I can hear them whispering to me. Their murmurings crowd the silence of my nights. I cover my ears, pull the bed sheets up over my head but it is no use.
Their sounds bore into my brain, my dreams are full of their wild imaginings, their dark desires. They are insatiable, always pleading for me to feed them, caress them, cup them in my hands as though I am holding a quivering human heart. I can feel their life pulsing through me, coursing through my veins.
If I don’t give them what they want, they brood. They turn their faces away and refuse to eat their favourite foods. They let me grow anxious until I relent and tell them what they most want to hear: yes, I love you more than I love him.
“Jean, dear. I haven’t seen you in weeks,” she says. “How are you?”
Helen stands in front of me, blocking my way down the supermarket aisle. She’s clutching a bunch of midnight-purple irises. They look so sombre against the drab green of her dress and her chaff-blonde hair.
This is the moment I first hear them.
It is a low, almost indistinct sighing. Like the sound of a mountain breeze brushing the treetops, or a kitten’s soft purr. The air turns thick with a woody sweetness that presses down on me. It hurts to breathe.
Helen extends a hand and touches my arm. “Are you alright? You’ve gone quite pale“.
“Yes. Yes, I’m fine,” I say, staring at her blood-red fingernails as my stomach clenches. “I’m just a bit tired I think. Helen, do you hear anything odd?”
“What do you mean?”
“A sighing sound or someone whispering,” I say. My words hang in the air and I can see Helen pursing her lips, arching her brows, trying to decide whether or not to humour me.
“It’s the music they play in supermarkets these days,” she says, her voice tinged with something like irritation. “It’s turned down just enough to make you feel relaxed, not so loud that it annoys you.”
I feel the air enter my lungs again. “Of course, that’s it,” I say, as my cheeks flush.
Helen clears her throat and adjusts the position of the irises in her hands. They hiss. “Well, I must be off,” she says, looking over my shoulder. “By the way, how are your roses and greenhouse going? I must come over and have a look at what you’ve been doing with it all.”
I am unnerved by her question.
I stand in the middle of the greenhouse. A rooty, earthy scent fills the air. It is quiet in here and I can escape Bob. But something is different this time.
I close my eyes and I can hear them. The vanilla orchids, smelling like coconut cream and sunshine. Delicate, snowy hibiscus and blush-pink roses. Showy bromeliads, glory and honeysuckle vines with their carnation and jasmine scent.
The noise is overwhelming. It grates on my nerves, yet thrills me. I want nothing more than to touch them, to trace the curves of their glossy, leathery leaves, find comfort against the warmth of the creamy chrysanthemums. They clamour for my attention and I feel the cloying creep of a vine on my arm as it snakes its way up the inside of my cardigan. It rests against my breasts before coiling up my neck, one tendril seeking my mouth, another flirting with my ropy hair. Vines wrap themselves around my feet as though needing me for support.
It’s fusty and humid. I wipe the sweat from my brow. I imagine that this is an initiation of sorts, one where I must understand the language of flowers and plants. “What is it you want?” I say.
In front of me are the carnivorous Venus flytraps, their hinged mouths open to the air, their eyes half-closed in the muted light. I have seen them snap shut, trapping spiders or beetles lured in by the fragrant nectar along the bloody lining of their mouths.
I hear them. Come to us. Do not neglect us. We are not like him.
The vines release me and I feel the flytraps pulling me towards them, a warmth spreading throughout my body as I take cautious steps forward.
I struggle to remain calm. My heart beats faster.
I stare into their wide, gaping mouths. Their brown hairs are like spikes and I can’t help thinking they are jaws, eager to devour prey.
I move closer, my mother’s charm bracelet dangling from my wrist. I know each charm by heart. Despite our differences, Bob gave me a small silver horse for my birthday this year. It is this charm that hovers over the tallest flytrap as I reach out to touch it. Its jaws clamp down, its spikes working backward and forward in an effort to digest the charm.
“No!” I shout, blood rushing to my face. I try to snatch the charm away with my right hand, tearing a nail and scratching my arm against the sharp spikes.
The flytrap opens its jaws and releases the silver charm that is now covered with a sticky liquid. I sense it knows that I am frightened. “What is it you want?” I ask again.
This is not real, I tell myself, although the words bring little comfort or dispel the feeling that I am being watched by the other greenhouse plants.
I let out a deep breath and brush an index finger along the inner surface of the flytrap, tossing aside the million words of warning that are circling through my mind. The hairs that a moment ago felt like spikes are feathery soft to the touch. I breathe in the fruity scent of the flytrap.
It sings to me in a soothing, melodic tone as tiny hairs nibble at my flesh. I close my eyes, mesmerised by the vibrations pulsing through my arm and into my body. Then, I feel a hot bite and a sharp needle-like pain. My finger tingles and scarlet droplets of blood splash into the gaping mouth.
And in that moment, I know what it is they all want.
He smashes another vase. Petals swim through the air. Thorns fall to the carpet and burrow in. If I water them will they turn into crimson rose bushes?
“You spend more time with those damn plants and flowers than you do with me,” Bob yells.
He tears a page from my notebook lying on the kitchen table. The cover is embossed with a botanical design and I’ve just finished drawing the long stems and sword-shaped leaves of the irises Helen was holding.
“Maybe I should get myself a woman who knows her place in the home,” he says. “Knows how to treat a man. Sometimes I think you love those things more than you love me.”
I am quiet for a moment, thinking, imagining what I need most. Through the buzzing in my head, I can hear their anger.
Bob rips the page to shreds and storms out through the kitchen door.
I scuttle to the open window. The kitchen is my own once more. My pounding heart quietens.
I can see him heading towards the greenhouse, a short distance away in the backyard. The glass doors are wide open.
Shovel in hand. Shirt sleeves rolled. Like a man possessed, he takes to the rose bushes I planted on our fifth wedding anniversary. Their hardy heads bob in the warm summer breeze. Their rhythm is in time with his digging.
I watch him as I drink some tea. My neatly-trimmed fingernails curve around the porcelain cup.
He digs deeper into tangled roots, uses pruning shears to lop off heads and slash buds, slices off razor-sharp leaves. His chest heaves from the effort.
The noise is deafening. Their screams sear through me. Their pain is my pain.
I breathe in their ripe perfume and his sweat that sours the air. Take another sip of tea.
He straightens his back and laughs. Turns towards the flytraps, muttering to himself once or twice as rose thorns scratch his arms and face.
The phone trills. “Jean, how are you?” Helen says. “I thought I’d pop round for that cup of tea.”
I look towards the greenhouse, watch the flytraps looming over Bob, crowding around him. “I really need to do a bit of tidying, first. The garden’s such a mess,” I say.
Then, all I can see is red. Fingers bleeding, wounds weeping, spikes biting through to the soles of his feet.
I take another sip of tea and close the kitchen window.
Kim Martins is a poet and short story writer from New Zealand. Her work has been published in The Copperfield Review, Flash Frontier, Flash Flood Journal, Furtive Dalliance Literary Review, Barren Magazine, Café Lit and "a fine line".