I do not know where the flower came from or what secret admirer left it sitting in the middle of my desk. It just appeared there one morning. I went down to the copy room to run the sixty-five hard copies of the CRPNT presentation–double-sided, 10lb bond weight paper, three-hole-punched–and there it was when I returned. Just sitting there.
At first, I didn’t mind. It seemed like a nice enough gesture. No card was weird, but people leave things on my desk sometimes. Their way of showing some small affection or appreciation. It’s nice, really it is. The flower itself was pleasant enough, too. Not a typical “you’re the best assistant” flower like a daisy or a tulip, but a large, purple and green orchid.
I don’t normally keep flowers around my desk. I have a black thumb. Plants die around me, but I figured flowers aren’t meant to last anyway, so I might as well keep it and enjoy it while it lasted. The honey-sweet smell coming from it didn’t even bother my allergies. Really, someone went to a lot of trouble to make sure I could have a flower I would enjoy, even if it was only for a short amount of time.
So, I moved it to the back of my desk, just below the window, and forgot about it as I dove back into making sure all the i’s were dotted and all the t’s crossed. Such is the life of an executive assistant.
I didn’t even think about the flower again until I was putting on my coat to head out the door for the night. It was still there, sitting in the dim evening sun, bright purple shining happily. I thought about taking it home but decided against it. It had to come from a colleague, and I wanted them to know I was enjoying it. So I left it, sitting in its black plastic pot and hurried to catch my elevator.
The next morning was the first sign this flower might be something more than meets the eye. It grew overnight, a second blossom popping up right beside the next. It was strange to have a plant thriving in my presence, but flowers do that, don’t they? I couldn’t remember. It’s been a long time since I was able to keep anything green alive for more than a few hours. Besides, I didn’t have time to dwell on it.
The office was a mess. The trash cans were still full and no one had vacuumed.
I placed a call to the custodial company to find out what had happened to George. In the four years I’d been working here, I’d never known George to miss a shift. But, he is getting up there in years and not moving as quickly as he once did. I admit, I was worried he might have had a heart attack or a stroke. I wasn’t trying to complain, although the woman on the other end of the line sure thought I was.
She explained that no one had heard from George all morning and he never checked back in last night after doing his rounds. Our office is the end of his shift on Tuesday nights and everyone else was cleaned just fine. I told her I was only interested in making sure he was well and asked her to give me a call if she learned anything.
She must not have learned anything because she never called me back, but at the end of my shift, a sullen teenager showed up with a vacuum. I guess George must have decided to take a vacation. I hoped I hadn’t gotten him in trouble.
I stayed late that night and made sure the new kid did everything the same way George would have. It was after eight by the time I got home and I missed Dance Moms, but I knew George would appreciate it when he came back.
The next morning, my flower was more like what I’d expected from the first day. The second blossom was looking a little wilted and the dirt was dry. I remembered that flowers liked water, so I made sure to give it what was left of my coffee. It seemed to perk up by the late morning. Maybe it needed caffeine, too.
I had meetings after lunch–mostly just updates from one project team or another. I needed to be there to keep minutes and check what they were telling us things cost against the real invoices they turned in. I don’t usually pay much attention, so I couldn’t tell you which projects they were. I used the time to catch up on drafting a memo about the upcoming potluck to celebrate Dianne’s retirement. I was working on a new system to make sure everyone brought something different so we didn’t just end up with an entire conference room full of cookies this time.
When I got back from my meetings, the flower was looking healthier than ever. It had grown a third bud! I decided I would start buying it a cup of coffee of its very own every morning. Maybe I was better at this plant stuff than I thought.
There was also a note on my desk from Dan in accounting. He said it was urgent and I should call him as soon as I was out of my project report meeting, but when I called, I got his voicemail so it must not have been that important. It was probably just some missing receipt for a three dollar stapler, anyway. They always made a huge deal over the nickel-and-dime supplies and then completely ignored the half-million-dollar contracts. Oh, well. That’s life with bureaucracy. I sent him an email instead and told him to call me back on Friday. I had doctor’s appointment on Thursday and I’d already rescheduled it for work seven times. I wasn’t going to miss it again, and afterwards, I was going to treat myself to an afternoon at home.
So, that was my Thursday.
The office was always quiet on Fridays, but that Friday was quieter than usual. I got to work early. I wanted to have plenty of time to go over the things that pile up when I’m gone for even a day and was pleasantly surprised to find my orchid had grown substantially while I was gone. Eleven new buds hung loose and vibrant from the large bush growing from the pot. I gave it some more coffee, moved the handful of papers from under its leaves, and got to work playing catch up.
It was noon before I looked up and realized nobody had come to bother me all day. It wasn’t normal to have four full hours of time working for myself and I double-checked the calendar to make sure it wasn’t a holiday before I went exploring the office to see if anyone else had bothered to come in to work at all.
The office was empty like someone had called the day off work and never bothered to tell me. I couldn’t believe it. I decided if no one else was coming in, I didn’t need to be there, either. After all, the weather was gorgeous for the first time in months. I worked as hard as anyone else and I had plenty of vacation time. I was going to enjoy a nice afternoon, too. I sent my boss and email and headed for home.
Several hours later, I got a text message from my boss asking me to come back into the office. It wasn’t like him to call me in after five on a Friday, even during the busy season. I figured it had to be a special kind of emergency, probably because everyone decided to play hooky except for me. I didn’t think it was my problem, but after-hours work is rare enough and I did take the afternoon off, so I headed in.
The office was dark. Most of the building’s lights are on timers, so there usually isn’t much light on the fourth floor after dusk anyway, but it was darker than normal. I didn’t even see the glow from the parking lot lights through the windows in my office. I couldn’t remember if I’d remembered to put the blinds down or not. I’m usually pretty forgetful about that sort of thing.
I skipped my door and headed straight for my boss’s office, but it was dark, too. I couldn’t find anyone in the halls, so I decided to head back to my desk to check my email–make sure I wasn’t getting some ghost message from weeks ago. Sometimes phones work like that, don’t they.
The lights were still off when I got to my office. After trying the switch a few more times, I decided to light the scented candle on my file cabinet. Normally, I’d just leave it there collecting dust. Candles, especially scented candles, are against policy but my mom gave it to me for my birthday anyway and I didn’t want her to think I didn’t appreciate her. I always thought it might come in handy in an emergency, and it did.
Once it was lit, I sat it atop of the big box of recycling so it would be next to my mirror and spread the light out into the room so I could see if anything was working.
That was the first time I noticed anything about my desk all night.
The flower was huge! I swear I thought I saw it growing right in front of my eyes. It was probably just a trick of my mind, but it was way bigger than it had been when I left at lunch. That flower sure likes its coffee.
I turned on my monitor and logged in. Sure enough, there was an email from my boss. He said he was having a family emergency and would be flying overseas for the foreseeable future. He instructed me to “hold down the fort” while he was gone and when he got back everything would make sense. It was weird, but it made sense, I guess. I knew most of the executive functions. I could wrangle lawyers and accountants. Maybe that was why everyone had taken the day off. Maybe he’d told them yesterday.
But why would he call me in and then send me an email? That didn’t make sense. The timestamp on the email was from just a few minutes before I got there. I should have seen him leaving the building. Come to think of it, his car was still in the parking lot. Maybe his wife had picked him up. I decided I had better try catching him at home before he grabbed his flight. I needed more instructions than just “hold down the fort.”
I was halfway through dialing his number when a thick, green vine fell across the receiver and disconnected the call. I pushed it away and started dialing again, but the vine flopped right back in place. I decided the flower needed a bit of pruning. It was great to have raised a plant from a single bud to a massive bush, but I was going to need my desk back. Besides, I’d heard somewhere flowers like a bit of pruning and if you trim them back, you’ll get even more blossoms. I had gotten used to the subtle wafting off the flowers and didn’t think it would be bad to have it a little stronger.
I pulled the scissors from the drawer on my desk and started feeling my way along the vine, trying to find the base in the mess of leaves. I gave up after two tries. My hand kept getting trapped down near the dirt and I managed to scratch my fingers pretty bad on the thorns I couldn’t see. A couple of the scrapes even drew blood. I don’t know if cutting a vine off in the middle is bad, only that my dad used to always clip the branches as close to the trunk as possible when he pruned the trees back home. Either way, I wasn’t going to stick my hand back down inside that thing again, so I grabbed the vine and snipped it off just outside the big bushy leaves.
And the flower screamed–a record-needle-on-smooth-glass, thousand-tea-kettles scream.
I don’t remember dropping the scissors or backing away, but I remember bumping up against the wall as all of the blossoms rotated on their stems, petals curled like the angry snarl of a rabid dog. The leafy bush beneath began to tremble. Vines flopped down across my desk and onto the floor, thick and covered in sharp, hooked thorns. The entire plant began to slide forward, plastic pot scraping across my desk as it moved closer. Things began to spill out from between the leaves. An old hearing aid. A clipboard covered in receipts. My boss’s cell phone.
I froze in place until the plastic pot reached the lip of my desk and slowly lowered to the floor. There was no way this was a cruel joke. No one was pushing the pot from behind my desk just to scare me. No office hazing or bad prank. Once the flower started slowly sliding across the carpet, I found my body again and scrambled toward the door. I forgot where everything was in my office, banging into the file cabinet and stumbling over my trashcan as I hurried to get out of the office and out of the building.
I didn’t stop to look back until I was at the door to the stairs and the flower began to scream again. I could see clearly in the strange orange light where it on the floor of my office, halfway between my desk and the door. All of the blossoms were turned toward the sky and spread out wide. The shook with each new screech from deep inside the bush and the vines thrashed about wildly.
I slammed the heavy metal door and took the stairs three at a time, the shriek following me all the way down. I was already at the front door when the scream died and the fire alarm kicked in. Outside, I could see the smoke and flames billowing out through my window and could hear the sirens in the distance. The fire department was already on its way, so I just sat down on the grass in the middle of the parking lot and waited, worried and alone.
Then, I smiled as a thought floated through my mind. My talent for killing plants had finally paid off.