by Bill Liebermann

It was the morning of my thirtieth birthday when I received the call that my father had passed away. The news was delivered to me by a policeman whom I did not know, and was concluded with a less than genuine “I am sorry for your loss, Lucinda,” his use of my full name further demonstrating our unfamiliarity. I did not bother to correct him by saying “Just Lucy is fine,” in fact, I do not believe I said another word to him. I gently placed the phone back on the receiver and sunk into my chair, grief slowly beginning to tickle the back of my eyelids. It was no surprise that I received this call from a stranger rather than my own mother, as her and I had not spoken in many years. My relationship with my father had remained intact, but the distaste I had for my mother had kept me from visiting either of them in quite a long while. This news brought on a combination of guilt and grief that sent me to the liquor cabinet, and the rest of my day was spent in drunken silence.

My father was old, 74 to be exact, but his life had not been taken from him naturally. He simply stumbled one day while busying himself in the garage and hit his head. My mother, who has been confined to her once-bedroom-now-hospice for the past two years, had not left her bed when she made the call to the doctor to alert them of her husband’s passing.

“I knew he was gone because the monstera had died,” she said to me as I changed her bed sheets, still dressed in my funereal attire from earlier that morning “I watched it wilt before my very eyes, then I immediately reached for the phone and dialed Doctor Thompson.”

It was true, there was a dead monstera plant in the room. Its yellow-brown leaves were curled and cracked, and its rotting stalks were stiffened and broken. “That is quite the coincidence, Mom” I said with a tone of speculation.

“Coincidence has nothing to do with it, Lucy,” my mother snapped at me, “I don’t know for what reason, but my soul and your father’s soul are intertwined with those plants. They were given to us on our—”

“On your wedding day, I know. And we never found out from who,” I interrupted, “but that doesn’t mean there’s some witchcraft attached to it. Your ‘souls’ are not intertwined with some silly plants.”

“You use words like ‘witchcraft’ to belittle something far greater than superstition,” my mother said fiercely, her eyes narrowing further with every syllable. “There sits Henry’s plant, dead and rotting, just like him. I watched in horror as the plant shriveled and died in the blink of an eye. One minute healthy and the next minute dead. I knew in that moment that he had passed. And when my plant dies, I will be gone too.”

“I imagine you couldn’t possibly have heard him fall with the garage being on the other side of this wall,” I said sarcastically as I gathered all the remaining laundry in the room.

My mother was clearly offended, but it didn’t concern me. In fact, her anger brought me a bit of joy. I could honestly say my feelings for her were a few clicks shy of hatred and far from any sort of love. However, my duty to my mother in this time was not up for question. Though I loathed her, I felt responsible to do my best to care for her in these few remaining years of her life. She was my mother after all and had done the same for me when I first came into this world. And with my father gone and no other family to fill the role, the duty had come to me.

I must confess though, the timing of all of this was grimly opportunistic for me. To speak plainly, I was a failing writer who had just been fired from my bartending job three days before my father’s death. I was fired for drinking on the job, which may sound ironic in a bar setting, but I will be the first to say I certainly tested the limits of appropriate intoxication at work. And in the end, I paid for it, which only sent me deeper into an alcoholic spiral. That spiral had kept me distracted from concerning myself with finances and certainty of eviction for the seventy-two hours prior to the call from the unknown policeman.

Moving in with my sick mother would have its downsides, but it could also prove to be an opportunity to work on my writing again, and perhaps even find sobriety. I wouldn’t have to work late hours at the bar, and I could spend my days caring for my mother and my nights exploring the keyboard. The family estate was not much, but it was enough, and as long as I played the role of a nurse, I felt no guilt in sustaining myself temporarily on my parent’s wealth until I was able to get back on my feet. Also, my mother’s health was extremely fragile and required constant attention, so leaving the house for work was entirely out of the question.

Of course, my mother virtually had no say in the matter. If I left her, she would be forced to move into an assisted living home, which she simply would not allow. So, a few days later I was unpacking boxes in my childhood room, which appeared to have been completely undisturbed in over a decade. I set up my computer at my old desk and arranged what few belongings I had (chair, lamp, record player) in an agreeable formation in the room. That night, after taking care of my mother’s bedtime duties, I skipped the gin and tonic and instead made some coffee and tried scrawling out a few lines in my journal. I went to bed feeling more hopeful than I had in months, but also plagued with feelings of guilt, considering all this was the result of my father’s death. Nevertheless, I tried to take it as a silver lining as best I could.

This illusion of hope and rehabilitation was quickly shattered in the following weeks, as the hours spent with my mother were nothing short of agonizing. Her unappreciation for my assistance and exhausting care for her was constantly apparent in the detestable way she would speak to me. Even more enraging, she accused me of neglecting her monstera plant, which now sat near the window alone. And the truth was, I did neglect the plant, simply out of spite. I refused to buy into my mother’s hocus pocus theories about her mortality, especially while I slaved away with the smell of her bedpan and sweaty nightgown haunting me at all times, tending to her every need and trying to keep her as comfortable as I possibly could. But my efforts seemed to be in vain, as not even a whisper of a “thank you” was ever uttered from her. And all she cared about was that damn plant, as though my efforts meant nothing and the plant was sole reason for her continued existence.

I grew to despise the monstera, to the point where the very sight of it in the morning was enough to ruin my entire day. Not that it took much, as my days were filled with nothing but gin and nursing duties. If I were lucky, I would scrawl out a drunken line or two in my journal or on my keyboard, but it was usually just a poetic phrase of detestation for my current life. Nothing more than a personal vent, and hardly any foundation for an actual piece of work.

Illustration by Jerry Kahale

“I know you’ve been drinking” my mother mumbled one morning, her tone coated in disapproval.

“It’s eight o’clock in the morning Mom, I have not been drinking,” I snapped back as I studied the text on one of her medicine bottles.

“I can smell it on you,” she sneered. Her words were like that of a curse, with a slow, stabbing emphasis of each syllable. She would not look at me, but I could feel the glare of disgust on her face. I didn’t say anything as I slammed the medicine bottle on the nightstand and began to storm out of the room.

“You forgot to water my plant,” my mother called after me, “and the other day you were stumbling and nearly knocked it over, are you trying to kill me?”

I froze in the doorway, steaming with anger. I put my hands on my face and screamed into them as loud as I could. I then turned and looked at my mother, who was quite startled by my bellow of frustration.

“That goddamn plant has nothing to do with you Mom!” I shouted at her as I pointed at the abominable thing, “I’m the one taking care of you and trying my best to keep you happy and alive and you just berate me with criticisms and hateful remarks, all the while praising this fucking plant as though it actually had something to do with your health!”

“It has everything to do with my health!” she shrieked back at me, following with about half a minute of hacking and wheezing, “You think you’re some charitable soul trying to bring comfort and love to your dying mother, when I know why you’re really here.”

I glared hatefully at her, “And why is that mom? Why the hell else would I be here?”

“Spare me the charade Lucy, you’re not a nurse but rather a free loader. Drunk and out of work I presume with nowhere to go, so why not take advantage of your poor dying mother? I see right through you, Lucy.”

This accusation enraged me and a whirlwind of shouting commenced between the two of us, as she repeatedly insisted in the plant’s relevance to her health and I aggressively denied her accusations. After what felt like nearly a half hour of exhausting arguing, my mother slowly began to sit herself up in bed and carefully swung her legs over the side, acting as though she meant to get up and walk out of the room. I protested, saying she would surely injure herself, or perhaps die, if she attempted to do so.

“As long as that plant lives, I will not die. Now leave me be, I cannot take the sight of you any longer!” And with her crooked cane that had sat next to the bed untouched for nearly two years, she pitifully made her way through the door and down the hall.

I turned my face toward the monstera now, with the sunlight blanketing its green perforated leaves. Even without a face, it seemed to stare back at me, mocking me. I cursed it, as though it was responsible for my relationship with my mother, for the death of my father, for my alcoholism, for everything. Though this plant had been in my family for years, I had completely forgotten about it until the day of my father’s funeral. Yet now it felt as if the plant had been haunting me all my life, like a bad omen cursing me with misfortune and all the while fueling my mother with life.

Emotion trampled my reason and in a fit of rage I smashed the planter on the ground and tore the monstera to pieces. Amidst my ravaging of the plant, my mother came creeping back into the room with a look of panic on her face.

“What have you done,” her trembling voice said rhetorically, “You’ve killed me!” As she shouted these words, she threw down her cane and lunged at me, gripping my throat with her feeble hands. I fell backward in an instinctive effort not to fight back, but her weak grip slowly tightened, and I could feel my airways beginning to close.

“Mom, stop!” I gasped with what little air was now squeezing out my throat. But she did not yield, and I was forced to shove her off with all my strength. She fell helplessly backward and wailed as she hit the floor. I crawled over to her to help her up, and as I did, she reached for my throat once more.

“You’ve killed me!” she repeated amongst her incessant cries of pain. I fought her hands off again, but through her continuous struggle she managed to grab a lock of my hair and pull me to the ground. I cried for her to let go but she only tugged harder with what strength she had left, and soon we were grappling once again. Though this time, I found my hands around her neck, my grip tightening as she tried to scratch and claw at my face.

Before long, my grip was so tight around her throat that I felt as though I could pull her head right off. It was at this moment that I realized her struggling had ceased, and she lay lifeless beneath me. Her eyes were wide open, still staring at me with that look of animosity, but there was no longer any life behind them. Just two gaping voids of abhorrence, piercing into my soul. Like waking from a nightmare, I staggered backward off the corpse of my mother. It was then that a wave of dread came over me and I looked over at the demolished monstera, its soil spilt like blood across the floor and its leaves dismembered like limbs in a pile of gore.

I looked back at my mother as the tears began to spill down my face, “You were right all along, Mom,” I sobbed, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen.” Her lifeless eyes stared back at me and her mouth hung open slightly, as if she were about to respond but was suddenly frozen in time.

“You said when the plant died, you would die. It was the plant who killed you, not me!” I crawled over to her corpse and buried my face in her chest, “It wasn’t my fault, it was the plant! It was the plant!”

I repeated this mantra for hours as I clutched my mother tighter and tighter. The exhaustion from the violent struggle eventually came over me, and I fell into a deep, comatic sleep. I don’t know how many days I lay with her body, but I was awakened one morning by the familiar voice of a policeman on his radio, requesting the immediate assistance of a coroner.


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"The Golden Hook" - The Dark Corner Issue #3 (2019)

Bill Liebermann has two previously published works under the pseudonym Lord Bill. Along with writing, he is a musician and runs the label Moonworshipper Records. He has written and produced soundtracks to accompany weird fiction audiobooks, including stories by Clark Ashton Smith, M.R. James and Robert W. Chambers. He currently resides in Northwest Omaha with his girlfriend Samantha and their two cats, Fish and Chip.