Edition 21: Florist by M. B. Vujačić
In one swift cull, Eve has lost her dream of a family. The only love left is her garden, and even that is out of control, overrun by a weed. If only she could harness its hardiness for herself. M.B.Vujačić nurtures a fantasy of loss into a transformation. SY
Eve stared at the cocaine on the coffee table.
She was sitting on the living room couch, her legs bent beneath her, her shoes lying forgotten on the carpet. Sunlight streamed through the patio doors, giving everything a shiny, dreamlike quality. Somewhere outside, birds were chirping.
Eve sucked in her lips. She still couldn’t shake the impression that something was wrong with the house. The TV was the problem: it wasn’t turned on. Back when Joe was here, the TV was always on. Sports, music, talk shows, newscasts, whatever; the house was always live with its chatter. The only times Joe ever turned it off was when they slept and when they made love. Now, with him gone, the only projection on its screen was her own muddled reflection. In the ensuing silence, the coke was the loudest thing in the room.
She lit another cigarette, took a deep drag, coughed a little. She had quit smoking four years ago. For the baby’s sake. Earlier today, driving home from work, she stopped at a supermarket and bought three packs. A few lungfuls later, she realized she didn’t like the taste anymore. She kept smoking anyway.
Because there was no baby, and there never would be. That’s what all the doctors ultimately agreed on. Her uterus was not up to par, had never been up to par to begin with. That was three years ago. Since then she and Joe had suffered through dozens of tests and wasted a fortune trying out ‘groundbreaking’ new treatments like bioenergy balancing and homeopathic therapies. They couldn’t even adopt. Not with her past.
So Joe left. He was still a young man, he told her. He wanted to be a dad more than anything, to raise a son, and he was so, so sorry. Eve was sorry, too. Now, a week after he had packed his bags and left her alone in what was meant to be their shelter against the world, she was sorrier still.
So Eve rolled up a bill, leaned over the coffee table, and made the cocaine disappear. Then she slumped against the backrest, snorting and blinking at the ceiling. For a while she just sat there, her mind empty but for a slight buzz in the back of her head. She didn’t think the coke would go down so easily but it turned out to be, as they say, like riding a bike. At some point, she got up and started pacing. The more she walked, the lighter she felt, and the less she cared about that slimy sensation in her stomach, the one that had been there ever since Joe had left.
Without thinking about it, Eve went out into the garden. She hadn’t paid any attention to it for weeks now, and it showed. The lupines and the slack-Eyed Susans were still holding on somewhat. The cosmos, snapdragons, and the painted daisies, however, were either dead or dying from thirst. The nasturtiums should’ve been fine, but they were being choked by some sort of weed. Eve had been a florist her whole life, yet she had never seen its like before. It resembled a desiccated brown octopus, its tendrils reaching every which way to climb up stems and strangle roots. Its branches bore violet buds that looked so juicy she almost wished to chew on them.
Normally, seeing her garden in such a state would’ve dismayed her. But now, with coke in her system, Eve did not doubt for a second she could restore it to its former glory. She went back into the house and came out with her floral knife in hand. An hour or so later, she made a quick visit to the house to drink some water and snort another line. By then, the garden was properly watered once again and the doomed flowers had all been moved to the trash can. Only the mysterious weed remained.
Eve ran her fingers over its surface. Its stem was soft and warm. Like skin. The buds felt hard to the touch, but she could tell they were squishy inside. She took one between thumb and forefinger, and squeezed. It burst, releasing a cloud of pink dust, spraying her arm and the nearby nasturtiums. Eve giggled and did it again. And again. It was like popping bubble wrap. She couldn’t stop until there were only a few left. She knew she was probably helping the weed spread its seeds, but what the hell, it was fun.
As she removed the tendrils and began uprooting the stem, Eve realized she didn’t want to get rid of it. But she also wished to keep her nasturtiums. She spent some time poring over this, and then went back into the living room and took another hit of old white. That was when a solution occurred to her.
“Nope,” Eve said to the empty house. “Nope, nope. I’m not doin’ that.” But she was already heading back to the garden.
She finished uprooting the weed and then inspected it until she found a whole bud. Slowly, careful not to puncture it, she cut the bud off and held it before her eyes. It was almost translucent in the afternoon light.
Eve had learned the technique known as grafting from her mother. You took, say, a twig or a bud from one plant, and stuck it onto the stem of a different plant. When done right, the twig would fuse with the other plant, causing their genes to mix and creating hybrid progeny. This way, you could cultivate useful traits and breed out the negative ones. It had always fascinated her, but she had never had the time to dabble in it. Well, first time for everything.
Eve put the edge of the floral knife against her biceps, took a deep breath, and pressed. The blade was too blunt to go in cleanly. It stretched the skin before tearing it, making her feel like someone had punched her in the arm. She moaned through her teeth and kept cutting. She didn’t stop until she had opened a gash about an inch long.
Eve exhaled loudly and set the knife down. She picked up the bud and looked at it one more time before pushing it into the gash. It took some wiggling, but she managed to slide it under her skin. She waited until she was sure it wasn’t going to fall out, and then went to the bathroom and carefully washed and dried the cut.
To her surprise, the bleeding had already stopped.
The next morning, in the shower, Eve inspected the cut.
It had closed completely, covered with a green scab. The flesh around it was rough and stained green, as if she had been rubbing it with wet grass.
In the evening, while doing coke and staring at one of those dumb action flicks Joe liked to watch, Eve’s arm started to itch. She picked at the hardened skin around the closed cut, slowly peeling off the green scab. She thought it would start bleeding again, but instead, a tiny violet flower sprouted from the hole. It was plump and healthy, and it smelled a bit like a Cattleya orchid.
Eve was standing in the flower shop, staring at the roses she was supposed to be arranging, and she felt like crap.
Her hair was sticking to her face, her eyes refusing to open more than halfway, her head heavy with all the beer she had downed last night after she ran out of coke. It was eighty degrees in the shade, the air conditioning was barely working, and, as icing on the cake, she was wearing a sauna in the form of a loose sweatshirt with long sleeves.
“You’re gonna boil in that thing,” was the first thing Helen, the manager, said to her that morning. And she was right. Eve’s shift ended in six hours and, frankly, Eve didn’t think she was going to last that long.
The flowers made it all worse. She used to love them, but now they made her feel like she was in a slaughterhouse. It took her an hour just to make a few basic arrangements, and even that felt like performing an autopsy on a living body.
Slowly, holding them at arm’s length, Eve carried the arrangements to the storefront. She was placing them on the stall when a doughy guy in a business suit came in and asked to buy a dozen roses.
“That’s disgusting, you know that?” Eve almost screamed at him. “Fuckin’ gruesome actually. Your girl’s gonna hate it, and if she doesn’t, she’s a goddamn monster.”
The guy said nothing. He just stood there, staring at her like she was an alien.
“It’s a dozen corpses you’re asking for, for Christ’s sake,” Eve went on. She didn’t know why she was saying these things, but it felt good, so she kept talking. “Flowers are pieces of dead plants. Hell, they’re sexual organs of dead plants. It’s the same as if you cut off a bunch of dicks and put them in cellophane and-”
“I apologize for this, she’s not feeling well,” Helen said, flashing a smile. She beckoned to her other florist, a girl named Melanie, and told her to deal with the customers. Then she half-led, half-dragged Eve into the back. “Eve, what the hell are you—oh my god, what’s with your eyes?”
Eve’s hand went to her face. “What? What’s with them?”
“Huh? They’ve always been green.”
Helen swallowed. “No, I mean, they’re…Jesus, find a mirror.”
Eve went into the bathroom and looked in the little mirror above the sink. “Oh,” she said. “Oh my God.” Her eyes were green all right. Completely green. The whites and the pupils were the color of fresh grass. The irises were still there, but they were so tiny—two murky black dots surrounded by an ocean of green.
She went out of the bathroom, through the back room and the storefront and out into the street. Helen called after her, but Eve didn’t answer. She sat in her car and drove off. She thought about ringing her dealer, until she realized she had left her smartphone in the flower shop. Oh well.
Eve drove straight home, not even stopping to buy cigarettes. The sweatshirt was the first thing to be flung into a corner, followed quickly by her sneakers and her baggy pants. She wore nothing underneath. Naked, she walked into the bedroom and inspected herself in the huge floor-to-ceiling mirror Joe had bought back when their sex life was still a thing.
Her arm had turned brownish-green all the way to the wrist. It was crisscrossed with yellow veins. They were hard to the touch and they branched out in every direction. The flower in her biceps had grown. It was as big as a golf ball, and it wasn’t alone. Fat violet flowers were growing all over her chest, belly, breasts, back, thighs, and arms. And to think that, just yesterday, they were nothing but buds.
Eve smiled. The flowers made her feel useful. Loved, even.
An hour later, she was finishing her third beer of the day when she started feeling restless. There was a certain tenseness in her, like she needed to satisfy some urge. She tried eating, only to discover everything tasted like styrofoam. She tried peeing, but only managed a few drops. She even tried masturbating. To no avail.
Eve didn’t calm down until she went out into the garden. The sun felt good on her skin, so she decided to stay there for a while. The octopus-like weeds were everywhere, their buds and flowers painting the garden violet. The lupines, the black-Eyed Susans, even her dear nasturtiums, all were dead and dry, smothered by the weeds. Eve didn’t care. She had her own flowers now.
There was a pleasant, tickling sensation at her breast. She looked down and saw a bee wiggle out of the flower that grew from her nipple. It shook its wings and took off, its yellow-black body covered in a pink powder. A moment later, a butterfly landed on the flower on her thigh. Another bee flew in, did its thing, flew away. Soon, more arrived.
Eve stood there for an hour, watching insects coming and going. They seemed to like her face more than the rest of her body, even though there were no flowers there. They kept flying around it as if searching for something, only landing on the flowers when they decided they couldn’t find whatever it was they were looking for. Then a bee tried to wiggle between her lips, making her laugh. Finally, she understood.
Eve threw her head back and opened her mouth. The bees immediately began treating it like another flower. The way their little legs skittered over her tongue and the insides of her cheeks made her smile. After awhile, they started entering her ears and nostrils, too.
Sometime around sundown, an idea occurred to her. She placed a hand between her legs and spread the lips down there with her fingers, and just stood like that, waiting. The bees seemed skeptical at first. Soon, however, they started visiting that place as well. Eve found this both funny and endearing. For the rest of the day, she watched them come and go, wondering what they were doing in there.
Maybe they were pollinating her.
Eve stood in the garden, reveling in the sunlight.
Memories and fantasies were playing like recordings in her mind’s eye, some of them so faded as to hardly be coherent, others hued a vivid green but otherwise good as new. Images of thrill and apathy, of laughter and sorrow, of eternal love and lonely death, all were interspersed in an endless emerald dream.
She remembered stripping naked, walking into the garden, burrowing her feet in the ground, and deciding to stand still and enjoy the summer sun. The last clear thought she recalled having was: Thank god Joe got us a house in the countryside, or some pervert would’ve been ogling me right now.
That was a few days ago…Or a few weeks…Or months. Eve didn’t care. Keeping track of time just didn’t seem important anymore.
She hadn’t eaten in days. There was no need. The sunlight gave her all the nutrients she needed, and her roots sucked the water right out of the earth.
She could still move, but her motions had become so slow as to be imperceptible. What did it matter, anyhow? She liked this spot. For the first time in the past three years, she felt at home with herself.
The brown skin and the yellow veins had kept spreading until they covered her entire body. Fleshy branches, covered in leaves and buds, had sprouted from her scalp and her armpits and the tips of her fingers. The violet flowers had kept growing until they were so heavy Eve could actually feel them dragging at her skin.
Also, her belly had been expanding steadily. She could feel her internal organs shifting and her muscles stretching to accommodate the growing boy. Her midsection had grown so swollen it looked like she had swallowed a basketball.
Eve couldn’t actually see any of this, of course. Her world had been dark ever since her eyes had fallen out to make space for new buds.
Not long now, Eve kept telling herself. And she was right.
One afternoon she heard something creak within her and felt a sticky resin ooze down the inside of her thigh. It was followed by a dull ache that deepened her breathing and made her leaves rustle. Then her son started pushing against the walls of her belly and the agony got so bad it was all Eve could do to stay awake. Still, it was a good pain. It made her feel proud. Proud that, despite everything, her life had been fruitful.
Eve was too far gone to feel much of anything by the time her son snapped her spine and shredded her intestines with his thrashing. Still, she knew it when he chewed his way out of her belly and lowered himself to the ground with his tendrils. The last thing she heard before she lost consciousness was his very first spoken word:
Mijat Budimir Vujačić is an economist by trade, storyteller at heart. He is a published author of three horror novels written in Serbian: Krvavi Akvarel, NekRomansa, and Vampir. His stories appeared in Encounters, Under the Bed, Acidic Fiction, and Infernal Ink magazines, as well as in a professional anthology Silent Scream. A fan of all things horror, he is also an avid gamer, hobby blogger, hookah enthusiast, and a staunch dog person. He lives in Belgrade, Serbia. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on twitter as @MBVujacic.