Originally published (November 1, 2020) by Coffin Bell volume 3, issue no.4 Mythopoeia.
My boyfriend’s name was Stephen. Stephen worked in a botanical lab where they frequently researched new and evolving plant life. When Stephen would come home, he filled his evenings with discussions on flowers. He adored beautiful things, flowers being one of his favorites.
“One of my colleagues brought in a new species. Possibly in the nightshade family, but we aren’t sure yet.” He recounted as his fork and knife rested clean next to the cooling pork dinner I had prepared only a few hours ago. I continued cutting into my portion as he continued.
“It’s a lovely shade of blood red, which is unusual for the family, but it has the standard five fused petals. She has prickled petals and a prickled stem. The one thing that is stumping us is the fact that there are no berries. Not even a sign that it could produce any. It’s all extraordinary.”
I swallowed the last bite of my masticated pork chop and did my best to avoid staring at his still-full plate.
“Aren’t nightshade poisonous?”
He didn’t look at me, instead choosing to stare off somewhere above my head. I could imagine he was probably still picturing this pretty, red flower on his workstation.
“Don’t worry, Maria. Not all nightshade species are poisonous, and usually, it’s the fruit that is poisonous. This lovely red doesn’t have a single berry. Plus,” and he wiggled his fingers to punctuate his point, “I always wear gloves.”
I bobbed my head out of reflex, even though he still wasn’t looking at me. I stood up and began gathering my dish and utensils when he stood up along with me.
“Dinner was great, dear. I’ll help you clean up.”
He picked up his untouched plate along with his clean utensils. He followed me into the kitchen, where I began cleaning my dishes, and he started scraping his meal off into the trash. Even as his body went through the motions, his mind was still elsewhere.
“It’s amazing, though. A new species. A group found her in a mountainous region of South Dakota. Hunters in the areas were complaining about dead animals. Odd for hunters to complain about dead animals, but they didn’t have a scratch on them. A forest full of dead animals, and none of them have a thing wrong with them. It wasn’t long after they started moving the bodies out that they found the lovely red plant.”
It was then he paused to drop the plate in the sink as I set my dishes in the drying rack. With a sigh, I turned the water back on and began washing his dish.
“It could be I have an Atropa belladonna on my hands. A new variant with a fitting name. She is a beauty. If I get a chance, I’ll have to take a picture.”
“I’d love to see it.” I tried to offer as I finished up the dishes and cut the sink off for a final time.
“Belladonna would make a beautiful picture for my office. If only she had some berries. Thanks again for dinner.” With that, he pressed a brief kiss on my temple and scurried off to his office, no doubt to journal about his thoughts on his new beauty.
Even as I made my way to bed in the welcomed silence, I couldn’t get the image of my boyfriend’s Belladonna out of my head. It took hours of reasoning with myself to go to sleep before sleep finally came. Even then, the beautiful, blood-red Belladonna rooted herself in the grey matter of my brain.
The next day was much the same as any other day. Stephen was gone by the time I was up, and already I had my mental checklist of things to do around the house. I always started with the windows, wiping them down and knocking any dust onto the floor. The same with the tables and chairs, cabinets, and shelves, anything that could accumulate dust. Then I swept. Thankfully, most of the house had hardwood floors, which made it simple enough to sweep and mop.
Unfortunately, the one room that did not have hardwood floors was Stephen’s office. Instead, his office had thick, plush carpeting. Any time you stepped into the room, it almost seemed that you were stepping up higher onto the lush, beige carpet. It made the room look smaller, being so much closer to the ceiling. I always felt claustrophobic and did my best to get in and out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, because of how dense the carpet was, I typically had to go over it with our small vacuum a few times just to get everything up.
Pencil shavings and graphite tips were commonly smushed into the carpet around his desk because he loved to journal and sketch the day’s findings. Today especially as all around his desk chair, thick chunks of graphite and ribbons of pencil shavings decorated the carpet. However, that was not where my focus was. Instead, my eyes latched onto the large piece of printer paper spread out across his desk. There was what I could only guess was his sketch of his Belladonna.
Her flower was bell-shaped, her petals stretching up and out of the bell to form a pointed lip. From within, five tendril-like pistils crept outward, snaking along the bottom of the rim. The Belladonna was almost promiscuous in how she had been drawn, like a woman’s mouth. I had to look away, my face warm with embarrassment. As quickly as I could, I vacuumed up the shavings and graphite and ran out of the room. Despite the drawing having been a flower, something about it had my heart fluttering in my chest. The warmth wouldn’t leave my cheeks, and nor did the sexual Belladonna escape my mind.
Even after Stephen was home, I still couldn’t stop thinking of that drawing. I intended to talk to him about it over dinner, but I was met instead with something unexpected. As Stephen made his way into the dining room where I was setting the table, he was pulling something out of his pocket.
“Maria, you have to meet her. She begged me to bring her.”
I was just about to ask him what he meant when he placed a white cloth on the table. Without skipping a beat, he opened the small package, and there, gingerly pressed into the folds of the fabric, was the Belladonna. Her red petals were splayed open, beckoning everyone with her pistil tongues. The cloth beneath her was smudged red, almost as if she had bled along the journey.
Blood pounded in my ears as I stared down at the still plant on the table. Her thick, glossy leaves were open as if preparing for an intimate embrace, and her stem curved in a perfect half-circle. The Belladonna was inviting anyone who might listen into her arms.
“Isn’t she lovely? She’ll kiss you if you ask nicely.”
His breath was labored and airy. It was then that I finally looked at him. His lips were stained red, with smudges of red creeping up from his lips on the surrounding flesh, as if he had just been kissing someone with lipstick. Looking in his eyes, I couldn’t make out what color they were, as the pupil covered his iris almost entirely. He smiled at me, leaning in as if he might kiss me. Despite my instinct to step back, I stood perfectly still. His breath tickled my lips and smelled sickly sweet.
“She’s a Belladonna. She is. I can prove it.”
On cue, he tried to suck in air and coughed. He tried again, resulting in another coughing fit. Stephen stepped back, clutching the edge of our dining table. He trained his gaze on the Belladonna, who still rested peacefully on the table. He couldn’t catch his breath, even as he spluttered and clutched his chest. It was only a few more seconds of the gasping before his legs crumpled under him, and he hit the ground. His eyes shook as he lay on the ground. His right hand grasped his neck, fingers clawing at the pale flesh.
His other hand reached out. I instinctually tried to take it, but he flexed his fingers toward the edge of the dining table, the tips of his fingers just barely grazing the edge. I dropped my hand to my side and watched him struggle. It couldn’t have been for long. When he finally did stop moving, mouth agape, black bags beneath his eyes, that grasping hand fell to the floor with the rest of him. I stared at him in silence for what felt like hours, but couldn’t have been more than seconds. I went to clear the dinner table, and our food was still warm.
I couldn’t help sighing as I once again threw away a perfectly good meal. As I made my way back into the dining room, I carefully stepped around Stephen, to hover over Belladonna. She was still reaching out, begging for love. Her red petals were flush against the napkin she rested on. She parted her lips, with her tongues splayed about her mouth. Despite my better judgment, I picked her up and held her to my nose.
I took a deep breath, taking her sweet scent into myself. Then, pressing my lips together, I brushed them against hers. While I knew it wasn’t possible, somehow, those velvety petals kissed me back.