I was happy to house sit for Susan, she always clearly wrote down everything needed to do to keep her place humming. It would be fun to live in the city for two weeks too, just long enough to check out a few of the hip new restaurants, not so long that I got overwhelmed.
I found my to-do list in the kitchen – I needed to water the plants, take in the mail, put out the trash, basic things. She didn’t even have pets, yet another reason I was always happy to hear that she was about to travel again. I moved my duffel into the spare bedroom and did a quick walkthrough to re-familiarize myself with her house layout, noticing that she had acquired a few new plants since my last visit.
A few days into my stay I emptied the last container of water designated for the plants. It was the only odd instruction Susan left – the plants were watered very small amounts daily, from gallon containers she left in the front hallway. Her plants were beautiful, luxurious and green, and I always followed her instructions carefully even though it seemed a little ridiculous to me. I checked in the closets and the bathroom and kitchen, but there were no more filled containers to be found. The containers were obviously re-filled, not actually distilled water or anything else fancy and sealed. I guessed that Susan had been self-bottling grey water from cooking for the plants, and watered the last few plants with tap water.
A week later I was a little frantic. The plants were obviously not doing well, they were all droopy and brown or yellow around the edges. I started googling images of plants trying to identify them, hoping I could also find ways of making them happier again. After thirty minutes of searching I hadn’t found anything that looked right, and I was starting to doubt that the plants existed, which also made me doubt my sanity. Sadly I couldn’t contact Susan either, this was one of her trips where she wasn’t reachable. I thought about not watering the plants at all. They weren’t going to dry out, and watering them on the regular schedule with tap water was only making them worse.
I had been refilling one bottle over and over, and decided to check the other bottle I had emptied to see if I could figure out what was special about her water. I added a little tap water, swished it around, and poured it in a small bowl. I drank a little and it tasted odd. I drank a little more and realized that it was salty. I know salt was supposed to be bad for plants, but given that they didn’t seem to exist this was worth a try. I found a big measuring cup and mixed sea salt and water until I got to something that was close to the same salinity on my tongue. I watered each of the plants a scant amount, and forced myself to leave them be for the rest of the day.
The next morning I thought the plants looked better, but wasn’t sure if it was just wishful thinking. I mixed a larger batch of salt water and gave each plant its usual daily amount. When I got home that evening it was obvious that all of the plants were in fact doing better. I had cracked the code, though every gardening tip I could find insisted that salt water should be killing the plants.
Susan came home on schedule, looking refreshed and younger like she always did. When she asked how things had gone I told her just fine. All of the plants were back to their regular selves after only a few days of salt water. I had done some other research and had developed a theory that explained why Susan travelled on such a regular schedule to a place she wasn’t reachable by phone or email, and why her plants needed salt water, and why she always wore a dove grey scarf/shawl no matter the weather. But I had no idea how to ask the question, and wasn’t sure I wanted an answer anyway.