The Hothouse – an introduction

The young priest crouched on the corner of the table, as was his habit, mortifying his flesh in minute ways on the sharp, formica edges. It was important to maintain a constant stream of discomfort in order to ripple his skin and prick his nervous system into a continuous semblance of faith – this he had been taught from a young age, but was unable to put into practice until the fires of youth that licked up and down his thighs had been quelled through the most agonising of measures. The bishop looked at his latest charge, and recognised the stooping posture and flinching of the eyes so common in the newly fervent. „Come and see,” he said. „Tell me what surrounds you”.

The island’s light seeped through the shutters, and illuminated the sweating books that littered the room. This was the hothouse, the heavy, humid and vegetably idle ventricle of faith at the centre of the complex, a place where things did not so much grow, but were cajoled and coerced into unnatural shapes, early blooms and perversions of flora. All around were petals whose fragrance suggested they were soaked through with semen, black veins running up and down the nodding phallus at their centre. To their left were the clitoral orchids, swollen with sap which attracted the butterflies who died ecstatically in the salty-sweet nectar, and all the while seventeen tense stamen knocked into the viscous pollen over and over again, agitated by the heat, quivering under the lightest vibrations. Huge buttery leaves clamoured for attention against the lead-lined glass, spreading like waxen buttocks to reveal their acidic funnels, and sickening durian fruits dangled from boughs, stinking of decomposing meat and blackened, bruised by the battering of the crayflies that raped the shimmering air around their bulbous forms. The young preist gazed at the creased pornography of nature, the sins inherent in design.

„I see the toothmarks of Eve on a thousand apples. I see the depravity of the base forms of nature, which I have overcome by the rejection of the natural in myself. I see the weakness of temptation. I see the sweat and groan of evil, against the beauty of your capture. I see the church’s success in overcoming these things, bottling them and holding them in stasis”. The young priest pushed his groin against the sharpest edge of the furniture, cutting into his enflaming thighs. The hothouse’s myriad fragrances, the miasma of lust affected even the most mortified novices – this was well known.

The bishop sighed, and palpated his damp papers into a bolus at the pit of his hands. He could remember a time before the glass room was completed, before the church had a hot and bloody heart at its centre. Young women from the city, toes tossing their puddles of gin. Lycanthropic men, hairy palmed and barking at the birds. Sin was somehow simpler, then. He looked up at the newcomer, fingering his dogcollar and fantasizing of dust. „Walk deeper into the hothouse. Sit down awhile, and look closer. Breathe, examine your skin.”

„This rabid mouth of faith is to be of some importance to me?” the priest replied. „Forgive me, father, but I do not understand. The hothouse was built to be shunned, a crystallisation of shame, was it not?”

The bishop stood up, and began to walk away. A woman was singing, somewhere. The sound was sweet, and punctuated by the rhythmic buzzing of tiny wings. „No, it wasn’t”, he said, as he opened a window to let the vines escape.

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About Benjamin Norris

Published writer of short stories, long stories, poems. Well received art critic and cultural commentator for Berlin magazines. Collaborator with operatic societies. Co-writer of fictional historic psycholinguistic journals. Lecturer of architecture and art history at a Budapest University. View all posts by Benjamin Norris

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