“Careful Sean, watch your step.”
A cloak of warmth as I prise open the heavy steel door, stepping onto the damp wooden plank. A pungent smell pleasantly assaults me, a hint of warmed plastic with an earthy, sweetness that flavours the air. The tinned atmosphere is stifling, thick with moisture and my breathing’s quickened. A faint vibration travelling through my shoes is tallying with the humming in my ears. Thin serrated, nine fingered leaves, wave and beckon me in a manufactured breeze, enticing us deeper into their underground lair.
“Jesus, how many you got here?”
“One or two.”
“They’re six…. seven foot easy!”
“Yeah.. a pain in the arse.”
Left buttock and lumber spine but ‘pain in the arse’ is less convoluted. I could manage when they were smaller but now they’re too tall, that’s why I’ve brought Sean, my helper for the day. He follows me into the cave-like room, our voices still echoing.
“What’s that noise?” he whispers.
“The generator, you don’t hear it after a bit.”
Like an angry bee trapped in a biscuit tin, I’d tried my best muffling the noise with reams of insulation, but it’s still louder than I’d hoped. The droning noise carries from the blackness of the jungle ahead. It’s difficult to see a path so I hold aside branches, clearing a way for Sean, others I push up so he doesn’t have to duck. The planked walkway becomes a dark green tunnel where interlocking branches entangle into a thick canopy above our heads. The lights have only been on for ten minutes but already the room’s getting hotter. Sean walks ahead, eyes wide, excited even, scanning the room like he’s looking for something but, at the same time, not really focussing on anything.
“I didn’t think it’d be this big.”
I join him in his aimless gaze as if trying to take the room in for the first time and see what he might be seeing. But in the last month I’ve spent more days here than at home. All I see are more jobs that need doing. Pots that need turning, branches that need tying, others that could do with being freed, re-directed and tied again.
“Thanks for coming.” We shake hands, odd really because we’d done it before, but that was out there not in here.
“No problem” he shrugs.
“You’ll regret saying that in a bit.”
“Why? What you got lined up?”
“I’ll show you but you need to strip off first.”
Sean squirms at the suggestion.
“Wait there, I’ll get the ladders.”
I’ve two sets leaned against the far wall. One with three steps, which is the easiest to use and another rickety pair, covered in paint that I’d brought from my garage. I grab both, two pairs of scissors, a roll of freezer bags and a box of surgical gloves. I pocket the scissors and tuck the box under my chin leaving my hands free to bump the ladders along behind me – my interpretation of Sarson’s decree. If I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than ten to fifteen kilos then I’ll fucking well drag it instead!
“Need a hand?”
He grabs the ladders and I dump the other stuff down. I pull off my T-shirt and start unbuckling my jeans.
“What you doing?”
“Condensation’s a fucker.”
“You’re taking the piss?”
“Nope, I’ve tried all sorts.”
I notice Sean’s looking but pretending not too, like I’d seen some blokes doing when I’ve been stood at urinals.
“Don’t worry, I won’t look.”
He sneers a silent rebuke as I stuff my jeans, t-shirt, socks and shoes into a black bin liner. All I’ve got on is a thin pair of cotton Khaki shorts Penny bought me on holiday two years ago. They’re my new uniform for work.
“You look a right prat.”
“Thanks, pass the scissors.”
I stretch on a pair of blue surgical gloves and open out the ladders, searching for a place to put down the feet. Sean’s just smiling at me.
“It aint a fashion parade mate.”
“I think I’d rather get wet.”
I climb the ladders, my head rising above the green sea, eyes level with the tops of the main colas. “Good morning my lovely’s.”
I see them properly now, my luscious ladies, their leaves spread in open armed adulation, fooled into worshipping fake suns of sodium halide. Branches and buds sway in a subterranean sauna, others trussed with arches of string, bow under the weight of flowers ripening along their stem.
An ascending clatter as I hear Sean scaling the metal steps, then his craggy pink face appears, jostling with the donkey dicks, drooping and swaying around him.
“Jesus Christ Dan!”
“Yeah I know.”
His hand pushes one away from his face. I notice how thick the bud is not unlike his forearm, only twinkling green with orange pistils dotted along it.
“It reeks up here.”
“See that one in the corner?”
“Bending towards you, the big fucker?”
“She grew 7 centimetres in a day!”
“Bollocks, no way.”
I try not to bite the bait. Sean knows as much about growing plants as he does about astrophysics. His assumption I’ve got it wrong is typical Sean. Always right even when he’s wrong.
“In one day? You’ve measured wrong.”
“They’re fucking Triffids mate.”
“Sunflowers don’t even grow that quickly.”
“Sunflowers? What you on about now?”
“Bin lids have been doing some science project.”
“Ronnie and Reggie growing flowers?”
“Me more like. They just want to know which is the tallest.”
Sean’s nicknames for his two boys, reals names Billy and Jack, except he only calls them that when they’re around. Always their nicknames when he talks about them.
“So how much you got here?”
“Hard to tell, but I’m hoping for thirty.. maybe forty kilo dry.”