inside me rip, a small but sharp snap, like the separation of a five-year-old and their first tooth. I had accidentally torn off one of my petals from the sneak attack. I brought the ivory leaf in front of my eyes and focused on it until the background blurred into a hazy horizon.

I didn’t say a thing when I got up and walked over to my bureau and started frantically pulling out random clothes. I remained quiet when Len sauntered over, acting like nothing was wrong, and asked what I was cooking for dinner. My silence finally registered when I finished packing my bag with a week’s worth of outfits, grabbed my keys, and slammed the door in the middle of his “what’s wrong?”

My mother welcomed me with open arms. She loved playing mom when one of her daughters came running home. My childhood bedroom looked like a mausoleum of my youth: pages torn from books, faded Polaroids, and antique world maps covered most of the sage-colored walls. I grew up surrounded by the precursors to a life inspired by experience and adventure. But instead, I was stuck living in a space two sizes too small with a guy who just took up space I could’ve been using to grow. Space my roots needed to grow.

Len didn’t even call the first three days. He didn’t text, didn’t tweet, no DM’s, PM’s, or even played his turn on Words with Friends. When he finally did call on the fourth night, it was obvious he was out, drunk, and like usual, didn’t think anything was wrong.

“Baby. Hi. Where are you?” He slurred his words.

“Lennon, really? Are you just noticing now that I haven’t been home in four days?”

“Well, no, but—where are you? I need a ride. And some Taco Bell.”

“Text me where you are.”

“Babeee, Taco Be—.”

I pinned his location before I changed my mind.

My lily was looking whiter than ever, lush, and full of life; maybe he’d see it and remember why he fell in love with me in the first place.

After eating eight tacos, he passed out in the car before we even made it back to my apartment. I had to shake him awake to help him up the stairs, all the while preventing his heavy frame from crushing my flower. Our growths were durable, but there’s only so much they can take.

I broke up with Len the next morning. He said I was acting childish. I said he was a selfish asshole. We didn’t remain friends.

I moved across town to a split-level duplex that had floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights in every room. I signed the lease before I even toured the full apartment.

My neighbor was an eighty-eight-year-old widow named Roz who had Queen Anne’s lace for eyebrows and a French bulldog called Marigold. She invited me over for dinner nearly every night and told me stories of her life and late husband and how she didn’t get her growth until twelve years ago, after he passed.

“I thought there was something wrong with me by my fiftieth birthday,” Roz told me. “Like, maybe I had some internal disease, ‘bad dirt,’ I always said. I’d heard of people sprouting in their late thirties, even forties, but then, there I was, seventy-six-years-old, and I woke up one morning with flowers on my face.”

I started taking Marigold for walks every morning. We both had short legs, so our paces were compatible, and she appreciated the greater lengths we’d go that Roz could no longer handle. 

Roz helped me realize how much time I wasted with someone I kept hoping would change, all while teaching me how these people come into our lives for a reason. I could tell she missed her family by how much she talked about them, and she was especially proud of her grandson who moved to New Hampshire after college. She called him her little tiger. 

My mom came to visit more often at this house than she ever did at the celery apartment. I cooked her dinner one night, and she confessed she never liked Len and said she knew all along that he was the reason my sprout struggled to grow. She also told me Margie lost all her hair and now wore a wig to work, so she hoped I didn’t try the Miracle-Gro remedy.

I’ve had to trim my flower twice now since Len. The first stem, with the decaying petals and withered leaves, I left on our old apartment’s back steps. He ended up staying in that studio, and I heard he was now dating one of the girls from the juice bar. The second lily, I pressed in a book underneath my mattress, encased it in resin, then gifted it, as a pendant, to Roz. She wore it every day, a symbol of my gratitude and appreciation, hanging right over her heart.

Two years later, Roz passed away the day after her ninetieth birthday. Her family came from out of state to organize the services for her. On the twentieth of March, Roz was laid to rest on a bed of Queen Anne’s lace, under an old oak tree at the cemetery down the street. There were a surprising number of attendees at the funeral, all paying their respects by leaving behind a piece of their growth on the closed casket, a bouquet of grief to be buried with the deceased.

I was the last to place down my lily, one I let grow taller than my usual allotted height, and I noticed a tiger lily among the bunch of blossoms and smiled remembering the drawing from the memoir I read.

“Scarlett?” Someone addressed me from behind.

Turning around, I was met with rich, mournful brown eyes and an outstretched hand. I subtly searched for any growth before completing the handshake and met Roz’s grandson, Ellis, who was incredibly grateful for my befriending his grandmother. We exchanged information to meet up again. He insisted on buying me coffee to talk about Roz and her final years. My eyes scanned the rest of him while another grieving loved one shared her condolences.

Then I saw it—a freshly-cut stem peeking out from under his dark hair, sprouting from the same exact spot my lily grew. My sprout stretched towards the sky. Ellis turned back towards me and handed me his card: 


“It’s made from hemp,” he said.

I know I should’ve told him that I appreciated his efforts in saving our Earth and that I knew of forty-two different products that could be made from hemp that I read about in a scientific journal back in college, or that I knew of a great little café that served coffee in reusable things resembling cups, like soup cans, mason jars, and hollowed coconut halves, but all I could focus on was the picture of him on the opposite side of his business card.

Ellis, standing proudly alone in a forest of white birchwood, dressed in park ranger beige, with a fully-bloomed tiger lily right on the top of his head.


Natalie Rogers is an east coast native with a BA in English from Southern Connecticut State University. At Southern, she was the Editor-in-Chief of the college’s art & literary magazine, Folio, and won the 2020 English Department Creative Writing Award. Her short stories have been published in San Antonio’s literary magazine, High Noon, the UK’s Howling Press online magazine, and SCSU’s Folio. When she’s not getting tattooed or binge reading, you can find her lounging in bed with her two cats and a McDonald’s Diet Coke.