Rainbow Sprout

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Stupid car accident. Stupid sister. Stupid globetrotting, summer-consuming, plant-feeding adventure.

That’s what Mother said. “Oh, it’ll be an adventure! Just think how happy your sister will be with her sprout! She needs this now.” I get it, I’m grateful to have a working spine, but that doesn’t mean I should have to waste months trudging around… where the hell am I now? Greece?

I muscle my way off the bus, potted plant held in front of me. The sprout itself is ethereal and the potted soil doesn’t weigh much, but it’s so bulky. Shimmering leaves the size of dinner plates twist like streamers in the wind, blossoms in a million shifting colors tinkling like bells with every movement.

Everyone stares. This thing tickles everyone in just the right way. Except for me.

Finally outside, I heft the lurching sprout onto a low stone wall and take a breather. “So, Meteora.” I flip my hand at the plant. “Here it is, do your thing.”

The sprout is way ahead of me. Meteora, Greece is supposedly one of the most beautiful places on Earth, sheer pillar mountains shooting up out of a picturesque valley, each one topped with an ancient Orthodox monastery. This rainbow sprout – my get-well gift to my sister, even though it wasn’t my idea – drinks up that beauty like the Miracle Gro of gods. Even as I’m catching my breath the sprout hums like a tuning fork, a translucent river of perfect colors streaming into it as it drinks up the view.

It doesn’t really do much for me. I’m an inside kid, you know?

This is the ninth stop on my grand tour of earthly beauty, each sight nursing the sprout. Banff, Lauterbrunnen, Kauai, Yasuni, Krka… It’s been a wild couple of months. Except by wild I mean boring, because there isn’t a single DJ in sight and everything is too bright and I’m sunburned and I just want to go home.

Another missed message from Julia, wishing me well. I ignore it. Aren’t I being sisterly enough right now, just being here? Julia has plenty of love, she doesn’t need mine.

The ghostly plant thickens, bursting with every color of the rainbow and then some. Untamed joy and color, like a soap bubble in the sun, a storm of iridescent butterflies. One that I have to lug across three continents because Julia got herself hurt and everyone wants to make her feel good, just like always.

Would they do the same for me? Of course not.

Later, on the train, an old lady with an awful wide-brim blue hat stares at me. “That’s a lovely sprout, young lady,” she croaks. “So rare. You’re very lucky.” Lucky to have an uncle that breeds magic plants? Yeah, right.

She clearly wants to touch it. Of course she does. A rainbow sprout is like a joy battery, and I’ve been supercharging it for months. A healthy sprout fed a diet of choral music and gothic architecture can make every day feel like Christmas. If you feed it the most beautiful natural sights in the world, that’s a gift suitable for, say, a girl cooped up for a year of traction and physical therapy.

I think that’s why the family chose me for this little quest: I don’t care for the charms of nature, so I won’t get high on my own supply. A sprout powered by mountains and trees is still just luggage to me. How anyone sees beauty in this screwed up world, I don’t know.

How delicious would it be if I let this lady take all that juice? I could return home with a dry sprout and a shrug and a sweet I-told-you-so to Mother. You can force me to go on this trip, but you get what you pay for.

Instead, I turn away from her. Why, I don’t know. It’s not for Julia’s sake. She’s got plenty of love, she doesn’t need mine.

The journey drags on. Salt flats at Uyuni, temples at Bagan, mountains at Zhangjiajie. I yawn and browse Facebook. My friends raved with Steve Aoki last weekend. One more thing I missed.

Four months of aggravation before I’m back in Alexandria, dragging this massive phantom rainbow tree down the hall of our parents’ house and into Julia’s room. The sound of its leaves rustling is like a choir of angels.

“Madison!” Julia chirps from the bed. She’s always been the cheerful one. Hike the mountains, smell the roses, show up for birthday parties on time, that’s Julia. “You look fantastic! You’re so tan!”

It takes her several beats to even acknowledge the sprout. Only after I’ve granted her a gentle hug does she turn to it. “Amazing,” she breathes. “Thank you so much for doing this.”

“No problem.” I avert my eyes. Feelings are awkward.

Hesitating, she reaches out to the stalk. The leaves reach back. As flesh touches sprout, Julia’s eyes turn to prisms, a spectrum of light swelling around us. Her breath catches, tears forming in her eyes. I back away, not wanting to mar her vision of glory.

All the places I traveled on her behalf pour into Julia’s mind, the raw essence of their beauty. She’s not just seeing them, she’s experiencing them on a gut level that only a rainbow sprout can achieve. I watch in waning jealousy as the grandeur that was lost on me firsthand is piped directly into her soul through the conduit of the sprout.

I’ve never seen her so perfectly happy, caught up in this wonderment that I delivered. For the first time I wonder, has this all been worth it? Julia didn’t deserve to end up in this bed, it was just a car wreck, not her fault. It should have been her touring the world, taking in all that beauty. In some small way, I’ve managed to set things right.

All that beauty. That whole trip, the whole world, my whole life, I’ve been blind to so much. Seeing Julia like this, my barriers are stripped away, and the sun streams into my heart for what feels like the first time.

My heart swells watching the multi-colored vortex spin around my sister, drowning out her ordeal. Despite the torrent of energy flowing out of it, the sprout doesn’t diminish in size. Color flows from my chest into the sprout, feeding it. Tears stream down Julia’s face, pristine mountains reflected in her eyes. My cheeks are wet as well. Julia has plenty of love, and now she has mine, too.

I might not care for nature, but this sight was worth the trip.

William Paul Jones is either a sci-fi and fantasy author or two golden retrievers wearing a fedora and overcoat so they can get into R-rated movies; it’s hard to say which. He is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and currently lives in Los Angeles where he manages film transportation fleets. He is attended by one hilarious wife, a pair of insane dogs, and whichever new best friend he happens to run into at Burning Man. He likes wizardry a great deal, plays the guitar passably well, and is usually filled with roasted chicken and quinoa.