“Oh! That’s new,” Erica’s eyebrows knit in a mix of surprise and confusion. Sitting amidst her bed of sprouting azaleas was a lithe stem with the tiniest leaves. She set the watering can down, sun hat bobbing in the wind as she knelt down to inspect it further.
“Love, the tea is ready—oh, you found it!” Peter excitedly jogged outside, kneeling beside his wife. “I wanted to give you a surprise. You’ve been working so hard on the garden, and I thought I’d make my own contribution as well.”
Erica forced a smile to stretch across her lips. The sapling stuck haphazardly out of the soil, splitting the azalea bush in half like a river curving around a rock. Its leaves were sickly olive green, serrated sides peering up at her. It smelled vaguely of boiled lagundi leaves, slightly overpowered by the bitterness of ampalaya. She didn’t know exactly what plant she was looking at, but she knew that her stomach turned at the sight of it.
“I love it,” she said, sprinkling it with a bit of water.
It was summer when the plant started to grow rapidly. What Erica first thought were roots turned out to be vines—long and wispy tendrils spreading through the pink flowers. The way it clung to the bush was reminiscent of how octopi would grab onto their prey before dragging them under coral or sand. More serrated leaves scattered across the bush’s smooth ones, their jagged ends poking at the delicate petals.
Erica clicked her tongue, walking back through the glass sliding door separating the kitchen and the backyard. All the other plants in her garden seemed to be fine, at least. The santans were a vibrant red, stems full of rich nectar. The white flowers of her kalachuchi shone in the sun, complimenting the flesh-pink of her bromeliad.
“Pete, what exactly is this plant again?” she called out to her husband, who was busying himself with the newspaper in the sala. Without waiting for his answer, she clutched the scissors and made her way back outside.
She could hear his gruff voice answer her from inside, but the snipping of scissors drowned it out. Erica inspected the vine she had just cut off from the mystery plant, processing whether what she saw was real or not. A silent gasp left her mouth, her grip on the scissors loosening.
The part she had severed tore off a clump from the azalea bush. The teeth-like leaves punctured the flower petals, ripping them off. Its edges seemed to have impossibly grown, hardened even.
Erica shook her head. She carefully clutched the vine she cut, the leaves now feeling like thorns in her hands. Discarding the scissors on the ground, she gently clutched the vines that were still attached to the plant. They were definitely softer.
“What are you doing?”
She jolted, dropping the dead vines. Erica turned her head, eyes meeting her husband’s. His expression was almost unreadable, save for the tiny crease in between his eyebrows. “I was just trimming it. It’s tearing my azaleas off,” she replied plainly.
“I don’t think you’re doing it right. Aren’t you cutting too close to the stem?” Peter squatted down next to her, inspecting the damage.
“You do it then,” Erica snapped, nodding towards the scissors. Her husband gave her a sharp glare before getting back up and turning on his heel.
“I can’t believe how ungrateful you could be,” she heard him mutter under his breath.
Not wanting the situation to escalate into a fight, she shifted her attention back to the vines. She couldn’t do much about it now, especially with the risk of ruining her own plants. The vines were too stringy and tangled to be unwrapped by hand as well. Sighing, she trudged back defeatedly into the house.
She failed to notice the rot tinging the ends of the azalea petals a murky brown.
It was fall when the plant’s vines had crawled from its meager spot in the azalea bush to the base of Erica’s yellow bell tree. The once lush garden was now covered with razorblade leaves and vines that, when coiled together, were tough as bark.
The soil was rough underneath Erica’s knees. It was as if a drought had taken over their backyard. Two of her hands tried to clamp the kitchen scissors close but to no avail. The cluster of vines held the blades firmly open, the ends of them only mere inches away from the sliding door. She turned her head in the direction of the sala. “Peter, what the hell is this plant?!”
She cautiously trudged towards the garden shed, hundreds of jagged leaves clawing and slicing at her ankles. Dead leaves and yellowed petals lie astray on the dying grass. The azalea bush turned into an unapproachable clump of weeds, vines, and thorns—a sickly green consuming the center of the garden.
With her feet bleeding, she managed to reach the small wooden shed. She hacked at the vines nearest her, an ax firmly in her hand, watching them loosen from their curled position and shrivel up. Tears pricked at her eyes. The scent was nauseating, a humid air of unbearable bitterness and rot expelled from the sliced parts. Yet, it was the sight of a wilted yellow bell in the dead vines’ grasp which made her break down.
“Erica!” Peter yelled at her, eyes wide and eyebrows raised. His mouth curled into a snarl, eyes immediately going towards the ax in her hands. “You’re ruining the garden!”
Erica stood in front of the shade, mouth agape in disbelief. Her grip shook, fingers clawing into the smooth, wooden handle. Time stopped, and for a second, all she saw were dulled leaves and brown petals. The yellowed grass pricked at her wounds. The sharp branches of bare trees threatened to puncture the sky.
“I wouldn’t have given you the plant if I knew you wouldn’t take care of it. If you were going to let it die anyway, you should’ve told me,” Peter took a large step towards her. Twigs and vines snapped like bones breaking under his boots.
“I didn’t want this! I tried,” Erica swung the ax, sending hacked-off pieces of vines flying in the air. The stench worsened, making Peter tear up as well. He brought an arm to cover his nose, eyes boring into Erica’s skull.
“I’m so sick of you! How selfish can you be?!” he tore at a vine slinking up his ankle. The tips of the leaves shredded at his hands, stubbornly clinging onto the hem of his pants. His feet were stuck in the tangled mess, held in place by green razors. Still, he persisted, lifting his left leg with a pained howl.
Erica hacked away at the sprawl of leaves, now more akin to thorns. The parts that were still connected to the plant curled further and further inward as if it was retreating back into itself. The vines clinging to Peter followed suit, the tangled mess pulling him toward the center.
Erica’s eyes were sore, fat teardrops rolling down her reddened cheeks. She gritted her teeth, shrieks spilling from her lips as she slashed her garden free of the parasitic thorn spawn. It didn’t matter that it took most of her old flowers and bushes with it. It didn’t matter that Peter was still stuck between vines that got tighter and tighter. Nothing mattered since everything she had cared for was gone—buried under cracked ground and pointed foliage.
She had stopped when the first sunlight from dusk startled to trickle in. She was able to clear a path leading toward the center of the plant, which had now become an oversized bush of vines and leaves that had coiled into a thorny ball. Ignoring how they pierced her skin, she knelt down, holding the base in an iron grip. She planted both feet on the ground, using all her force to tug and tug until the roots burst out of the ground.
It was spring when the garden grew again. Erica leaned against the sliding door, a cup of coffee in her hand. The buds from the new azaleas had started to blossom. She was able to graft the yellow bell trees, saving at least the major parts of it. Tiny seedlings sprouted from the dark, brown soil of their respective plant beds. And in the center of the azalea bush, a scrap of denim lay hidden by a cluster of smooth, green ombre leaves.