The Corpse Flower

The Corpse Flower

A Story by Lucy Joan

A story I wrote for a national writing competition hosted by a college in Texas. The theme was "More Than Words."

A little house sat sullenly on the flat-topped peak of Cravlay Hill. It leaned slightly to the right, as though mimicking the surrounding pine trees which bowed in the direction of the sun. Blackened moss enveloped its wooden walls, stretching to a stone pathway where weed broke through, worsening the cracks. The window made it difficult to see through, and not because of the thick curtains which resembled old parchment, or the clapboards that covered them halfway.

The house itself looked withered and dark, but inside was actually quite teeming with life. A greenhouse was built inconspicuously between disjoined rooms, from which could be seen a plethora of blossom and herbs. The room was divided, half the vegetation consisting of turnips, beats, radish, strawberries, and eggplants. The other half was brimming with verdant periwinkle, garlic chives, yarrow, bellflowers and germanium. It was a colorful display of life with one large bud in the center called the titan arum that towered at nearly 12 feet. Since it had not bloomed, the greenhouse smelled pleasantly better than it did outdoors.

Here Reba spent most of her time since her husband died days earlier. Her attempt at mourning was disturbed when the telephone rang for the fifth time. People everywhere were trying to console her, but at first she felt more emptiness than grief.


Reba blinked, appearing mesmerized by the titan arum’s bud which had grown a foot overnight. The flower Carl left for her. As a botanist he often ventured for rare plants for his collection, but this had been his last.


Her limbs felt like weights. The world sank into obscurity, somehow magnifying the surface layer of her pain, waning now and then into physical anguish. How dare the world go on after taking away her best friend, the love of her life?

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring! Teardrops met her hands. The ringing continued to resonate through the house, blaring louder each time. Frustrated, Reba pounced from her stool and tossed away her pinafore. She grabbed the phone like an angry mother to her child.

“Hello?” She croaked.

Immediately, Dr. Paislie Puntto answered in a quick, swooping breath. “Oh good God, finally. Are you alright? Why haven't you answered? I've been calling all morning.”

Reba didn't want to admit that at some point in the day she had disconnected the phone line. I should have left it that way, she thought to herself. “I'm fine.”

“Have you been taking your medicine?” Dr. Paislie asked.

“I have, but it's not needed,” she said quietly, playing with the hem of her shirt.

The other woman sighed. “You sure? Won't you come over so I can prescribe something a bit stronger for you?”

Reba shook her head, realizing too late that the other woman could not see her.

“Oh, um, no thank you, it’s not needed,” she said once more.

“At least come over so I can check on you. A stronger prescription might do the trick,” the doctor insisted. Reba’s eyes widened as she stared into nothingness, realizing her implication. Something stronger, yes. That would be best, she concluded. “Alright.”

The clinic was a quaint little edifice near the base of the hill. As she entered, a little bell rang from above the door. Ramona, a young lady in her late teens sat behind the counter as a volunteer receptionist. “Good afternoon!” she chirped. “How are you today, ma’am?”

“I’m okay, thank you,” Reba replied automatically. Soon after, an old woman emerged from the curtains behind the admitting desk. Dr. Paislie was a burly woman with a full head of gray hair. Her hands were spotted with age, but her face lost years when she smiled. “You can follow me now, Reba.” She gestured towards the curtain from where she came. Behind it was a tight corridor with five doors. Chairs were situated between doors, and a single monitor was placed beside the furthest room. We walked into the second to the last room, inside which was spacious but empty, save for an uncomfortable looking hospital bed and a single cushioned chair.

Dr. Paislie picked up a clipboard and scanned it, leaning on the bed for support. “Well Reba, how are you feeling?”

“Fine,” she replied stoically to the empty question. The doctor smiled, placing the clipboard on her lap. “I understand your medications haven’t been effective? I designed a new prescription for you if you’re interested, but I’m more concerned that you take it regularly.”
Reba nodded but didn’t know what needed healing. Emotional pain could not be removed by a pill. “I-I don’t understand, I’m not hurting anymore.”

“No, maybe not. But it’s more than physical pain. I want to be make sure you’re safe, even from yourself,” said the doctor.

“Myself?” she raised her brow.

“Of course, self-inflicted pain is common with people struggling with depression,” Dr. Paislie said assuredly. “I’m sorry, I’m not assuming that you would, it’s just that"” Her voiced warped into inaudible murmurs. A breathe escaped Reba’s lips, snapping her momentarily into awareness. “I'm...”

Depressed, she said. Another tragedy. Reba didn't know how to feel, she was too numbed at this point to really care. There was no cure for depression, she realized. It would be like being sucked into inescapable grief; a perpetual question whose answer points to her each time. Her fault. Her burden alone.

But how could she know? Reba wondered. How could a particularly stigmatized mental illness possibly grip her so soon after losing Carl? Surely it was only temporary, she thought out loud.

“Reba,” Dr. Paislie said with caution. “Carl has been dead for three years. Remember?”
She looked at the doctor without moving. “That's not funny.” She stood up to leave but Dr. Paislie reached out to block the door. She held Reba’s shoulders and pushed gently in a gesture for her to be seated, a mix of pity and fear in her eyes.

“I'm sorry. We've been trying to tell you this every day since we started seeing you. Carl died on January 14th, three years ago. Please believe me.”

Reba shook her head and barked a sudden chuckle. “No, that's not possible it's only been three days. Why are you lying to me?”

“Please",” the doctor started.

“No,” her voice rose. As Reba turned to leave, her eyes caught a picture of a dandelion on a desk at the corner of the room. It was fake, of course, but the picture reminded her of the titan arum in her greenhouse. The thought of it growing overnight seemed as improbable as the story Dr. Paislie was feeding her. Realization soon swept over.

“Help me, please.” She turned back to the doctor pleadingly. “I don’t know what… Oh God, what’s happening to me?” She buried her face in the doctor’s arms who patted her back gently.

“I know, I know. I’ve been seeing you every day my dear. Take the new prescription and get some rest. I’ll check on you tomorrow, how’s that sound?”

Reba nodded vigorously. “Okay, anything.”

The doctor left the room in a hurry and came back seconds later, handing Reba a small paper bag. It rattled when she took it, indicating several pill bottles inside. “There’s praxil, promethazine, alprazolam, methadone, and hydrocodone in there. Don’t forget to take these every night. One pill each, 10 mg.”


By the time Reba reached her house, the sun was beginning to set. She dropped her keys on the floor as she entered and walked straight to the green house. Looking up, a grin began to form on her face. Before her, the titan arum was outstretched, the inner mouth a unique shade of magenta. It had finally bloomed. Clutching the bag to her chest, she hopped to a nearby sink and scattered the pill bottles onto the counter. She popped each open, letting the pills mix into one heaping cluster of white, elongated tablets. “One she said,” Reba crooned cheerfully. “Maybe two or three,” she mumbled as she placed some tablets onto her palm. “Five… How about forty?”

Reba carried a handful and gobbled them up with a clap to her mouth, some flying onto the floor. Staggering across the room, she set a lingering look at the majestic flower. It had only one to two days before wilting once again. For now, however, her wait was over. Time to sleep. “I’m coming, Carl!” She continued out of the greenhouse and stumbled into her bedroom which was strewn with picture frames and clothing. With cautious alertness, she crawled on the bed swept the clothes with her arms to the edge of the bed. She lay flat on her back, opened her arms as though to welcome the air, and closed her eyes. The sun had set.

By morning when Dr. Paislie came as promised, the house had carried the aroma of carcass and decay. The titan arum was still in bloom, and she found Reba lying peacefully in her bedroom, arms still extended across the bed, and a ghost of a smile on her thin, frayed face.

© 2015 Lucy Joan

Author's Note

Lucy Joan
Honest and constructive criticism is encouraged, thank you!

An allusion to the death and resurrection.
Side note to understand my allusions: Paislie Puntto is an anagram for Pontius Pilate, and the titan arum is a plant known for smelling like a corpse when it blooms.

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Added on March 22, 2015
Last Updated on March 22, 2015
Tags: depression, allusion, delirium, anagram


Lucy Joan
Lucy Joan

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