The Black Petals
what first drew me to it,
and, also, what repelled me from it. The Black Petals. Black petals, unusual
for all that, but there was something more, something malignant. The petals
stood out in stark contrast to the
stems and leaves which stood so delicate, stood with so much grace and all in
the purest ivory white.
instinct was to reach
out to it, but something stayed my hand. And, when my children ran to grab hold
of it on first sight, I sent them back to the house and banned them from the
our second Christmas back
in my childhood home which we had inherited from my parents a few years
before. Mr Slater, my next-door
neighbour, was not the prime reason for my reluctance to move back in, but the
irascibility of the old man next door certainly gave me pause for thought.
remembered the way he
patrolled his back garden, garden fork in hand watching and waiting for any
stray ball to fly over his hedge. When
one came his way, he would pause, not that he would consider for a moment returning
the toy to the child, no, this pause was so you would have time to watch as he
speared it and threw it into his incinerator.
As he did so, his mouth twisted into an evil grin.
other thing, aside from
ruining the games of children, that seemed to make him happy were his
plants. From morning to night, he was in
constant attendance on them. The only
thing that would induce him to part from them were the increasingly exasperated
cries from his wife calling him for his evening meal.
can ever have seen in
him was beyond me. In every respect, she
seemed the exact opposite. Where he was
cruel, she was kind; where he was selfish, she was the soul of open-hearted
generosity; where he lurked in his lair, she embraced the world.
it was this tension that
kept them both together and apart. Nevertheless, in the few months after we
in, raised voices next door told the story of a marriage under strain. When
word spread that she had left him, few
expressed surprise, the question was rather what had kept her with him so
around that time that the
flowers first appeared. Initially, they
seemed small and delicate, but as they gained in strength, they took control,
became dominant, crushed and crowded out the other plants. I assumed the old
man would have sought to
rid himself of this plant, which for all its strange beauty had a virulence
that threatened to vanquish all that was once good in that garden.
he seemed to take pride
in this interloper. I heard him describe
it to a visitor as being of his “own invention”. The fact he had
a visitor didn’t pass without
remark and with hindsight this was the beginning of the end.
couldn’t keep his
new discovery to himself, and the visitor was the result of a string of
victories in shows and competitions as Mr Slater criss-crossed the country to exhibit
his creation and revel in the attendant glare of publicity.
we rarely saw him in
his garden now, and something kept us out of our own too. I’d banned the
kids, didn’t even know why I’d
done it, but I now found myself reluctant to venture there myself. I wasn’t
sure if the petals for all their
beguiling countenance, didn’t give off some sort of odour, something acrid and
at odds with the excitement they elicited for a now steady stream of people who
passed by the front of his house to gawp at this phenomenon.
revelled in the
attention they gave him, but drew the line when people tried to grab a memento
of the plant. His ferocity in the
defence of these plants was something to behold, and the police had to be
called on more than one occasion.
Without the counterbalance of his wife’s restraining influence there was
something feral about his nature, and he would not hesitate to strike out at
anyone who came too close to his precious plant.
this obsession that was
his undoing in the end. He lacked either
the will or the inclination to rein in this plant. It grew increasingly rapidly,
taking over not
only his own but the gardens of ourselves and his other neighbours. I tried
to speak to him on one occasion, but
he seemed to stare straight through me and closed his front door without a word.
only when he’d been
absent for a week that we dared to venture into his garden to look for him, and
there he was. His face was horribly
contorted, and his body completely enmeshed by the plant, the plant that had
been his pride and joy.
police came to remove
the body, they tested the plant to see if it harboured any poison. They returned
when the lab report showed
traces of human DNA. Digging down to the
roots they uncovered the body of his wife; despite the strangle marks on her
neck it seemed as if she were sleeping peacefully and there were traces of a
smile on her lips. They buried them together. We burnt the plants.
McGarvey is an English teacher, working at a grammar school and starting to
write some short short stories. In terms
of influences, he says, “I am trying to produce a cross between M.R.James (his
favourite writer) and Fredric Brown (A great writer, but his misogyny is a bit
much for me). He is 46 and living a
humdrum suburban life, but is still playing guitar and writing when he’s not
being a dad and all that type of thing. He
was born in Belfast, but is not really enamoured by the idea of
nationality. He’s written a few music
reviews and opinion pieces, but wants to try and produce a collection of short