Marina Ramil :: “Mentha”

Wilma’s friends lived in one-bedroom apartments, efficiencies off of family homes, multiple-room student housing shares, lofts above strip malls, and basement units. All the while, she still inhabited her childhood bedroom. On winter days spent hiding under her duvet, she scrolled through friends’ photos of the ways they decorated those spaces— movie posters on the walls, photobooth strips magnetted to the fridge, shelves of tchotchkes which, while cutesy and replete with personality, would inevitably end up collecting dust. On the shelves in Wilma’s room stood a purple, plastic pony with a small design of drooping flowers on her haunches, a rosy-cheeked porcelain piggy bank, and a Disney World souvenir snow globe; less so tchotchkes than reminders of a bygone childhood, same settled dust. Her jealousy led to plates and glasses mildewing, creating a sour, wet smell in the bedroom where she ate all her meals to avoid facing her parents with the building resentment she felt at having to share space with them.

She approached the only mirror in the room, which had been hung according to the height she was at nine years old and never readjusted, and crouched to look intently at tired, puffy eyes and greasy, shaggy hair. She reflected a picture of Cece, a friend she’d known since they were in middle school, beside her face. Cece looked like she had slept at some point in the past few days. Wilma did not. Behind Cece you could see the corner of her loft’s kitchen counter and on it were four colored glass goblets she had bought at a consignment with Wilma years ago, both gushing about how cute they’d look when she finally got her own place. Wilma’s closet was filled with boxes of little nothings, cute accouterments for, as was written in bold letters on the cardboard, “THE FUTURE.” She resolved to make the future now and find a place for herself to unpack those boxes. That night, she broke open the piggy bank that had been on her shelf since she was the right height to see herself in the mirror, leaving the shards strewn about the hardwood floor.

Forgoing an online search of real estate websites despite her proclivity for browsing them in the past, Wilma drove around the city looking for handwritten plastic signs on stakes stuck into grass. She had just enough for first and last month’s rent and a security deposit on the first unit she toured, a run-down studio in a suburb even farther out from downtown than the one her parents lived in. To get into the apartment complex, you had to maneuver from the main road through the parking lot of a drive-through coffee shop and under an archway decorated with gaudy stone cherubim. Afraid she might lose her nerve if she put it off any longer, Wilma decided to embrace these quirks and signed papers that day. She fit what she could of her childhood bedroom into the trunk and backseat of her hand-me-down SUV and tried to make the space her own. This did not involve furnishing it, naturally, as a porcelain pig could only hold so much cash. Passing a plant nursery on the drive from her parent’s house to her new apartment, she thought of the empty window box in the studio’s kitchen. With just enough money in her pocket, she settled on a bag of soil, a newly sprouted spearmint bush, and gloves, resolving to plant it with her own two hands.

She played a record by Blossom Dearie as she planted, singing quietly to the leaves with her gloved hands submerged in the soil. While the record turned on a player on the floor, Wilma knelt next to it, bare knees sticking to the ground and being reddened by the pressure. “They say it’s spring, this feeling light as a feather. They say this thing,” she sang under her breath, “this magic we share together came with the weather too.” She carefully separated the plant’s roots and thought of her Abuela and her orchids. She would sing to the petals, convinced that’s what kept them blooming. She would sing to Wilma too while tucking her in, thin-skinned fingers touching the sheets softly. She rubbed mentholated vapor rub over Wilma’s chest and blew her Virginia Slim menthol breath into Wilma’s face. “Though they say it’s spring, it’s you!”

When the mint’s roots grew down into the soil and the verdant leaves formed a pleasant puff of growth, Wilma invited guests over in spite of the potential for embarrassment over the apartment’s overall emptiness. Cece first for midday mojitos. She brought over the goblets and sipped the tart cocktail from one while eyeing the window box. “My mom has an herb garden,” she said, “but she never plants mint. Something about… hard to contain?” Wilma was too blissed out laying flat on her stomach in the center of the floor kicking her feet and looking at Cece, distorted and green through the glass of the goblet her portion of the drink was in, to have heard. A few evenings later, she invited her parents to discuss how the empty nest had been treating them over freshly brewed mint tea. They barely touched their steaming mugs, too fixated on the size of the spearmint bush, now obscuring the view of the moon in the window. Wilma sipped her tea happily, pridefully. She curled up in her mother’s lap and slept like a cat in the sunlight despite the room’s darkness. Her parents shared a loaded glance but opted to bite their tongues rather than risk stunting this newfound growth in their relationship. Night wind rattled the spearmint stems against the window’s glass.

When the window was entirely covered and tendrils began winding their way between the glass and sill, Wilma recalled an early childhood memory of putting up hurricane shutters. The house was abustle with interesting activities from Wilma’s three-year-old point of view: When the power went out, it was time to draw by candlelight! Brush your doll’s hair with a flashlight balanced in the crook of your arm! Find Mommy and Daddy in the dark! When she found them, they were angry. Angry at her somehow? Yes, she and the hurricane shared a name, but certainly, they couldn’t be thinking it was her fault. They drew her in close to the Florida room’s impact glass, pointed at uprooted herb bushes at the edge of their fenced-in yard, and asked her what they were to do with their garden when the calm came. The answer, it ended up being, was nothing. They did nothing even when the bushes withered in the hot sun, giving way to a rotting smell.  Shuttered into the empty studio by her spearmint bush, Wilma occupied the time making attempts to find herself in the dark: Take an online quiz promising to tell you what shades suit you best based on the color of the veins running through your inner wrists! Dye your hair a new shade, the shade it’s meant to be, for you are a spring! Scroll through pictures of other springs online and find in them ways to make yourself who you should be!

The overgrowth into the apartment wasn’t a terrible inconvenience at first. If anything, it was exactly what Wilma needed. The bed of stems and leavers in the center of the room’s floor could function as a couch or place to sleep. It meant she would be unable to let in friends or family again, but that was a small price to pay for the comfort of sleeping enmeshed in the smell of spearmint. The weight of her body softly pressed against the plant which released its oils leaving her slightly green and smelling herbal. She got the best rest of her life nestled in the leaves. In her waking hours, she sat comfortably reading a gardening manual she had borrowed from the library when she first bought the mint bush, passively curious about whether this was a normal amount of growth. There was a section on the many varietals of mint like peppermint and pennyroyal. She learned that plant breeders have cultivated a veritable fruit salad of hybrids like grapefruit, apple, orange, and banana mint. But could they grow entire beds of mint, indoors without the aid of the sun? The thought made her feel smug and satisfied. Continuing her reading, she was most intrigued by catmint, a close relative of catnip, with its showy purple blooms. She pictured for a moment a viridescent kitten batting at a ball of roots and felt a pang of loneliness emanating from her chest. She then placed the book on the floor beside the front door, intending to return it whenever she left the house next.

Wilma woke one morning to find that the spearmint’s characteristic serrated sprigs and pink and white flowers had bound to the hairs on her arms and legs. They were trailing up her stomach and lower back. She had always liked her body hair, she saw it as an affirmation of her adulthood, but she especially liked the new foliage. She was now intrinsically connected to the space of the apartment so, no, she could not make that interview for the front desk at the dentist’s office at 2 PM and, yes, the molding pints of berries and freezer-burned Pad Thai in her fridge would have to be enough for now if the alternative was leaving to pick up groceries. When the fuzz growing on her teeth started taking on a chlorophyllic tint, she called Cece on the phone to ask how she was doing and inform her that she was feeling fantastic. “Your mom should really look into adding some Mentha spicata to her garden,” Wilma said coolly, “it’s life-changing.”

Intending to show off to all those friends who had moved on before she was ready, Wilma took a picture of herself in her laptop’s photobooth, propping the computer up on a dense patch of stems against the wall with the window they all came from. She crawled on the now completely covered ground to take her place, releasing the smell of the leaves as she went. She kneeled on the ground and leaned over, emulating the posture of when she had first planted the bush in its dirt. She brought her arms together to create some cleavage and smiled wryly as the camera went off. Only as she looked at herself in the photo did she realize how much she had changed. She looked as if she’d been sleeping restfully, her hair was no longer shaggy, and her eyes were no longer puffy. Of course, her hair was vines and her once-brown irises had given way to green.

When she posted the photos, she got three kinds of comments:

1. “Are you alright? What happened? How can we help?”
2. “Cool edit.”
3. “This is so you.”

The final one was singular and came from a friend of hers from high school, Gabby, who had gotten involved in herbalism and witchcraft in her years at one of the Seven Sisters. That was the only comment Wilma took to heart. She messaged Gabby, “Thank you for seeing me.” Cece either didn’t see the post or didn’t care to reach out. Wilma found herself at peace with that lack of response. She had the leaves.

On the morning that the mint took her lungs, she woke unable to sit up. When she breathed in the air, it tasted different than it had before. Breathing out had become a new sensation too, it sent a chill through her body. She closed her eyes again, not hoping to sleep and wake to find herself returned, but because she could no longer see as she once had. This did not concern what had once been Wilma.

Hungry, she tried to focus down into the stems and leaves below her. She visualized the rustling of the leaves in the eddy of the air conditioner, hoping if she used that momentum she could flow into the vines that entered her refrigerator and envelop the molding berries there. Instead, she felt herself moving against the current. She flurried up and out, through the gap between the windowsill and panes. Once emerged, she felt the sun for the first time in weeks and was filled up by its warmth. In the windowbox, she was surrounded by the city air. She appreciated its heavy humidity for the first time. She was tickled by bees coming to feed on her pink and white flowers and ants climbing up and down her stems. There was a light wind in the air that blew her leaves. If you stood in the right spot, you could smell the verdant oils off of them cooling the air. Her leaves grew and grew in the sunlight, up towards the warmth with stems open wide.


Marina Ramil is a Latine lesbian whose work can be found in StoneboatOxMagAstrolabe, and elsewhere. They live in Miami with the strangler figs and paper-flower bougainvilleas. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter @thesuncomingout.