I'm doing a free on-line course
in writing fiction, and they want us to post the result of one exercise in our blogs (the forum has a 2000-character limit on posts).
The idea was to take a random phrase (they suggested turning on the radio), and base a story or opening scene on it. I used a phrase that someone (Marion?) mentioned a while back: "The bananas had always wanted to be umbrellas".
This is, intentionally, a first draft. Re-reading, reviewing, and generally editing, is a later exercise. It was supposed to be 500 words, but I got a bit carried away.
Annette ducked through the hanging curtain into the hothouse, dodging the constant drip, drip of the irrigation system, and noting as she did so that Specimen 2b had grown another two feet overnight. "That's a good banana vine!" she said encouragingly. "Now, if you could just speed up the fruit production as well as leaf production..?"
She didn't touch it, of course, or feed it, or carry out any of the tests the hothouse was equipped for, that was someone else's job. Hers was to talk to them, and as bizarre vacation jobs went, this one was at least more interesting than the time she'd been hired to watch paint dry.
"Yes, we know it's a complete waste of time," Colin had said, sardonically, when he hired her after what had been not so much an interview as an audition. "Our Noble Sponsor wants someone to talk nicely to the plants, so we hire someone to talk nicely to the plants. We keep our funding, and you get paid to chatter about nothing all day - every teenage girl's dream, right?" In fact, her dream was to spend the break from university working at one of the most advanced botanical research establishments in the country, but since that was what she was getting, she stayed quiet - for now.
She'd found it hard, the first few days, finding anything to talk about when there was no reply, and despite his cynicism, Colin took this seriously enough to insist that all conversation had to be positive and encouraging, so using the plants to vent to about her studies or social life wasn't an option. She'd suggested to him that if she were to spend the days explaining to the plants exactly what was hoped for from them, that would be about as positive and encouraging as it could get, and as a result, he'd handed her copies of the complete project documentation. She couldn't take the papers into an area as humid as this, of course, but she could explain to the plants what she'd read the previous night, and in her lunch break, and was finding it so useful that she thought she might try the same technique the next time she had an exam to revise for.
This plant didn't seem to have quite the right idea, though. "I know, anything with Russian Vine genes can grow long stems, but the idea is to make lots of lovely fruit. Then we can make lots more lovely banana vines just like you. Won't that be wonderful?" She tactfully omitted the fact that the fruit would actually be used for food, as that probably didn't count as positive.
"Go on, let's see those wonderful malleable bud cells that can turn into any body part turn into fruit, not stems. The Lamarck name is just a joke, it's all right, but there's some truth in it - when we find a vine that produces really big fruit, really fast, then we know those cells have adapted the way we want. Then Julia can take a DNA sample, and clone it, and we get bigger and better banana vines even faster." Eventually, they'd like to make them less dependent on this much water, too, but jungle plants grew the fastest, so that would take time. Personally she'd be happy if she could just talk to the plants without constantly being dripped on.
She carried on explaining DNA extraction techniques for the rest of the morning, escaping into the sunshine to eat her sandwiches with relief. By the time the hour was up, her hair would have just about dried out. When the Cactus House was open, she went in there, the dry air a welcome change, but it was closed to the public at the moment, and Julia was spending most of her time there.
Both Colin and Julia went back in with her this time, Colin to measure growth and Julia to take samples. She was, as usual, in a bad mood, possibly because the humidity always made her heavy glasses mist up. Annette held the curtain aside for her, and automatically dodged the drip - which wasn't there. She looked up, surprised, to see that Specimen 2b had grown a new leaf, even bigger than normal, right underneath the outlet. "Well, that's handy," she said, amused.
Colin looked up where she was pointing. "That's more than just handy. Have you seen any more leaves that shape?"
"I don't think so...." She didn't pay much attention to leaves, only the fruit.
"Look how the stem joins the main vine. It's channelling water down its own trunk. I've seen that in bromeliads, but in a jungle plant it should be impossible, they usually drain water away from themselves. See if we can find any more, I want samples of that."
Annette checked as she walked, this time, but didn't find anything until she was at her usual seat near the centre. Here, three more large leaves blocked the water outlets she would normally have to avoid.
Colin laughed. "Looks like it has your welfare in mind, Annie. Nice of it. Julia, could you...?"
The dark-haired woman climbed up onto the seat to reach the leaves.
"If these things have our welfare in mind, I wish they'd do something about the tourists poking their noses in. That "no entry" sign where I'm working needs an addition, "yes, this means you". Something big and spiny just inside the door would be good, maybe exploding fruit."
Colin laughed. "Don't say that where the plants can hear you - you never know!"
That was when the tannoy crackled into life. "First aiders to the Cactus House, please, all first aiders to the Cactus House."