Sabine kept hearing about the extraordinary gardens a man called Lazarro cultivated, and being a gardener herself, she longed to see them.
“In general Lazarro only allows close friends to visit, and only a few at one time,” her friend Michel had warned her. “And he can’t stand unexpected company.”
Michel and his wife Yasmine were intimates of Lazarro and promised to work on getting his permission. “And while you are at it, why don’t you also ask if my brother can come along,” Sabine added - her brother Gigi was a good friend of the couple. It was not easy, but eventually Lazarro consented and the four of them went together in one car.
“Lazarro wants his guests to park at the southern end of his property and walk the rest of the way. He says that cars desecrate his living quarters, so he doesn’t want anyone to drive all the way to the house. I think it’s really because it makes a bigger impression on people to enter that way,” Michel explained as they came to the place.
When they got out of the car Sabine had a sense of anticipation mixed with an inexplicable uneasiness. They proceeded on a small trail cut through a northern Californian transitional pygmy forest. The sparse vegetation appeared afflicted with a terminal case of parasitic lichen: shrubs struggled, many were diseased, dwarfed pines and firs languished. Even the foliage of tan oak and manzanita trees was mangy and spotted. The ground, thickly carpeted with needles didn’t let any grass push through. Nothing thrived.
A wiry, shorthaired woman in sports clothes met them on the trail. She hugged Michel and Yasmine, “I am on my way out but Lazarro is home.” She turned to Gigi and Sabine and vigorously shook their hands introducing herself as Jynx.
“Who is she?” Sabine asked after the woman was gone.
“Lazarro’s wife,” answered Yasmine. “You hardly ever catch her at home. She is busy with her career and her women friends.”
“Lazarro and her live very separate lives,” Michel continued. “He is a self-proclaimed admirer of big breasts, tiny waists and ample hips. She is rather flat-breasted and small-hipped herself as you could see, but she encourages his phantasms about the other kind of women.”
“You mean that it’s an open marriage?”
“Yes. He loves his wife’s mind but he is totally sold on the luscious type. He told me that it’s a disease he caught when he visited the temples of Khajuraho in Northern India. The statues of temple prostitutes decking the outside of the shrines and the interesting sexual positions gave him some new ideas, is what he told me.”
They left the transitional pygmy forest to enter a well-kept area, a garden displaying plants larger than life. Towers of jewels, elephant plants and large ginger set in beds of soft grasses shot towards the sky, large rhododendrons, azaleas and leucadendrons of every color and shape were in full bloom at this season. Flowering bushes and perennials combined to create unexpected landscapes. Jasmine and clematis creepers shaded love seats with a calculated restraint, while passion vines overwhelmed arbors. Those were all species that naturally thrived in this coastal climate, often foggy and cool in the summer, but it was obvious from the profusion and lushness of blossoms and greenery, that they were highly encouraged and nourished.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Sabine at a loss for words. Lazarro’s appearance cut short any further attempt at eloquence. He came around a bend holding a large cocktail glass, his pet wolf by his side. A tall man in his late thirties, he wore a black tank top showing his rather muscular build - obviously cultivated like his seemingly casual garden. His dark hair was closely cropped to even out the receding hairline and the early stages of balding. Tight black Spandex leggings bulged flatteringly at the right place. He obviously had worked on his tan.
He hugged Michel and Yasmine, introduced himself to Sabine and Gigi and led the group to a grove on the eastern corner. A gurgling sound attracted their attention to a cherub holding his tiny penis over a pool, peeing a steady stream. Enormous Kois indolently perused among water lilies and hyacinths. Tall marsh grasses swayed on the bank. The crystal clear water cascaded down into a second pool, much bigger and deeper than the first. Lazarro indicated a bench at the edge of the pool. “Please sit down and excuse me for a minute.” He disappeared into a large half-timbered house and soon came back out with five crystal glasses and three bottles of the best vintages already uncorked on a large tray. “You can choose your wine,” he said, “or,” pointing to a low table on the edge of the pool, “you can have any hard liquor that’s there.”
They chose wine, he poured and they all toasted. Then he pulled a marijuana cigarette out of a silver box carved with Navaho motifs, lit it and passed it around. It was premium stuff.
Glass in hand Lazarro led them into the inner sanctum. The most tenacious perfumes welcomed them as they stepped into the hot house, which covered about half an acre of land. The scented humidity enveloped them in a benevolent cocoon and they took off a few layers of clothing, down to their T-shirts.
“A tropical jungle in a Northern climate . . .” Sabine reflected aloud, “it obviously needs the most perfect conditions and care. It’s like a privileged class of the plant kingdom.”
“You are right,” answered Lazarro proudly, “it’s the fruit of a great deal of effort. Much of my available resources are used up on a few selected plants. Others survive on much less. I am not against Nietzsche’s concept of the master race, the fit living off the unfit, the superman to whom all is permitted.”
“That theory is totally obsolete,” protested Sabine irritated by his pomposity. “In fact now we have proof that the vegetal and animal worlds operate as a supportive community, helping each other survive for the benefit of all. It’s like a gigantic organism and we are part of it. The exclusivity you talk about is responsible for the hell such separation has made on earth.”
“I don’t put much faith in theories. Everyone has a theory. But I am the supporter of this plant community and I would steal energy from wherever in order to keep it alive. Exclusivity is okay. This,” he made a sweeping gesture, “ is my creation and I don’t mind devoting my life to it for it gives me pleasure - beside a very good living, sufficient to support us all,” he added casually. Sabine asked what he meant. “I am not ashamed of the illegal cultivation that allows me to have no debts and be the full owner of my house and land,” he answered, "I am not trying to hide anything.”
“So you grow pot for a living?”
“Yes, and do you know what I call the marijuana plants I have there?” he pointed to a patch in a clearing outside, “Josephines. Josephine one, two, three, etc. Do you know why? Once a senator who saw Josephine Baker singing and dancing when she was queen of Paris called her the Black Venus, a danger to civilization. Civilization, as most people think of it, disappears when so much sensuality is present.”
Parisian herself, Sabine had heard of that anecdote, but she was surprised by his knowledge of it. “One of the numerous children Josephine Baker adopted is a good friend of mine, he owns a restaurant called Josephine in New York,” Lazarro continued as though reading her mind.
Then with a broad gesture encompassing the whole property, “I am the master architect of this landscape,” he went on. Not master but slave, Sabine reflected. When Lazarro created fountains and waterfalls, it was in response to plants’ despotism. For some species he had to cool the atmosphere with an imperceptible spray. If delicate shrubs failed to thrive he installed some form of dripping or effervescence to combat the disruptive frequencies. He constructed pools for exotic flowers so they could admire themselves. When shady plants longed for a damp corner, he grew climbing vines into a canopy. He landscaped large areas with multi-colored ground covers and flowerbeds, not so much to please the eyes as to satisfy the appetites of the wondrous butterflies he had set loose. He thought he was in control when he really was being controlled.
“I can’t totally control the patterns of texture and colors,” Lazarro commented as if reading her mind again, “You have to leave room for plants to collaborate and the results might end up being peculiar like those patterns over there. Sometimes I wonder if it is not some esoteric language the plants use.”
As he talked he directed them to a magnificently mosaiqued swimming pool flowing through a grotto crawling with exotic vines. Above the pool a spiraling path led to a large hot tub decorated in art nouveau motifs.
“This is a great place to build your muscles,” he went on, “you can swim against the current, and then dip into the hot tub where strong jets will relieve aches and pains. I always use it after a day of work. But of course, lazier people can go with the current through the grotto and around. If you want to try it I’ll show you where to change, but first come with me to the pond I finished to house the small alligators I just acquired. Of course I had to add some exotic water plants and a waterfall for the overall atmosphere.” Captivating, Sabine joked to herself, here is a captive believing himself to be in charge.
“Don’t think that this little paradise works me to death. I do take time to lay back and contemplate life from my sanctuary,” he continued, reading her mind for the third time. “But you know what? I never, but never, get involved in other people’s drama. That saves me lots of time and energy. And that time I devote to plants.”
Nodding her total assent Yasmine drunk every one of Lazarro’s words and Sabine was getting more and more annoyed at her gullibility. To discourage his boasting she stopped responding, but this seemed to goad him on. She noticed that Michel and her brother had fallen behind. Michel was leading Gigi to another corner of the green house, probably to show him some botanical eccentricities. Both men were fervent gardeners and collectors of exotic species.
“I am a dispassionate appreciator of life. I have no judgment about anybody else’s ways, but I want to be left alone to live as I want,” Lazarro kept on.
“Somewhat of a spoiled outlaw,” Sabine stated blankly. Yasmine looked at her in scorn, but Lazarro kept his cool.
“I suppose I am spoiled. I was an only child and my parents doted on me. Although he was not rich, my father encouraged my boy’s fantasies of adventure, my taste for horses and exotic pets. I never had to compete with anybody for attention. After graduation, like so many of my schoolmates, I fell into growing. If you live in this area you are probably aware that marijuana growing has become the number one crop. It’s an economic stabilizer and I am part of this economy. It affords me a luxurious way of life and a great amount of freedom. People can do what they want, I don’t judge, I enjoy what is and who I am.
“The status of outlaw doesn’t bother me in the least. I am one of the biggest pot grower in the area, and what you see is only a very small sample of my plantations indoors and outdoors,” he bragged on. I certainly can’t see myself working at some underpaid job. And that’s mostly what’s offered around here. I was never one to go for academic pursuits, I didn’t want to do all that work to get degrees. To me degrees meant trying to fit into a society I didn’t have any use for. I do my studying for myself and on my own.”
“So what do you study if I may ask?” Sabine questioned.
“Mostly plants and insects, but also philosophy . . . and how to ensnare the woman of my dreams,” he joked. And pointing to a Venus flytrap, “just like this one does.”
Yasmine giggled which annoyed Sabine. The effect of the marijuana they had smoked earlier was coming on strong. Her friend was totally stoned. Something inauthentic about Lazarro’s laid-back attitude, his philosophy of live and let live, bothered her. He was trying so hard to prove that he had nothing to prove. That, to Sabine, was proof that indeed he had much to prove. As they walked under a canopy of tree ferns and elephant ears Sabine imagined Lazarro’s dream woman lying naked like in a Rousseau painting.
“How come your Eve hasn’t appeared in your garden of Eden yet?” she teased.
“She will, soon enough,” he answered, “maybe she is already here.” He nodded in the direction of Yasmine who had spotted a hammock and was getting in. The peach-colored daturas shading the hammock opened wide to reveal the delicate blushing inside each trumpet. Earlier, Sabine had noticed Lazarro checking out Yasmine’s generous breasts under the tight T-shirt straining to contain them, but discarded the idea that he might be interested - Yasmine was his best friend’s wife after all.
Sabine walked over and settled into a large hammock next to Yasmine’s as if to protect her. The rocking motion, along with the strong effect of the sinsemilla, relaxed every muscle of her body. She was opening wide like a blossom on a warm afternoon and she fell into a reverie about plants. A small breeze refreshed her face. Probably one of Lazarro’s gadgets creating air circulation. She dozed. Behind her closed eyes, tender-green leaves veined with purple fading into shadowy pink appeared and disappeared. Networks of markings formed hieroglyphs she was meant to decipher. It was a secret language between swollen receptacle and stamen. She dove into a corolla, crowned with anthers like circumcised organs. She took her place along the neat array of seeds, as so many eggs in a nest, and became receptacle for the pollen flying around. Then she turned into an insect, inebriated and lustful.
There was a shift in the light as she reached a new level of high. Everything took on a clarity she hardly ever experienced before, scents awakened knowledge stored deep inside, colors became more vivid and liquid. It was as though plants had acquired new dimensions. They murmured to her. She came back to her senses to see that it was Lazarro whispering into Yasmine’s ear. Pointing to some small mushrooms growing among orchids and anthuriums he said, “I told you there was everything you needed here, even magic mushrooms. You two should try some, then go for a hot tub and a swim in the pool. I’ll put on the Jacuzzi and the current. You can leave your clothes in the lanai over there and use one of the bathrobes.”
Sabine was not tempted, but Yasmine was tantalized. Sabine knew her well. She probably longed for the experience of running naked in the idyllic garden, caressed by gigantic fronds, then having her body massaged by the Jacuzzi and cooled in the pool. Yasmine got out of the hammock, leaned over Sabine and gently kissed her on the lips. Then she walked towards the lanai. Michel and Gigi had totally disappeared. They might have gone to smoke another joint, or to get more wine. Or were they in on this?
Lazarro followed Yasmine and disappeared behind a thicket. Had the men set up this whole thing? Earlier, Michel had told Sabine that Lazarro had discovered Sade and was totally taken by the infamous Marquis’ philosophy. Was that the influence for this scheme? Would she be a witness to some kinky domination trip? Her mind was running away with her. Her stoned mind, making up extravagant scenarios at such a fast pace it made her dizzy.
Some turbulence in the vegetation drew her attention and for a moment she remembered Lazarro, but then succumbed to the vegetal spell again. She became the tiny insect again and plunged into the heart of a gigantic flower, enraptured by the erotic thrust of the pistil within the timid petals unfurling to reveal the dark opening. She nibbled iridescent flesh, sucking on the sticky juices while probing antennas tickled her and filaments grew out of her. Blue bells, tranquil as angel hearts swam around in limpid vastness. She tumbled into impeccable yellow blossoms ridged with mindful egg sacks, and found the unexpected docility of luminescent white blossoms. Furry tufts at the heart of an orchid swayed like grasslands under a cosmic wind. The vegetal kingdom, finding a perfect observer, involved her in a paroxysm of sensuality and mutation. Without any effort she could fly. She went to a place where water streamed down in tumultuous arousal on a mossy wall of volcanic rocks. “Look how beautiful we are,” plants murmured all around. “Look, we have everything we need here. We are nourished and supported, we don’t have to do anything to survive. We can play all day. We can make love, create and procreate, display our beauty for everyone to see. Everything is handed to us on a platter. We move together as one, without any feeling of separation or worthlessness. We don’t question. We are all essential. Decisions are instinctive and this makes us all equals.” Her pores did the listening as all her being wildly vibrated and her juices flowed freely.
Gigantic red blossoms merging in sexual embraces communicated, “We control this man, Lazarro. .He devotes his energy to catering to all our wishes. Our ultimate goal is to send imprints to our reproductive cells so that all acquired characteristics become hereditary. Cells can carry life for untold generations you know. Potentially they are immortal. You can join us now and become part of this immortality.”
Sabine was ready. “What do I do?”
But all of a sudden, a wolf howled. A call to prayer at the hour of awe. It shocked Sabine back to her senses. It was sunset. She could imagine the animal throwing his head back and singing like a mullah from the top of a minaret. She felt a strong urge to see the reddened sky without the interference of glass, to be outdoors. She rose from the hammock with difficulty; like in a dream she moved in slow motion. As she walked towards the exit she caught a glimpse of Yasmine lying under a canopy of blooming vines, surrounded by gigantic ferns and fragrant blossoms, entirely naked like in that Rousseau painting.
She didn’t engage her in any way and her friend did not react to her presence. A few feet away she noticed Lazarro, crouched behind one of the gigantic banana trees enfolded within philodendrons. He was watching Yasmine, his gaze intently fixed as though he were the snake trying to hypnotize a bird.
Sabine was sure that Yasmine knew he was there. How could she not feel his flattering intensity? Her repose as she lay on her side, head supported on one hand, seemed directed at him; her swollen breasts, small waist and voluptuous hips enveloped in the golden light, her white thighs gracefully spread apart disclosing her secret parts designed to tempt him. A picture of the Venus trap closing on the insect flashed in Sabine’s mind. Was Yasmine luring Lazarro to come and drink her? Was it his trap or hers?
Sabine didn’t care to stay and find out. She needed to escape. When she finally reached the door and stepped out, tiny filaments had formed a sort of cocoon around her. She had to untie every one of them. Then the spell was broken.
And she howled with the wolf.