The Plant On The Mantel



Sylvia stepped in front of me into the large living room of the house her grandparents had inhabited.  The room itself was like one large shadow.  The black night outside the windows draped the walls, carpet, furniture, even the very air with its mystery.

      Though the house was only an hour and a half from where we lived, it was my first time here.  Sylvia’s grandfather had died right before we got married (her grandmother had died years before), and since then Sylvia’s aunt Jolene had moved in temporarily to keep the house in the family.  Now Jolene was relocating, and the decision had been made to sell it.  For the next few weeks the family would be combing through the things left in it, making sure all was accounted for and claimed or donated.

      Sylvia walked to the front of the room where the majestic fireplace rose five feet from the ground, the mantel over it resting at about eye level.  She stopped in front of it.

      “That plant is generations old,” she said.  “My mother told me she remembers it being around for as long as she can remember."

      “No kidding,” I said, joining her in front of the fireplace.

      "It's a wax plant.  She was told it was there for years before she was born."

      The plant itself was full and long, numerous appendages draped across the mantel and running down the side of the fireplace to brush the floor.  It reigned on the outermost corner of the mantel, higher than anything else on that surface, its leaves appearing a glossy dark green in the lack of light.  I wondered about its needing sun, then realized the mantel was only a few yards away from the tall east-facing window to the left, which would allow unchecked access to sunlight in the morning hours.

      I looked more closely at the thick stems.  They twirled and twisted, climbing like ivy and draping like linen across the mantel and the down the side of the wrought iron fireplace cage.  Two of its tentacles had spiraled around the black iron, as though casually marking its territory in its unquestioned place in the home.

      "That means this plant witnessed your mother's whole life here—as well as much of your grandparents’,” I said.

      Sylvia had turned to her left and was looking at the large portrait in the middle of the wall with the windows.  Her back was to me as she nodded silently. 

      “My grandmother had an affair,” she said abruptly, staring at the portrait. 

      My eyebrows rose.  “Really?”

      She nodded.  “It was brief.  When my mother was very young.”

   “I had no idea.”

      “Neither did we.  We didn’t find out until we were going through her things after the funeral and found some old letters.”

      I stared at the portrait, the calm, majestic-looking woman with a bit of a smile on her face, holding secrets even her family didn’t know until her death. 

      Sylvia turned back to the fireplace and stepped forward, running her fingers over the thick leaves of the wax plant.  “I hadn’t thought about those letters for a long time.”

      “Heh.  I guess that plant could have seen even more than I was thinking,” I joked.

      Sylvia ran her gaze up and down it, fingertips still grazing the shiny leaves reflecting the starlight from the window.  She did not laugh, but finally answered in a faraway voice, “Yes.  It could have.” 

* * * 

      I entered the bedroom as Sylvia was turning down the sheets, already in her nightgown.   Her countenance was thoughtful, as it had been since our return from her grandparents’ estate. 

      “What’s going to happen to the plant?” I asked her.

      “What?” she straightened and turned to me.

      “The plant.  At your grandparents’ house.  Where’s it going to go?”

      “Oh,” her voice sounded casual, but for some reason I suspected the thought wasn’t new to her.  She paused.  “I don’t know.”

      “It just seems kind of important, it being so old.  Seems like someone should take care of it.”

      Sylvia looked introspective and nodded.

      “I never really knew my grandmother,” she said after a silence. 

      I looked at her, unsure where this new thread was going.

      “I mean, we lived much further away from them when I was growing up, and I was only 19 when she died.”  Sylvia sat on the bed, still not looking at me.

      “Her affair seemed...mysterious.  I wonder if there are more letters that we didn’t find, or how it ended, or why.  I wonder if my grandfather found out.  My mom and sister and I found them—we decided not to mention them to him,” she added.

      I had wondered those things briefly too, but since she hadn’t volunteered any information, I hadn’t wanted to ask.  I watched her.  She still hadn’t looked at me.

      “They were very...explicit.  The letters, I mean.”  I thought I saw Sylvia blush faintly, and a soft, spontaneous smile lifted my lips. 

      She looked at me then and saw it.  “Yeah, I know, you think I’m a prude,” she said with a self-deprecating smile, huffing a little as she looked back down.

      I went to the bed and sat beside her.  “No, I don’t think you’re a ‘prude,’” I said.  I didn’t.  She tended to be somewhat reserved verbally and publicly about sex, but it didn’t stop her from letting loose when it came down to the act.  I smiled.  “I just think it’s interesting that you would seem surprised that your grandmother may have been sexually ‘explicit.’”

      Sylvia blushed more and laughed a little, still looking down.  “Well it’s admittedly not something I ever thought about in relation to her.  I just experienced my grandparents as so...stiff.  You know?”

      I shrugged.  “Maybe that’s why she did it.  Maybe she didn’t fit in with that environment and needed more than she was getting.”

      Sylvia looked up at me, slight surprise in her expression.

      “I’m sorry,” I said immediately.  “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful to your grandfather.”  I paused.  “I almost forgot who we were talking about for a minute.”

      She looked back down, nodding.  “Yeah.  I know what you mean.  That happened to me earlier this evening when you talked about the wax plant.  What it had seen.”  Her voice trailed off.  “It’s weird to think that it was sitting there that whole time, all those years, in that same place.  It’s been alive and sitting on that mantel for more than half a century.”

      I pictured the motionless collection of sturdy leaves, twined together and looped around each other and the surrounding solid objects, growing languidly for six decades in the same square foot of space with the best seat in the room for anything that took place there.

      “In the letters, they talked about being in that room,” Sylvia said.


      She nodded.  “There was one where—” she stopped and blushed, and I felt myself smile again.  Sylvia had talked about sex in a communicative context, if not exactly technical then informative, when we had discussed various matters between us.  I hadn’t usually perceived her as shy.  But it was true that she had rarely talked about sex just for the sake of talking about it, spoken explicitly for anything other than practical purposes.  Done it for the pure pleasure or underlying naughtiness of it.

      Was that what she was doing now?

      “Never mind,” she said with a little giggle.  “Why am I going on about this?”

      I grabbed her hand as she started to stand.  She looked down at it, then at me, with surprise.

      “I’d like to hear about it,” I said quietly, looking in her eyes.  “I’d like to hear what you were going to say.”

      Sylvia stared at me, motionless, then slowly sat back down beside me.

      I turned to face her.  “Tell me what the letter said,” I invited.

      She blushed again and looked down, but I could tell she was going to continue this time. 

      “It was from her to him.  I read it when I was alone one day, going through things in their office.  We’d already found the box of letters, but no one else had taken much interest in them.”

      She took a deep breath.  “It talked about being in that room.  It even mentioned the plant, actually.”  She gave a tiny laugh and glanced up to meet my eyes before dropping them again.  “It said...she was talking about coming back in from a horseback ride they took together.  My grandfather was away for a few days.  She talked about how he...”

      As I listened to her voice and saw amidst her hesitation a hint of arousal, I started to get hard.  This had turned her on.  There was no question.  She wouldn’t be so shy about relating it now if she hadn’t felt turned on by the letter.  I watched her pink cheeks and subtly deeper breathing and felt the urge to climb on top of her.  I exhaled slowly and tempered it, waiting for her to finish telling the story she wanted to tell.

      “It mentioned the sex they had had on a blanket in the field while the horses were resting,” she almost whispered, and at that moment, attempting to picture such a thing, I could understand Sylvia’s surprise.

      “And how when they got back to the house, she went to bathe while he stayed in the living room, and when she came in she was wearing only her slip.  And he had turned to her and been so shocked but so turned on that he had thrown her down on the couch and taken her there.  That’s how she put it—she said ‘threw me down on the couch.’  Obviously she liked it though,” she added quickly.

      “And when they were done she got up, and she stayed naked.  She talked about how it was the first time she’d done that, that she’d never walked around naked in front of someone, even her husband.”  Sylvia fell quiet for a moment.  “I got the impression—that that was important to her somehow.”

      I nodded.  Simply hearing it this way from Sylvia, I had that feeling too.

      Sylvia smiled, then chuckled.  “Then she said she went and got the watering can to water ‘the mantel plant,’” she said with a laugh.  “Naked!  She’s reminiscing about it being one of the things she did naked after they’d had sex on the couch."

      I smiled at her.  She stopped laughing as she met my gaze, her expression falling into a soft smile.  I leaned forward and caught the back of her neck in my hand, my mouth falling on hers.  I slid my tongue into it and heard her catch her breath as I felt her seamless response against my lips.  She was as turned on as I was, I realized, and I pushed her back against the pillows as her breathing deepened and her arms came around me. 

      I was fully hard.  I reached down and pulled at her nightgown, wanting it out of the way as she grabbed my pants and pulled them open with the same urgency.  Wanting inside her so badly it hurt, I sank into her the moment our clothes were yanked away and discarded. 

      Sylvia moaned in a way she usually didn’t until she was close to orgasm.  Her body pushed into mine, making me feel breathless and heated in a way I hadn't in some time. 

      So much so that I began an unexpected monologue in her ear.

      “What else do you think the plant on the mantel saw?” I whispered roughly, exertion and arousal seeming to push the words out of me.  “How many times do you think they fucked in that room?  How many times did he shove his hand up her skirt, did she rip the corset from her body feeling just like you do now, wanting that cock hard inside of her, taking her.  How many times did he bend her over the back of the couch, rubbing her clit from behind?  Did they fuck again that day after she was naked?  Did she sit him down, stand in front of him in all her naked glory as he watched, reclaiming something that had always been hers but somehow been denied for so long?”

      I didn’t even know what I was saying; the words were simply coming out of me as I pumped into Sylvia.  She gasped in my ear, crying out occasionally.  The words seemed to be searing into her too, pooling the wetness I could feel around my cock, and I moaned as I came, my pace increasing to a frenzy as the climax seemed to erupt from my entire body.

      I lay on top of her, breathing heavily, as she continued to move beneath me.  I knew she was close, and I slid out of her and just out of the way enough to snake my hand between our bodies and her legs, brushing my finger over her clit.  Her intake of breath was sharp, and I circled my fingers gently, then harder as I sensed that was what she needed.  In moments she began to shudder, wailing without restraint as her body thrashed beneath my hand.  Her eyes were closed.

      As she worked to catch her breath, she opened them and turned to me.  Speaking suddenly felt alien, and there was nothing but a thick, panting silence between us as our eyes held each other’s, words, which had served such an intense purpose only moments before, now content to lie still for a while, gazing silently upon the results of their work.

      After a while she reached up and ran her hand along my cheek.  With a lazy smile she whispered, ”We’ll go pick up the plant first thing tomorrow.”