Plants Will Grow to Please
Lizzie tried to stifle a yawn as Kevin finished outlining his environmental office enhancement scheme.
“Yes, Lizzie?” said Kevin expectantly, interpreting her yawn as a budding contribution to the discussion.
“Will moving the filing cabinets let more light into the room? She asked trying to keep her voice light, bright and positive in an attempt to mirror Kevin’s sickly presentation style. “After all it’s the concrete wall outside which blocks out all the daylight, isn’t it?”
Kevin looked crestfallen and her fellow workers frowned. Expressions of agreement for his suggestions spouted from everyone’s lips. Her co-workers’ hostility towards her manifested itself by her being the only person who wasn’t asked if she wanted to join in the informal chat over coffee in the coffee shop downstairs.
Phase One of Kevin’s scheme was underway the next day. The filing cabinets were moved, but as Lizzie had predicted no extra light filtered in. The workforce tidied their drawers, pruning them of paper to be recycled, paper clips and rubber bands for redistribution. Lizzie couldn’t stop yawning. The task of sorting out her desk was too mind-numbing for her to tackle without another dose of caffeine. Her life was as colourless and drab as the office. Lizzie was bored, boring and imprisoned by an invisible barrier of unpopularity. She’d been waiting for a Prince Charming to cut down the brambles and reveal the bright loveable person she knew was buried inside her ever since she’d left school.
“What have we here?” demanded Kevin as Lizzie returned with another coffee. He was pulling plastic bags out of her desk like a magician pulling silk scarves from a hat.
“I’m saving them,” Lizzie replied defensively.
“Yes, I can see that, but what for? Do you realise how environmentally destructive this hord is?” For one moment, she thought he was going to try to push the whole burden of global warming onto her shoulders.
“I do re-use them.”
“I should hope so,” said Kevin and tutted loudly as he continued to search through her desk. He couldn’t find anything else to complain about, but she felt as if her workspace had been designated an environmental disaster area. The tears welled up in her eyes. Lizzie decided that it was time to ask for her overdue holiday. She was sure that Kevin would be thrilled to see the back of her for a few weeks while he ‘enhanced’ the office, which involved getting her fired or transferred. However hard he tried though there was one insurmountable obstacle that he couldn’t overcome. Lizze was absolutely brilliant with figures and computers and no one else could do the job and so he was stuck with her and so was everyone else.
She loathed the idea of a conventional holiday, and longed for one that would change her life, but not just a superficial change like when you bought a new dress or the most desirable shoes you’d ever seen with heels that made you look six-feet tall even if you didn’t feel it. What Lizzie wanted was a total life make-over. While waiting for her train home, she stood flicking through an expensive alternative-lifestyle magazine that she had no intention of buying, when she stumbled across an advertisement for her ideal adventure. It involved no physical danger, but promised a life-changing spiritual holiday and was cheap compared to all the other options she’d checked out.
Two weeks later, a taxi dropped Lizzie at the foot of an unkempt track. In the far distance she caught a glimpse of a stark Macbeth-style Scottish highland castle, which stood alone and unprotected by even a single tree. Lizzie half dragged her suitcase, bulging with thick sweaters up the rough track to the entrance and pulled the bell. The heavy door was opened and a jolly red-face woman whose wrinkle free face was framed with long silver hair.
“I’m Heather. You must be Lizzie. Follow me.” Heather picked up the heavy case and charged up the uneven spiral staircase like a racing driver intent on breaking the world speed record. Lizzie plodded after her, becoming more breathless with every step.
“The toilets and bathrooms are on this floor,” explained Heather, pausing to allow Lizzie to catch up. The castle has central heating, which is on all the time otherwise the plants wouldn’t like it.”
Lizzie assumed that Heather had meant ‘people’ not ‘plants’, but as soon as the solid bed chamber door swung open she realised she was mistaken. She was confronted with a room that resembled a mini rain forest rather than a bedroom. The advert for Heather’s castle home, shared by guests who wanted to ‘tune in to peaceful positive energy’ hadn’t mentioned plants. It wasn’t that she disliked them, but her success rate with them was nil. The more care she lavished on them, the quicker they faded away and died, just like her human relationships.
Heather beamed at Lizzie.
“You needn’t be afraid of the plants. They won’t bite, but they are going to be curious about you, but don’t you concern yourself with that now. I’m sure my other guests will have finished their crystal healing class and all be in need of a cup of herbal tea. I’ll take you down and introduce you.”
The room bore no resemblance to anything that Lizzie had imagined the main hall of a castle to look like. It had been decorated to resemble the inside of a Bedouin tent. Sitting on over-stuffed red and gold silk cushions were an assortment of smiling, eager-faced people whose attention was focused on a gaunt woman, who was sobbing and wailing.
“They’ve obviously had a good session,” commented Heather. “And you must be in need of physical sustenance. A mug of camomile tea and a slice of suet free clootie dumpling or home-baked whisky shortbread will revitalise you after your journey. Now let me introduce you to Tamsin, Clarissa, Lynette, Iona, Dominic, Kasper and Ivor. Everyone this is Lizzie.”
They beamed momentarily in Lizzie’s direction. Heather squashed Lizzie between Ivor and Tamsin who both gave her a welcoming hug.
“Now Lizze just relax, commune with your fellow seekers and I’ll be back to plan your guided exercises after I’ve fed the plants.”
Lizzie nibbled on the bullet-like dumpling and tried to remind herself why she was there. She wanted to be transformed, to attract love and happiness into her life. It wasn’t that much to ask for, was it? Tears started to trickle down Lizzie’s face and she started to wonder if the dumpling had ingredients in it that weren’t in the original recipe, because she was feeling very lightheaded. Clarrisa, the thin-faced woman stopped crying and began to smile broadly. The group automatically transferred their comforting words in Lizzie’s direction.
Later that night, when she’d drawn the curtains of her canopied bed and snuggled beneath the thick quilt, Lizzie felt cosy, calm and surprisingly optimistic. She only woke briefly during the night when something brushed against her face.
The next morning, fortified with porridge laced with a dash of whisky, cream and cinnamon, Lizzie went to her first session. She followed the scent of essential oils to the aromatherapist’s room. Two very bright and intelligent eyes stared directly at her as she went in. Lizzie started to back out. Discovering her Prince Charming shut away in a castle was one thing, but the prospect of letting him massage her body with aromatic oils was quite another. Lizzie had never given her saviour a physical form, but here he was – tall, lithe, muscular, with a charming grin and skin like black satin. Black was an inadequate word, because it resembled highly polished ebony.
“Take you clothes off,” said a deep, rich voice, “and then climb onto the couch.”
Lizzie gulped. How could she possibly unpeel the layers of protective clothing and expose her body to the scrutiny of the man she’d been looking for all her life.
“If you are cold I’ll turn the heating up,” he suggested with a velvety chuckle.
Off came Lizzie’s over large tomato coloured sweater, which clashed with her ginger cat coloured hair, followed by her other baggy assortment of T-shirt, trousers and underwear.
“I don’t know why you hide your body under shapeless clothes. You’ve got a figure that Marilyn Monroe would have been proud of. You’re a woman and you might as well enjoy it,” he said appreciatively.
Lizzie had never been able to enjoy being a woman. Her shape embarrassed her, with its voluptuousness and preferred to transform her body into an unappetizing, unidentifiable blob. However, she couldn’t help feeling thrilled by her champion’s admiration, but would have been more delighted if he’d said she had a beautiful soul.
“I’m Solomon,” he said, introducing himself with a mock bow. This immediately created a problem for Lizzie as she’d pictured her knight as being called Lancelot, or Merlin, but she had to admit that the name Solomon did suit him. Lizzie could easily imagine him writing love poems and songs to the woman of his choice.
She flopped into bed early that night and fell into a dream and poetry-filled sleep.
“My lover is handsome and strong,
He is one in ten thousand,
His face is bronzed and smooth,
His hair is wavy,
Black as a raven…No, that’s wrong,” Lizzie could hear herself correcting Solomon’s Song of Songs. “His face is black and smooth.” Her hand reached up to brush something off her nose. She could smell scents of the East: jasmine and myrrh. The fragrant perfumes lingered around her as her dream evaporated.
Lizzie had to remind herself that dreams didn’t smell, and drew back the curtain to find out where the scent was coming from. Close by her bed was a jasmine plant. For a brief moment its leaves rustled. In fact if Lizzie hadn’t known better she’d have thought it was shaking with laughter. She decided that she must be half asleep and snuggled back in bed to resume her dream. Just as she was about to be presented to Solomon as an addition to his harem, something stroked her cheek. Her eyes flashed open. There was nothing to see, except that the jasmine plant was bent double as if suffering from a fit of giggles, and the dracaena was holding its large leaves stiffly as if it was trying not to laugh.
For the third time she dived under the duvet. Once again something rustled against her face. Lizzie made a grab for it. She heard a loud squeak.
“It’s not fair,” shouted the jasmine plant. “I was only playing. You’ve crushed one of my leaves and it hurts.”
“No, it wasn’t nice of you,” said the dracaena, “we only wanted to be friendly.”
“I must be dreaming or hallucinating,” Lizzie said aloud.
“Don’t be silly,” chirped the plants in unison.
“If you were dreaming, my leaf wouldn’t be sore, would it?” said the jasmine plant in a high pitched tetchy voice.”
“We decided you weren’t happy and thought we’d cheer you up,” snarled the dracaena.
“That was very kind of you,” said Lizzie, deciding to humour them just in case she wasn’t dreaming and had been spirited away to some alien planet during the night.
“Why aren’t you happy?” asked the dracaena.
“No one seems to like me, or think I’m attractive.”
“You aren’t as pretty as a Busy Lizzie, but you aren’t unattractive for a human hybrid. We’ve seen a lot worse, haven’t we Drac?”
“Oh, my, yes Jasie,” said Drac, and laughed.
The first rays of morning light were breaking through the windows when Jasie and Drac fell asleep and assumed the appearance of ordinary houseplants. Lizzie crawled back into her comfortable bed. She was tired, but more light-hearted than she’d been since childhood.
Lizzie’s programme included a morning session with Solomon. Rosemary was rubbed over her body to increase the clarity of her thoughts, which she definitely needed to cope with Drac and Jasie. The two plants had turned out to be chatterboxes, and when they couldn’t articulate what they wanted to verbally, they were able to transmit their opinions into her thoughts. What was worse was that they appeared to be able read her mind.
During the workshop on discovering past lives through crystals they made it particularly difficult. Lizzie wasn’t able to recapture any of her past lives and so Jasie and Drac chipped in.
“Perhaps you were a beetroot, which explains why you go so red every time you see Solomon,” suggested Jasie, giggling.
“I think she must have been a carrot. Just look at the colour of her hair,” said Drac and added, “although with the thoughts she’s sending us, perhaps she was poison ivy?”
The session was not a success, and while Clarissa, Kasper and the others discovered they’d lived exciting past lives, she began to wonder if she’d been someone’s headache. It was even worse when she was with Solomon. Every time she lay on the massage couch, the plants became uncontrollable.
“I don’t know what you see in Solomon? I suppose he’s quite a nice colour, but he hasn’t got much foliage,” remarked Jasie.
They teased Lizzie mercilessly and she was tempted to miss her last aromatherapy session, but her desire to see Solomon forced her to go. For once, the plants didn’t seem to be bothering her. Lizzie realised they must be sound asleep, which wasn’t surprising after the late night discussion they’d had about ecological issues.
“You look a bit more relaxed this morning,” said Solomon. “You know you can always tell Jasie and Drac to be quiet.”
“How do you know about them?” asked Lizzie.
“They can’t resist talking about their new friend. They’ve told me how nice you are. If you are free this afternoon I’ll show you how to sneak a break from them.”
Solomon took Lizzie for a walk over the purple scented heather. “You see, there is just the buzz of insects and not the raucous laughter of two highly developed plants. They haven’t discovered how to read minds or transmit messages outside the walls of their castle home yet!”
“I’ll miss them when I go home. They’ve been real friends.”
“Well, how about having a human substitute? I’ll be city bound in a few weeks. I’ve got to get back to my ‘real’ job. I hate to admit it, but I’m really a financial wizard. No, actually I’m quite a successful stock broker. So, we could resume your massage sessions on a purely personal level,” he said, and gave a seductive laugh.
“How could I resist such a tempting offer?”
During her stay Lizzie had made friends with Heather and everyone else at the castle, but it had been Jasie and Drac who’d become her true friends. She’d grown through their love and laughter. Lizzie’s tears fell onto their leaves as she left, but they appeared to be quite cheerful.
“Don’t worry, we’ll stay in touch,” they said, chuckling with the knowledge of a shared secret.
Lizzie arrived back at her office to find that phase two of Kevin’s environmental enhancement scheme was underway. Every desk had a plant on it. Their bright colours and abundant foliage made the office even more bleak. The hostility she’d felt towards her was unchanged. Her desk was the only one without any greenery. Kevin approached her in the middle of the morning and put a very spiky cactus down in front of her.
“Remember to look after it! Plants will grow and flourish if you take care of them. Lizzie wanted to spit out in anger and ask him why he couldn’t extend the same treatment to his staff.
“I’m thirsty,” said a tiny voice, breaking the silence that surrounded her when Kevin left. Lizzie poured a cup of water over the cactus without stopping to think that she’d never heard plants talk before she’s met Jasie and Drac.
“That’s better, I hate air conditioning. It makes my spikes dry out. I’ve got a message for you from your friends. They’ve persuaded Solomon to bring them with him. So they’ll all be meeting you on Friday after work. He says he hasn’t got a white charger, but he hopes that a sleek Porsche will do equally as well. By the way, I don’t like your boss he’s a bully. Who does he think he is? I think you should get another job and take me with you.”
Liz smiled for the first time that morning. It amused her to think that Kevin was in for a shock. He hadn’t taken into account that plants would only grow to please themselves, or that she intended to turn over a new leaf and find a new job, and that hopefully if she nurtured her relationship with Solomon it might blossom into the rarest plant of all true love. What was more she hoped with all her heart that the office plants might unite to lead Kevin a merry dance.