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The Terrarium

By Michael Massee


            Why a terrarium?  I don’t know.  I just remembered the rectangular fish tank we had in third grade that had rocks and moss and small plants and a turtle and it was like a fairy kingdom to me.  Bad things never happened in there, unlike the world I was living in at the time.


            Anyway, many years later, after my wife Amy died, and not wanting to be a burden to my kids, I sold the house we had lived in for forty years and moved into the Sunny Lakes assisted living facility.  It’s a high-end complex of fancy apartments that offer a bit more than your regular retirement village.  Amy would have hated it but I find it to be okay.  Three meals a day in a pleasant dining room decorated in peach and maroon. A nurse-practitioner available 24/7. I have a one-bedroom apartment with a tiny kitchenette and a useless balcony, the size of a postage stamp, with a view of the parking lot.  If I paid a little more I could look out over the pond that gives Sunny Lakes its name.


            This is a very social place, lots of activities, like bingo and the Sunny Lakes book club, pottery class, guest lecturers, bridge and chess competitions, non-denominational church services on Sunday and movie night on Thursday (with popcorn.)   There are field trips to museums, concerts and Broadway road company shows.  Unfortunately, both Amy and I were never ‘joiners’ or ‘member material’ so most of these activities don’t interest me.  However, I do take advantage of the once-a-week bus ride to the super market.  I have a car but the bus saves on gas.  There is a cleaning service that comes by once a week and keeps the place spic and span.

            Actually, living here is kind of like being back in High School, a high school of teenagers who are in their golden years.  There are the cliques; the jocks (golf or tennis, anyone?) the cheerleaders (join us for a sing-a-long?) and the beauties (sit at my table for lunch?)  Need I mention that the ladies out-number the men here at Sunny Lakes High?   I guess when I first arrived here I was looked upon as prime beef, although my feminine classmates have finally come to the realization that I’m really just the dork sitting at the nerd’s table. I’m a voracious reader and an avid watcher of historical dramas but I’m not a conversationalist.   I heard someone refer to me as ‘the silent one.’


            But back to the terrarium.  I don’t have much contact with my children these days as both my son and two daughters live pretty far away.  He’s all the way across the continent and one daughter is in Houston and the other is in Minneapolis.  We do a lot of phone calling and FaceTiming and they visit in person whenever they can.  My grandchildren send me cards and drawings but they are growing up and creating lives of their own which keeps them very busy, much too busy to bother with grandpa.  So, I decided I needed something to help me feel less useless and also as a buffer against the news of the outside world, the around-the-clock coverage of disasters both natural and man-made.  It’s enough to make you suicidal.  

There is a no-pets-allowed policy here at Sunny Lakes, although Stacy, the manager, has a rumpled old black Lab named Duke who naps in the lobby and happily greets anyone who comes through the front entrance.  The first-floor tenants are encouraged to leave their doors open a crack if they want a visit from Duke and I would do the same if he would only take the elevator up to the second floor but he’s not fond of the elevator door closing on his tail.  Therefore, I started making a list of possible substitutions. Since puppies or kittens are illegal, what would be acceptable by the management.?   Bird in a cage?  Goldfish in a bowl?  An ant farm?  Was a Gerbil or a Hamster or a Guinea Pig in a cage allowable?  The image of a rodent racing nowhere fast in a wheel inside a glass cage brought back the memory of the grade school terrarium.  A terrarium!  That’s it!  A terrarium with a turtle!


I didn’t want a terrarium that took up a lot of room and cost too much so my visit to the PetSmart web site was a disappointment.  The terrariums were very big and fancy with front openings and ramps and other unnecessary doodads.  What was also a turn off was that prices started at almost two hundred dollars.  I’m sure if I had driven to the strip mall and spent some time at the actual store I would have found something more practical but when I discovered that they didn’t have any turtles for sale I figured I wouldn’t waste my time.  In fact they didn’t carry any sort of living creature.  Wait.  I take that back.  They had live earth worms and crickets and they stocked frozen mice but all of this was to feed snakes, which they also didn’t have for sale.

After a little more research I came to the conclusion that I could be creative and just improvise.  I reasoned that there were probably a lot of discarded terrariums sitting on shelves at the Goodwill and the Salvation Army stores, leftover relics from long-ago science projects or unsuccessful attempts to keep guppies alive.  (The mortality rate of home aquariums is heart breaking.)

However, I was wrong about the imagined abundance of terrariums I thought I’d find at either of the thrift stores.  I came across only one at the Salvation Army and it had a crack across one end that didn’t bode well for a long life.  The Goodwill had one the size of a Volkswagen that came with a heat lamp, a bubbler and a scene of the Grand Canyon glued to the back. I guess this was to fool the creatures stuck in there into believing that they were actually living outside in Arizona.


I was about to leave the store when I happened to notice all these shiny glass objects sparkling on top of a shelf on a rack of dead-people’s clothes.  Vases, ashtrays, bowls, water pitchers, shot glasses, candle sticks, punch bowls and candy dishes huddled together like a bunch of unwanted and unloved orphans.  It was there that I spied what, at first, I thought was some sort of cake stand, a plate fused to the top of a pedestal.  Only, after a second glance, I saw that it wasn’t a plate but a glass tub that was resting on this clear glass pillar.  It was a Trifle dish.  Now, unless you’re from the U.K. you may not know what a Trifle is, but it’s a decadent dessert made with layers of fruit, boozed-up sponge cake, custard and whipped cream displayed in this bucket-shaped glass vessel.  I don’t know why it’s called a Trifle because it certainly isn’t.  Anyway, check it out on Google.

For some mysterious reason this glass refugee from Great Britain called out to me. It was about nine inches wide and ten inches high, which wasn’t very roomy but I began to see the possibility of a tiny Garden of Eden arising in this oversized crystal goblet. Having looked up ‘terrarium,’ on the good old internet, I learned that there were two kinds of these gardens-under-glass; the large open aquarium, often with some sort of living creature inside, and the closed vessel with just the vegetation.  Some of these had glass covers that could be removed to allow for watering and some were permanently sealed shut and were self-sustaining, a process I didn’t quite understand.  I saw photos of terrariums made from Mason Jars and brandy sniffers, wine jugs and apothecary jars but no Trifle bowls.  I realized that the Trifle bowl would be a unique example of a semi-closed vessel.  All I needed was a piece of glass to cover the top which would keep the humidity level stable.  I could take it off, now and then, to give it some air.  As if the gardening gods had been eavesdropping, right next to the Trifle bowl was a stack of clear glass dinner plates.  I took one and gently set it on top of the bowl and could see that they were meant for each other.  I had my terrarium and it cost a whole five dollars (plate included!)


 I built my Trifle garden not with layers of cake, berries, custard and cream but with a layer of gravel, a layer of charcoal chips, one of potting soil and finally a layer of moss.  I had gone down to the pool behind the Sunny Lakes facility and found two kinds of moss growing around this unswimmable pond of fetid green water.  One moss was a bushy green with, what looked like tiny dark-green fir trees, poking up from the carpet-like moss.  The other was grayish-green and was light and airy like it had been woven by spiders.  They both looked like they’d be a great surface on which to take a nap.

On the muddy edge of this olive-green pond I also spied a small rough oval-shaped stone that was the color of cold butter.  I added it to my growing collection of flora but no fauna.  I had realized earlier that there could be no turtle in my miniature Eden.  There just wasn’t room. It was sad but in a way I was relieved.  No dealing with food and health issues, just a few drops of water once in a while to keep the soil and moss moist.

In most terrariums people add one or two miniature plants, which can be purchased at garden centers.  I, however, found a small broken piece of weathered wood, probably the remnant of a branch that had snapped off of one of Swamp Maples, that dot the edge of the pond, and I chose to let it rise up out of the soil in my terrarium like the trunk of a miniature redwood tree whose top half had been torn off by a terrible hurricane. I have a strong imagination.


When I finished assembling my terrarium I was surprised, but also very pleased, at how good it looked.  With the pale yellow stone in the center, my little redwood tree reaching up from the earth and with the spiky extensions of moss, that resembled a grove of tiny pine trees climbing towards the sky, I was a happy camper.   



It’s hard to put into words the effect my little garden had on me.  On the surface there was this pretty glass jardinière containing some moss, sticks and a stone.  But to me, it represented so much more.  It was an example of my burgeoning creativity.  It was a way to bring some much-needed nature into the rather sterile world in which I was housed. It calmed me down by whisking me away from the daily videos of shootings, bombings and evil politicians I was so used to seeing on social media.  Sliding the glass plate off the top of the terrarium released the rich earthy smell of moss and damp soil.  It was like walking alone in a forest.

Resting on a small table in front of one of the windows facing the parking lot, that barren field of black tar, white stripes and automobiles, my own private Garden of Eden kept me sane.  The windows faced north so it never got too hot in the miniature woodland.  I put a comfortable chair next to the table so that I might sit and gaze into what had become a sort of a meditation chamber.  I was very happy.


And then I had a visitor.


Mrs. Sophie Rosenblatt, from 212, down at the other end of the hall, knocked on my door.  As I was not used to that sound I jumped up rather too quickly and almost fell down but then, pulling myself together, walked over to the door and opened it.  Sophie is quite short and rather round with large blue eyes partially hidden under eyelids that sag down like half-opened venetian blinds.  Her short curly hair is a shade of rusty iron and, unlike most of the other female residents, I have never seen her wear makeup.  She was holding up a medium-sized manilla envelope.

“This was in my mailbox by mistake.  It’s addressed to you.”

“Oh—well---thank you,” I replied as I took the envelope, “It’s from one of my grandkids,” I mumbled, as I checked the return address.

“Ah---yes.  I guess you wouldn’t want to have that go missing,” she smiled.  I noticed that she was breathing rather rapidly and I didn’t think it was from looking at me in my sweats and fuzzy slippers.  “I’m sorry,” she continued, “but I need to sit down---my Emphysema---long walk---my apartment.”

I took her arm and guided her into the living room and she immediately sat herself down in my chair by the window next to my meditation chamber.  She was struggling a bit to catch her breath.  She reached into a pocket in her house dress and extracted some sort of inhaler, like you see in those annoying medical commercials, and took a zap.  I nervously crossed over to the kitchenette to get her a glass of water.  I don’t know why I thought that was necessary but that seemed to be what was always done in the movies and TV (except for the shows from the UK where tea was the liquid of choice for all emergencies.)

“I’m so sorry,’ she apologized, “I always think I’m stronger than I am.”

“That’s okay.  How’re you feeling?  Any better?”

“Yes---I’m okay. I usually carry my---oxygen canister---but---like I---said---I’m good---at lying to myself,” she admitted, taking a glance at my terrarium, “That’s a lovely planter.  A gift from your grandkids?”

“Ah---no.  Actually, it’s my attempt to create a terrarium,” I answered, standing there like an idiot with a glass of water in my hand, “Would you like some water?”

“Oh—no thank you.  I’m okay, really,” she replied, gesturing at the little garden, “So you put this together?  It’s really nice.”

“Well, thank you.”

“But isn’t it missing something?”

“I’m sorry.  Missing?  Oh, you mean like a living creature, like a lizard or a turtle.”

“Oh, my no.  I think a real animal might be a little crowded in there.  I was thinking more on the lines of a figurine---you know---a little China duck or a porcelain dog?  Most planters I’ve seen have one or two of these cute little tchotchkes tucked in and around the foliage.”

I shuddered internally at the thought of some pottery puppy romping around in my Garden of Eden but I smiled and nodded my head.

“Wait a minute!” Sophie exploded, “I think I’ve got just the thing--a nice little friend for your---,” Sophie seemed to see what the planter/terrarium was made of for the first time, “that’s a Trifle bowl isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Very clever.  And I’ve got a figurine that will look great in there,” she announced as she rose carefully up from the chair.  “Why don’t you walk back to my apartment with me.  I can give you the rascal right then and there.”

“Well---I---sure,” I reluctantly agreed, and, closing my front door, I took hold of Sophie’s elbow.  We walked slowly down the hall in what seemed like the longest trek of my life.  Sophie unlocked her door, went inside, by herself, and returned several minutes later with something enclosed in her hand.

“Here he is,” she proclaimed, “He’s going to enjoy a change of scenery.” And she handed me:

Freddie the Frog.  He was a neon shade of chartreuse with hot orange spots, giant googly eyes and a wide smiley mouth with a lipstick-red tongue hanging out.  I was horrified. In no way could I or would I introduce this frog from hell into my peaceful Eden.   I mean, he would have taken up two-thirds of the space.  “Oh, my! Are you sure you want to give up Freddie?  I’m sure he means a lot to you.”

“Don’t worry about it.  I have a huge collection of Frogs.  He won’t even be missed,” she explained with a quick laugh.  “It’s sort of what I do---my thing---collecting frogs.  I love frogs.  They are so cute.  Sometime I’ll show you the whole gang but, right now, my place is a mess. Another time.  Thanks for walking me back to my apartment.”

“Oh---no problem.  Ah---thanks again for giving me the envelope---oh---and---Freddie.” I stood there wiggling Freddie back and forth in an amphibious dance as Sophie closed her door.



Freddie was relegated to a box on the top shelf of my closet.  I figured I could always pull him out and set him down next to the terrarium if or when Sophie came to visit.  I’d say he was getting a breath of fresh air.  I certainly couldn’t have him inside the glass bowl, hovering over my redwood tree and yellow stone like a dime store Godzilla.

Several evenings later I found myself staring at my Eden and starting to have a change of heart.  Not that I was about to take Freddie out of retirement.  No way! What happened was that I saw a magazine article about this photographer who set up these miniature scenes with tiny figures and then took pictures as if they were real events.  I thought that if were to put anything in my little garden it should be one of these miniature figures, a little human-being to run around in the Garden of Eden.

I started looking on the internet (is there anything you can’t buy on Amazon?) and was astonished to find all kinds of little people for sale.  It seems these ¾ inch tall humans are popular with model-railroad hobbyists and are used to populate these amazing miniature worlds train-lovers create.  These plastic Lilliputians wait at train stations, walk to church, deliver the mail, play in school yards and go about their lives as if they were living in a miniature Norman Rockwell universe. 

The choices offered for sale were phenomenal. They came in sets of up to fifty figures but I really only needed one figure for my terrarium.  I kept scrolling through the photos of commuters and dancers and farmers (there was even a set of nudists and for a moment I considered purchasing an Adam and Eve but that seemed to be a little too cheeky) and finally I found what was called a ‘sampler’ kit, which was a set of six sport figures.  This included a woman with a tennis racket, a golfer toting a bag of clubs, a man in racing shorts heading for the finish line, what looked like a swimmer doing the backstroke, a skier of undetermined gender and a referee in a striped shirt.  Because the figures were so small there were no painted facial features, just hair color.  But their garments were nicely rendered so I placed an order.


            Two days later a small package was delivered to the desk in reception.  When I picked it up Stacy quipped that ‘good things come in small packages’ and asked me what was in the itty-bitty box.

            “A half dozen itsy-bitsy athletes,” I tossed off over my shoulder, as I headed for the elevator. ‘Let her try and figure that one out,’ I thought, chuckling to myself.


            Once locked safely in my apartment I tore the wrapping off the box and opened it.  Inside was a round, fairly flat, gold-colored tin with a clear plastic lid.  Think of the shape of a chewing tobacco tin. I could see the six figures resting inside.  I twisted off the top and poured the tiny residents into the palm of my hand.

            One by one I stood them up on my little table and admired the infinite detail each one displayed; the strings on the tennis racket, the shiny skis, the number 13 of the back of the racer’s tee shirt and the clubs peeking out of the golf bag.  One detail I noticed was on the head of the only reclining figure and that was a pair of sunglasses.  They were painted on the face of what I had thought was a swimmer but it was really just a man resting on his back.  In fact he had his arms folded behind head like he was sunbathing.  He was wearing a pair of dark blue swim trunks and looked so relaxed and contented that I knew he was the perfect resident for the Trifle Garden of Eden.

             Not hesitating for a minute, I retrieved a pair of tweezers from my bathroom cabinet and, returning to the table, lifted the reclining gentleman up and, removing the glass cover, placed him gently on the pale yellow rock in the center of my tiny forest. It was perfect.  He looked as if he was comfortable and that he would fall asleep at any moment.  Sophie Rosenblatt was correct;

my miniature garden needed a ‘ tchotchke’ to finish it off.  Just not Freddie the Frog.


            And so Brent (yes, I gave him a name) took up residence and, in the following weeks, I even found myself chatting with him, off and on, during the day.

            “Good morning, Brent.  Looks like another sunny day.  How was your night?”  Of course he didn’t ever respond because I’m not that crazy.  It’s just that he looked so happy and contented and that sort of rubbed off on me.  I felt quite relaxed and untroubled as I sat starring into that soft green world.  It was so quiet and peaceful, I sometimes nodded off and woke up with a crick in my neck but with a smile on my face.   It was as if Brent was me and I was Brent and I was resting on the rock.  Kind of nuts, I know, but I never felt better in my whole life.

            As the months flew by I spent more time gazing into my tiny Eden and less time being out in the big bad world full of anger and violence.  I stopped attending Movie Night and even asked to have my meals brought to my room and I also didn’t go on the bus to the super market.  I guess my absence was noticed because the nurse-practitioner stopped by to see if I was alright and I assured her I was fine.  I even introduced her to Brent and my little garden.   She thought it was ‘adorable.’


            It had been about four months since I had put together the soil, moss, tree stump and rock that converted the Trifle bowl into a minute forest. That’s when things began to go awry.  What I’m going to write about now is going to sound crazy but, you have to believe me, it really happened.

            I started to have these strange dreams in which I discovered myself standing in a forest and finding it hard to breathe.  With each new dream the temperature seemed to increase and I started sweating profusely.  I would try to walk out of the woods but no matter which way I turned I ran into an invisible wall.  It seemed the dreams were becoming a never-ending nightmare. 

            The last dream I remember having was one with me trudging up to a large boulder and seeing, high up on the top, the side of a body stretched out as if dead.  I knew I should climb up to where this unfortunate person was to see if I could help but I was too frightened.

            I tossed and turned until I woke myself up and was relieved to see I was safe in my apartment with no rock and no body.  But my relief was short-lived.  A real live nightmare awaited me in my living room.

            Residing, as usual, on the little table by the window was Brent and my terrarium.  Everything seemed the same, the trees and the moss lit softly by the early morning light.  All very comforting like every other day. But something was different.  What was it?  And then I noticed a bit of white clinging to the top of my wind-blasted redwood tree trunk.  I slid the lid off the top of the Trifle bowl to get a better look and nearly dropped the glass plate.  There was a woman, a tiny plastic figure, perched on the broken crown of the tree, like a white dove.  She wore a long milky-white dress and her face was hidden under a large white picture hat.  Impossible!  Where did she come from?

I knew I hadn’t added her to my private Eden (even as an Eve for Brent’s Adam?) or at least I didn’t remember doing such a thing.  Could I have done it in my sleep?  Sleepwalking perhaps?  But there wasn’t a sitting lady in white in my sports sampler when I first opened it so where would I have found her?

            I hurried over to the catch-all drawer, in the kitchen, where, among the broken ball-point pens and expired coupons, I had stashed the gold tin containing the five remaining athletes.  They were still there.  Maybe I miss counted and she had been hidden under the other figures?  No way.  Ridiculous.  I had laid them all out very carefully.  There had only been six, counting Brent.

Somehow, a mysterious lady in white had been positioned on top of my pseudo-redwood tree and I hadn’t a clue how this had happened.

            Using my handy-dandy tweezers, I picked her off the tree and put her in my hand in order to examine her more closely.  Like Brent, she had no painted facial features but her hair was painted black, unlike Brent’s which was baby-chick yellow.  She was obviously manufactured by the same company as Brent but how in the hell did she get here?  There had to be some rational answer.

            I sat staring at this interloper and debating with myself whether to keep her or condemn her to the trash.  I finally decided that it would be better to hold on to her until I solved this mystery, so I gently replaced her back on the top of the tree.  I had the silly thought, as I got her sitting in the same position in which I had found her, that if she were a real live human-being she would never have been able to climb up the side of the tree, dressed in a white dress and picture hat.  She would have at least needed a rope and crampons.


            I spent that whole day trying to come up with an explanation for what was obviously an impossibility. I mean, I knew that I was getting more forgetful as the years went by.  That was a given. I used to depend on my dear Amy to keep me on the straight and narrow, reminding me to take my medications or to turn off the gas burner on the stove.  However, I’d been doing pretty good, on my own.   Well, there was the time I put my dirty laundry in the recycling bin and, I had to admit, famous people’s names evaded me quite often.  You know what I mean, ‘what’s-his-face in that movie, what’s-it-called?’

            So it was possible that I added little Miss White Dress to my diorama and that I just didn’t remember doing so.  Short-term memory, maybe.  But where did I find her and when did I accomplish this acquisition?  I hadn’t left my apartment in weeks.  Could it have been put there by someone who visited me?  But the only visitor I had was Rosita, the cleaning lady, and I can’t imagine her taking the time to bother sticking a plastic figure in my terrarium.  But, if she didn’t do it who did?

            That was when I started getting really paranoid.  Was it Stacy, our manager, sneaking into my living room late at night?  After all, she had a master key that opened every door in the facility.

Or was it Trevor, the maintenance wizard, climbing up to my pint sized balcony and jimmying open the French door so he could slip silently into my darkened living room and plant the Lady in White? Oh, come on!  This was crazy thinking!  It had to stop.


            That night, at bedtime, I took my Melatonin and tried to go to sleep. Useless.  I don’t know when I finally sailed off to the land of nod but it was not a restful sleep.  I just recall pulling myself up through a jumble of shadowy figures as the light of an early dawn penetrated my dreams.  I awoke to the thought that, hopefully, when I got up and walked into my living room, the mysterious woman in white would be gone.


  It was not to be.


            Not only was the uninvited guest still clinging to the top of the tree but two of her friends were sunning themselves on what looked like a little beach.   I was stunned.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  A man and a woman, both in swimming attire, were sitting close together on what was a thin flat piece of tree bark.  It resembled a sandy beach.  They were gazing out through the curved glass wall of the bowl as if they were looking off at the distant horizon of a vast ocean.  What in the name of god was going on?

            I sat, starring back at this tiny couple, and for the first time I was truly frightened.  This could only mean that I was going insane, that I was hallucinating and that, maybe, I needed some

medical help.  I thought about calling my son or one of my daughters, that was probably the best thing to do, but I was reluctant to disrupt their lives and, in all honesty, I didn’t want to end up having to leave Sunny Lakes for some mental institution.  I was embarrassed and ashamed but I wasn’t going to let this destroy my life.

            I told myself I could handle this.  I would prove to myself that what I was seeing was not madness, that these figures were real three-dimensional pieces of plastic and somehow they were being placed in my Eden by someone.  Who that was was yet to be discovered.  Why was totally irrelevant.  I was just going to make it all go away.

            I nervously removed the glass lid and, using my tweezers again, picked up the two sea-gazers and the Lady in White.  I dropped them on the table, got an envelope out of the drawer under the table, and, after inserting them in said envelope, sealed it and stowed it away in the drawer.

            “Okay, Brent, the garden is all yours once more.  No more visitors,” I said as I slid the lid back over the bowl, feeling sure that that was that.  Or, at least, I hoped it was.


            Of course, it wasn’t.


            The next morning, on my way to the kitchen, to make my morning coffee, I avoided checking the terrarium.  I dawdled next to the sink for a while, performing unnecessary tasks like wiping down the counter which was perfectly clean and moving dishes from one place to another and back again until I could stand it no longer.   I had to see if I had succeeded.  Holding my mug of coffee, I sauntered casually over to the table and took a quick peek at the terrarium.  Brent was relaxing on his boulder as usual and----the Lady in White was back on top of the redwood and the sea-gazing couple were on the beach!

            Starting to shake, I immediately put down my mug, before I spilled it, and threw open the table drawer.  The envelope was gone.  The uninvited invaders were back and their paper prison was gone!  Who was doing this?  I was pondering this question when I suddenly noticed that the interlopers weren’t alone. 

            Standing, up to his knees in the moss, was a commuter, fully equipped, with fedora, trench coat and briefcase, as if waiting for the 7:45 AM express, a train that was never going to arrive.  And leaning next to the pseudo-redwood tree was a construction-worker wearing a yellow hard-hat and holding what looked like a chain saw.  Was he planning on cutting down my precious tree?  I was freaking out.

            I went back to my bedroom, crawled under the covers and put a pillow over my face.  This

couldn’t be happening---but it was.   What do I do now?  One thing I decided was to leave everything the way it was.  I wouldn’t try to make it go away.  It was obvious that that was a losing battle.  And then I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.  I would get one of those ‘Nanny Cams’ like you see on TV where a married couple wanted to see if the governess they hired was up to no good with their kid.  I could set it up and secretly record what was going on and who was responsible.


            Once again Amazon came through.  I purchased a Reolink E1 Pro Home Security Indoor Camera which was motion activated.  I also signed up for an app that would let my computer keep a record of what the camera was picking up.  I was informed the camera would arrive in two days.

Those two days were a couple of the worst days of my life.

            The evening of the first day saw me struggling to go to sleep.  I was too nervous and excited about the possibility of finally solving this mystery.  By dawn I awoke exhausted from my night of sporadic cat naps.   I was ill-prepared for what greeted me as I stumbled into the living room.  Not only was the commuter still waiting for the train and the construction worker still leaning against tree, along with the other uninvited visitors, but new figures were standing in the moss.   An older woman, dressed in a red raincoat and holding an open red umbrella, hunched over as if she was hurrying to find shelter.   A young boy stood stiff and formal, on the sea-gazers beach, dressed in his Sunday-go-to-Church clothes.

            There was now a total of eight plastic people, if you counted Brent, inhabiting my garden of Eden.  The terrarium was no longer a peaceful place for meditating but more like Central Park on a weekend.

            The next night, I stayed up until three in the morning, hoping to apprehend the culprit who was placing these unwanted figures in my Trifle terrarium.  I ended up asleep with my head on the hard surface of the table.  When I awoke, drooling on my folded arm, I was too out of it to continue my surveillance so I got up and lugged my groggy self off to bed.  I don’t know what happened the rest of that night but when I woke up I was very unhappy to find two more invaders in the garden, a young woman in an apron holding a mixing bowl full of something yellow (pancake batter perhaps?) and a toddler in a blue snow suit with his hands encased in green mittens.

            Later, around ten that morning, Stacy called, from the front desk, to say a package had arrived for me.  I hurried down to pick it up, ignoring the fact that I was still in my sweat pants, terry-cloth robe and fuzzy slippers.  I hadn’t been out of my apartment in weeks so I must have startled the folks in the lobby.  Stacy looked a little alarmed as she handed me the box with the smiley Amazon Prime logo on the side.

            “Are you okay?  We haven’t had the pleasure of your company lately.”

            “I’m doing just fine,” I lied.

            “What’s in the box?” Stacy asked, as nosey as ever.

            “A mouse trap,” I replied, haughtily, “Actually, I’m trying to catch a rat---a large rat!” I added as I raced down the hall towards the elevator.

            “Wait a minute!” Stacy hollered, “If you’ve got a problem with vermin I need to call the exterminator!”

            “Just a figure of speech.  Don’t concern yourself!” I yelled as the elevator door closed.


            Setting up the camera was much more complicated than was advertised.  The technical language in the user’s manual was, for me, like reading instructions written in ancient Sumerian.  However, by sundown, I had the system up and working.  The camera was hidden among my collection of James Paterson mysteries on the middle shelf of the bookcase directly across from the terrarium table.  I was sure no one would notice my little electric spy.

            That night I actually slept soundly.  I believe it was because I was totally wiped out from two nights without adequate sleep and from my feeling that this surveillance was going to finally provide a solution to the mystery.


           How wrong can one person be?  Just ask me.

I was not surprised by the first thing I noticed as I stepped into the living room, which was bathed in soft morning light There were shadowy outlines of more little figures standing in the moss of the terrarium.  I counted at least four more which brought the final count up to a dozen.  I told myself I would take care of them later.  Right now I had other business to attend to. 

I opened my laptop and called up what the hidden cam had recorded.  With fingers crossed, I stared at the screen, hoping to see the person who was trying to drive me insane.  For a very long minute nothing happened and then a black rectangle popped up on the screen.  The date and time appeared in glowing white numbers along the bottom.  The hour read 3:24 AM with the seconds flashing by in their position at the right of the time numerals.  Someone had come into my apartment and activated the motion sensor early this morning. The image that finally appeared was quite dark, almost black.  I hadn’t left a light on for fear the culprit would be discouraged from entering the room but now I regretted my decision.

I stared at the poorly lit screen, looking for any movement and, after a while, I saw what looked like shadows rising up from the inside of the Trifle bowl.  Even though the camera recorded in color, everything was cast in shades of grey.  Eventually I could make out the pseudo-redwood tree and the shadowy figure leaning against it.  And, one by one, I could make out most of the other eleven little people.  Wait a minute!  Thirteen little people---fourteen!  As I watched, figures began to rise up through the soil and the moss like zombies.  Fifteen!  Twenty!  I lost count due to the dimness of the picture but I estimated that the total number of tiny trouble-makers was close to two dozen.

Okay, I had my answer.  There was no evil full-scale human-being trying to make me loony tunes.  Oh, no, it was just a group of evil plastic Lilliputians, each about the size of my thumbnail, coming from god knows where (the depths of hell?) to populate my little garden of Eden.  That sounds perfectly reasonable doesn’t it?  Nobody would think me wacko if I shared my story with them, right?  I could show them the video but we all know how easy it is to manipulate images these days.

I stepped over to the terrarium and checked out the new arrivals; a butcher, a mailman, a stevedore, a pretty ballerina, a hunter, a doctor or dentist, even a lion tamer (without his lion.)

I should have been charmed by all these adorable little figurines, but they only filled me with dread.

I mean, how was all of this done?  How could these inanimate things, these tiny statues made of molded painted plastic appear out of nowhere?  Could they suddenly come alive when I wasn’t looking and climb up and out of the terrarium and---?

            I had to put a stop to this invasion, which was obviously going to continue until the Trifle bowl was filled to the brim with tiny everyday plastic people.  I hurriedly removed all the unwanted figures, leaving only Brent on his rock, and jammed them into a left-over pickle jar I used for storing pocket change.  I then walked out of my apartment and down the fire-exit stairs to the back of the building.  I crossed the narrow band of grass and, when I reached the edge of the pond, I screwed open the lid to the bottle.  Squatting down, I scooped up from the ground a handful of pebbles and stones and dumped them in on top of the figures in the bottle.  Fearing some of them might escape, I quickly screwed the lid back on and, with a mighty heave, I threw the jar as far out over the pond as I could.  It sank almost instantly in the ugly pea-green water which I knew would certainly hide it from prying eyes.  I didn’t know if someone saw me but I didn’t care.  If a person was curious enough to want to muck around in that cesspool let them try.

            That night I moved my beloved terrarium, restored to its former serenity, to the nightstand in my bedroom.  I did that in the hopes that the little fuckers, excuse my French, wouldn’t be able to find it.  After all, there was no one to guide them---unless----Brent?  Was he inviting them, sending them directions like a GPS on how to---no, no, that was just my paranoia rearing its ugly head.

            I covered the bowl with a cloth napkin as an additional deterrent, like one would cover a parrot’s cage to keep it quiet, and then I turned out the light.  I hoped sleep would come soon but, of course, it didn’t.  It arrived close to dawn.


            Okay, so all that I have told you in the last ten or so pages has led up to this morning.  I’m about to pull the napkin off of my terrarium and I’m scared.  I mean, all this old man wanted was a peaceful little place, a bit of the beautiful outdoors, to keep him calm and happy and what did he get?  A miniature garden overrun with escapees from a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ world.  Well, lets see if I got rid of them for good.  Here goes---


“I’m so glad you’re back daddy.  You were gone so long, I missed you.”

“I missed you too, honey.  But it was only a couple of weeks.”
“It was too long.”
“Well, I had to clean out grandpa’s apartment, all his stuff, and he had a lot.”
“Is he going to come live with us?”
“Well, it seems he has other plans.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ah---I---okay, your mother said that you’re a very grown up seven year old and that you’ll be alright with what I’m going to tell you.  Alright?”
“I’m going to be eight in two months.”
“Correct.  So here’s what happened.  It seems that gramps just walked away.”
“Walked away---from what?”
“His apartment, his life---us.”
“Where did he go?”
“Well, that’s just it.  We don’t know.  He just disappeared.  The police are looking for him and we’ve hired a detective to help in the search.”
“Like those guys on the tv shows.”
“Yes.  Like that.  We’ll find him and bring him back here to be with us.  He probably just wandered off and got lost.  That often happens with older people.”
“Like little kids do, sometimes.”
Yeah, but don’t you worry about it.  It’s all going to work out. I promise you.  So, what do you think about all those little toy people I brought back for you?  I found them in a big glass bowl in grandpa’s bedroom.  They’re so tiny, right.?”
“Yeah, they’re much smaller than my Pocket Princess dolls.”
“Which one of the little figures is your favorite?”
“Well, there are so many.  I like the pink ballerina a lot and the little boy in the snow suit is so cute but I think my favorite is the man in the saggy pajama bottoms and bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.  He makes me giggle.”

The Terrarium

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