On May 31st, the first plant entered the building.
“It’s just going to die. You know that right?” Martin Lampitt said to his father whose infirm hands shook as he tucked a handkerchief into the pocket of his jeans.
“Not in near the bed, Martin. Gives out carbon dioxide in the night. Give you a headache,” Lampitt’s father said, somehow managing to smile and frown at the same time.
Both men stood in one of three rooms Lampitt had use of in the flat. They stood far enough away from each other for it to be deemed acceptable but too far away for the old man’s ageing ears to fully comprehend what his son was saying.
“Look… You have to make the most of it,” Lampitt’s father made a point of scanning the room, “When your Mother…” he started but Lampitt wasn’t listening.
Lampitt never paid much attention when his father wandered off down Memory Lane. Especially when it involved strangers like his Mother. He moved over to the window. Like the rest of the building, it needed more than a lick of paint.
“It’s as grey out there as it is in here,” Lampitt said under his breath. The only other greenery jutted forth through the uneven tarmac in the fenced forecourt like a bad dye job on a cheap hair net.
“Just look after it for a while. It’ll brighten the place up. I can’t look after them anymore. Not with these hands. I’ll try to stay in touch. They allow letters and calls.”
Lampitt’s father forced the plant and the pot that housed it into his son’s arms. Inadvertently, Lampitt cradled it like a newborn.
After his father left around two o’clock, the sound of locks clicking shut behind him and metal clanking into place, Lampitt stared at his new companion.
“Fancy a drink?” Lampitt said.
The plant sat in its pot impassively staring back.
Orchids require a certain amount of care. There are around two thousand one hundred varieties of plants derived from the orchid family. Forty to sixty varieties are indigenous to the UK alone.
Lampitt remembered how the night had started. The boisterous jostling from friends. “35 today!” They shouted. “You’re on your way out” and “It’s all downhill from here.” In hindsight this last point had proven to be startlingly true.
On June 1st, Lampitt took it upon himself to clean the space around him. There wasn’t much aside from an old shammy leather and a battered bucket to mount the task. Lampitt scrubbed the floors and the walls and every last inch of kitchen unit. He looked up and saw that the CCTV camera stationed on the lawn shaking its head at him slowly from side to side.
Later, the phone rang.
“You know if you talk to it, it will grow?” said the voice on the end.
“Sorry, who is this? Dad? What time is it?”
“I’m praying for you, Martin.”
Lampitt gave up and replaced the handset. He breathed deeply. The phone was his enemy. The thought of purchasing a mobile one had never occurred to him. It was even more out of the question now. He didn’t like the idea of people being able to contact him anywhere. He liked the head space. Space that despite re-accommodating his father to sheltered accommodation seven months previously appeared to mentally allude him much more than normal.
The phone rang again.
“Dad please…” He was tired now.
“You make me sick,” a dialect unknown croaked back. Then the line cut off.
On June 15th, the plant Lampitt’s father had brought in took a turn for the worst. Its drooping mass and browning foliage now just a shadow of its former self.
Lampitt scurried around looking for a means to revive it. He wanted one of those spray bottles to lovingly attend to the plant’s once fluorescent leaves. Nothing was to be found under the sink except sludge covered piping and a scrawl on the wall which read: ‘CJG 1989 – 1994’. Lampitt shook his head and returned to the plant.
The day after, a brick smashed through the window. Shattered glass burst forth hitting Lampitt in the face. He was sat at the table at the time filing in a five year old crossword puzzle. His first thought was surprise that the substantial projectile had found its way through the iron bars. There would have been little use calling out against it. Calling for help or as a deterrent against any further attacks.
The morning after, Lampitt heard the clank of metal again and then a knock at the door. He answered in the same clothes he had been wearing for the last three days. His thinning black hair stood on end from a restless night’s sleep. Scars from the window glass cut deep into his face.
“Delivery for…” The man checked his papers, “Lampitt?”
“Yes…yes…” said Lampitt forgetting that this was the first person he had spoken to in 72 hours.
“You’re just going to leave it there are you?” said Lampitt pointing to the 8 foot cardboard box now stood endways filling the tiny hallway.
The man raised his hand and backed off into the van, which was parked hastily outside. The gate clicked forcefully behind him.
“God’s sake,” Lampitt said to himself.
Orchids can often be used as a food source. Vanilla being one such offshoot. Some species such as the Vanda are also known to breed assexually.
Lampitt hardly noticed how drunk he was when he approached the familiar face at the bar. By now his collar was cocked and his shirt was hanging half out of his trousers like a wagging tongue. “Aren’t you off that show…? What’s it called?” he had said.
On June 21st, Lampitt had removed most of the contents of the box. He took his time. Carefully he introduced himself to each and every asset, placing them around the house like fresh carved chess pieces. It didn’t take long before they took root, giving Lampitt an excuse to nod firmly as he passed each and every one on his daily patrols around the house.
It occurred to Lampitt that he hadn’t masturbated for almost twenty years. Young man’s game he thought. Unable to handle the guilt that followed a hasty climax.
Unable to look at himself soaking up watery ejeculate from an already stained carpet. Handfuls of tissue choking up the flip bin.
He looked at the plant. Vibrant and young. It reached out. Stamens dusting the sluttish petals that surrounded it. It smelt good too. He imagined its vines hurriedly finding willing orifices in his body. Lampitt groaned and fell back into the lone chair he had been given.
A while later, Lampitt touched Judith’s arm. Judith came to visit sometimes. More often than his father. She usual brought a chair with her and sat in silence. She often said something like ‘I can just sit and listen, Martin’.
After an hour she would leave, often flanked by two large men with looks that said they had trampled on the throats of men for less than the price of your detuned TV set.
Judith removed Lampitt’s hand and placed it back on his leg. She had long hair tied up in a bun and, Lampitt thought, legs too slender to be confined to the sensible shoes and trousers she wore to each meeting. She tried not to bite the end of her pencil but found it increasingly difficult whilst peering at him over a clipboard.
“I think it’s better if you don’t come round anymore,” Lampitt said.
Judith rubbed her wrist without thinking. Brushing off any trace of him.
“I’m just trying to help Martin. That’s why I’m here.”
“I don’t want you in here with me anymore,” said Lampitt and stood up. The blinking light of the CCTV camera fixed on him from outside.
“And could you please stop sending these things as well?” He pointed to the growing foliage, “I’ve got nowhere to put them. They’re taking over the bloody house.”
Judith took another slurp of cold tea.
“If that’s what you want Martin.”
Sometime after she had left in much the same way as his father had left, reserved, concerned and mildly annoyed, Lampitt thought of calling his father. He would have, if the phone had a been set up to call out. ‘Dad… could you… I need to…’ He would have stuttered.
Lampitt wanted to call a different number and say “Steph… It’s me… Look… Can we talk?” but when the time had come he couldn’t find the words. He couldn’t bear the thought of a soft voice saying ‘Don’t call here anymore.’
Two days later the phone rang again. Lampitt let it ring. He stared at bars around the window and the camera and the brick wall beyond it.
By July 2nd, Lampitt no longer considered escaping from the flat. The vines now crisscrossed the front door wrapping themselves around the handle and lock. He struggled to move. He was weak having not eaten. No one had called for several days.
The only nutrients came from the plant, which he took on twice daily. Not enough he thought. Not enough to sustain a life. He looked at the surrounding smooth leaves and long bent stems and felt the occasional lunge in his groin.
Some later, Lampitt noticed that the phone cord had been cut.
The medicinal uses for the orchid date back thousands of years.
Lampitt didn’t remember entering the hotel room or the girl. He didn’t remember telling her to ‘Shut her mouth’. He didn’t remember forcing her face into the pillow. He didn’t remember the noise she made as she struggled to breath. He did remember coming to though, head filled with lead, slumped at the side of the bed and the look of shock on the face of his friend.
On July 9th, there was another knock at the door.
“Lampitt 27698… Lampitt…27698… Respond and come to the door with your hands where we can see them.”
Lampitt continued to stare at the floor. He heard a creak as if the room was wincing for him.
Three large men, clad in blue, burst through the door.
“Hold still,” said one of them.
“This is for your own good,” said another.
“Stinks in here,” said the third.
It took them exactly a minute to strip the clothes from Lampitt’s back and take the sample they needed. The sample to make sure.
The plant Lampitt’s Father had given him now lay on the floor beside him, freed from its earthenware cage by passing thuggish limbs.
Lampitt wept as he felt soil and naked feathery stalks slip through his fingers.
On July 12th, Lampitt awoke from the chair. Bright scatterings of colour, reds, pinks, yellows blinded him. The unused bed in the corner had vanished under a thick canopy of ferns. The flat throbbed with life. It was then that he felt a sickness in his gut. Even surrounded by an ever-advancing army of creepers and carpels, he felt lost. Lampitt’s voice choked and gasped fighting to get words out. Less of a cry for assistance and more a sigh of resignation.
Across the course of the following hazy summer evenings, the plants and Lampitt became one. Vines grappled for purchase on Lampitt’s greying flesh. Other roots now restrained his hands and feet. And as he stepped off the window ledge, secretly hoping that the outside camera would raise an alarm, he caught a reflection of himself in the jagged glass. He was almost smiling.
On July 14th, Martin Lampitt left the room. He did so horizontally and unaware. Hovering in controlled jerks through the air, wrapped in a thick black bag, suspended in the brutish arms of others. The plant sat motionless on the floor. The room around it was a stark as Lampitt had first found it.
It took five days for the news to reach the outside world.
Six others jerked as they lowered him into the ground. Holding on to each other for stability in the grey morning mist.
“Apparently this was all they found in there,” said one as he rubbed the wet earth from his hands.
“No note… Just this. Sad indictment. None of the cameras in the building were hooked up correctly. No one was watching.”
The group began to disperse slowly. Disappearing into the mud and fog of the day. Some tripped over the fake turf on the ground as they left.
“Six people… I didn’t really know what to expect,” said another.
Judith rubbed her wrists and looked intently at the streak of pale green protruding from the ground which illuminated the rigid marble behind it.
“Nice to have something brighten the place up,” she said and if Lampitt’s father had been there, he would have agreed.
Sam Cutter is thirty two years old and was born in Derbyshire, England.
In previous lives, he has been a journalist, a stand-up comic, a drummer in a hardcore band and a storm chaser in the US Midwest.
He lives in London with two annoying cats.