The Cobra Plant consists of an elongated vertical tube topped by a puffed hood, from which emerges a red forked tongue, so the plant resembles a rearing cobra, poised to strike. However, what is most remarkable about it is its bizarre behaviour.
While slowly stirring the sauce — his own concoction of mint, coriander and tamarind in rich cream — Nick is observing the girl through the hatch between the kitchen and the living-room. She is sitting on his sofa, shoulders hunched, sipping a glass of red wine. She looks uneasy. Twitchy. When she loops a stray lock of hair behind her ear he notices that her hand is trembling. Does she suspect what is about to happen, perhaps? Impossible.
He has a sudden urge to forego the meal, march straight in there and… She spots him looking at her and smiles nervously. No, must do things right, one step at a time. Control himself. He grins back, a flash of teeth, then picks up a knife and starts hacking at the rib steak. The specially sharpened knife slides through the meat so easily, pausing only when it strikes bone.
A noise behind him. He turns and sees her standing in the doorway, swaying slightly, head tilted up, sniffing the air, irresistibly drawn to the kitchen by the delicious aroma emanating off the sauce. Surprising she can still walk, after all the wine she’s drunk. Vanessa, like the butterfly. And she is beautiful and fragile, just like a butterfly. Oh why wait. Why not just…? No! Stick to the plan. Savour the sweet expectation. First the meal, and then… the deed.
For the Cobra Plant is more an animal masquerading as a plant masquerading as an animal. An animal with an insatiable hunger for live flesh. The trapping of prey is ingenious. Below the puffed hood is a round mouth, and the red forked tongue which emerges from it is laden with nectar, a promise of future delights. The insect is irresistibly drawn to the sweet-smelling nectar and enters the mouth. So begins its ordeal, for escape is impossible due to the puckered lips. The victim is trapped, and doomed to a hideous end.
“Smells lovely,” she says in a slurred voice.
The purpose of the wine was to relax her. Lubricate the proceedings, so to speak. But too much, she’ll pass out, and that would defeat the whole object. She really is swaying dangerously. She’d better sit down before she falls down.
He takes her hand and leads her into the living-room, away from the wine on the coffee-table, to the dinner table: Red tablecloth laden with white candles and roses, silver cutlery glinting in the candlelight. Not that Vanessa seems to appreciate any of it. In fact, she looks decidedly wary, and instead of sitting down heads for the coffee table, but he stands in the way and she is forced back. He can’t help smiling to himself as he manoeuvres her down on a chair.
Once tricked inside, the insect panics and tries to fly away, slamming against the walls until it falls back, stunned. Past the mouth of the plant are the teeth, fine and needle-sharp, pointing downwards, so to go back at this point means to be pierced painfully by them. The confused, wounded victim has no choice but to proceed down the waxy-smooth throat to the water-filled stomach, where it drowns.
She looks up at him, and Nick is struck again by her beauty. Suddenly he is devouring her lips, sucking in her musky scent, his tongue flicking avidly inside her mouth. It’s no good. He can’t wait any more. Do it now.
He kneels before her and says, “Will you marry me, Vanessa?”
At last, the Cobra Plant can feast on its prey. It sucks out the soft vulnerable parts until all that is left is the hard outer shell, an empty husk, which joins all the others in its graveyard of corpses.
She is the love of his life, the blood in his veins, his consuming passion. His delicate little butterfly, to be cherished and protected.
Abruptly, she gets up and stands over him, swaying like a rearing cobra poised to strike.
“I came here to tell you I’ve been offered a job in London,” she says.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity, it means my career…”
He stands up and faces her, incredulous.
“But what about us? I love you, I want to marry you.”
She considers him.
“You’re so sweet, Nick, all the things you’ve done for me, I don’t know how I’d have coped if it hadn’t been for you. I appreciate it, I really do, but the truth is I’ve never found you physically attractive. I mean, you’re not exactly very… manly.” She laughs. “You’re certainly not the sort of person I always imagined ending up with. I shouldn’t have let it go on for so long. I’m sorry.”
And she’s gone, leaving him slumped on a chair, oblivious of the smell of burning emanating from the kitchen, drowning in tears.
After a while, once the Cobra Plant has finished digesting, it is ready to deceive, and devour, its next victim.
Krystyna Smallman has stories published in various magazines and e-zines, and won first prize in the JBWB Winter 2007 Competition and also the City of Derby 2008 Short Story Competition.