There was a small sound, the slow creaking of sepals bearing outwards, and for the first time in twenty-six years, The Botanist had created a master-piece. He moved away from the plant in order to sigh without ruffling its downy leaves. The heavy bud, so easily bruised, hung world-weary on an equally delicate stem. The Botanist took a moment to admire the colours streaking down its side, the deepest of purples, the richest of reds, and he noted that it finally looked as he had always seen it. Unbearably alive, veins wrapped around and within, showing all the pulsing elegance of something living.
As the oldest thing in the Greenhouse – with the possible exception of The Botanist – the flower commanded a kind of respect. It could not be said to be any wiser than its brothers and sisters, nor that it had any thoughts at all, save for an air of self-satisfaction; a life well-lived. Wiping at the shadows beneath his eyes, The Botanist considered his creation. Hundreds of hours of painstaking hybridisation, countless trials ending in nothing but a withered twisted mess. And even after he understood its needs, its dependence on illegal nutrients (only available in Thailand), its unpredictable – almost unreasonable feeding schedule, he still hadn’t thought of a name. He wouldn’t until he saw that glorious bud unfold, and the blossom that lay untouched within.
If he was honest with himself, The Botanist was more than a little dismayed by how long the project had taken. A twelve-year flowering cycle was almost unheard of this side of the equator and almost unbearable to anticipate. He moved to his darling’s side and peered down into the shoot, trying to catch a glimpse of the swirling colours he imagined were dancing inside. Nothing if not patient, he nodded to himself and shut off the heat lamp. Its progress had always been slow, but in these crucial final days The Botanist found the plant’s hesitance irritating, like a child who refuses to accept that it’s been in the womb long enough, and its damn well time to be born already.
The weeks crawled by and The Botanist found himself continually surprised by what lay inside. There was the day he had walked into his workshop (on the very edge of the Greenhouse) and been struck by the very sweetest of scents, instantly transporting him back to the blue mountains where he had first found the elusive Kunthiana plant.
There was the night where he lay asleep at his desk, waking only to the faintest springing sound as the flower revealed tiny feathery petals, smooth as silk, drooping back into the larger bud, but finally unbound. And there was the morning when it gave a soft sigh and finished unfolding in a rush, eager to be seen by all. At least, that’s what The Botanist assumed it felt, when he entered the Greenhouse to see it at last, in all its naked majesty. He muttered sweet-nothings and crooned at not being there for its emergence into the world.
The Botanist knew it would not last, that having reached its potential the flower would eventually dry and crumble away. And he felt that it knew it too, dew-drops weeping out the corner of its eyes – the remarkable purple-black splotches that stared after him with such affection. Putting aside his feelings, The Botanist did his best to make sure the soil was kept fresh and moist, the leaves left polished and free of bugs.
He did his best not to cry when the first leaf fell. The pale lavender-green had browned; the downy hairs were dry and broke off in his hand, a glittering reminder of what had been. After, he left them where they fell, only sweeping them away when a bare few remained, faithfully clinging, oblivious of their fate.
On the twenty-fifth day of their time together, the flower itself began to wilt; the feathery wisps of violet becoming brittle and unmoving, curling down into the heart of the flower where it was still wet. The Botanist knew he shouldn’t grieve, that in time, with a little encouragement he might grow another. That it would all come rushing back. Hell, maybe he would love the next one just as much as the flower that lay sprawled before him now. But he couldn’t imagine it, and didn’t want to.
The china made a clinking sound as it came to rest on the coaster. Steam rose from the cup and a pleasant fragrance filled the air, unlike anything she had smelled before. Blueberries? No, it was more exotic, a vital aroma that clung to her taste-buds and filled her with longing. She couldn’t place it and looked up at her husband, questioningly.
He didn’t meet her eye, instead throwing a thin smile in her direction, saying nothing as she gulped the tea. Never savouring it. Never really understanding it.
“You’ve never made this before” She whispered, gazing up at him from her cup.
“It wasn’t ready.”
“And you made it for me? Just for me?”
“Of course darling,” He said, keeping his eyes lowered, a lump in his throat. “Of course I did.”