the terrarium

Andrew and Carly never spoke in the mornings. They roused themselves to separate alarms. Carly washed her face in the kitchen sink before slipping on her grey tracksuit, and Andrew did barefoot stretches on the hardwood floor. They crossed the street hand-in-hand and passed the barrista pulling chromed chairs from the café’s glassy entrance. They walked the harbour loop together as the commuters settled in at the ferry terminal with their broadsheet newspapers unfurling in their laps.

“A terrarium,” said Carly.

“Hmm?” asked Andrew.

“Look at this. We should set up a terrarium. Like this. God, I haven’t seen a terrarium since I was a kid. Did you make one when you were a kid? At school?”

Andrew squinted over Carly’s shoulder.

“And this one. You can make them out of wine bottles even. Or just jars.”

“Carly, we’ve got people coming over. You really think we’ve got time to set up a, um, terrarium?”

“I didn’t mean today.”

“Good. I’m glad. Because we don’t have time for that.”

Carly clicked on a link and the terrariums vanished. Andrew moved back to the couch, and watched an over of the cricket match.

“We can, though,” he said, on the ad break.

“Can what?”

“If you want to. The terrarium thing.”

“Place is looking good,” said Mitch. “Hey, new telly?”

“Oh yeah,” said Andrew. “Not that new though. Have you really not been here since..?”

“A while, yeah,” said Mitch.

“The rent’s kept going up. It could be worse, I suppose. For the area, I mean. But it keeps going up. Twice this year.”

“Same here, mate. Same everywhere right now.”


“Love one.”

Mitchell and Zoe finally got up and so did Andrew and Carly. They exchanged embraces and Andrew shook Mitch’s hand and they all went together outside to the car. Andrew and Carly waited under the streetlight as Zoe pulled the car out and beeped the horn twice, before rounding the corner.

“Good thing we don’t live out there,” said Carly, squeezing Andrew’s hand. “Where is it? Strath… Strathmore?”

“Not bloody wrong,” said Andrew. “Want to go for a walk?”

“Oh, damn,” said Carly. “Says you’re supposed to put charcoal in the dirt, too. To filter the damp and keep it from getting smelly.”


Carly held up the fishbowl terrarium and gently shook the soil. “I didn’t put any in.”

“Just sprinkle some over the top. Crush up one of your old art sticks you never use.”

“That won’t work.”

“Well. Don’t worry about it. Can’t matter that much.”

“Should I put the moss in then?”

“Hang on,” said Andrew. “Let me come see. You gotta get it real even. Here. Let me see.”

The moss grew well in the terrarium and after a while Andrew wanted to add another sort of plant to it. The first one they put in was a fern, which didn’t survive. The second was a kind of creeping fig which grew up and over a craggy stone that they had placed next to it.

“The terrarium’s looking nice,” said Carly. “Don’t you think it’s nice to have some green around?”


“Hey, do you think we should put little people in there?”

“People? Like, models?”

“I don’t know. Little gnomes or something.”

“That’s a bit creepy. Not to mention tacky. Really?”

“I guess not,” she said, placing the bowl back down on the shelf. “You’re right. I just like having the green around.”


“What?” called Andrew. His face was half covered in shaving cream when he came out into the living room.

“Dropped the plants.”

The terrarium had shattered on the floor and the soil was spread out as far as the coffee table.

“Careful with the glass,” said Andrew. “Hold on. Just stay still for a minute. Hold on.”

By the time Andrew had washed his face off and returned to Carly she had gotten the dustpan and was sweeping up the dirt and glass shards. Andrew crouched down and carefully lifted the leaves of the fig and let them drop down again.

“Just put all of it in a bucket or something. I’ll go get another bowl for them. Get all the loose stuff tidied up and I’ll go now. Just the leave it all on the floor. I’ll go now.”

The little Chinese import store where they had originally bought the terrarium didn’t exist anymore. There was another shop the same a bit further down the road, but it didn’t have the right kind of bowl. After a while of standing there and looking at empty picture frames, Andrew picked a big clear vase with a wide bottom and brought it home.

“It doesn’t really look right.”

“It’s fine,” said Andrew.

“It doesn’t really look the same, though, does it?”

“Hey, it’s fine. Alright? It’s fine. The plants will be fine.”

“Yeah,” said Carly. “I guess.”

Carly stopped to get the mail as they returned from their morning walk. There was a letter from the real estate agent. She opened the envelope and began to read it as they came inside.

“Someone’s died,” said Carly.

“What? Who?” asked Andrew, stopping in the doorway.

“Oh, nobody. I mean, nobody we know… The owner.”

“Owner of what?”

“The owner of this place died. Two months ago, apparently. And…”

“Can I see?”

Andrew read the letter as Carly went in to the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. She took off her shoes and started to cry. Andrew came in and sat next to her and put his hand on her back, rubbing it gently. They didn’t speak at all.

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