The day woke ready for Anna but Anna was not at all ready for it. Her first sensation was one of being upright and feeling as though her arms, legs and feet were bound. She noticed a lock of green hair in her eyes and despite being groggy from sleep, she noticed she was decidedly outdoors.
Anna worked in a SoHo bookstore while she attended the NYU graduate program studying Ethnoherpatology: the study of behavioral differences among snakes of varying regions of the world. She worked hard, had little social life, paid her taxes, returned her library books on time, called her mom and dad on Long Island every weekend. But today, Anna was a wild carrot.
Anna did not know this at first, of course. She could look down into the dirt, where her nose would have been, and see enough of herself to know that her skin was orange. When the wind blew, she saw that her green hair was really just the top sprout one associates with a carrot. She scoured the ground, or at least as much as her field of vision would allow, for being a carrot, she could not twist left or right very much at all.
“H-how did I get here?” These were her first words as a carrot.
“How do any of us really get here?” the deep baritone voice boomed from a few any hills away. It was Karl, a hosta plant. He was a thinker who often sat as motionless as a hosta could and pondered the great mysteries of the universe.
“Beg pardon?” Anna was nothing if not polite.
“I mean, where do any of us come from? It’s a crap shoot at best that of all the planets circling all the solar systems in all of the galaxies among the many universes, that ours would be the only one that could support life and such a variety of life as this.”
“I’m sorry, you are?”
Karl was philosophizing. He would not be deterred.
“Of course, there was Einstein who once said ‘there are no coincidences, God does not play craps with the universe’ And then there was Newton.”
“Newton?” Anna was confused.
“Gravity? Created calculus? Apple falling from the tree? Ring any bells?” Karl was just being snotty now.
“And you are?” Anna felt very uncomfortable not being able to move. She tried to twist, tried to move where her hands would be, but there was nothing. She did have the strangest sensation that her hair kept moving in the direction of the sunlight.
“Karl”, the hosta announced. “My name is Karl.”
“How long have I been like this?” Anna asked.
“What, stupid?” Karl was just being annoying now.
“Been a carrot,” Anna replied just being annoyed now.
“I don’t know who I am,” said Anna, hoping to evoke some sort of sympathy.
“Who does?” Karl responded, “Isn’t this the great journey of life?”
Anna could not help herself. “Now stop that!” she snapped.
“How about we discuss Moore’s law as it relates to technology vis-à-vis Darwin’s premise of natural selection?” Karl offered, ignoring Anna.
Anna didn’t know how to feel. Yesterday she was peddling her bike uptown from her lower West Side flat to go to school and today here she was discussing Moore’s law with a hosta plant. She had determined soon that she wanted to cry.
Suddenly, into her field of view (for she was a carrot after all and as such she could not twist around) she spied a group of carpenter ants toddling by. They were clearly in conversation, paying no attention to Anna or Karl.
“Hello!” Anna called out. “You there, ants. Hello!”
“Hello there carrot, what’s up doc?” said the leader, a large black ant named Karen. They all giggled at the obvious joke.
“My name is Anna,” she said, “and I need help.”
“Mine is Karen,” said the lead ant. With this, the entire group all droned as if instructed on cue. “Hi Karen!”
“We’re on our way to our 12-step program,” Karen informed Anna. “Would you like to come? You know, you gotta wanna, right?” and all the ants nodded and murmured approval.
“No, see that is not the kind of help I need,” Anna replied trying hard not to sound too desperate. Then it hit her.
“12-step program? 12-step program for what?” Anna asked Karen.
“Why, for 12-step programs, of course,” Karen responded.
“Let’s make her go,” said one of the other ants, and then they all became agitated and chanted, “Yes, yes, make her go.”
“Now, now,” chastised Karen, “remember, attraction not promotion,” to which all the other ants quieted down, “Yes, she’s right, of course she’s right. What would we do without Karen?” they all muttered.
Anna could not believe what she was hearing.
“No, thank you.” She was still trying very hard to be polite. “Actually, I wanted to know how I got here.” But before she could finish her sentence Karen started with her testimony.
“Honey, we all get here the same way, through the gutter. We only get through it with the grace of our higher power – however you envision it to be – and each other.”
“No! No! That is not what I mean at all,” Anna was frantic with frustration.
“Every journey starts with a single step,” Karen threw out, and the other ants cheerfully rejoined, “Oh yes, so true so true.”
Then one by one each of the carpenter ants stood on a nearby root and began telling their horrid little tales of how they could not go a day without having to attend one of these meetings.
Anna tuned out, wanting so much to cry, but afraid it would only bring her more trouble.
Meanwhile, Karl was still carrying on a conversation about whether or not Malthusian economic theory and communism as practiced in the 1930’s and 1940’s could possibly have common origins.
Anna finally let go and started to cry, just slowly at first.
She didn’t want to be a carrot. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a grad student at NYU but she’d clearly take that over this any day.
Then a little sow bug came ambling into view.
“’Scuse me. Beg pardon. You tawkin’ to me? Hey knock it off.”
Anna had no idea to whom this little bug was talking.
“Hey sow bug!” Anna tried to get his attention. There were two large Day Lilies that just looked the other way when she called the sow bug over. (Day Lilies can be like that, you know.)
“Benny!” the bug called out.
“What?” Anna wasn’t paying attention.
“Benny is the name. You gonna eat that?” Benny turned to a small snail crawling by, nibbling on some mold spore. Then he turned to Karl.
“You tawkin’ to me? You want a piece-a-me buddy?”
Back to Anna:
“You’ll have to forgive me…”
Back to the Ants:
“Ladies would you like an escort to your meeting?”
Now to a crow, who was pulling up some string he was going to use for his nest:
“You gonna use all that, fella, cause I gotta tell ya I can really use some of that…”
Anna shrieked Benny’s name. It was all she could do to get the sow bug’s attention. This did the trick. Everyone became quiet.
Benny looked at Anna with downcast, eyes, or at least as downcast as a sow bug can make.
“Sorry lady,” he said. “See I’m ADHD and I… “
Now to Karl: “Okay, put up your tendrils…I’ve had it with you.”
Nearby, a Fiddlehead fern was just beginning to stretch and start the day. She’d heard all the commotion and saw Anna looking very, very sad.
“Hey sister, what gives?” Anna saw Bernadette the Fern unrolling her bright lime green stem, almost yawn-like as though she were stretching to greet the morning.
Anna told Bernadette her problem: how she had gone to sleep last night and it was a night like any other; how she would be late for school and she had midterms; how she needed help. Bernadette listened but offered little help.
Bernadette considered a moment asking Anna what exactly a midterm was, but she resisted the temptation. Instead, she proceeded in a most officious capacity.
“Well, I think we should study the situation.”
“What do you need to study?” asked Anna incredulous.
“Why the impact to our area if you were to leave of course. And then there is the issue of who would claim your spot once you were vacated. And come to think of it, we need to investigate if you entered this garden illegally. Do you have papers? How do we know you are not some sort of terrorist or criminal weed like those Skunk Cabbage that moved in last year, or those hurtful, stingy nettles that moved here last month. They were no picnic I can tell you.”
Anna tried to work with Bernadette, for it seemed to Anna that she seemed to know things. But it was very difficult.
“How long will a study take?” Anna asked timidly, fearing the answer.
“Oh, if we get everyone’s cooperation, which is rare, honey, let me tell you, I’d say about a year.”
Anna was numb. Bernadette continued.
”I’ve seen these things drag on for longer, believe me. What with the hearings, then the postings of the findings, and of course we need a public forum to discuss the results.”
Anna’s mind dashed off to consider how plants gather to have a public meeting to discuss her situation.
“But a year…yes a year should cover most circumstances.”
Anna was getting a headache, but she realized since she was a carrot, she had no head. Still, where her head was, hurt as though a hammer was pounding on it. What she wouldn’t give for someone to mix up a little aspirin into a Miracle Gro dispenser and dowse her sprout top, which continually flopped from one side of her to the other.
From an old oak tree whose shade was now beginning to touch Anna as the sun lifted the day, some dark, spongy moss hung. Its named was Marvin. Marvin hung around the north side of the oak and pretty much threw out the most depressing observations about life for all to hear. Most of the other plants just ignored Marvin, but Anna didn’t know any better. Anna’s plight only brought Marvin pleasure, so much so, in fact, that Anna could swear he was smiling.
“What are you so happy about?” Her tone was angry as Marvin just hung there swaying gently in the breeze, the bulk of his mossy body wedged deeply into the bark of the tree.
“I’m not happy. It’s just good to see the world handing out its comeuppance on some other loser who has stepped up to the craps table of life.”
Anna wondered how moss could know anything about craps but the thought passed quickly. Things were serious and she needed to focus now.
“What have I done to deserve this?” Anna asked.
“Ah, none of us has done anything to deserve the backhand life gives us. We are born into a giant onion of misery. As we peel off one layer of misery, what is lying beneath? Yet another layer of muck and hurt and pain waiting to serve itself up to the next customer who believes this life is anything more than what it is.”
“And what is that? Just what is it that life is?” Anna had to know. She also considered moss making an onion analogy particularly clever. Again, she chastened herself to stay focused.
“Life is nothing but heartbreak and disaster. It holds all the promise of a bright shiny new day, but then pulls it back just when your hopes are the highest, and laughs at you right in your face. It pushes you down in the mud. Then steps on your back in case you had any idea of getting up and starting over.”
Anna became gloomy just listening. She began to weep. She’d had it.
“Look at that, a self watering tuber…” Benny said.
In between sobs Anna corrected him, for she was a grad student at NYU after all, “A carrot… sniff sniff… is not…sniff sniff… a tuber…”
Finally Karl, who by this time stopped talking, told everyone to shut up. None of them knew what to make of Anna’s crying. But Karl knew lots of things. He knew that when a carrot starts to sob that hard that there is no pulling oneself up by one’s bootstrap from that point to bring her around. He resolved to help her.
“You know the answer you really want, don’t you Anna?” Karl said gently, almost compassionately. He was not making fun of her for being stupid or an NYU grad student. For the very first time since this day had started, Anna began to feel hope.
“You want to know how to get back to where you really belong, don’t you?”
“Yes”, she sniffled. “Please. Thank you.” Through all this, Anna was still polite.
“I can help you. Would you like that?”
If Anna had arms she would have hugged Karl. If she had lips she would have kissed him. Anna gathered herself the best she could and calmly said, “Yes. Yes I would like that very much. I would be forever in your debt.”
As Karl respired inward to grab a breath to tell Anna what she needed to do to return to the way she was, there was a sudden movement that caught everyone, Karl, Marvin, Karen, even Benny who was staring at some fireflies that had fluttered by and distracted him. Anna suddenly felt her whole body lifting upward. Dirt peeled away from her sides and if she looked down she could see her whole body now. She could see the little feeder roots that strung off her large, wrinkled orange body. She looked down and only saw Karl get smaller and smaller until eventually, all she could see was the blue sky, some white cotton like clouds that hovered overhead. Occasionally some birds flew over and she would note their speed and type for only a moment. Soon, she could feel the sun on her whole body. She felt fully exposed to the elements.
Anna was eaten later that evening, smothered in pot roast gravy by a little girl with red pig-tails.
Anna was delicious.