Ivy awakens, sudden and ungentle, to stretch, yawn, and slap at her phone, a haphazard attempt to quell the 6 a.m. alarm she had forgotten to disable the night before. Parting the curtains, she squints in the early, anemic light, her first breath of the day coming out on a bitter sigh. Saturday morning is for sleeping in, but once Ivy is disturbed from her slumber there is no turning back; regretfully, there is no returning to that dream of her and Victor making love in the aqua shallows of an infinity pool. Unless she has the uncommon, good fortune of having another dreamworld, sexual liaison featuring her hot coworker and a romantic getaway to Cancun or Montego Bay, she’ll have to wait until Monday to see him again.
Outside, a Japanese vine grows in profusion. Determined, it creeps and crawls, slow but sure, over and across a Southern Mississippi landscape. Like a zombie whose legs have rotted free from its torso, it lurches onward, inch by tireless inch. As dawn advances, the world turns green. Reluctantly, Ivy faces the day.
As she blinks away the last remnants of white sand from her eyes, of Acapulco sunshine glaring off the North Pacific, Ivy waddles to the kitchen to greet the cat, acknowledging the brand new day. Over toast and much-needed coffee she stares out the window at what used to be an orchard, a stretch of lawn leading to woodland beyond. Now, it has been transformed, or rather, been taken over, a great swathe of greedy tentacles spiraling upon itself, an indomitable, emerald typhoon, an unstoppable alien invasion.
It’s taken over the little cherubs that she picked out at the boutique garden center just south of Jackson. It’s swallowed up those kind-of-cute, kind-of-creepy lawn gnomes that she collects for a laugh, those little men with their incessant, pervy smiles, their silent, mischievous amusement as they stand vigil, accompanied by toadstools and red, pointy hats. The birdbath is nowhere to be seen. It has been digested by the big, green monster, by a chloroplast Godzilla. Overnight, its annexation has extended, grown outward and upward. It reaches for Ivy while she sleeps, 30 cm a day, like the steady advancement of a man with romantic interest. It is sweeping the southeast, sweeping it right off its feet. The kudzu is rife, like a plague. Like wildfire.
The toast lines her stomach and dulls the ache of an early rise. The coffee works its magic to lift Ivy’s mood. The caffeine rides the current of her bloodstream to quicken her pulse, activate her brain, brighten her disposition. Yet outside, rain clouds cast a dark shadow over a dead orchard drowned in an eerie, shapeless mass. Concrete blocks and boulders line the edges of a stream, a lost embankment, engorged by layers of root, leaf and flower. Like a bad hair day of mythic proportion, angry coils curl, overlap, tangle in voracious fury, the writhing, ornery serpents that sprout from Medusa’s scalp. Kudzu has the inverse effect of a Gorgon queen; it has embodied every available inch of rock, turning all that was stone into plant.
One day, if Ivy remains idle, if the city council doesn’t get its act together and do something about the growing kudzu problem, the invasive weed will swallow her whole. Like Jonah inside a jade whale, she will rise from bed and look out her window to see nothing at all, a green-black mass that refuses to share this world. The kudzu is a green tide that cannot be denied. It is ravenous and all encompassing, like a schoolgirl crush, like infatuation. And looking at it, really, it is absolutely beautiful –just like Victor.
48 hours and 60 cm of kudzu expansion later, Ivy rises from bed, the only one for miles and miles that is glad it is Monday morning. At work, the open layout and general lack of privacy means Victor is always within view. His well-styled hair and fluorescent smile transform even the gloomiest of overcast skies into bright and sunny, cheerful visits. Of course, without windows, the weather hardly matters while inside the stale, over air-conditioned office. But that perfect skin and latte tan, those baby-blue eyes and crisp clothes with an obvious gym-body beneath –it made the dullest of moments vibrant and sensational. In the waft of his scent, his late afternoon body odor spiked with cologne –something woody, smokey, leathery, manly– even data entry became exhilarating.
“Working hard or hardly working?” Ivy lamely, desperately ventures as Victor walks past her, car keys jingling, his belongings in tow.
He stops mid-stride, blinks his beautiful, blue eyes in mild confusion. Mercifully, he smiles, even chuckles. “Well, I was working,” Victor says. “Eight long hours, in fact. But I draw the line at five o’clock.”
“Home time?” Ivy looks up through a thick application of mascara. She bats her eyelashes and leans forward, doing her best to covertly push her breasts together, exposing what she hopes appears to be ample cleavage, the enticing swell of what lies beneath her intentionally low-cut blouse.
“Gym time, actually.” Victor checks his watch and makes a motion to go. “It’s legs today. I’m eager to get it over with.”
“Then home to the missus?”
“Then home to my Labrador.”
Ivy makes baby sounds. She coos, over the top. Her elbows close inward, making a panini of her chest. She leans further forward, almost staring at the carpet beneath her feet. She giggles, goes as far as to moan, and gazes upward with an affected, sexy stare and sees little through the clots of mascara. To top it off, she coos some more.
“Well,” Victor trails off, “see you tomorrow.”
Ivy closes her eyes and sees the afterimage of Victor’s tepid demeanor, his lips-only, polite smile. She stops leaning forward. Her elbows unhinge and allow gravity to reclaim her breasts. She gathers her things and turns off the computer monitor. She sighs and whispers with a longing deeper than an oceanic trench, “I cannot wait.”
Tuesday is like Monday, only the kudzu is a little closer, a little wider, taller, and Victor works his arms instead of his legs. Wednesday, the cat doesn’t come home for her dinner, but emerges from the invasive thicket in the morning, much to Ivy’s relief. Thursday is dull, darkened by the ever-expanding shadow of an oriental invader, brightened, however, by the glow of office halogens gleaming off of Victor’s oiled hair, the sheen of his exposed pectorals beneath his partially unbuttoned dress shirt.
Friday is altogether different. It has a good time vibe, a certain clock-watching excitement that accompanies the second half of the day. The kudzu, of course, is a foot taller –that much is the same. But there is a spice in the air beyond Victor’s sweat and expensive scents. Everyone in the office can feel it. Everyone, that is, but Ivy, who dreads the weekend lull, the two days away from the man who has seized her heart, who has neglected yet to notice her.
“TGIF,” she almost shouts into the impeccable posture of Victor’s well-muscled, broad-shouldered back as he walks past her to the water cooler.
“Yes,” he agrees, turning with that familiar, polite smile. Yet even as his sapphire eyes reflect kindness, a certain warmth, something beyond the nuance of body language and the subtlety of facial expression translates to a simple, concise message, which tells her bluntly to fuck off. Air bubbles, like silver jellyfish, rise to the surface of the water cooler and blubber to fill the silence. For a few seconds it is so repressively quiet that one can almost hear the kudzu proceeding across the county.
There is no application of mascara in this world thick enough to plug the whirlpool that exemplifies Ivy’s disappointment. There is not enough exposed breast across the four corners of the globe to douse the raging fire of rejection burning away at her from the inside. There is no coy demeanor, no sexy-kitten-cuteness that can sway this ship from sailing into the jagged rocks that lie just beneath the churning surface of cold, dark waters. There is only brazen action, bold propulsion, the shameless, self-invite. When there is no hope for something to simply fall into your lap, do not wait for impossibilities to materialize from thin air, but grab them, hold on tight, take them by force.
“You and me, Victor,” Ivy declares to the world, loud enough so the whole office can hear her above the steady whir of air-conditioning and percussion of typing. “You and me,” she repeats and looks around the room, making eye contact with the usual, bored faces that in this moment become alive, enraptured by the social faux pas of a usually meek young woman’s intrepid declaration, her taking the bull by the fucking horns. “You and me, Big V,” and now, cue the upturned gaze though a web of coagulating eye-makeup. “You and me,” like a broken record, and then the milky waterfall of exposed, cascading breast. “Drinks.” Matter of fact. “After work.” Like a nail in a coffin, a reality conjured from willpower.
“Yeah,” Victor agrees, his little paper cup overflowing to dot the carpet. “Yeah,” he nods, as if it was his own idea. “Of course,” he agrees, as if there was ever any other possible outcome, any other activity to occupy his Friday night.
“When you said TGIF, I didn’t know you actually meant TGI Friday’s.” Victor wiggles in his seat, his well-toned glutes making high-pitched melodies on the vinyl upholstery.
Ivy lowers the menu to reveal the sultry stare of a viper, the predatory gaze of a python. She plants her cherry-red lips on the paper straw and leaves her mark, drinks deep of her cocktail, the buzz of Friday finally making so much sense to her, the intoxication of her audacity a heady, headlong thrill. She reaches across a plastic tablecloth adhesive with spilled drinks and spattered condiments. In each of her own hands, victorious, she takes up Victor’s.
Unable to recall taking them in his own, Victor holds Ivy’s hands from across the sticky table booth. They are soft and cold, skinny and dry, like baby snakes. They coil in his own, which are warm, meaty, and damp, like loaded potato skins, like the overbearing platter of food to go with their strawberry margaritas. His forearms stick to the table like his back sometimes does to gym equipment that has not been wiped down, or an insect caught in a web. He drowns in the wide eyes that drink him in from across the booth. He sips his over-sweet margarita to fill the gaps of silence, wondering how and why his fate has led him to this moment.
On the opposite side of a cheap, upholstered booth, Ivy sips her under-sweet, strawberry margarita. She ignores the potato skins, the mounds of sour cream and confetti of chives. She navigates around the aroma of melted Cheddar to sift out the smells of microwaved, reheated food and zeros in her olfactory on the subtle man-musk beyond, the sour sweat and pungent cologne.
She disengages her fingers from Victor who wipes his own free hand over his dress shirt, leaving a trail of sweat and probably grease to blemish his flawless presentation. From under the table, Ivy fishes into her purse to produce a small Ziploc bag filled with ketamine. Like fine white grains from a sandy Puerto Rico shore, like a small sample from a holiday in Mauritius, she takes a pinch of the powdered anesthetic and sprinkles it into Victor’s margarita. “Here, sweet Victor,” her words drawl, syllables lethargic; her botched, over-the-top attempt at sex appeal.
“What?” He didn’t notice, wasn’t even looking.
“Never mind, Big V,” she winks. “Just drink up, dear. It’s Friday night.”
About an hour later, Victor ambles to his car, supported by Ivy before she pushes him into the backseat, tosses his legs to lie across the seats. She takes his keys and takes the helm. She revs the engine and embarks for home. She hadn’t even bothered to pay the bill.
In the empty parking lot, luminous under the streetlights and the TGI Friday’s electric totem pole, kudzu advances, slithering over the black tallies in pavement where a car has peeled out into the deep, dark night.
The moon is full, a watchful, white eye, a celestial cyclops midnight voyeur. Pockmarked and cold, it stares down with a blank, blatant stare to oversee the night-time creatures, the owls and the bats, the vermin and the vandals, the moths that fly to the light, the barflies that flock to the booze. A great spotlight in the sky, it glazes over everything, spreading a gossamer vale that paints the nocturnal world in a pale wash of silver, varnishing the black of night in a ghostly sheen to highlight the vague and monstrous shapes of an encroaching, invasive weed.
And now, etched in radiance, aglow in secondhand sun, the broad shoulders of a gym build slump in a rural driveway, heels dragging across the gravel to tally the passage of a heavy burden. Supporting a warm, ample weight, a lady who labors to drag a limp form smiles as she struggles in the moonlit night. The kudzu creeps in for a closer look, undisturbed by the bright, celestial light that gives it shape among an otherwise featureless midnight canvas.
Inside, the cat meows, rubs up against Ivy’s ankles and begs for food, perhaps cuddles, untroubled by the unconscious man that her owner drops to the hardwood floor. The dried kibble collides with a metal dish and –of all things– the little dinging sounds rouse Victor into a state of semi-consciousness as he moans and squirms like leafy tendrils in the wind. “Now, now,” Ivy halfway scolds, halfway coddles, and reaches into her purse to retrieve and feed another helping of Special K to her coworker who takes the sprinkle on the tongue, not yet aware of anything but the faintest of light which once again fades, goes utterly dark.
In the morning, the world comes alive with the deafening din of nature’s relentless dawn chorus, a thousand singing songbirds and one or two nearby roosters. Next, the buzzing of insects, cicadas with their tireless drone, and an army of croaking frogs that choke the stream in plague-like populations; they lend their voices to the cold, cacophonous morning.
Overnight, the kudzu, silent if not static, has expanded another foot or so, the length of an NBA superstar every fucking week. Its serpentine swirls have further coiled up and over the tanned wrists of Victor, who, stirring and groggy, finds himself artfully bound in a tenacious Japanese weed, like Mother Nature’s attempt at shibari, the well-practiced kink of a plantswoman. Under the strain of his gym-built muscles, the invading tendrils hold firm. Victor, it would seem, is at the mercy of kudzu, an oriental intruder, of Ivy, a smitten coworker, helplessly pinned under her green thumb.
She arrives early in the gray, pallid light of predawn. She smiles as she strides across the weed-infested lawn, dips under dead branches of plum and apple sheathed in vine, encumbered in kudzu and dotted in the swelling bruises of its purple flower. She takes the verbal abuses well, the curses and all that begging to be set free. She ignores it all with a soft brush of the back of her hand, a tender kiss from her lips on an immobile brow, and spoon-feeds a breakfast of boiled eggs or dried toast, orange juice spiked with ketamine.
Victor moans, sometimes cries. Ivy smiles, sometimes swoons, as she takes in the incredible beauty of a foreign visitor, a drop-dead-gorgeous art-form encased in exotic botany. For some, the morning has never been so worth waking up to. For others, morning is just an extension of night, an endless prison of green.
Victor watches her go off to work, driving down the long, private driveway in the wake of a dust trail that glows amber in the rising sun. In a hazy, dreamlike reality, he whiles away the hours with half-functioning senses. Partially aware, he takes note of the cat, its fuzzy nuzzles at his bound ankles, its routine patrolling of its territory, the undertaking of its daily rounds. As he returns from K-town, the pain settles in, the sun crawling slowly across the sky, the shadows shrinking, growing, fading, then the return of Ivy and her goodnight kiss, the slow-motion commute of constellations beyond the black heavens. Throughout it all, the kudzu expands and constricts, twirls, twines, and swallows the earth, centimeter by centimeter, one life after the next.
Without Victor at work, the weekdays became tedious, the daily grind an irksome hurdle to daydream over and clock-watch throughout. Ivy finally understands and has now adopted the attitudes of her coworkers that lead naturally to terms and phrases like “hump-day” and “TGIF.” Without the heart-racing, surreptitious glimpses targeted at a tanned, gym-body build or the wafts of man-musk and cologne that ride on the cold currents of air-conditioning to circulate the office, there was little point to any of it beyond the paycheck, which of course was the entire point of it in the first place. As it now stands, Ivy looks forward to the weekends like any normal, respectable office worker. She eagerly awaits the lazy hours of tending her garden plants, the sprawling kudzu, and her beautiful man.
Over the weeks, the month or two, while bound by the will of Ivy, the taught confines of Kudzu, an incarceration enforced by an eastern invader, Victor’s gym body atrophies into a reedy collection of spindly limbs which extend from a concave husk of ribcage and withered abs. Almost plantlike, delicate, his athletic build is reduced to fragility, a hollowed-out version of what was. Like a lily flower, he sways in the gentlest of wind, engulfed by garden competitors –overcome by copious weeds.