Gift of fire

A bit late for the dverse Tuesday prompt, but I wanted to take a picture. Hardly worth waiting for since it’s raining this morning and the result is fuzzy.


It was left in the apartment, a succulent with flame coloured flowers, in the bathroom window—the previous tenants’ parting gift. They left nothing of any use like a kettle or cutlery, just this rapturous smile. In my first empty apartment, it sat, the Easter cactus, trying to fill the emptiness with its gaudy presence, all by itself.

It came with us when we moved north, fourteen years later, a splendid specimen by then, spreading like a willow, weighted down by sunbursts of fire flowers. Reduced to a mess of broken segments when small children used it as a feature in a racetrack, it hunched over its wounds like a crippled spider, regenerating enough to face another move, and then another that brought it here, to a climate closer to its tropical origins. After the small cars episode, it lost its shape, grew gnarled and weather-beaten, scarred by small wheels, but it revived in the damp and the heat.

It is old now, raddled and wise, the oldest thing we have, the oldest thing I have, for it kept me company when I was a single student, taking my first steps in a foreign country. Thirty-five years has given it the patina of an antique. Shrunken and reduced, it sits outdoors in the shade now, and the soft rain, patiently waiting for the next move, to the great outdoors, and a well-deserved retirement.


Starburst and sunlight,

the hues, breath of creation—

plant eternity.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

47 thoughts on “Gift of fire”

      1. I had a couple of plants that people gave me in college. They survived several moves back and forth from school to home, and even to our first apartment, but I don’t even remember what happened to them now.

      2. This one has just always been with us. It’s had several babies that we have also kept. We take it for granted, a bit like an old pet cat, though it’s outlived our first cats by many years now.

  1. I have a plant like that too…it has moved and moved and moved. It’s a comfort I think, to watch it keep reviving itself. A survivor. And so must we be as well! (K)

    1. I’m glad you have a plant companion too! I hadn’t really thought about it until I considered this prompt about a gift. I’m not one for gifts, don’t really value things enough and never know what to give as gifts. The Easter cactus has just always been a part of the household. It was even there before we were! I’d never dream of leaving it behind.

  2. In our family, my mother’s grandchildren and great grandchildren each have a start from the cactus that had been her grandmothe’s. We date the original plant to the late 1800’s! Your photo was SO familiar to me! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh I’m so glad you posted! Slept in this AM so a bit late with my morning cup and reading….but of to find this post. Just lovely. The plant has become a part of your life and carries memories in and of itself. Sometimes a small gift turns into a momentous one 🙂 I love its tale….and he children’s use of it made me smile and yet it adapted and here it is! By the way, here in Boston, we call this a Christmas cactus as it usually blooms in November/December.
    Wonderful write!

    1. It was my mother who called it Easter cactus. She called the pink ones Christmas cactus. Ours flowers in May which is neither Easter nor Christmas. It never recovered from being used as a racetrack. I was furious when I saw what they’d done. The poor thing was in pieces on the floor and the bit left in the pot had wheel tracks all over it. It has become a quite part of our lives, and its offspring occupy several more pots. I’m glad you liked this reminiscence. It was a jolt to me to realise that this is the gift that has lasted longest of all.

  4. An Easter cactus with a rapturous smile! I love the image of a ‘succulent with flame coloured flowers, in the bathroom trying to fill the emptiness with its gaudy presence, all by itself’! It’s done well over the years. I have an aloe vera (Monty Python voice says: ‘Allo Vera!) that has been with me a long time but not as long as your gaudy girl – she has to be female – she has staying power!

  5. Such a charming write, Jane!❤️ Especially love; “fourteen years later, a splendid specimen by then, spreading like a willow, weighted down by sunbursts of fire flowers.” Thank you for sharing!❤️

  6. You have a way with words that leaves me breathless. Love the descriptions of the plant and its long, adventurous life. I have such an admiration for plants and flowers and anyone who can care for them. I kill just about any plant I get near because I tend to over water. I’m currently trying to coax a hibiscus back to life that blew over in a bad storm and started to wilt in this heat.

    1. Thank you! Funny you should mention hibiscus. We have quite a few of them, a rustic variety, mainly in pots because the soil isn’t very deep over most of the garden because of the foundations of the workshops that used to be here. I did replant one hibiscus in the ground because it had grown too big for the (very large) pot and it hated it. First it wilted and I thought it had died, but it came back to life in the middle of winter. That was about four years ago and it systematically produces leaf in winter and hibernates all summer. I’m hoping that one year it will right itself!

      1. Interesting. I noticed late yesterday that the hibiscus has what looks like little buds that haven’t opened yet. We used to have a wandering jew (that’s what my neighbor said it was, but I had no clue) and a geranium that only bloomed in cooler temps and hibernated in the summer, too. Weird.

      2. I watch those little buds all summer, and although I see a brief glimmer of green, it always fades and no leaves appear. Not until around December, January. Then the frost gets them and they drop off.

  7. Wow! Thirty five years!! It’s amazing, how it persisted. I liked how you said it was a gift from the previous tenant.
    “trying to fill the emptiness with its gaudy presence, all by itself.” – a beautiful line!

    1. I’m assuming it was a gift since the previous tenants were friends. It lived in my first apartment before I did, before future husband moved in. It has seen pets come and go, children born and moved out, it has moved house four times and is waiting to move a fifth time. That plant is a part of our history, and the idea of taking pieces of it to give to each of the children is a tremendous one. It propagates so easily.

      1. Wow! There’s so much history and it just fills me in with happiness since a plant survived to see this much of a person’s life. Really wow! And the idea of giving pieces to the children sounds like an amazing idea!

      2. Haha, they really should have. It just remind me that, being delicate and soft is not a weakness, there’s a strength to the soft stem which healed itself again and again!

  8. I had a foxtail fern with much the same story, Jane. It was finally too big for a move across the country, so it stayed with a neighbor. I haven’t had the heart to ask what happened to it. Your poem brought a smile, albeit a sad one.

    1. Maybe it decided to stay where it had flourished best. In the house we’re hoping to buy there’s a huge palm tree thing in the veranda, its boughs supported by wires to the ceiling. We’ve been asked if we’ll adopt it…

  9. You’ve made this ‘small thing’ look so extraordinary. What a wonderful life the plant has had! It’s almost like a family member. Every word is so enjoyable. Thank you for the post.

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