Yearning for Life

Yearning for Life
by Michael Shimek

The solar-powered plastic dancing flower was born on the grounds of a dirty and insufficiently vented factory in China, a cheap imitation of the more popular and better-known brand manufactured in a nearby country. Its mother, a young girl no older than 16, assembled the pieces with care, like she did with every product she worked on. She treated all of them as her precious babies.

For 4 renminbi an hour—a higher wage than most places around her village—Li Jing Ma was the mother to thousands.

Each flower took 23 minutes to produce. At the end of the assembly line, Li Jing’s job was to connect all the individual pieces to form the finalized toy. Her delicate hands, worn and withered enough to look four times their age, worked meticulously to complete the task.

The coil was glued to the bottom. She slipped the magnetic leaves and flower into their swinging slots on the top. A circuit chip no larger than her fingernail slid into a slot on the bottom, which was then attached to the solar panel above with some yellow wires. A blue pot that mimicked the sky (she wished she could have clothes as colorful) snapped the whole trinket into place.

Li Jing placed the flower under a UV lamp and watched her little baby dance with life. With a smile of pride, she bent down and kissed one of the smooth leaves.

An imprint of her lips, laden with tiny lines of red, stamped the plastic leaf.

Li Jing’s eyes went wide. She snatched the bottom of her ratty work clothes and wiped away the mark of her inferiority. Lost in the love of her child, she had forgotten about her dry and chapped lips—they would bleed from time to time. She passed the toy on to inspection, uttering a silent prayer that her mistake would go unnoticed.

But the plant noticed. The handheld toy felt the love and life of its mother, and it wanted that same life for itself. It wanted more than a few years of sitting on the dashboard of a car before being tossed away like garbage. It yearned for life, for real life, and determination clung to the cheaply made potted flower like a mother wolf eating her young to survive.

Omri Anderson placed his newly purchased toy in the square of sunlight smack dab in the middle of the forest of plants breathing life into the corner of the dayroom. The sun provoked an immediate reaction. The smooth leaves bounced up and down above blue plastic, and the white flower in the middle boogied left and right. He moved his hands and head along with the toy as he chuckled.

“Omri, what are you laughing at?”

“This new toy I bought,” he said as his wife entered the room. “It’s cute. Do you like it?”

Tiffani (with an i) scrunched her petite nose at the fake dancing plant. “Are you serious? It’s a cheap little toy. How much did it cost?”

It was always money with her. The woman could afford to buy a small town, yet she always wanted to know the value of everything. Omri loved her more than anything, but this obsession was one of her defects.

“It doesn’t matter how much it cost,” he said. “I like it.”

Her blonde hair shook with her head. “It’s tacky and I don’t want it next to my beautiful flowers. Get rid of it.”

“I like it. It’s not causing any harm where it is.”

“You mean apart from being an eyesore?”

Omri lowered his eyes and frowned. “Tiffani, you’re being selfish. Remember what the therapist said.”

She sighed. “Fine. We’ll keep it there for a few days. Besides, I can’t say no when you pout those sparkling blue eyes at me.” Her hips led the way as she snaked up to him. “To think, if it weren’t for those eyes, we would have never fallen in love.”

They had met in Omri’s homeland of Israel. She had been staying in Tel Aviv with her family on business, and he had been visiting from Haifa to celebrate a friend’s upcoming marriage.

While he was partying with his buddies, a model with golden hair and perfect skin had approached him. She looked like Cameron Diaz, from the funny movies he liked so much.

“I love your eyes.” She extended a hand. “I’m Tiffani, with an i.”

He blushed and introduced himself, and they spent the rest of the night falling in love. Four months later, he moved to New York to live with her. A year after that, they moved into a house upstate and married in a lavish wedding. (His parents didn’t like the fact that he had taken her surname.)

Tiffani could be superficial, but Omri loved her nonetheless. Her more appealing aspects sometimes had trouble conquering her egocentric upbringing, but they were there.

The little argument about Omri’s new plant ended with them making love on the floor of the dayroom, on the couch in the living room, and then, finally, on their bed. The forgotten toy brushed against its natural kin as it danced in the sunlight.

“Omri, you look ridiculous. Go change into something more appropriate.”

He looked down at his outfit: khakis and a checkered sweater—a clearance special from the department store.

“What’s wrong with it? I think it looks nice.”

“It looks tacky, just like that little toy of yours.” Tiffani rolled her eyes and clicked away on her stiletto heels. “I’ll go find you something more suitable for the dinner.”

“I’ll come along and—”

“No need!” she yelled from the staircase.

With his hands in his pockets, Omri walked around the first level of their two-story home while he waited for his wife to pick out his clothes. He strolled through fancy rooms with the newest and most expensive technology, ignoring the ornate displays out of boredom. He ended up in the dayroom, a more modest room and possibly his favorite room in the whole house.

It was very white and very clean—he almost felt like he dirtied the room every time he went in—but it had a spectacular view of the gorgeous garden in their backyard. If he had time, he would sit in one of the chairs and watch the world pass by. The jungle of greenery in the corner added a serene and calming contrast to the rest of the white room, and after he rested, he would always take a gander at the plants and say hello.

Omri walked over and checked up on his new toy.

It bobbed in the sunlight, cherishing the power of the star that gives life to everything on the planet. It looked bigger, and there were three dead leaves resting on the shelf next to the blue plastic pot. He leaned in for a closer look when a voice from outside the dayroom stole his attention.

“Here you go, Omri. This will suit you much better for tonight.”


Omri turned around to see the click-clacking approach of his wife, a set of clothes draped over one of her arms. The clothes she had picked were nice, but he didn’t see how his outfit was any less appropriate. He didn’t want to make a fuss, especially not with a couple’s therapy appointment coming up, so he took her advice.

“Thanks,” he said. “You’re right; these are definitely better.”

The two exited the dayroom, Omri undressed and redressed, and they both had a fabulous evening at the charity event that Tiffani’s family had organized. When they returned home, the drunken couple headed straight for their bedroom where they fell asleep having sex.

The solar-powered flower had plenty of time to eat and grow while they were away.

Omri was busy in the kitchen, nursing his hangover with a Bloody Mary, when his wife’s familiar exasperated screech scratched at his eardrums like fingernails on a chalkboard.

“Look what your stupid toy has done to my precious plants!”

Omri rubbed his temples. “What?” He took one more sip of his drink before following the source of the noise. “What are you yelling about?”

Tiffani was standing in the dayroom with a hand cocked on her hip. “Your toy. Look.”

He followed her accusing finger to the dancing flower he had purchased the other day. Wilted leaves and dried-up branches from nearby plants had cluttered the area around the blue pot. The plastic flower waved in the morning sun, its neighbors now dead in shriveled husks at its side.

“Hmm. That is weird,” he said.

“Weird? It’s deadly is what it is. The thing is sending out radiation or something.”

“I doubt that.”

“Then why are my plants dying?”

Omri scrunched his face, took a closer look at the toy and the dead leaves scattered around it, and shrugged.

“I have no idea. Maybe they’re not getting enough water.”

“I water them plenty. I love them.” She approached one and stroked its green leaves.

“Maybe they’re getting too much water,” Omri said, skirting the issue away from his toy.

Tiffani’s perfectly plucked and shaped eyebrows furrowed. “I told Juanita to stay away from my plants. If I find out she’s been watering them behind my back …”

“She’ll need to water them when we’re gone,” Omri said as he watched his wife storm off. Either she didn’t hear or just ignored him.

He hoped he hadn’t just given the maid any unwarranted trouble, but he was sure his recent purchase couldn’t be the problem.

The white flower and its two green leaves boogied innocently in the light, surrounded by its dying brethren. The dead leaves were a peculiar sight, but not as unusual as the toy’s size. It had grown. Tiffani hadn’t noticed, but Omri definitely had.

At first, the gadget had been no larger than a softball. The fake flower and pot were now the size of a human head. He scratched his chin. It was quite odd.

He would look into it in a few days. Right now, he needed a hot shower so he could sober up and wash off the night before. They had a big trip ahead of them: two days in Paris and then a night in Barcelona.

Why the sudden trip? Tiffani had wanted a romantic getaway, and when an idea like that popped into her giddy brain, her mind was set. The upcoming vacation took over Omri’s thoughts, and he carried his Bloody Mary with him into the shower.

Three days later, Omri was questioning why he had ever fallen in love with Tiffani in the first place.

“We’ll just take this up with the therapist tomorrow,” she snapped. She huffed away, leaving Omri standing in the foyer with their luggage from the trip.

He sighed and started hauling the suitcases up to their bedroom to unpack. A strange odor was lingering in the house, so he left the front door open to let in some fresh air.

The trip had started out perfectly. They had spent their days in France buying gifts, cuddling, and whispering sweet nothings back and forth. The night in Spain was a frenzy of sex, fueled by alcohol and the lust they held for each other.

Everything had been great until he reminded Tiffani on the plane about their monthly appointment the next day. She suggested they skip it, citing to their recent spur-of-the-moment outing, but he had to reiterate that there was more to a relationship than sex and spending money.

Tiffani’s mouth had pursed, her eyes had narrowed, and her chatty mood had hushed to silence. When they were blocks away from their home, a vicious outburst proved how much the session was needed.

Tiffani had never tried to hide her personality, but Omri wanted more than money, sex, and vanity to guide a relationship. The wants and needs of others were foreign to her, and it showed early in their marriage. He threatened to leave if she didn’t change, which was the motivation for the therapy appointments.

The sessions were working; she was more open to his ideas and emotions now, but her old self was the dominating force. Of course, he wasn’t perfect, either. They both needed to change if their love was to last.

The mundane task of unpacking helped Omri cool down after his wife’s temper tantrum. Giving her some time alone would help her relax. They both needed time to settle their thoughts. Not five minutes into his unloading, a terrible screech erupted from the first floor.

Omri ran out of the bedroom and down the staircase.

“Tiffani? Tiffani, are you okay? Where are you?”

He kept shouting as he searched the house, but she didn’t answer.

He found her in the dayroom.

The world spun and Omri’s stomach lurched. His wife lay in a heap on the floor, her skin as white as the carpet and walls. Juanita was next to her, a wrinkled and desiccated body curled into the fetal position. She looked as if she had died months ago.

Brown leaves and wilted branches littered the ground like sad confetti. Every single plant was dead. Dominating the corner was the toy he had bought. The two green leaves waved up down like happy arms, and the white flower swung back and forth like a menacing metronome.

It had grown. It was now at least the size of a small adult.

Omri rushed to his wife’s side. “Tiffani! Can you hear me? Please answer me.” He felt for a pulse, but her cold flesh was still.

The creaks and squeaks of expanding plastic rang close to Omri’s ears. He looked up and saw the toy flower towering over him.

He tried to move out of the way but stumbled over his wife’s lifeless body. The blue pot brushed against his skin. An instant draining sensation filled him as his energy emptied through the physical connection. His world faded within seconds, and so did his life.

The plastic toy danced in the sunlight, feeding and growing to fulfill its dream.

Officer Reese spoke with urgency. “Okay, we’re looking for Juanita Ramirez: 5ʹ3ʺ, brown hair and eyes, roughly 200 pounds. She’s the Andersons’ maid, and her family hasn’t heard from her in the past couple of days. They said this was the last place they knew she had been.”

Officer Parkins nodded at her partner.

The two were standing outside the Anderson home. They had arrived to an opened door, a nose-plugging stench (it reminded her of death and mulch), and unanswered echoes from the inside.

Reese gave the go-ahead, and Parkins followed him into the home, hand resting on her gun holster.

He went left and she went right. After a walkthrough of the first floor, they would move on together to the second floor. But they soon found there was no need. Converging in the dayroom, they located what they were looking for and then some.

One of the bodies resembled Juanita Ramirez, but in its decayed and dehydrated state, it was hard to identify. The other two bodies had suffered the same fate, but they were fresher and not as withered.

Officer Parkins recognized them as Omri and Tiffani Anderson, from the photos her captain had shown her earlier. Brown stalks that were nothing more than dry sticks poked out of various-sized pots in the corner like a dead forest. The floor was a mess of blackened leaves the size of tiny bugs.

The only thing alive in the dayroom was one of the biggest flowers Officer Parkins had ever seen. It towered over the corpses, standing tall and proud. Two giant leaves that could wrap around a full-grown adult sprouted from a stem that would take an axe to chop down. White petals as thick as her thighs surrounded a yellow center as large as her head. The plant grew out of a blue ceramic pot that could house an entire garden. The flower was eerily beautiful, but somehow not right. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

The scene was weird, but she had come across much worse in her nine years on duty.

“Looks like the bodies have been here a while,” she said.

“I’ll say,” Officer Anderson responded, waving a hand under his nose. “Call it in.”

Officer Parkins nodded and picked up her receiver to radio the station. Before leaving the room, even though not a single window was open and the air was still, she thought she saw one of the giant leaves wobble up and down.

Copyright © 2015 Michael Shimek