A series of locks had to be navigated before Fattoria opened the ochre steel door and motioned Muriel to precede him into the apartment. At once she felt warm, her skin perspired, her clothes felt heavy with mist, and she had to close her eyes and open them again slowly, because this was a quality of light she had not seen before, it vibrated like a memory, like a thought passing from the plants to her. Fattoria took her coat and her purse and layed them on the one chair, a captain's chair, at the kitchen table. The kitchen was a the only room devoid of plants, despite the fact there was a window, but this window was made of stained glass, a depiction of Saint Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland into an angry sea. Muriel gazed at the stained glass, "It was here when I moved in, the window - this place used to belong to a very superstitious old Irish woman. I found whiskey bottles in every closet on the first day, some empty, some not. Cheap whiskey too."
"They say there never were snakes in Ireland . . . " Muriel couldn't believe how hot it was in the apartment, she wondered why it was so hot.
"They, my dear Muriel, are correct, no self-respecting snake ever swam to Ireland or away from Ireland. St. Patrick was no Moses. Would you care for a drink? It's cocktail hour, perhaps a glass of wine? Or join me in a gin and tonic? I leave for Rio in the morning and quinine is running in my blood. I quit taking malaria pills years ago. They render me helpless - nightmares, night sweats, and doubling me over with pain. The British knew what they were doing when they drank all those gin and tonics in tropical colonies, the quinine keeps the malaria at bay."
"Water for me thank you, I suddenly feel a bit warm." Muriel wanted to admit to feeling dizzy too, and there was now a slight ringing in her left ear.
"It's the plants, you'll have to live with it I'm afraid. I keep the temperature at a constant 82 degrees, they thrive that way, any cooler and they begin to weaken. Why don't you have a seat in the living room and I'll bring you some water straight away."
Muriel blinked and walked into the living room, although, it was nothing but an overstuffed leather chair with a small bookshelf and a lamp at it's side. The bookshelf was neatly arranged with nothing but botanical volumes, specifically dealing in tropicals. Fattoria was whistling in the kitchen, "Puccini?" Muriel thought, "Yes, Madame Butterfly . . . I am the happiest girl in Japan." Muriel heard ice cubes tinkling in a glass and this made her feel immediately cooler. She blinked again and began to feel overwhelmed by the plants that crowded the room. Great numbers of them, and they seemed to grow from the walls and the floors, if there were any pots, any soil, they weren't apparent. There were bromiliads, ferns, Elephant Ears as large as the windows, philodendrons, Bird of Paradise, Jade, and Canna Lillies. There were trees that reached to the ceiling and made a canopy so fine Muriel expected to see the night sky, the stars, the moon revealed through the leaves - Rubber Trees, Magnolia, Mahogany, banana, and olive. There was an orange tree heavy with fruit, and a fig tree and palms and a small stand of bamboo. Purple orchids reached toward her in the chair as if to say, "and who are you?"
Lights flickered. She heard water running and then stopping and then running again, soft rain, then the trickling of a nearby tiny waterfall. A series of clicks and then more lights came on and some went off. The room was very alive with plants and now she could see, alive with small hoses and wires and tiny grow lights, some only pinsized beams of light directed at one orchid.
"Do you know plants Muriel?" Fattoria swept into the room and handed her a large frosty glass of water.
"No, not really . . . I know what a Christmas Cactus is. I had one once. And there are so many ficus trees in the library, one really has to know what they are. Everything else is either grass or weeds or trees to me. One plant frankly is indistinguishable from another. Is that alright? I mean, will the plants need me to know them if I live here?"
"This is a Traveler's Tree. This is jasmine simplici folium, or just jasmine. Blue Plumbago, plumbago auriculata. This? This is Queen of the Night, selenicereus grandiflora." Fattoria lingered with the Queen of the Night and took a sip of his gin and tonic, then he jiggled the glass for some sort of icy punctuation and crossed the room, "Mother-in-Law's Tongue, sansevieria trifasciata, and here is the sublime Rice Paper Plant." Muriel listened as Fattoria waltzed around the room introducing the plants, as though they were debutantes at the ball. Each time he touched a plant and named it, the leaves seemed to swoon, to curtsy, to take a bow at their acknowledgement. Muriel could see Fattoria was deeply in love with his plants and the plants obviously returned this affection. Eventually Fattoria came to sit on a small jeweled Persian rug beneath the hibiscus tree and quietly finished his gin.
Muriel noticed something move among the passion flowers. She watched, the flowers went still again. And then the thing moved again, this time making a long sweep through the orchids and coming to a rest, curled neatly around a bamboo tree. It was as though a vine had taken leave of it's senses and decided to move house. "Mr. Fattoria?
"Is that a snake?"
"Yes, Muriel, that's Iris."