By Anne E. Johnson
“Karen, please pull the weeds,” says Mom, handing me a trowel and pointing to some green stuff in the dirt. “But leave the radishes.”
She knows the garden is my least favorite place. “Which ones are the radishes?”
“They’re in neat rows,” Mom sighs, like I should know this. “The weeds are all over. That’s a weed, and that.” She points to a perfect row of green sprouts. “Those are radishes.”
It all just looks like a big salad to me.
“Please finish by dinner,” she says, and my parents drive off.
“Leave the stuff that’s in rows,” I remind myself. Hesitating, I dig the trowel in and gently tug out something with big leaves and a tough stem. The sky doesn’t fall, so it must be a weed.
I’m getting the hang of it. These are radishes, those are weeds. But what’s that? It looks like a pale gray stone the size of my fist. Plunging in the three pointed teeth of my trowel, I yank upward. Then I scream.
That’s no stone. It’s alive, gray and squishy, with four little winking holes on one side that must be its eyes, but no legs, no ears, no mouth. It looks like a big marshmallow. Blinking wildly, it tries to burrow back into the ground, as scared as I am.
With one deep scoop I get my fingers under it and pull. It’s shivering and blinking like crazy, but it stays in my palm, its skin soft as cloth. When I coo, “Hey now, it’s okay,” its eyes blink more slowly. We study each other.
“Are you an alien?” It blinks all four eyes. Aliens always want information about the planets they visit. “I’m Karen, a Female Human Terrestrial Being.” The squishy thing just stares and blinks. “What’s your name?”
It jumps back into the radish patch and nuzzles at the soil, but I snatch it up again. “I’ll call you Radish, since you look like one and you love them so much.” It wiggles in my hand in what seems like a happy way. “Are you a boy or a girl?” No answer, so I decide it’s “he” from now on.
I speak softly about the earth and the solar system while he wobbles gently and winks all those eyes at me. Suddenly a brown rabbit shoots past, the kind that sneaks into Mom’s garden and munches her precious plants. Radish goes nuts. Springing from my grasp, he follows the rabbit across the grass with amazingly quick bounces.
“Come back, Radish!” Without thinking, I bolt after him.
“Shoo!” bellows a phlegmy voice, “Get off my lawn!”
Oh, no. I’m in Mr. Lopez’s yard. He hates kids (and adults and animals). I can only imagine how he’ll feel about an alien. Fortunately, he’s so busy yelling at me that he never sees the weird creature bouncing by.
“Get outa here! I don’t need you urchins messing up my lawn.”
I’m not sure what an urchin is, but it can’t be good. “Sorry, Mr. Lopez,” I shout breathlessly, trying to keep up with the chase.
Next door, my friend Yuko Yamaguchi’s mom waves at me from the patio. “Hi, Karen. Won’t you come inside for a muffin?”
“No thanks, I’m in a hurry.” I can’t see my alien anywhere.
“Daikon!” someone squeaks, “Daikon!” It’s Hideki, Yuko’s little brother, pointing at their garden.
Mrs. Yamaguchi scoops him up, rubbing her nose against his. “Silly, you know we only have carrots and lettuce growing there.”
“Daikon!” he insists. Now he’s pointing down the street.
Between gulps of air I ask, “What’s daikon?”
“It’s a long white Japanese radish. You must come for dinner some night when we’re …”
A white radish! “Thank you!” I yell, vaulting over the Yamaguchi’s front hedge.
I’ve lost him. Rabbit and alien are nowhere to be seen. I should’ve at least taken his picture. I had an extra-terrestrial sighting, but no proof.
Maybe there’s another one! I sprint back to my yard and poke around with the trowel. With every weed I pull, I hold my breath, but they’re all just stupid plants.
That night at dinner, I amaze my parents. “I want to weed the garden again tomorrow. May I be excused to search the Internet for information on radishes?”
Mom drops her fork. Dad spit-takes his diet soda. They’re both silent for a minute, probably deciding if I’m kidding. Then Mom says in a quiet voice, “Sure, hon.”
At the computer, I enter the term “radish.” However, I don’t know what I’m looking for. The more I search, the more I miss my alien. Soon the pictures look blurry through my tears. The intertwining colors make me nod off. I imagine a thousand radishes—yellow, red, white, long, oval, round—floating gently through the air. And there’s my squishy gray Radish, about to take a big bite of…
“He doesn’t have a mouth! How could he eat them?” Apparently I shout this, because two seconds later I’m awake with Mom at my side.
“Oh, you looked flushed. Do you have a fever?”
“It’s something special he absorbs from the soil,” I mumble as Mom bustles me off to bed. “What’s special about radish soil, Mom?”
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
Next morning, Mom surprises me. “We’ll go to Dr. Almud’s after breakfast.”
“I don’t need a doctor, Mom.”
She laughs, “Oh, he’s a doctor, but he’s also a prize-winning gardener. He knows all about radishes and soil.”
Just when I think Mom will never understand me, she pulls something sweet like this. We drive to a big house with a huge garden. Dr. Almud is friendly and shows me around his millions of plants.
Only one kind matters to me. “Do you know about radishes?”
“I certainly do. You want to grow them for competition?”
It sounds like a good cover story, so I nod.
“You’ll need extra-sandy soil fortified with compost. That’s true for all root vegetables, like radishes, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, taro, potatoes.” I remember how Radish liked the Yamaguchi’s carrot patch.
Dr. Almus gives me a sack of humus, a nutrient for soil. Back home, I poke some into the dirt around our radish patch. Day after day I wait and weed. The radishes grow like nobody’s business. Still, no alien shows up.
And just when I’ve nearly lost hope, Radish returns. One afternoon as the sun is making long shadows across the yard, I see a stone wiggling in the soil.
“Radish? Is that you?”
He peeks up from the dirt, showing me his top two eyes, winking. I pull up one of my best radishes and offer it to him, but he just rolls and wriggles around the plants. As I suspected, he doesn’t eat radishes. He just likes the soil they grow in. After an hour of wobbling in my hand and playing in the dirt, Radish squashes himself down then shoots up into the sky, out of sight.
Radish shows up every few weeks, always when I’m alone in the garden. I keep radishes growing all year long, so the soil is always ready in case I have a visitor.