A few weeks after the Rice came, Sam stuck another
birdhouse in my face. Since I'd told him if he showed me one more birdhouse
I'd scream, I did. He said it wasn't a birdhouse. It was a Ricehouse.
He was going to get the Rice to fly in through the little holes and
set up their little Rice colonies inside. All the scientists in the
world hadn't had any luck at getting the Rice to do anything they wanted
them to, but that didn't stop my Sam.
I closed one eye and looked at him funny and
he got defensive and said, "You know, Sally, what you need to do is
get a hobby of your own." He was making sense, for a change. With Sam
Junior in high school and therefore spending most of his days off in
the ozone, I suddenly had a lot of free time.
The next day I was at the mall, where I spotted
a sign that said EPIPHYLLUM SOCIETY OF AMERICA FLOWER SHOW TODAY PATIO.
"Yet more proof of the decline of American punctuation," I said, brushing
away a Rice.
On the patio I discovered a display of the most
incredible flowers I'd ever seen. They had shiny, waxy-looking petals
in all sorts of colors, and goofy names like Morning Radiance and Fuchsia
Queen. And, boy, did the Rice like them. Their half-inch-long white
ships were all over the place.
There was this thirtyish, chubbyish woman standing
around wearing a badge that said I'M DORA ASK ME ABOUT EPIS, looking
eager to spill her guts about them. I said, "So, Dora, what about epis?"
"These are all epiphyllum hybrids," she said.
She took off her glasses, because a Rice ship had landed on them, and
kind of squinted at them. I guess the Rice got the point, because they
blasted off, leaving a tiny burnt spot.
Dora put her glasses back on and said, "Epis,
as those of us in the know call them, are jungle cacti from the rain
forest." I got the feeling Dora had no idea where the rain forest was,
that it was some nebulous faraway place to her, like downtown or Russia.
"All of these plants came from crossing epiphyllum species with other
kinds of cacti, and then crossing the results, over and over again,
generation unto generation. Do you want to join our society?"
I said, "Not quite yet," so Dora showed me an
epi plant. It had these things about a foot long that looked like leaves,
but Dora said they were stems, and that there weren't any leaves. Except
that some of the epi people evidently called them leaves anyway, even
though they knew they weren't.
About then it hit me that this was probably as
good a hobby as any. If it didn't work out, I could throw the whole
thing on the compost heap Sam Junior had started after they gave him
his ecology indoctrination at school. I bought two big plants in hanging
pots for twelve dollars apiece, and four or five little cuttings for
three dollars each. Cheaper than a birdhouse. Excuse me, a Ricehouse.
I took my plants, my sheet of instructions, my
package of fertilizer, and my giant bag of epi soil home. Sam was a
little curious as I arranged my new hobby on the patio, but I ignored
him. The patio was a good place for the epis, because it faced east,
and epis like morning sun but not midday sun, which burns their stems,
or leaves, or fronds, or whatever you want to call them.
I'd never seen many Rice in our yard before,
but they sure found those epiphyllums in a hurry. As soon as I put the
plants out, a whole squadron of their little ships landed on one of
the stems, or leaves, or you know. Some of the crew
got out, which was pretty weird because as far as I knew nobody had
ever seen an actual Rice. Unfortunately, all I could make out was some
tiny specks moving around. The little guys reconnoitered for a while,
then they got back in and took off, leaving little black scorched spots
on the green surface. I dug up a magnifying glass, just in case they
decided to make another personal appearance.
Both of the big epis I'd bought, Mystic Mood
and Dresden Doll, had buds on them. Every morning I ran out to the patio
to see their progress. Every day after work I talked on the phone to
my new buddy Dora, who after a couple of weeks talked me into joining
the Epiphyllum Society.
One morning both plants bloomed. Mystic Mood's
flower had five rows of purple petals, while Dresden Doll was this kind
of mystical light pink. The Rice went ape. There must have been a dozen
of their little ships swarming around. Then a whole squadron clustered
around Dresden Doll and flew into the center of the blossom.
I grabbed my magnifying glass and discovered
a little crane sticking out of the front of one of the Rice ships. It
was picking up grains of pollen from Dresden Doll and carrying them
to the outside of the hull where some of the crew were fastening them
down somehow. The Rice looked like red spider mites, except they were
After a while everyone skittered back into the
ship, and the whole formation flew over to Mystic Mood, where the little
crane put the pollen on the female part of the flower. They backed out
and sprayed the whole area with some kind of purple mist. Then they
all flew off, and I'll be damned if they didn't head into Sam's Ricehouse,
which he'd stuck up on the basketball backboard.
The flowers stayed open about three days. About
a week after they'd closed, the dried-up blossom fell off Dresden Doll.
But Mystic Mood's flower stayed on, and soon the ovary, the bottom part
where the seeds grow, began to swell. After a couple of weeks I had
a fruit the size of a golf ball. One morning I found a flower bud growing
from it. This seemed very wrong, so I called Dora. She showed up with
a suitcase full of books, and after some furious page-turning, she crossed
her arms over her bumptious bosom and declared that no epi had ever
grown a flower from the fruit before.
After that, every time I looked there were a
couple of Rice buzzing around Mystic Mood, or what would have been buzzing
if they had made any noise. The bud, pink like its father, kept growing
until it was the biggest epi bud Dora had ever seen. Then one day I
discovered spots on the bud, big purple ones splatted on the pink background.
They looked like the spots on a Dalmatian. Now, anyone who develops
a new epi hybrid gets to name it, and though I didn't actually do the
work I figured the Rice wouldn't mind, so I decided to call the new
epi Giant Puppy.
When you get to be in the know about epis --
something Dora now granted that I was -- you can tell when they're getting
ready to bloom. The buds put on a last big growth spurt and the petals
separate a little. I went to bed last night in anticipation of seeing
Giant Puppy in all its glory. I dreamed of having my name in the Epiphyllum
This morning I ate breakfast slowly, wanting
to make sure the flower was fully open by the time I got out there.
Finally I said to hell with that and charged outside. I was just in
time to see Giant Puppy take off. The Rice had detached it right where
it had sprouted from Mystic Mood. About a hundred of them surrounded
it, and I guess they were carrying it somehow, but it looked as if it
were floating in midair. I got one decent look of it in all its foot-long
foot-across purple-spotted pink glory before it sailed off down the
block. When I looked up at the Ricehouse, a sparrow stuck its head out
and made bird noises at me.
So much for my brush with fame. I threw a fit,
running around cursing the Rice. Both Sams came out and gawked, then
ran back inside when I yelled at them. Dora showed up to view the miracle
flower and I abused her, too. I decided to throw the whole collection
on the compost heap. I grabbed Mystic Mood and was about to heave it
when I saw marks on the fruit right near the spot Giant Puppy had grown
from. I looked closer and found the words "THANK YOU THIS ONE FOR YOU"
burned into the surface. And just as I was thinking that the Rice didn't
punctuate any better than the Epiphyllum Society, I discovered the other
This story was first published as "Giant Puppy" in Tales of the Unanticipated
#16, Spring/Summer/Fall 1996, their tenth anniversary issue. A slightly
different version appeared in the May-June 1997 Journal of the
Cactus and Succulent Society of America. Copyright © 1996 Nathan