Francis and His Flowers
From the Journal of Frank Overwater, March 15, 2019 –
They say that therapy can help even the unafflicted be better people. While I can’t speak for so-called mental health professionals, I can say that gardening has greatly helped me organize my thoughts for centuries. Today, I am in my new greenhouse in Metairie, tending to my flowers and my saplings. I make sure to plant at least one tree every year on my estate in Atlanta, Magnolias mostly, but this year, I am tending to a Japanese Maple—Acer palmatum, to be precise—and it is a delicate process to tend it from winged seed to tree, so I am keeping it in a controlled environment until I can be sure it is ready to fight the unforgiving Georgian earth.
I carefully check the pH of the soil and dutifully alter the flow from the irrigation system. Many amateur botanists would tell you that you need to start the Acer family of trees as grafts with root systems that can tolerate fickle climates. Fortunately, I am no amateur. For me, my palmatum is a preparatory exercise. A warm up, if you will. I move on to the usual greenhouse fare—Chinese hibiscus, Amazon lilies, orchids, and the like. Their care is rote. They’re the trickle of water to my soul, the effortless care of practiced pampering.
I hum to myself as I work and try to ignore the brooding omnipresence of my assistant. He’s a stooped man, hunched and loathsome, like a beaten hound who doesn’t know whether to piss or whimper. But I don’t keep him around because I need him. His existence in my world is a quandry. I have no patience for useless things, yet here he stands, as useless as a condom to a eunuch. No, I keep the pup around to remind him of the error of his birth and his embrace. I keep him around to remind him that his blood—both mortal and Kindred—are weak. Not for his sake, I assure you, but for mine. I do enjoy the easy sorts of power. It’s part of my therapy.
“Come, Noah,” I say to him. He winces at the sound of my voice, as does almost everyone who knows me as I truly am. “Let us tend to the Night Queen.”
We make our way to the center of the greenhouse, to a large, sprawling plant with leaves like banana trees and tightly curled, orange blossoms that are preparing to open. I pretend to engage him.
“Do you remember what I’ve told you about Epiphyllum oxypetalum?” I ask, carefully tipping water into the soft-packed soil.
He hesitates, but he isn’t foolish enough to stay silent. “Y-yes. The Night Queen. Sometimes called the Kindred Blossom. It only blooms once per year, and only at midnight. Its petals wilt in the sunlight.”
“Very good. What else?”
“The… the cactus part is a… uhm…”
“An epiphyte,” I offer.
He nods. “An epiphyte.”
“Which means that it has to grow on another plant to survive. Like a… Like a parasite.”
I smile. It isn’t meant to be comforting. “Very good. Except unlike most parasites, it can coexist with its host. While it isn’t a symbiotic relationship, the host plant is often cultivated precisely because the Night Queen will bloom upon it.”
I let the moment sink in. We’ve been over this before, and he knows what comes next. I let him think that maybe, just tonight, it won’t. I mix the fertilizer—low nitrogen—while he stands there, eyes and fists clenched shut. He’s in the darkness now, and I’m the only beacon of light. He keeps hoping that I won’t guide him toward the rocks, but ultimately, I am a predictable man. More to his pity.
“And who does Epiphyllum oxypetalum remind you of, Noah?” I smile ruefully, letting the dirt glide between my fingers as I aerate the soil. I smell the tears of blood rolling down his cheeks. I have to hand it to him: he still cares for his family even if they’ve abandoned him. But he has not the discipline to keep it from me, so instead I’ll keep reveling in it.
“My great aunt Marcia,” he sobs.
I pretend to startle and turn to him, feigned shock on my face. “And why is that?”
“Because she fancied herself the queen of this city, but she was wilted by your sh- shining light.”
“I suppose you’re right. And don’t forget that she relied on me to survive in the first place, just like this flower relies on its host,” I say, gesturing to the plant. “Nothing is permanent. Not even Marcia La Rue.”
April 10, 2019 –
Today, Noah asked me if I had no faith in God. The La Rues are religious sorts. Have been since they floated over on a pontoon made of palm trees and poverty. The idea that some God might be up there, looking out for them. As if God would have faith in them or any of us. We are Kindred. We are damned. It is God who has no faith in us.
May 14, 2019 –
Why does everything have to be a struggle? It isn’t difficult for people to just say yes. Especially when they’re as hopeless as a one-winged chicken in an alligator pond. It is my birthday, and all I wanted was for Noah to tell me Happy Birthday. He refused. Kicking and screaming.
His face was set, immutable as hardtack, as he whispered it. “No.”
I stood, walking toward him, hoping to intimidate him back away from the Night Queen. I didn’t want to risk collateral damage if it came to blows. Before this night was over, he would say it, if for no other reason than I willed it. He did not move.
“Noah, I do not believe you heard me correctly,” I said, removing my gardening gloves. “I said that today, on this day nearly four centuries ago, I was born.”
His upper lip trembled. Sometimes a dog don’t hunt. Sometimes it don’t want to. Sometimes it can’t. “You did.”
I leaned in. He stank of fear, yet he did not back down. His eyes stared straight ahead, through me, past me, like was pretending he was somewhere else. “And then, I asked if there was anything you wanted to say to me.”
His eyes focused on mine. “And I said no.”
If you’re riling up a bull for a rodeo, you should expect the horns. No one has pity for a surprised bullfighter. Noah, to his credit, expected it, but he didn’t know how fast I was. When my foot connected with the back of his knee, he crumpled like a house of cards, a sickening crack ringing through the air as his leg bent full in half. Still, he did not scream.
I stood over him, and I looked down at him. Terror gripped him. His brave face faltered. And then like a storm, my fist connected with his nose. Another crack, blood.
Another blow. And another. No pause between for an answer.
I leaned close to his ear. “I am having a little trouble hearing you, Noah,” I whispered. “Maybe you should speak up.”
“What do you want?” he managed through broken teeth.
I leaned back from him. “What do I want?” I repeated, breathing heavily, his blood still running down my knuckles. “Your absolute loyalty.”
“Fuck you,” he said, his wounds already knitting through the power of his blood. I stood up and went back to my discarded gloves.
Sometimes, the only way to gain your superior’s respect is to defy him. I have zero tolerance for betrayal, but I do have reverence for resistance. I am a Brujah if I am nothing else, after all.
“Fine. See if I get you anything on your birthday, then,” I said, wiping my hands off on a nearby towel. I threw it at him after I was finished with it. “Clean yourself up. We’ve still got work to do. Sabine is far more incompetent than Marcia was; I doubt she could run this show without us.”
He caught the towel and wiped his face, sitting up. “Was she really a member of the Sabbat?” he asked. Poor thing didn’t know his ass from his elbow.
“If it were true, I’d tell you.” I turned and walked away from him. I was done gardening for tonight. The Night Queen would be blooming soon.
Behind me, Noah was smiling. I could tell it, even if I couldn’t see it. He had shown me that physical brutality would not break his spirit, but that didn’t mean he was invincible. If he had the sense God gave a thumbtack, he’d understand he couldn’t fly so close to the sun forever.