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"Suburban Horticulture" by Nina Miller

It was no surprise to Dharti that the pedicure would go awry. Being made of solid earth created a habit of clogging drains. Ankle deep in mud, the aesthetician would feverishly rinse her legs with clean water from a hand-held spigot and apologize profusely. It only made matters worse. Dharti knew it wasn't her fault; she was born this way, a bog maiden. There would be no beautification here today.

She extracted her brown limbs from the thick silt with an embarrassingly loud sucking noise and watched as the two dark holes filled themselves with pudding-consistency mud. Dharti tracked footprints as she made her way through the salon. Past the desert-warm air of the nail dryers, past the gel-tinted fingernails of gossiping ladies looking up but avoiding catching her eye. Lumps of mud slid down her legs and plopped gently on the floor. The salon owner quickly mopped up behind her, murmuring unveiled criticisms regarding her lack of cleanliness.

The heat of embarrassment was a fire kiln that hardened Dharti's flesh again, and she closed the door behind her with a hard push. Its gentle regress into the door frame with the soft, welcoming bell tinkle was infuriating. Her eyes flashed, and her mouth set into a stony grimace. She was trying; she wanted to scream.

Dharti strode down the street. The small town was bustling with morning shoppers, bags hanging from elbows, cheeks kissed, lattes in hand, children in tow. She looked down at bare arms composed of long withered roots and thought lonely thoughts. Was she doomed to the periphery, never fitting in? Hugging herself for warmth, her loamy skin soft and inviting, she walked away from the crowd. Perhaps she should just mulch herself amongst the impatiens or get lost in the marshlands.

She found herself in the town's park with its memorial gazebo amidst the trim, well-kept lawn, wind whipping an American flag into a frenzy. She could smell salt in the air and caught the faint scent of lavender. She remembered why she rose from her native soil, the dry, harsh environs of her youth, to move where it was green and lush. Where rain danced on asphalt and winds chimed from porches. Where neighbors brought you pie and asked about your landscaping. She'd close them out with polite thanks, fearful of friendship she assumed would inevitably wilt. Awkwardly tried to adapt to her new environs solo but failed to thrive like a neglected orchid. Suddenly it dawned on her that she was no potted plant. Her containment was all her own making.

Her toes dug into the soil below the clipped greens, rooting themselves to the town, absorbing its history and role in her life thus far. Vines crept up each leg, leaves opening across her abdomen and whirling around her arms, giving her courage and strength. She opened her palms, and morning glories erupted, unfurling their trumpet-shaped flora with silent fanfare. Their violent purple adorned each finger. She basked in that moment of earthly beautification, decorated in nature. Manifesting her skill with the local flora, a gift she could share with others. She walked back to the nearest Starbucks, ordered a half-caf latte with no sugar and almond milk, and smiled when the barista remembered her name. She sat facing the window to soak up the sun, to be noticed, releasing tendrils of hope that someone would come and join her. This time, she would let relationships grow and friendships blossom.

Nina Miller is an Indian-American physician, fencer, and writer. Her

work can be found in TL;DR Press's, Mosaic: The Best of the 1,000 Word

Herd Flash Fiction Competition 2022, Bright Flash Literary Review, Five

South, Five Minutes and more. Find her on Twitter @NinaMD1 or

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