Student Work

7th Grade Short Stories: Greenhouse by Maia Hosler

7th Grade Short Stories

The 7th  grade recently completed a short story unit, culminating in an original short story.

After reading “7th  Grade” by Gary Soto, and working to understand plot structure, figurative language, and characterization, the students were assigned the task of developing their own story.  The first step was to create two characters and complete a chart describing their physical characteristics, like and dislikes, hopes and dreams.

Next, the students developed plot diagrams.  Then, they drafted stories and conducted peer reviews.

After revising to produce second drafts, they again conducted peer reviews.  Finally, students completed their short stories for publication. In class, we shared some of the stories, and we would like to share a few here with our community.

Greenhouse
By Maia Hosler, 7th Grade

 
You were lying on the neatly made bed, stretched out so your toes kicked the footboard while you wrote in a matte black notebook marked “Journal.” A picture of cliché adolescence.

But you didn’t think of yourself as a regular teenager. You were an outcast.

All you saw was the blindingly white walls, the rows of pill containers on the bright white desk, and the large window and the tree-lined garden beyond that you could never reach.

The only color in your small room came from the paintings of the buds and blossoms that you dreamt of holding, just once. They lit up your room like pinholes of light, shining hope into your bleak existence, and the fact that you painted them yourself made them even brighter. But you thought of painting as the only thing you could do while forced to sit inside all day, pacing up and down until … until it was over. Even though you couldn’t bear to imagine being stuck living isolated, forever separated from society and everyone remotely around your age, you were scared to think about how soon it could be over if you stopped trying.

My first glance at you and your blank chamber was all because of a shoelace and a very heavy box. Dr. Baker told me to get refills for the hand sanitizer dispenser in the lobby, which were in Storeroom 2B. There must have been more than one hand sanitizer in that box. I would never admit it to Blake and D.T., but I don’t actually go to the gym five days a week. And that box was heavy. I attempted to set it down without dropping it on my foot while I jumped around, tripping over my shoelace. Once I finally managed to set the box down, I crouched to tie my shoe and that was when I saw you, sitting at your desk on the other side of the metal bars, sketching a flower bud in a notebook.

I sat there for a few moments, looking at you. You were just a delicate flower yourself, kept up in this greenhouse where no harsh winds could blow you over. They said later that it was some immune-system defect that kept you from the outside world. You held yourself upright; your long wavy brown hair flowed down the back of your dark sweatshirt and I could see from your tight and rigid posture that you were working to hold yourself together, working to hold all that emotion in. You were trying so hard to prove to yourself that you were fine, that you didn’t need help, and that you weren’t as lonely as you knew you were. The imaginary friends you wrote to in your journal were better than nothing, but they couldn’t satisfy you forever. Humans live off human interactions.

I wasn’t thrilled when my mom brought up the idea of working at the center over the summer. I told her that I was planning to take a road trip with Blake in a couple weeks, but when she pointed out that the money could help pay for the car I had been saving up to buy for the past two years, I jumped at the chance. True, I was only fifteen, but I knew that it would take ages to find the money for even a used car in a “just okay” state.

The trip from our house to the center took longer than I expected. By the time we had driven twenty minutes from the city, things began to look very different. The tall, gray buildings like the one we lived in disappeared and tall trees and green fields stood out on the sides of the highway. I never liked nature. I was used to the blocks in the city where the only green in sight came from some faded curtains in a shop window or a scribbled tag, probably left by someone at my school. My mom said that the greenery calmed her down and put her in a better mindset before she went to work. I breathed in and tried to feel calm. It didn’t work.

You had a schedule. Not one written out on poster board and tacked to your wall, but a schedule you rehearsed, memorized, lived by. You let yourself be governed by the electric alarm clock on your bedside table. 7:30 – wake up, take medication; 8:00 – watch the day-shift employees drive up behind the canopy of oaks and elms; 8:30 – start sketching in your journal; etc.

You left no room for thinking about what you had made your life into by ignoring your own mind. The thoughts just built up into a wall of accusations that you couldn’t face. Deep down you knew you weren’t destined to suffer forever and that a life of misery didn’t have to be your fate, but challenging your emotions seemed so hard that you chose to try to feel nothing. Ms. Kanta, the counselor you saw every other Saturday, always reminded you that hiding your emotions would never be good for you in your future.

“You might as well try some guided meditations or alternative form of therapy to find some happiness before … you know … before there’s no more time,” she would state, trying to appear optimistic. You saw right through her chipper attitude. You knew she was reminding you that nothing lasts forever.

I don’t know what I was expecting work at the center to be like. All I know is that I wasn’t picturing this. Instead of working with doctors and nurses to save lives, I spent my days running up and down stairs carrying very heavy boxes, searching for more paper for the printer, and running up and down some more stairs. But at least I was being useful to someone. At school I was just “Alex’s little brother.” It was like nothing I did mattered. He was going into senior year and was known as a total jock, but somehow still managed to balance out his schedule and get good grades in most subjects. The only class he ever failed was freshman year physics, but I think I flunked it by even more than he did.

My mom made me eat with her during the hour she had for lunch. We were sitting in the grove of elm trees on the east side of the building when she brought up an idea of hers.

“Just so you know, I told management that you could help in the garden in the afternoon starting next week.” She said it like she expected me to peacefully nod my head or tell her how long I had been waiting for an opportunity like this.

“What?!” I might’ve almost shouted.

“What what, Jade?” she sighed. “What do you have against nature?”

I didn’t really have an argument that someone like my mom would understand. So I just took another bite of my sandwich.

You were counting down the days. I know you were.

Every morning you updated that page before you even got out of bed. At first it was a relief for you to see the number go from 270 to 269 to 268. Eventually it was something you did automatically. But this day, you stared at that number, telling yourself that you were not afraid. Not afraid to live, not afraid to die.

With life, you knew what was ahead. 187 more days of loneliness, depression and boredom. With death, you had no idea what it could be. And uncertainty can be very frightening. But you convinced yourself on that morning in late June that nothing could be worse than this life. And since nothing lasts forever anyway, why not end this now?

You took the white eraser on the table next to you and scrubbed at the page, already worn so thin that it was almost torn. I watched as the digits slowly disappeared, 187 turning into 18 and then to 1. You stared once more at the page before slamming the journal closed and slipping it under the many pillows on your bed, back to where it had emerged from.

My mom told me that we had to stay later than usual so I could take a tour of the garden, since I would be starting there tomorrow. She said that she would be working late with an old friend of hers who had transferred to the night shift.

The garden tour was even worse than I expected. I zoned out as Jenna, the head gardener, explained to me in great detail how the Japanese maple had been brought to North America, instead of teaching me how to weed tulips. All I could think about was this one day. Just one day. Just when was this one day over?

I knew you weren’t in a state to be left alone, but still I didn’t tell anyone. I might’ve boasted about being brave or courageous at school (and done a few dumb dares to prove my point), but I didn’t have the guts to go up to my mom and tell her that the girl I had been spying on through an air vent during work hours might already be …. I shut that thought out of my head.

“All right, that’s about it!” Jenna exclaimed cheerfully, as if the last 45 minutes hadn’t been the longest 45 minutes of my life. I might’ve mumbled a quick “thanks” before bolting across the lawn, jumping over the flower beds we had just strolled by. I didn’t stop to think what Jenna might think about my strange behavior. You were the only girl on my mind.

I snuck up to your window – it was faster than running all the way up the stairs to Storeroom 2B – but all I saw was a curtain and an array of indistinguishable shadows. I couldn’t help but guess at what those shadows could mean as I dashed up the stairs two at a a time, my heart beating through my chest. I flung open the door and flew down the short flight of steps into the vaulted storeroom. Attempting to quiet my heavy breath, I crouched by the out-of-use air vent and took in the familiar layout below me. You were sitting cross-legged on your bed, holding your journal. And you were breathing. I let out a sigh of relief that you didn’t seem to hear. You just twiddled with your mechanical pencil as you shifted your gaze around the upper corners of your room, lost in thought. I quietly retreated slightly. You sat there in your own world as the seconds ticked by on your electric alarm clock. And I just sat there. The time I spent waiting at that air vent in suspense and expectation felt like forever, but the time I spent watching you dream away passed too quickly. I knew I couldn’t let this be the last time I sat there with you.

After what must’ve been ten minutes, you dejectedly sighed and tossed the journal to the foot of your bed. As you got up, you looked quickly from side to side, as if to make sure no one was watching. But you never looked up. You walked over to the bright white desk with all the pill containers and just stared at it, looking confused, as if you had never seen it before. You carefully surveyed the rows, scanning the small containers, until you found what you thought you had been searching for. It was clear you had no plan, for once. You unscrewed the lid of the translucent orange pill bottle and poured the contents into your palm, dropping two pills on the floor. You looked down at your hand and looked around once more. My throat went dry. Your alarm clock continued to tick away. You picked three pills up off your palm and popped them into your mouth. You began to reach back for three more, but I couldn’t watch. I squeezed closed my eyes and shouted.

The pills fell to the ground and you followed. You sat on your knees with your head in your hands. You weren’t trying to find who shouted. It might as well have been your own conscience. I wanted to be right there next to you and tell you that you’d walked away from this stronger and that you’d be glad you made the choice to live, but I was stuck up here. I still spoke to you without thinking. I told you that you deserved to be happy. But you still kept your head buried in your hands, so I’ll never know if you were really listening to me.

Your alarm clock chimed gently marking the hour. I looked at my watch. It was already 10:00 pm. My mom would definitely be missing me by now. I didn’t tell you that I was leaving. I just got up and left. And I tried not to look back.

My mom was in the car, looking at a magazine she had taken from the staff room.

“How was the garden?” she asked me without looking up.

“Just great.” I forced a smile.

She sighed and turned the key in the ignition.

“You’ll learn to appreciate this world out here eventually.”

Now it was my turn to sigh.

I didn’t go up to the storeroom the next day. I just couldn’t. I tried to listen to the doctors’ conversations, but not one mentioned you. Hopefully that meant you were fine. When I got to the garden, I saw I would be working right in front of your window. I thought about peeking through to see if you were fine. Maybe I was a little embarrassed that I had spoken to you. Maybe I was embarrassed that I couldn’t stop watching you once I had found you. Or maybe I just knew you would be fine because fate wouldn’t let you leave yet. It knew you had to stay – for your sake and for mine.

You kicked the footboard with your toe and flipped through your black journal. The pills were in their container, you were in a better mindset, and that page needed to be in the recycling. Now. You swiftly tugged it out and set it on your bedside table to erase the “1” still on it. As the last digit disappeared, so did the paper. It ripped under the pressure from your eraser, but you didn’t care. You walked over to the recycling bin across the room and let it slide down to the bottom. It would take you a while to discard your mental schedule completely, but this was a first step.

Embarrassment cannot last forever.

At first, I only checked on you from my post in the garden. For a while you didn’t even notice me. But after I attempted to make eye contact about every five minutes for a few weeks, you noticed I was noticing you.

There were so many moments in that garden that took my mind off gardening; all those shy glances, all the shy smiles.

Your schedule was fading away. You slept most mornings and wrote in your journal less. Your collection of paintings multiplied as you found that you could enjoy the art. You still weren’t completely content with living in this greenhouse, but you were growing and maturing. You recognized that something had changed. You finally felt like you could breathe freely. You were happier now that you lived to live, and not to die. I didn’t try to take credit for any of this. Seeing you happier made me happy.

Only three more weeks of summer left and only two more weeks of work at the center. I tried to ignore the deadline approaching. I couldn’t think of leaving you now. You were flourishing. You were blossoming. You were happy. I knew that after this I would never see you again, but I didn’t know how to say “goodbye.” So I just left.

I thought it would be better if you didn’t know that I would never come back. I knew how hard it was to carry that fact myself, so I couldn’t bear to think of breaking you with it. But maybe it was selfish of me to think that you wouldn’t be able to survive without me just because I couldn’t imagine life without you. Maybe you didn’t care at all. I tried to accept the fact that you were happy on your own, and that I should be happy for the both of us. So I just walked away and didn’t look back. I looked forward. This summer had taught me lessons.

And then you were gone.

My mom told me it was just the day you had predicted all along. I knew that you wouldn’t know that, and I smiled for you. You had come a long way over three months. She said that all that was in the room was your journal, stacks of paintings, and your electric alarm clock, all run out of battery power. It had existed, fulfilling its time-keeping duties, until it had worked hard enough and run out of energy. You knew that nothing lasts forever.

You thought you knew that nothing lasts forever but I knew you were wrong.

The memories of you painting, glancing at me through the window-they lived on in my mind. I admired how you had learned to feel so free even when the walls of your greenhouse kept you bound. I strove to feel that myself. I didn’t have to be Alex’s brother; I could be Jade.

I could drive by the green fields for the last time that summer and feel grateful for this opportunity after all. And I couldn’t realize this all right away.

It took time and maturing.

If I had been just a flower bud myself, I know you helped me blossom.