Root Rot by Melissa Martini

Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

This piece was previously published on Dime Show Review in March 2020.


Mama is a rose, and you are a rosebud.
You were once a single potted plant, sharing the same loose, brown dirt. But when you started to steal her water, she slowly began to wilt. She instinctively retaliated, forcing you to sprout far sooner than you should’ve.
Now she holds you, caresses you, her arms are her stem and her hands are her leaves. They are wrapped around you, warm and comforting at first, but quickly suffocating  you.
She leans over you to water you with her love, but her petals block the sunlight you so desperately crave.
She tells you: you are the only one who knows what my heartbeat sounds like from the inside.
You are the only one.


Mama is ill, breasts blighted and belly bloated.
She sees her doctor more than she sees you, so Papa pulls your hair back in ponytails before school each day and leaves love letters in your lunchbox. They allow you to feel less alone.
You dream of climbing castles and tossing up puffs of clouds, meeting Jesus and holding his hand. But you wake to the nightmare of kindergarten, leaving you kicking and screaming on the cold hallway floor, throwing a tantrum rather than clouds.
Papa grabs your arm, brings you to work with him instead. You run around the junkyard, playing with Pitbull puppies and watching Papa fix things. He is good at that, fixing things. You wonder why he can’t fix Mama though, why a doctor needs to be the one to do it.
He tells you: you aren’t supposed to be having fun, you are supposed to be in school.
You aren’t having fun. No one is having fun.


Mama is tearing open envelopes with her acrylics, pills pouring into her hands. She fingers them in her palm, but Papa flushes them when she isn’t looking. Mama gets mad, mixes more medication with drinks and cries with her cheek pressed against the bathroom tile.
You are the only audience member, but you did not buy a ticket to this show, this Broadway musical without a script. You can’t find the exit, so you hide under the covers while they shout.
Mama tells you that she’s leaving, she’s found the exit and she’s taking you with her. Suddenly you want to stay, but you’re torn from your bed and thrown into the car.
She visits another man, but you both return to Papa the next day.


Mama looks beautiful on the weekends, hair tied in a loose bun and glasses gracing her face.
You tell her, you look beautiful, like a mom. She scoffs, I don’t look like a mom every other day?


Mama is a tornado, a storm. She strolls into the house, heels pounding into the wood floors, singing Bon Jovi and swinging her purse. She cries to you, using your chest as a pillow, her tears raindrops watering you – but you do not bloom, you drown. She smells like she did when she would return from the doctor’s office, rubbing alcohol and sweat.
She calls the other man from your phone and you listen to their conversation, whispered affections, before she begins to throw up, poisons spewing out of her like blood from a deep cut. You hold her hair, rub her back.
Your phone rings and when you answer, the other man’s wife tells you, you’re a whore, a fucking whore!
You hang up.


Mama is in bed. Papa takes you to the park. You play catch all day, head to McDonalds for dinner.


If Papa was a plant, he would be a succulent. He is easy, quiet, hard to kill. But Mama overwaters with her tears, and Papa’s pot can’t hold any more water. Neither can yours.
Can the other man’s?
It can, but only for a little while longer.
When his pot overflows too, she tells you everything went wrong after you were born. You claw at your skin, engraving the sentence into your arms and legs with nails that are chewed down to nubs. It echoes in the back of your mind like a bat quietly howling in a cave, and each time you hear it, your skin bleeds again.


Mama is a letter left on the kitchen table the day after your sixteenth birthday, your name written on the envelope in her neat handwriting, cursive that seemed to sing as it spread across the paper. Inside, the lyrics to a song she sang to you as a mere sprout.


Mama is in the car, Mama is on a plane.
Mama leaves and returns, leaves and returns. Days turn into weeks turn into months.
She shows up unannounced with chicken soup that you pour out into the sink. Fertilizer turned pest control, perhaps. Safety first.
Papa is the one in bed now and no one takes you to the park, so you play by yourself in your bedroom, no boys or baby’s breath by your side.


Papa protects you from pests and root rot, holding your hand as you go, but you play by yourself, you bloom by yourself.
She tells you I am walking on eggshells with you and it’s measured: eggshells as fertilizer, eggshells as shields.


You are the sole inhabitant of a hollow cave, deep, wet, and cold.
Around you, it is dark, cool shades of greys and blues. Stalactites moist and reaching towards their stalagmite counterparts, aching to bind into a pillar or two. The comfort of loneliness haunts you like the ghost of a loved one long gone, lost and forgotten, but it protects you from Mama, her screeches echoing against the limestone and bouncing back to her without ever reaching your ears.
Bats have pups, puny, hairless, and pink. But you are not a pup, and you cannot hear her squawks. You are moss, you are liverworts, dense, flowerless.
You pine for something she cannot give you, could never give you, never wanted to give you. Papa does his best to fill the void.

This post is brought to you by
The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos
 by Abby Bland

The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos explores the intimacy of human relationship and growth against the backdrop of the natural world, moving through moments of grace, brokenness, and wonder.

Published by Perennial Press

About The Author

Melissa Martini is a short fiction writer with work in Pretty Owl Poetry, Jalada Africa, Dime Show Review, Zanna Magazine and Analogies & Allegories. She received her Master’s in Creative Writing from Seton Hall University.

Bandit Fiction is an entirely not-for-profit organisation ran by passionate volunteers. We do our best to keep costs low, but we rely on the support of our readers and followers to be able to do what we do. The best way to support us is by purchasing one of our back issues. All issues are ‘pay what you want’, and all money goes directly towards paying operational costs.

One response

  1. OUT NOW – Reclaim: An Anthology of Women’s Lives – Bandit Fiction

    […] E. AylettMatches by Debbie HudsonThe Good Mother by Amy BarnesMrs Brown’s Spell by Ola MustaphaRoot Rot by Melissa MartiniFamily Portrait by Lisa DeaneAnatomy of a Home by Zoë WellsPlaid by Lindz […]


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