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Michael placed the knife in the sink and proceeded to take tiny bites out of his breakfast, believing it would fill his belly faster. Sweet Karla had taken the station wagon this morning, signaling that it was his turn to ride the bus to work. He turned off all lights in his small house and made sure no faucets were leaking. He looked down at his dress shoes, not a lace out of place, but he could not force his feet out of their slightly pigeon-toed stance. He grabbed his lab coat off the rack, locked the door twice. The heavy smell of chemical pesticides invaded his nose, and he continued with an exaggerated sigh.
“Neighbors...” he said though his teeth.
Michael Childress owned the second smallest house on Ashby Street. Glen Gevinson, or as Michael would call him, the “plant murder,” owned the smallest.
Glen was already at the bus stop when Michael arrived, editing a report on the impact of Kierkegaard in South America villages. Michael does not care for Kierkegaard. The bus stop sat at the end of Ashby Street, a concrete bench with just enough space for two people. The branches of Quercus Stellata provided Michael with perfect shade under the fierce sun.
Michael knew Glen liked small talk, especially when small talk turned to politics. Or the existence of God.
Michael nodded back politely instead of explaining to Glen that he was sending his Hibiscuses to their death.
“Mike, I want to know what you think about God.”
Now if this had been any human other than Glen, Michael might have been taken aback.
“I do not believe that that is any of your business, Glen.”
“Oh come on now, we’re neighbors, basically brothers.”
Michael did not understand what being neighbors had to do with being brothers. He kept his eyes facing forward, refusing to look at Glen. He glanced at his watch. The bus to Trinity Circle was already two minutes and forty-three seconds late.
Michael drew in a deep breath and turned to the left. His left.
“Yes, Mr. Gevinson.”
“Hey man, you’re about twenty years my senior, I should be calling you mister. Anyway, I was talking to my Philosophy teacher about human evolution, and he said it had a lot to do with the development of the nervous system. Fascinating stuff. Anyway, I know you’re a big science nut, so I was wondering what you knew about nerves.”
Michael rolled his eyes.
“I’m a botanist, Glen, not a neurologist. The extent of what I know about the human body comes from the Discovery Channel.”
“Oh,” Glen replied.
The Metro arrived, to Michael’s relief, and the two men boarded. Michael took a seat in the back of the empty, and Glen sat in the accompanying seat.
“This is great!” Glen exclaimed, “It must be fate that we’re sitting next to each other.”
Michael snapped back, “I do not believe in fate.”
A smile spread across Glen’s face, slight and devious.
“Explain to me your reasoning.” Glen said with a curious look on his face.
“Life is composed only of coincidences. No scientific knowledge gives any indication that fate exists. If we eradicate reason and rationality, science wouldn’t exist, and life would just be a jumbled mess of philosophy.”
“So you don’t believe in philosophy, Mike?”
“Not in the least,” Michael scoffed.
Glen released another slight smile, “You know, I’m studying to get a Masters in philosophy. I’ll be a certified philosopher in four months.”
“That’s not possible,” Michael rebutted
“The part which includes you being a quote-end-quote ‘certified philosopher’.”
“You think I’m not going to finish school?”
“No, I think you will merely have a philosophy degree, you will not be a philosopher.”
“I can be a philosopher if I want to, Mike.”
“This is not Barney and Friends, Mr. Gevinson.”
The quick debate looked like a win for Michael Childress.
“Hey Mike, mind if we switch seats? I’m feeling a bit of a draft over here.”
“Only if it will keep you quiet, Glen.”
Glen nodded, and Michael rose so the two could switch spots. The second Michael stood up, the bus hit a pothole sending Michael flying, and then landing clumsily on the floor. Glen pointed at Michael.
“Karma!” he shouted.
“Oh, dear God,” Michael whined.
“So you DO believe in God!”
A win for Glen Gevinson.
Michael cleared his throat and began, “God does not exist, it would defy laws of rationality which are the utmost tools for a scientist.”
“Aww, Mike, I knew we were brothers. You know, you basically just quoted Nietzsche,” Glen said with a smile.
“No, no, Nietzsche. He’s German. I’d be honored if I could give you a quick lesson about—“
“Absolutely not. I do not care to be tainted with your ramblings. Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to sit in silence for the remainder of this ride.”
“Of course, Mike. Silence is perfect for contemplating the meaning of life, if you were interested.”
Michael responded quickly, “The meaning of life is reproduction.”
“Nah, I don’t think so, man.”
“Alright, Glen, please enlighten me.”
Glen seemed utterly surprised Michael had just given him permission to speak.
“The meaning of life is 42.”
“42. It’s a number. Its prime factorization is—“
“I know what 42 is. I’m just baffled by your answer.”
The bus came to a jolting halt, and the door swung open.
Glen grinned, “Think on it.”
Upon exiting the bus, Michael found himself still confounded by Glen’s statement. Although their conversation had ended, Michael felt as though Glen was still in his head babbling.
Michael Childress spent the day in his lab studying a shipment of rare cacti that had just arrived from Peru, Euphorbia Mammillaris . While he was completely enthralled by the plant’s cladodes and glochids, he found himself pondering back on Glen’s meaning of life, unable to concentrate at his fullest. Is the meaning of life actually 42? And 42 of what?
He thought up two hundred forty-three possibilities for Glen’s nonsensical comment, none of which were as important to him as his South American cacti. He called his Sweet Karla during lunch break to check in.
“Now, “ she said “you don’t need to get all fuzzled by Glen, honey. That cutie is just trying to push your buttons.”
“But Karla, I feel as if I’m going mad!”
“Don’t worry, Michael. Just don’t let him get to you.”
He left the lab around later in the evening, a Peruvian cactus in hand for studying reasons, purposefully taking a bus he knew Glen did not take home. Unfortunately, he happened to be riding bus number 42. He was inexorably annoyed with himself, playing philosophy games with Glen like he was. Something within his rational-minded brain, a spark of irrationality, of senselessness, kept him from feeling concrete in his own beliefs. He took the bus ride to not only think about the meaning of life, but also why he did not believe in God. He admitted, in the silence of his mind, the claim that he did not believe in God because he was a scientist was no more than half true. He thought back on the day, during his childhood on a farm in Minnesota, watching his carefree Labradoodle puppy run straight into an electric fence and fall down motionless. No God would kill something so innocent, he said to himself. That was his final decision.
Upon arriving home, Michael found Glen spraying fertilizer laden with chlorpyrifos across his yard. It was as if he was giving all his plants a lethal injection.
“Do you know what you’re doing to those Hibiscus acetosella?!” Michael cried, clutching his cactus.
“I’m helping them grow big and strong, Mike. No worries,” Glen said with a smile.
Michael simply stared, each spray Glen added piercing his heart.
Glen finished his own yard, and moved on to Michael’s. Michael watched in pure terror as Glen poisoned his Rosa berberifolia, his Dianthus caryophyllus, his Bellis simplex. Michael was frozen in shock, like a childhood nightmare where no matter how hard you try, you can’t scream for help.
“Hey,” Glen said, “that cactus in your hand is looking a little dull. I’ll just give him a quick spray and—“
“No, Mr. Gevinson, No!”
Unfortunately for Michael, it was too late. While Michael was also coated in pesticides, he could care less about what it would do to him. He clutched his Euphorbia mammillaris, tears forming in his eyes.
Karla appeared from inside the Childress house to find her husband on the lawn crying, and Glen holding a bottle of fertilizer above his head as if it were a championship trophy.
“What in the heavens is going on here?” Karla said, looking around.
Glen looked at her with a facial expression resembling a sad puppy and began, “Mr. Childress’ plants looked a little thirsty, so I sprayed them with some food to be nice, but he got very mad at me.”
“Oh Glenny, you poor thing. I just baked a plate a cherry tarts, please come in and have one as an apology for Michael’s behavior,” she said, glaring at Michael.
Glen followed Karla inside the house with a smirk, while Michael sat there, stunned. His favorite food was cherry tarts, and Karla knew that. While he thought about Glen biting into those delectable treats that were meant for him, Michael turned a shade of red that most closely resembled Rosa indica. Glen exited his house with a couple of cherry tarts in hand. Powdered sugar was strewn across Glen’s face and jelly, made from cherries Michael had grown in his own garden, stuck to Glen’s lips. Michael looked down at his Peruvian princess, the cactus, and deemed it his sacrificial lamb. He picked it up with one hand and hurled it at Glen with incredible force, incredible for Michael anyway.
Glen stood on Michael’s perfectly manicured lawn, looking shocked beyond belief, covered in cactus spines and broken pottery. Michael retreated to his home, refusing to think about his beloved cactus, and praying, to God, that Karla had saved him a cherry tart.