"I move in tonight Estelle." Muriel closed the drawer of the big filing cabinet that blocked the window next to her desk, she wanted to rearrange things, but she had lived with it for so long now, it hardly mattered.
"Oh marvelous - I knew it would be just right."
"You didn't mention the snake . . . "
"Yes, Iris, the Green Parrot Snake."
"I didn't know he had a snake, but then again, I only went there once. He made a pass at me and I left rather quickly. Did he make a pass at you?"
"If Latin classification of flora is a the new love sonnet form, then maybe he did and I completely missed it. Or maybe Iris the snake was just too much of a distraction."
"Well, you can handle feeding the snake, can't you? What's it eat?"
"Estelle, most people who keep snakes keep them in glass acquariums - you know with some sand, maybe a rock to curl up on, don't they?"
"I suppose so . . ."
"Well, Iris, lives at liberty, in the plants. I don't have to feed her or clean her cage. All I have to do is check the sheets each night before going to sleep, because apparently she likes to curl up under the covers like a cat."
"Oh!" Estelle's voice carried out the door into the Circulation Department and over the front desk out into the great hall that used to contain the card catalogs, but those were replaced years ago by a bank of computers which were currently being replaced by sofas, because nobody needed those big terminals to find the books anymore, the library was on everyone's cell phones. A little girl leaning on her mother as they read a book together heard Estelle, and put her finger to her lips, "shhhhhhhhhhhh," and her mother turned the page. "What do you do if Iris is in there? Under the sheets?"
"Get a hotel room, I guess."
The airplane painted to resemble a red and green Macaw flew into the setting sun as Fattoria sipped his gin and tonic in first class, it was 6:01, and Muriel was negotiating the series of locks on the ochre door for the first time. She had one large suitcase, faux Burberry, bought on the street some years ago right before she spent that year in London. The zipper no longer worked properly, but it hardly mattered, as it would not be going overseas again.
The door finally gave in to her pleas and swung open. Muriel pushed the suitcase with her foot into the oppressively hot apartment. "Hi Iris, I'm home." Muriel took off her coat, and her sweater, and as she was already beginning to sweat, she took off her shoes and her knee socks too. She went to the kitchen and before she got to the refridgerator, a note from Fattoria stopped her - neatly written on a yellow legal pad, it leaned on an empty gin bottle in the middle of the kitchen table.
My Dear Muriel,
Welcome home. I'm somewhere over the southern Atlantic right now, the seat belt indicator has gone dark, and undoubtedly I'm content, being on my third or fourth gin and T. and imagining you inhabiting my little jungle away from the jungle. Iris promised me she'd be on her Best Behavior.
The electric bill is payed for the next six months, you have no worries there. Remember if there is a power outage to reboot the little laptop in the bedroom, it controls everything, the water, the lights, and the thermostat. The password is Plumbago.
Muriel sat in the chair for a moment and said Plubago outloud and several times, "Plumbago, Plumbago, Plumbago . . . " and then she remembered she once had a distant uncle, of which she had many because her mother had married so many times, who was name Louis, and her mother told her he suffered from Lumbago. She thought it sounded like a dance, to do the Lumbago in a red cafe in Buenos Aires with a man she'd never met before would be quite exciting. But maybe Dr. Fattoria would be dancing the Lumbago upon his arrival on the banks of the Amazon, and this would charm his guide, the one with the bone through his nose, the one with the name spelled only with consonants, the one who would be eaten by a school of piranha, sometime into the expedition, only two days before Fattoria would find the orchid he was looking for, and he would name it for his guide, who's bones now lay on the bottom of the big river.
Muriel felt she had the whole night ahead of her. Fattoria left a bottle of wine and fettucine for her. He had also left fresh cream, eggs, and butter and his favorite Italian cookbook opened to Alfredo sauce for her, "You must cook Muriel, the plants like us to be fat and happy." And Muriel wasn't sure of the meaning of that, but she decided to indulge herself on this first night in the Terrarium as she planned to call it from now on, "Estelle, I'm going to live in the Terrarium."
Muriel carefully whisked the cream and the eggs together over the low flame and now she was down to nothing but her t-shirt and silky under drawers, because cooking in the tropical heat of the apartment wearing a wool skirt was unbearable. She found nutmeg in the cabinet and carefully grated it over her Alfredo sauce. This was not in the recipe, but she liked nutmeg with cream and eggs, so this would make the plants happy wouldn't it? If she was happy the plants would follow. She tossed the fettucine and sauce in a big green bowl, added parmesan and pepper and decided to eat in the living room with the plants. "Hello everyone," Muriel lowered herself into the big leather chair and crossed her legs. The leather was cool against her bare legs and she began to eat and sip her wine in a rhythm she thought was somewhat plant like. "How do plants like to eat?" she wondered, "Slowly I suppose, very slowly. Snakes eat like plants don't they Iris? Where are you Iris? You're not in my bed are you?"