| Andal Srivatsan | April 2024 | Short Story |

June 12

We brought home a small Monstera plant. Deep green leaves. Punctured leaves. We kept it on the bedroom balcony, pressed against the baluster. If the drapes were open, we could spot it from our bed. Recently, Ajay had spent some big bucks to install solar lights on the four rail posts of the balcony. He had done these rakish, over-the-top fittings, for the whole house to impress his clients when they came home for dinners and drinks. A nice teak finish. A florid entertainment unit. Crystal China even. The whole fuss was unnecessary in my eyes, but I am often ambivalent about expressing my opinions. The act of braiding it, bringing it to the tip of my tongue, and saying it out loud is rather dismaying.

After sunset, the lights would switch on to a warm yellow. The monstera’s leaves would flap in the evening breeze, and the light from under it would reflect on the ceiling.

One of our neighbours brought in some badam halwa. On her other palm, she held a Spider plant. We invited her in for tea and snacks. Adrak chai, namkeen, a tiny cup with her badam halwa. I don’t think she was happy about that, but she never said anything.

Nice woman.

June 15

Ajay left for work, as usual. He packed his lunch, kissed me, and ran out the door. If my mother were around, she would comment that I should at least wave him goodbye at the front door. I skived off my morning routine and rolled around on the bed for two more hours. From where I was lying, through my window, I could see that the monstera had grown. Not just a little. More than normal. Her leaves were bigger. The slits in her leaves were unmistakably curious. The green was cavernous.

I stared at her. She stared back. One of the leaves faced me – two of its splits became her eyes. One split transfigured into a pair of lips. Envy lips.

I quickly got up, showered, and went on with my day. I graded only two papers – B minus, and B minus. Nothing impressive. I was personally tired of relativistic narratives on theosophy. I found my neighbour on her balcony. She waved at me. I waved her over, and she nodded immediately. In a few seconds, my doorbell rang. She looked around the house; she was curious, asking me questions about our ages, whether we had children, what we did for work, and our potential earning capacity in a downtrodden job market.

‘Aunty, why don’t you give me some tips on how to maintain these plants we got?’

‘Oh! If you’re free then gardening is a great pastime.’

July 22

I was beginning to understand them. The Snake plant was imperturbable. So was the ZZ plant. They never asked for much. I could water them once every two to three weeks, and they would survive. Almost cocky. The Peace Lily and Pothos could create some trouble. One of my Peace Lilies died just last week. The red Aglaonema was my personal favourite. I gave it extra attention. I carried it in and out depending on what it wanted – more sun, less sun; more water, less water; more love, less love.

Then there’s the highly contested topic of soil. The usual indoor plants are undemanding. There are prolonged conversations about the right kind of soil mix. In my plant pantry, everything lived – perlite, vermicompost, cocopeat, peat moss, seaweed liquid fertiliser, and some microbes for the home composting I had recently begun.

Ajay was impressed. ‘I’ve never seen you get into something so much before.’

The monstera, however, was running amok. I tied her long stalks and dense leaves around a moss stick. It is certainly impossible that she could grow at that speed. I avoided her though, and I’m certain she was cross with me. She didn’t withhold progression. Her vengeance was defined by her ability to eclipse me.

The whole experience was built on a punctiliously crafted schedule. I would be awake by 6 AM, take a walk around the garden, and talk to some of them. I would then water them. There were challenges, and those were rather lofty. I found white mildew on the main branch of my Fiddleleaf Fig. I would spray the bruised areas with a liquid concoction – Potassium Bicarbonate and liquid soap in a lot of water. Liquid soap, and not detergent; the latter is malefic.

September 13

Ajay was disquieted. ‘I’m not sure, but there’s hardly any space to walk around here now. Maybe we can reign it in.’

I was hurt.

The balcony garden was teeming with verdurous assemblage. My pothos trailed the balcony nets – east to west. It was glorious. About three weeks ago, I expanded my base. I squeezed the seeds of cherry tomatoes into seedling trays. I now had three large grow bags with cherry tomato stems lodged into them. I studied them every single day – all my vegetable pots. It was nothing concerningly audacious. The usual. Brinjals, spinach, cucumbers, radish, basil, capsicum. The Bottle Gourd plant was stunningly constructed along a trellis. It lent its fingers out to the sky.

The other day, I bought some earthworms. I was tight with the nursery folks – they’d call me madam, give me suggestions, and at times, even take mine with a marginally less impaired ego. I would let the worms wring into the soil. My garden grew. There was a distinct pleasure in bringing in hues. I planted seeds of Zinnias, Petunias, Celosia Plumosas, Dahlias, Alyssums. Time slipped like sand through my fingers while I potted, and repotted my plants. A podcast of recent world news would hum in the background as I would decide what I could grow next.

Two part red soil, one part cocopeat, one part vermicompost. Two part red soil, one part perlite, and some peat moss. Black soil, cow manure, cocopeat.

‘Maybe someday we move into a bigger house, you know – like a villa. All this lack of sun and north-facing nonsense is really curbing the growth of the plants. If we had a garden, they’d grow so easily.’

Ajay nodded. ‘I mean, we just started paying EMIs for this one,’ he mumbled.

The other day, an earthworm crawled into the house. It wriggled in the nook of the kitchen. I could sense that Ajay was upset. He didn’t say anything. Neither did I. It was familiar.

These nights, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the monstera. Just recently, one of her branches crept into the room, right through our large bedroom window. I kept looking at Ajay to see if he noticed this. I don’t think he did. He probably thought that it was normal – this exorbitant growth, an otherworldly phenomenon.

Either way, I chose to kill her, but not bluntly. I would be careful. I would premeditate her murder. I would keep her in the alcove that bathed under most sunlight. I wouldn’t water her. She would decay, slowly but assuredly.

Every morning, I cast an eye on her. I mumbled maledictions at her. At times, her slits shaped in a sorrowful manner, angry even. She never budged. She continued to live. Sometimes, madness is taboo. This was my madness; my parlous obsession with the monstera, and her relentless infatuation with me. If I walked past her, she would stroke my hips. When I tended to the lemongrass by her, she would brush my cheeks.

October 20

Everyone who had come home was astonished. They extolled me. I enjoyed the attention. It wouldn’t be pontifical, honestly, if I were to celebrate myself.

There were days riddled with fear, especially around the time Ajay got the travel bug. He suggested we take a long road trip across the Deccan plateau. Surely, he is barmy. But, I was told, by my mother no less, that marriages involved sacrifice. So, I sacrificed. I had my house help send pictures of some of them to me every day. She was impatient, but she complied.

‘The Alyssums are drooping, Mala,’ I screeched. ‘Just tend to them a little.’

November 15

Some of the vegetables had been through their seasons. The cherry tomato plants gave me fruit a couple of times. The radish gave me juicy, albeit tiny, radishes. The basil was flowering out of control. The tulsi caught a bug, blackened, and passed away. The plumosa slipped from the parapet during an unusually violent rain. Soil spilled. Stems broke. I taped them together, but they couldn’t pull through. The loss was painful. I tried a lot of regrowth exercises with my plants. This one time, I cut a leaf from my snake plant above the soil bed. I made a slit in the shape of an upward triangle and immersed it in water. In a couple of days, it showed new roots. I could do that with most plants. Sometimes, it wouldn’t work. The water would begin to smell, and I’d have a wasted leaf or stem in my hands.

By now, the monstera was about my height. Perhaps even taller. She could shroud me. She pulled through, despite my glaring unwillingness to want to grow her. Or even save her. The others around her, however, were slowly beginning to dissipate. The alarming weight of knowing that life had an end was too colossal to bolster. There’s a sense of immortality that I looked for within them. Now that it didn’t exist, my transitory life chuckled at me as if to say that self-importance is a needless desire.

Day after day, they wilted more and more. Leaves had lost colour. Stems had turned brown. Eventually, each of them was a wasteland.

December 29

I think I stopped caring, not because I did not want to.

By now, they were all gone. Ajay had arranged for someone to take the pots away. He discarded bags of old, dry soil. Dust sheathed the railings. It was back to how it was when we had first moved in. Except for the Monstera.

She towered over us both. She kissed the ceiling with the tip of her tallest leaf. Pursed lips. Tormented jade.

In the middle of the night, I awoke to a rustle muffled under a slight squeak. The tallest of her arms squeezed in through the windows. She swayed and moved towards me.



She opened her mouth, like a grapple excavator.

She swallowed me whole.


Andal Srivatsan is a writer and poet based out of Bangalore, India. She has been published in places like TBLM, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, and Sunflower Collective. She writes book reviews and poetry on her Social platforms every now and then.

You can find her on Instagram @andalsrivatsan


Homepage Image by Lisa Amann via Unsplash

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