OUR PERFECT BOTANICAL MAN
FROM THE DIARY OF STELA XHIKU
Some August Sunday, Mia and I drive a case of clementines to the botanical garden. The sun has us very feeble and very happy. Happy because we’re making good on our promise to see The Corpse Flower and salute its foul stench.
The Corpse Flower, pet name of Amorphophallus titanum – Greek for without form, misshapen, phallus and titan – is something like an overgrown lettuce with a cashew tongue, or a closed calla lily with a mountain, sharp and very upright, bursting through it. Looks like an oceanic growth, this thing.
Its scent – a parfum de limburger cheese, rotting fish, sweaty socks, flowers, Chloraseptic and human feces – attracts scavenger insects who prefer rotting flesh. They’ve pollinated the imitation-decay to perfection, licking the vilest scents over millennia.
Their handiwork debuts at the Enid A. Haput Conservatory, blossoms for less than two days, stinks up the place, wilts completely.
We’ve come a month too late. It bloomed in July, the man at the booth tells us. It’s already been packed for its next bloom in seven to ten years and nothing’s bringing it back. Not the drive from Brooklyn. Not the champagne we finished in the parking lot, toasting the corpse.
Mia and I enter crisis talks at the ticket window. That’s ok, she keeps saying, that’s ok! We agree to ride the tram.
It’s visor country and anyone who isn’t using both hands to fan their face has open palms sweating on their lap. Couples de-tangle. Toddlers recline on their mothers. An old man lets two loafered feet glide alfresco.
We’re the only drunks on board, facing a young college student with her parents. I’ve got Mia on one side and the open green on the other. A few minutes in, we announce that this is better than the corpse. I’m smiling at shrubs and squinting at daffodils – a squint so severe it exposes my gums.
At every stop, our driver leaves his steering wheel to point out the star trees and tell some trivia. But he’s no gentle horticulture type; he’s a big, yelling man, older and with a white ponytail. We guess he was born and raised in the Bronx and is, or was, a heavy smoker.
THERE IS A BIRCH TREE BEHIND THAT BUSH, A VERY OLD TREE! YOU CAN SEE IT IF YOU WALK AROUND THE BUSH.
Nobody gets off and there are crowds waiting to board at every stop.
He continues to the Thain Forest, saying something about the leaves and then throwing his hands up, NOBODY WANTS TO SEE THE FOREST?
Mia and I are so sauced that we feel rude not to answer him quietly, “No, we are waiting for the rose garden.”
At the next stop, he begs us to follow the stream down to some ornamental conifers but he starts laughing through it, NONE OF YOU ARE WALKING TO THOSE CONIFERS.
The sun is setting as he pulls up to the rose garden which he announces PEGGY ROCKEFELLER’S ROSE GARDEN. Mia and I silently and simultaneously decide that we are not to disembark this tram from heaven. “He’s amazing,” we loud-whisper back and forth, “a-maze-ing.”
An older couple gets up to take photos by the roses. YOU COULD ALL BE TAKING PHOTOS, BUT THAT’S OK. WHAT, NOBODY BROUGHT THEIR SELFIE STICKS?
“We don’t have selfie-sticks,” Mia and I answer timidly.
The ride back is express, past the stops, past the stone cottage and its stone bridge, past the passengers we left to stand in some grass. The heat is still strong when he pulls up to the research library. NOW YOU ALL HAVE TO GET OFF. EVE-RY ONE.
Mia and I thank him, our perfect man. We thank him very much. Then we're off to eat the whole thing of clementines until our hands are very dry from the peel and white at the cracks.