Sunlighting (after revising "A Week in the Life of a Simple Houseplant")
1100 words long
Ebony's new job offers a lot of money for not much work, but there are drawbacks...
Notes from the author:
The word velocitize sounds like it ought to refer to a crime committed against one�s person or property. It�s got that vicious -ize ending, like brutalize, vandalize, or burglarize. It feels like something one ought to be able to report: �Help, Officer! I�ve been velocitized!� Its actual meaning�to cause a driver to misjudge their true velocity after prolonged high-speed travel�tends to disappoint.
Similarly, botanize. It refers to the act of studying plants�of performing botany�and not, as I would have hoped, to that of transforming someone into a plant.
Ebony starts his new job today. He�s cleaned his best dress shoes and buffed them to the brightest shine they�ll take. He�s bleached his best white shirt and even ironed it. He put his brand new pair of slacks on a credit card whose balance is already distressingly high, but when he gets paid on Friday he�ll finally be able to do something about that. It comes with an attractive paycheck, his new job as a�
�Magical research subject?!� Teak�s voice rose high enough to meet the floating question mark and turn it into an interrobang. Ebony cringed. He hadn�t expected Teak to take the news well, but even so, this was more upset than Ebony had prepared himself for. �Eb, if I�d known you were this desperate, I�d��
�What? What would you do?� Ebony rubbed his forehead tiredly. �Throw more money at my problems? You can hardly afford to keep yourself and the Sprout afloat. You don�t need a second dependent. You need another breadwinner. This gig comes with a big check every weekend plus room and board Monday through Friday. Let me be the one to bail you out for a change.�
In fact, Ebony is having second thoughts about the slacks. Given the nature of the experiment, he suspects that Ser Madrone isn�t expecting her research subjects to arrive in professional attire. Still, it makes Ebony feel better to treat the gig like an actual job rather than one of any number of classified ads offering to rent destitute college grads� bodies in the name of science. Besides, it�s important to make a good impression.
�Look, Eb, I know how you feel about hand-outs and charity. But doesn�t this gig essentially make you the magician�s dependent for the week? How is that better than depending on me?� Teak suddenly looked even more worried. He dropped his voice to a murmur, as though there were a chance Ser Madrone might overhear him speaking less than glowingly of her. �And what if she forgets? Or something happens to her so that she can�t make it to the greenhouse every day?�
�Not gonna happen, Tee. We signed a contract. Oh, will you just listen for once,� Ebony sputtered as Teak slammed a hand over his face and inhaled sharply. �It�s not onerous in any way, shape or form. It defines my hours, my paycheck, a few weekend requirements for the sake of the experiment, and in turn it constrains Ser Madrone to ensure no harm comes to me through misadventure, malignity, or neglect. I mean, obviously there�s more to it, but that�s the gist.�
Contracts are important, Ebony thinks as he walks the two-mile route from Teak�s apartment to Ser Madrone�s offices. Contracts constrain the signing parties to the letter of the deal, using their signatures as the magical hook for the legal enchantment that binds them to their word. Used to be you had to sign in blood or glue a bit of your hair to page, but legal magic has come a long way since then. Even students still working their way past the bar know how to bind a subject using their signature.
He�s heard horror stories where the research subject got fast-talked into a handshake deal and lived to regret it. That�s if they survived the experiment at all. No, if you�re going to put your physical and mental well-being in the hands of some magician, you�re much better off insisting on a contract limiting the magician�s power over you. And Ser Madrone hadn�t made him insist. She�d met him at the cafe with a written and primed contract already in hand. And she�d given him ample time to read it through. And she hadn�t sat there staring at him while he read it, either. Instead she�d gotten up, bought him a coffee and a scone, then excused herself to the library next door. �When you�re ready to discuss the contract with me,� she�d said, �simply knock three times on table. Take your time�the cafe�s open until nine tonight, and I have no other appointments on my schedule.�
Teak didn�t look comforted. �What do you mean, a few weekend requirements?�
�Oh, you know. Dietary restrictions, no red meat during weeks one through three, that kind of thing. No extreme sports that might put my life in danger and cut the experiment short�because of course I�m just itching to jump out of a plane next weekend, you know?� Ebony smiled and waited for Teak, who knew all about Ebony�s fear of falling, to laugh. Teak just kept watching him as though waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ebony dropped it. �No sex while the experiment is running.�
Teak shook his head. �Bad enough I don�t get to see you during the week, but��
�It�ll be OK. Once the gig�s over, we�ll go on a cruise or something. Seriously, you won�t believe what she�s paying me. We�ll finally be able to afford a family vacation, you and me and the Sprout. We�ll enroll her in the kids� club and make up for lost time while she�s creating masterpieces out of puffy paint.�
�I guess I can�t talk you out of it,� said Teak, �and I guess I can�t stop you. But��
�I�ll miss you, Eb.�
�Yeah, me too you, Tee. I�ll be thinking about you all week long.�
Ebony is wondering, as Ser Madrone leads him to stand in the center of the pentagram painted on the floor of her workshop, whether in fact he will be thinking of Teak, or of anything at all. He�s not sure what state of mind he�ll be in. Will he be bored? Will the five days fly by like mere minutes? Ser Madrone has him take off his shoes and socks; she tucks them away carefully in a cubbyhole just like the ones at the Sprout�s preschool. Then she dumps potting soil over his bare feet. It�s warm and moist, pleasant, recalling memories of running through mud after a rainstorm. The sensation becomes even more pleasant as Ser Madrone�s hands move through a series of magical gestures and Ebony is transformed into a potted plant.
�Tomato, huh?� says Ser Madrone as she carries him to the greenhouse. �Bodes well.�
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