TOGETHER WE GROW by Katie Oliver

TOGETHER WE GROW by Katie Oliver

My boyfriend is a plant enthusiast: the more exotic the better. Old man’s beard, elk horn, fishbone. The bedroom is particularly full of them. They hang from curtain poles, draping down like Rapunzel’s hair. Distressingly phallic cacti loiter in corners; succulents take up space where they shouldn’t.
Cacti are a type of succulent, he tells me.
Whatever, I reply.
You’re succulent, he says, and bites my neck. I roll my eyes.
I go along with it, because it’s easier.

When I get back from work, more seem to have appeared.
Did you buy more plants?
No, he says, flipping through channels. I squint at each wall, the table, the windowsill, unconvinced.

The other day, practically cooing, he’d shown me a time lapse of plants moving over a twenty-four-hour period, wiggling their little arms wherever the sun went. Disney versions of plants. Cute. Not like the ones in here, which seem to writhe and moan during the night, creeping tendrils into my dreams. When I wake up they’re in different positions to when I went to sleep.

Are you fucking with me? I ask.
What? No.
I wasn’t talking to you.

The next week I’m reaching into the bookshelf when one of the cacti stabs me. That’s the only way I can describe it: it skids along the shelf and plants its spiny arm into mine, deliberately. My boyfriend is coldly incredulous, the way he tends to be whenever anything unusual happens; as if the unknown is personally offensive to him. He said that I must have slipped when I was getting the book, and was I on my period or something?
The paramedic said she’d never seen an allergic reaction like it.

I call in sick for the rest of the week, burrowing under the duvet and then abruptly emerging again as I come into contact with something lumpy and unexpected. I pull a fat little succulent out from down near my feet. Soil scatters over my arm, which has started to turn green.

When I wake up, more of them are in bed with me. My boyfriend has started to believe me, because last night he rolled over onto a cactus and now he’s on the sofa, sulking. I keep trying to move them out, but as soon as I turn my back they’ve jumped in again, snuggling in close and giving happy little sighs. The swelling has started to go down, but my arm is green from shoulder to wrist, and soft spines have started to grow from where the little hairs used to be. 

The next time I wake, the old man’s beard has moved from the curtain rail and is now perched directly above me. A seaweedy frond has snaked around my wrist and grips iron-tight.
Get off me! I shout, struggling.
I think I hear it say no.

My boyfriend left a few days ago.
Those plants are taking over your life, he said.
I know, I said. Sorry.

I haven’t been able to move from the bed for several weeks now. More plants have gathered around, eager to join the fun. Each limb bound with strong vines; my body tapestried to the mattress and woven over with flowers. Kindly souls drip nectar into my open mouth and allow me sips of water. I am leaf-skeleton light, but alive. My spines have hardened into dangerous points. I no longer know where the plants end and I begin. 

Together, we begin to creep back to the perimeter of the room, to breathe and grow. Waiting for the next one to join us.

Katie Oliver writes flash fiction, poetry and short stories. She has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Award, and was awarded an honourable mention in the Reflex Fiction Winter Competition. She has further work published in various places including Popshot Quarterly, Molotov Cocktail, Perhappened and Ellipsis Zine. She can be found on Twitter @katie_rose_o