Even though it was the only one in that matchbox-sized one-room apartment, it was the first thing that caught Macy’s eye. The lot-line window in the nook of a kitchen, with a sill narrower than her handbag's bottom. It hadn’t been boarded up yet. She peeked through it, and saw the rooftop of an old store, several feet below.
She had already started to sketch her own mental blueprint for the space. A couple of indoor planting pots and a nice window box would turn it into a cosy window lounge.
The landlady, Mrs. Birch, walked her through the rest of the apartment. There was a chipped Murphy bed folded up against one of the walls. It hid a mirror with a rack behind it – a measly excuse for a wannabe vanity corner. The bathroom had the shower area partitioned with a curtain, and rest of it accommodated the sink and the toilet.
Mrs. Birch saved her fondest words for the kitchenette, which she had figured, had caught Macy’s fancy.
“…as you can see, we have smoke soffits installed. I doubt you will get a better property in this area at just 1200 a month,” she said with a flimsy smile on her gaunt face.
“I will take it.” Macy said, “...for 800 a month.”
Without the smile, Mrs. Birch’s cheeks looked like someone had sucked the air out of them.
“That’s too less,” her voice taut like a sour candy.
Macy smiled. Over the past five years of her stay in the city she had seen dozens of apartments, and had lived in five different homes.” She had burnt her fingers more than once to know that one shouldn’t take an apartment without doing proper homework.
“That window,” she pointed towards her future relaxation spot, “I can see you haven’t installed fire-rated glass panes. No sprinklers either. Isn’t there a law about lot-line windows–”
“800’s fine.” Mrs. Birch snapped. “Are your documents ready?”
It took Macy a few weeks to add her personal imprints to the apartment. Being a design intern, Macy hadn’t still landed her dream job. But she had fresh ideas about making a sparse space liveable. She had saved up some money from her side-hustles, a portion of which bought her a second-hand futon. She used it as her work, entertainment, and dining area. With the rest she got a custom-made window box, a petite window-seat which worked well for her tiny frame. She planted sage, rosemary, and her favourite, mint, in the box...whose smell always refreshed her after a gruesome day at work.
The apartment, though it had seen better days, brought her luck. She had received a permanent post at her workplace six months after she had moved into it. To celebrate, she decided to reward herself a plant. It caught her eye while touring a neighbourhood nursery.
It was kept aloof from the prettier crowd of geraniums, sunflowers, and petunias. It had a single flower with strange rounded petals, all of which converged in the centre making it look like a tiny brain. The leaves were a pale shade of green and prickly. It almost seemed like the little flower had been left out alone in a corner for being the ugly duckling. But it called out to Macy in its own silent language. She lifted the small pot it was planted in to get a better look.
“You want to be careful with that one.”
The voice startled her and she swerved. An old lady peered at her through her thick glasses.
“Sorry, do I know you?” Macy asked while she still clung on to the plant.
“Desidera,” the lady replied. “That’s what it’s called.”
“Umm...okay. I know a bit about indoor plants. But I have never heard about or seen this one before.”
The lady took it from Macy’s hand, “It comes with a price.”
Macy looked around the nursery. She had been there before and earlier a young girl with braided hair sat at the counter. She was about Macy’s age, amiable and chatty. She had never seen this woman before. Like Desidera, she too seemed like a misfit to the place.
“I’m sorry but where is the other girl who used to–”
“Paula caught the flu,” with that succinct reply, the old lady started to walk away.
“Just a second. Can I please have a look at that plant again?”
The lady stopped and stared at Macy; her piercing gaze pregnant with questions. “You are not thinking of buying it, are you?”
Macy stifled the exasperated sigh that surged up her mouth. She had been to a fortune-teller’s hut during a carnival back when she was a kid. The woman there with her molten makeup and theatrical pitch sounded like a wannabe Sybill Trelawny. Macy had left halfway through her doomsday forecast.
Other than her modulated pitch and her thick glasses, this lady was just as creepy. But the city was full of strange people, and Macy couldn’t care less.
“You are right. Name your price, I want the plant.”
The lady shook her head as she gazed at Macy’s heart-shaped face. “Fine. But we have a ‘no return’ policy.”
“How much?” Macy pursed her lips impatiently.
“It’s yours,” The lady beamed as she gave it to Macy. “An early gift for your upcoming special day.”
“No, but...I can’t just take it like this.”
“Please, I insist.”
“Well...okay then,” Macy took the plant and walked out of the nursery.
“Don’t ever feed your thoughts to it,” the lady cried out behind her.
Macy had seen her share of loonies, but this lady topped all of them put together. And what special day was she babbling about!
It struck her only when she entered her apartment. Her birthday was two months away.
Macy sipped her coffee as she gazed at the new addition to her little kitchen garden. Desidera stood out as the outsider there as well, making her herbs look fragile and alarmed. She was unique with her rich ochre petals, and her spiky leaves looked like armed sentinels ready to impale anyone who attacked her. Even though all she said sounded ridiculous, the old lady’s words had haunted her since the day she’d brought Desidera home.
“It comes with a price.”
“Don’t ever feed your thoughts to it."
Macy sighed and tried to open her window as she took the last sip from her black coffee mug, when something jolted it out of her grip. Macy gasped as she saw it crash on a concrete slab in the narrow alley below. She had purchased it for a few dollars at a flea market. There was a rainbow design on it with iridescent borders. She had loved the cup ever since she had laid her eyes on it. She felt her arm and winced when she found the sore spot where she had felt the blow. It was a tiny puncture wound, but it stung like hell. She took one last look at the shattered pieces of her favourite mug which looked like bread crumbs from her window. Dismayed, she was about to shut the window when her gaze fell on one of Desidera’s leaf. A tiny red drop sat on its spine like an embellishment. It took her a few seconds to realise that she was staring at blood. Her blood.
The next few days flew like hot gossip on the street. Her new position at work kept her busy. She had to work extra hours, but Macy wasn’t bothered. This is what she had always wanted – a blooming career as a designer.
Before she knew, she was doing all-nighters.
There was no time for relationships, but her co-worker, Carl, seemed interested in her. She didn’t mind. Carl was a cute guy, and unlike other men who guffawed at boys' locker-room jokes, he treated everyone with respect. Especially women. He had asked her out twice, and the second time, she said yes.
It was on the night of their date when she first noticed it. On the platform, right next to her window lounge, sat something black with sparkly letters on it. Upon moving closer, she realised that she was staring at a black mug – her mug. It looks glossier than before, as if it had just been manufactured. But instead of her rainbow, it had a message and a smiley – ‘Back to you ;)'. Macy held her breath for a second as she surveyed it. As her fingers caressed its smooth surface, in her gut, she could feel this was her mug, the one that had fallen out of the window. She wasn’t dreaming or sleepwalking, she was sure of it. Had someone broken into her apartment when she wasn’t around? Was her landlady spying on her? But why leave a new mug behind? She made a mental note to speak about it to Mrs. Birch.
“I don’t stalk my tenants,” Mrs. Birch announced in her matronly voice when Macy expressed her concern.
“But someone was inside the apartment. This person left a new mug on the kitchen platform which shares an uncanny resemblance to my original one.”
“Has something been stolen?”
“Has your cash or any other item gone missing?”
“No, but Mrs. Birc–”
“Then your pet must have dragged in something.”
“I don’t own any pets. Mrs. Birch, you are missing the point here. If someone other than you or me can enter my apartment, it’s not secure.”
A brief pause followed before the woman spoke again. “Fine, I will have the locks changed.”
Mrs. Birch was true to her word, even though she maintained a sullen face as the locksmith replaced the lock.
“Here, and this is the last time I am doing this,” she handed a new set of keys to Macy.
“Do be careful about the kind of friends you bring in though.”
“Thanks,” Macy glared at her.
For a few weeks, Macy remained on her guard, keeping an ear out for strange sounds. But nothing happened.
It was on the eve of Macy’s birthday when she was picked as an assistant designer for a big project. Carl had taken her out for lunch to celebrate. He had asked if he could stay the night with a sheepish smile. But Macy turned down the offer. She had work on her hands.
She sat by her favourite spot, near the window adding final touches to her drawings when her eyes fell on Desidera. She had grown and now had bright red dots on her ochre layers. The leaves, however, looked just as vicious with their bristly surface. It seemed that she liked being there in Macy’s tiny kitchen garden. Seeing her thrive reminded her.
“It comes with a price.”
Macy smiled as she wondered if the old lady had meant ‘prize’ and not the cost of the plant.
She put her thoughts back to her design-sheets, when a draft of wind blew some of them. She grappled for the papers but a few had flown out of the window.
“Shit!” Macy made a fruitless attempt to get hold of them. In the process, the spiky leaves of her favourite plant tore through her camisole, leaving a scratch on her chest. Macy huffed and arranged the designs she had managed to salvage. She facepalmed when she realised that the wind had taken with it the best four of the lot.
“Damn!” she slammed the window frame.
After a sleepless night, she decided to turn up early for work. She walked towards the kitchen rehearsing the excuse to substantiate the loss of the designs. She picked up her file when she saw them – four pristine sheets of paper with the same designs that had vanished last night. Not just that, these had been improvised. They now looked way chicer and sophisticated than what she had originally conceived. A strange sensation trickled down the nape of her neck. No one was here in her apartment at night, she was sure of it. As the scratch on her chest stung, she gaped at Desidera. The mug, and now the designs. This was too rare a coincidence.
“It was you....” she uttered in a subdued voice.
As if on cue, Desidera swayed gently.
Macy was wary, not because of what Desidera was capable of doing; but because instead of throwing the plant out she wanted to challenge its prowess.
She started small. A pen, a spoon, followed by trinkets. All of those came back new and improved. She got silver cutlery, expensive pens with golden nibs and diamond jewellery.
A small thrill grew at the pit of her stomach and with time, it morphed into an insatiable hunger. Desidera had transformed her window into a wish-granting portal. Throw anything out of it and it came back, new and improved. The only thing that bothered her were the cuts and gashes she received every time she used it. Her face was thankfully untouched. Clothing covered her arms and the rest of her body.
Carl and she were officially a couple now. The entire office knew about them. They celebrated each other’s birthdays, and went on long drives during weekends.
Macy could tell that he was happy with her. But she could also feel a certain unease, a hiccup of sorts, that stopped them from taking their relationship to the next level. They hadn’t slept together yet.
Macy wanted to keep it that way because undressing before him would make him question about the marks on her body. Carl had dropped a lot of hints, flirted with her, and even tried to upgrade their making-out session.
“Umm... Macy, is there an issue somewhere? I mean, don’t you trust me?” He asked her while she prepared dinner for them one night.
Even though she knew what this was about, she decided to steer off topic.
“Now... let’s see, would I make my grandma’s special lasagne recipe for someone I don’t trust? I don’t think so. Now eat before it gets cold.”
But Carl had made up his mind. “Don’t you love me?”
“Of course, I do. What’s gotten into you?”
“Why wouldn’t you let me touch you then?”
“Really? After all those make-out sessions.”
“I want more.” He slammed his spoon on the table.
Macy bit her lips. Carl was the nicest guy she had met so far, and she didn’t want to lose him. But going all the way would mean revealing a lot to him. Besides, Carl had started to notice her expensive dresses, furniture and even crockery. Soon he would start asking questions about those.
“Carl...look,” she struggled to come up with words. But before she could finish, Carl suddenly grabbed her by the waist.
“What are you doing?”
“Macy, I want you. I’ve wanted you since the first day I saw you.”
“Macy, it’s a natural thing,” He tried to force his lips on hers, while his hands went for her breasts.
“No!” she kicked him in the groin. He blenched as he clutched his man parts, muttering curses. Macy tried to reach out for the main door before he could regain balance. She had just grabbed the door knob when he pulled her hair and dragged her back. He failed to gauge his momentum, because when he let her go, she crashed onto the window pane and went down along with her plants.
Carl stood there panting and stupefied for a moment. He rushed to the broken window and looked down. There Macy lay with her eyes wide open, the soil from the pots spread around her like a muggy halo. Her hands and feet twisted at weird angles.
Carl rushed towards the elevator but it wasn’t working. So, he took the stairs. He had hurtled down the third floor when he bumped into a scrawny woman with a long mule-like face.
“Look out!” she shrieked.
“Wait, I know you,” Mrs. Birch frowned. “You are that boy who was in my apartment that day.”
Her words felt like a sucker punch to his memories. He knew this woman; he had seen her once in Macy’s apartment.
“Don’t you remember me? I am Mrs. Birch, Macy is my tenant.” Her gaze narrowed on his ashen face. “What happened? Is Macy alright?”
“Um...yeah. We, we had a fight and she stormed out of the house. I was just going out after her.”
The woman rolled her eyes, “Where are the keys to the apartment?”
“Keys?” Carl threw her a confused glance. His mind wandered to the back alley where Macy’s dead body lay covered in blood. What if someone had seen her fall? What if someone had seen him push her towards her death.
“Great! So, you don’t have the keys, and now I have to get another pair made?”
“Please come with me,” Mrs. Birch ordered. “This is a case of extreme negligence. You girlfriend might need a place to crash once I terminate her contract.”
“Is something wrong?”
Carl saw the look on her face and decided to not argue further. Worst-case scenario – he would have to get rid of two bodies instead of one.
Mrs. Birch jumped steps and he lagged behind her, his heart thumping against his rib cage like an iron hammer.
Mrs. Birch went in through the main door as he watched.
“Do you mind coming in?” she shouted.
Carl padded into the room; his gaze locked upon the floor.
“Darling, what happened?”
His neck bone cricked as he looked up suddenly. She was standing right there – Macy.
“Macy! I, you–” It was then that he noticed the window behind her intact with all of Macy’s plants. His eyes darted towards his girlfriend, whose had suddenly gone brunette to blonde within minutes.
“Mrs. Birch here is under the impression that we’ve fought. But we never fight, do we?” As she grinned, her sharp incisors gleamed like new blades.