Thursday, January 5, 2012

For the Love of Houseplants

They don’t allow me plants in this dire, greenless place. I have no children to replace the ones I lost. Too long, I dwell in a carnival of maniacs and fools, endure the dulling drugs, the solitude, weeping through eternal night. And it’s all my husband’s fault.
He always hated my plants. He didn’t just dislike them, as one might a book, or painting, or a cold and rainy day – he hated them. I loved them as I would have loved the children we never had. I babied my houseplants, nursed them through root rot and mites, fed and pruned them and placed them in their favorite spots.
My Philodendron especially liked to sit on the warm place on top of the television set. The English Ivy preferred to dangle above the stereo and sway to the vibrations of the music. He was particularly fond of Bach. Some of my houseplants hung from the beamed ceilings in the living room. Some posed sedately on the window seat, watching out for strangers lurking about my home. The larger plants, mostly Rubber Trees and Palms, were content to stand erect, acting as my doormen. My house was filled with flora of almost every genus and I doted on them fondly. My husband hated every one.
“Why does this house have to teem with vegetation?” he constantly complained. “They’re running up my water bill! They’re using all my oxygen.”
His anger culminated on an otherwise ordinary Saturday night, for no reason I could foresee. He rose from his easy chair, brusquely shoving my Asparagus Fern away from his face, unaware she only meant to play, and headed for the kitchen. I hummed softly in an effort to ignore him and continued mixing up a batch of fertilizer. Stomping through the doorway, he kicked over my Fiddleleaf Fig tree with the tip of his work boot, and enjoying the look of horror upon my face, he smiled and went upstairs to bed.
I quickly righted my poor baby, crooning over him and carefully repacked the soil that spilled from his pot. The Fig tree sulked all night, with sagging leaves, his indignation clearly noted by his stance. Resentment built inside me slowly. By the evening’s end, it had grown to such proportions that I thought my chest would burst. My husband, while he made no effort to hide his hatred of my plants, had never harmed them until this day. I was filled with maternal rage and could not be consoled, not even by the caresses of my Purple Passion.
Fear, as well as anger, bode within my heart and I was frightened for all my plants. I felt no safety for them within my foliaged home. Nights that followed left me sleepless, filled with a restless urgency to protect them. I arose several times throughout the night to oversee them, remembering to leave the hall light lit; for my Palm Tree greatly feared the dark.
My husband made no apology, but in the days that passed he seemed contrite and even brought home a tiny cactus as amends. Perhaps he really was repentant. When it died two days later, he merely shrugged and said he lacked my green thumb. We lived in guarded accord, my plants, my husband and I. My babies were thriving and growing larger every day, drooping only in the presence of the master of the house.
Waxy Pink Begonias filled my home with splashes of color. The Snake Plants nearly reached the ceiling, while the Fiddleleaf Fig tripled his fullness, spreading his dark green branches to embrace me. Spider Plants, Coleus, and vines of all variety grew rich and full, crawling tentatively across my wooden floors. I was filled with love and pride.
On one particularly dismal evening, the harmony within my home was broken once more. My husband came home from work late and in a mood that made me wary. It seemed he’d had a bit to drink and did not see the offshoots of my Spider plant as they danced from the living room archway. He struggled blindly as the baby Spiders writhed about his face. I knew then this night would come to no good end.
He tore my lovely lady from her hook above the doorway, shredded her to pieces and smashed her into the wall. I shrieked and ran to gather up her remains. My heart pounded with love and dread, for I knew I could not save her. I took her babies from her, the ones that lived, and placed them in a vase of water, where they might grow again.
My husband cursed and staggered off to bed, swiping at whatever plant was in his way, kicking my Fiddleleaf Fig, yet again. My fury knew no end. I said nothing and with lowered head, tended my poor darlings; when I could do no more for them, I went to bed.
I did not sleep at all that night. My mind raced with thoughts of vengeance. Somehow, some way, my husband would never harm my lovelies again. By morning’s early light I knew what I must do and finally slept.
It was approaching noon when I arose. My husband, long since gone to work, left a note of regret on the kitchen table. I wanted no apology--it was far too late for that. I tended my beauties; took longer than I should, for I had things to do and the afternoon was well upon me. All my plants suffered intensely from the previous night’s attack. One of the Aloe Veras was still bleeding. I sensed that they were nervous; saw anger, instead of their healing juices, pulsing from their veins. I did my best to soothe them with a little touch of lime, and then left them to themselves,as I had things to do and time was running out.
I went down to the cellar, to the wall filled with shelves. I took my deadly Mistletoe, lying dormant through the winter, and borrowed a handful of berries that had not yet fallen from her branches. I reached for the higher shelves, which held jars of dried herbs, some for eating, some for healing, some quite lethal. I chose carefully; a spoonful of Henbane, a touch of Foxglove, and some bright red berries from my Belladonna – twelve would be enough. Treasures gathered, I hurried to the kitchen, and used the mortar and pestle to meld the herbs together. My work was nearly done.
By four o’clock,my husband was home, whistling as he strolled through the door. He smiled and handed me six yellow roses stuck into a plastic vial, whistled to himself again and went upstairs to shower. This time flowers weren’t enough.
“Bear with me a little longer,” I whispered to my Fiddleleaf Fig. “And you, my sweet Fern, you will never be struck again.”
Dinner was at five o’clock precisely, as was my husband’s rule. He gobbled up the meatloaf, wolfed down the mashed potatoes, and then filled his plate again.
“You’re not eating,” he noted, when the meal was near its end. “Are you still mad at me, or are you feeling sick?”
“Oh no,” I said and smiled my sweetest smile. “I had a late lunch and I’m feeling rather full. Perhaps I’ll nibble something a little later.
He barely nodded intent upon his feast, so ravenous, so greedy. He went to bed at seven o’clock, worn out from both the past night’s carousing and the heaviness of his repast. I gazed at him intently as he climbed the stairs, and then turned to tend my plants.
I slept in the spare room that night, the one meant to be a nursery, and my dreams were pleasant. I had moved my things into the room earlier in the day, including the metal strongbox that held my husband’s savings for a rainy day.
The next morning I took my largest, strongest Crown of Thorns, and hung him over my husband’s bedroom door. I did not enter the bedroom then, or ever again. My Crown of Thorns, so staunchly brave, would stand guard over my husband’s lifeless form. Had he cried out during the night in agony and pain, I did not hear. If he had called to me in penitence, I did not care. He killed my Spider plant and I, in turn, sought her revenge.
Within my home my plants grew voraciously. There was not a wall uncovered by vines, hardly a bare space on the verdant leafy floor. Even my tiny Bonsaied Fir grew to such enormity that his grotesquely elegant trunk was the size of a small child’s waist.
It was several weeks later, as best I can recall, when uniformed men hammered at my door. Neighbors, they said, complained of noxious odors seeping from my home. The men insisted upon coming in. They pushed past the growth that nearly blocked the foyer, and climbed the four steps to the living room, tripping over vines that grabbed at them in passing. Their eyes grew large in disbelief and I wondered why. I led them through my home and introduced them to my children with unadulterated pride.
They found my husband lying on the floor beside his bed, still and serene, though somewhat decomposed. Tearing off the spiky vines that chose to be his shroud, they gagged and held their noses. I smelled only the fresh greenness of a summer afternoon.
The look in their eyes turned to something near compassion as they led me firmly from my home.
“My plants!” I cried. “I cannot leave them!”
They looked away and held me tighter still, oblivious to my screams of pain; my cries for my poor babies, my broken shattered heart.
There is no sanity here. This institution, dank and stale, lacks the brightness of day and the cheerfulness of vines cascading over narrow walks. There are no Fiddleleaf Fig trees to guard my door, merely a pasty orderly in white. They allow me on the grounds when I’ve behaved, obeyed their rules; such petty stupid rules. The grounds are lush, the Lilac bushes call to me, the Pansies nibble at my feet. The Purple Mountain Laurel follow me back to my dungeon, but the attendants bolt the door, severing the tendrils of my life. Yearning for my children, I can bear no more.
They believe there was a toxic waste seeping slowly into my water lines, contaminating my mind. They believe it caused my plants to grow ten times their normal size. My husband was wise, they said, to drink only beer or wine. What nonsense! My plants thrived on mother love and will one day grow again. They must think me mad to believe such silliness.
Let them confine me! Let them shackle me and keep me from the sun, unable to absorb the elixir of chlorophyll. Let them do to me what they will.I have a secret I keep from them; a tiny Hemlock, dug up one day when the attendant was too enamored of a passing nurse to take note of my meanderings. I slipped the seedling into my cell, the dirt still clinging to his newborn roots. I housed him in a plastic serving bowl stolen from the cafeteria and placed him upon my windowsill. He sits there each endless day, hidden by the dull grey drapes, soaking up the sun cast meagerly through the bars of the window. Nurse remarked I seem to have a greenish pallor to my face. It is the flush of joy! My sweet young Hemlock grows larger day by day.

Micki Peluso


  1. I love this story. It truly fits into the horror-romance genre. LOL

  2. Though it's not a genre I would normally read, your story is well-written. It reminds me of my apartment--the living room filled with plants. But they don't grow quite that large nor do I have them hanging from the ceiling. And I don't have a husband to interfere!:-)

  3. Dear Diane, Then you are safe--for the moment! Thanks for the visit and the comment.


  4. Love it! I wonder if the hemlock is for herself, or for the guards?