It was a beautiful spring day at the botanical gardens. An absorbing, verdant world literally blossoming with the exuberance of life surrounded Josh and Tova while they walked side by side down the visitors' trail.
Tova was in the best, most upbeat mood she had felt in a long time. Things were going really well with her and Josh. They recently passed the two month mark, and Tova had an unexpressed gut-feeling that Josh could be the one. He was charming, sensitive, and really seemed to understand her views and dreams in life. Josh always asked her opinion instead of trying to run their developing relationship as a heavy-handed dictator, quite unlike a number of guys she had dated in the past. Even when they argued, Josh respectfully disagreed without becoming angry or remaining spiteful if she ended up being correct.
Josh admired Tova as she bent forward to smell a striking red rose that matched the color of her lipstick. Without a doubt, Tova was very pretty. However, her exterior was only a precursor to her inner beauty, which was reflected in her charitable nature, her bountiful kindness, and how she treated everyone around her with paramount respect. Josh had certainly taken a strong liking to Tova. He had been through a couple of semi-serious relationships before, but Tova was different. He did not feel as though either of them was rushing the progress of their growing bond and everything seemed to be moving forward in its proper time. He was not quite thinking of engagement just yet, though the thought had popped into his mind on occasion. The possibilities of a more serious future usually occured to him when he returned from a date, collapsed on his living room couch and reviewed that evening’s proceedings in his mind.
When they reached the end of the pathway, Josh noticed an arrangement of quaint wooden tables in an open clearing surrounded by various brilliant tropical displays and suggested they take a break from exploring the gardens and rest for a bit. They settled down at one of the small tables, facing one another. They sat in peaceful silence, uninterrupted by any other guests, and observed the wondrous botanical exhibits that encircled them on all sides.
After a few seconds, Tova’s ear picked up a buzzing sound that drifted from one side of her head to the other. Tilting her gaze slightly, she caught sight of a large yellow-and-black insect hovering over her shoulder. She swallowed hard, hoping that the bee wouldn’t land on her and deliver what she imagined would be a rather painful sting. In a flash of movement, Josh’s hand shot out past her ear, almost touching her cheek, which made Tova hold her breath in a mix of excitement and worry. He was so close to making contact that she could feel the heat radiating from his forearm on her face. He slowly retracted his arm and turned over his closed fist so that his clasped fingers faced skyward. Josh gradually opened his hand, and Tova saw that the troublesome bee resting on his palm, seemingly content to enjoy the softness of his skin. For a brief moment, Tova was jealous that she could not enjoy the pleasing sensation of clasping her hand to Josh’s own.
Tova watched Josh gently put the bee on a nearby flower, which began to buzz happily as it went about inspecting the pollen of its new perch. Tova swooned at Josh’s gallant act of kindness. She had contemplated swatting the troublesome insect, yet Josh had the decency and compassion to risk receiving a sting to protect his date and simultaneously save the poor, misdirected creature. This was a man she could marry.
Josh breathed deeply, reveling in the serenity of the scene. Neither he nor Tova needed to make conversation; merely basking in one another’s presence was enough to satisfy their need for companionship. The tranquility of the moment was interrupted by a buzzing sound that whisked past him and centered around Tova’s beautiful face. Josh saw the bee moments before Tova recognized what was going on, and watched the little insect dart about, analyzing its flight patterns.
Just as Tova was about to cry out in alarm, he quickly struck out with his hand, neatly bisecting the creature from feeding proboscis to thorax. The two halves fell to the table and twitched for a moment before Josh deftly swept them into the nearby bushes with the back of his hand. Tova clasped her hands together and held them close to her cheek in adulation, wordlessly proclaiming “my hero!” Josh grinned broadly, baring his white, impeccably straight teeth. Tova let out a long sigh, and stars filling her field of vision. Josh jutted out his manly chin to accentuate his handsome smile, basking in Tova’s adoration.
Things could not have been more perfect. The semi-seclusion of their table provided an atmosphere conducive for meaningful, heart-to-heart conversation. Tova anticipated a soul-stirring discussion about their shared hashkafic ideologies, which would probably segue into how each envisioned their future home, followed by the children they imagined having, and the cute little puppy that would complete the tidy picture of marital bliss.
Tova watched with delight as Josh shifted over in his seat, extended a well-muscled arm, and daintily plucked a nearby peony. He proceeded to present the fragrant gift with a flourish of hand motions. Tova gladly accepted her somewhat unethically procured gift; the caution sign that warned any passerby against picking any flowers was projecting from the ground right next to Josh. The big bold writing clearly spelled out the prohibition, and warned any violator that a hefty fine would be charged for their botanical foray. Yet, Josh’s dashing gesture impressed her enough to restrain her general goody-two-shoed nature, and the slight infraction was quickly forgiven.
The perfumed scent of the peony was enticing, and Tova became absorbed in the aroma wafting from the pink blossom. She inhaled deeply and floated on its sweet smell. The world around her ceased to exist and all that mattered was the fact that Josh was sitting across from her.
Without warning, her dreamy euphoria was disturbed by a tap on her ankle. Snapping back into reality with a frustrated sigh, she realized it was probably Josh accidentally bumping into her leg under the table. Tova briefly shook her head from side to side, as though shaking the residue of reality from her mind. She drew in another breath of the aromatic flower and went back to her cloud of happiness.
Reality once again intruded upon her mental bliss when the sensation of something bounced off her shin, then rested against her calf. Tova paused, trying to detect the texture of the object through her tights. It felt rubbery, but she was not entirely sure what it could be. If it was Josh, the first time seemed accidental, but this second contact was definitely intentional. She wondered if he was playing footsy with her, in clear violation of the laws proscribing inter-gender touching. The thought occurred to her that Josh might actually be playing footsy, which must have been a sign of how much he liked her and felt uncontrollably attracted to her.
Tova soon came to her senses. The flower-grab was clever and suave, but this crossed the line of her comfort zone. She definitely did not want to breach the laws of shemirat negiah while dating, and her straight-laced mentality kicked in.
“All right, it’s not funny anymore,” Tova lowered the flower and looked Josh in the eye.
“What’s not funny?” He raised an eyebrow.
“You’re playing footsy with me,” she narrowed her gaze, intent on displaying a serious face.
“What kind of guy do you think I am? I wouldn’t do that,” Josh replied, a wounded tone in his voice. Underneath the table, the thing started slowly rubbing up and down Tova’s lower leg.
“Stop it, I mean it!” Tova’s voice became shrill.
“Stop what, Tova?” Josh sounded genuinely indignant. Tova was not in the mood for non-kosher games.
“Seriously, Josh, it was cute the first few times, but this is a little much. Please move your foot.”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” he emphasized his point by spreading his feet to either side of the table’s base, placing them in plain sight. Tova’s eyes widened in fright, and she swallowed hard with an audible gulp. Josh appeared confused by Tova’s reaction.
“What’s wrong?” he leaned forward slightly, a look of concern on his face.
Tova’s reply transformed into a scream as the table suddenly upended, sending Josh flipping backward over his chair. He found himself sprawled out on the ground, and began gingerly rubbing his temple to dispel the haze of pain enveloping his head. Tova’s renewed shrieking shook him from his stupor, and he lifted himself onto his side to peer over the toppled table.
Tova hung suspended in the air, a bright green vine wound around her from midsection to just above the ankle, pinning her skirt to her legs. Her hands flopped around in space and she had a look of pure terror engraved into her face. Josh sat up and put his hands over his ears to muffle the noise of Tova’s cries and visually followed the path of the leafy appendage back to its source. Josh strained his eyes, but could only detect that the tentacle vanished into the nearby brush. He cautiously got to his feet, and massaged the back of his head as he tiptoed toward his helpless date. A vicious roar split the air, sending Josh recoiling behind the disarrayed table.
The bushes concealing the cause of the ruckus shook violently, and a low rumble emanated from within the tangled mass of plants. All of a sudden, the foremost collection of shrubs burst apart and landed near Josh’s feet. He glanced downward for a moment then quickly looked up toward Tova. Josh gasped.
An immense red flower with big white spots reared into view. Yellow-orange petals framed the massive bulb, which had what appeared to be a large, oval shaped, mottled green growth on one side. The flower spread the verdant lips, revealing a set of pointed, rather sharp looking teeth-like growths that lined a cavernous maw. Yes, Josh decided, it had a mouth. Two fan-like leaves undulated into view, one of them gripping a plastic display sign. The plant creature proceeded to hurl it at Josh. It knocked the wind out of him as it connected with his gut. Clutching his stomach, Josh bent down and picked up the signpost.
“Dionaea Serrasalmus – Piranha Plant. ‘Petey.’” Josh read aloud. The thing growled as though it recognized Josh pronouncing its name. Tova stopped screaming for a moment to catch her breath. After hyperventilating for a bit, she mustered up the strength to find her voice.
“Uh, Josh!? Little help!?!” She stammered. As soon as Josh took one step forward, Petey shifted Tova up and away from him, holding her behind its enormous bulk. Josh stood still, eyes darting back and forth across the scenery for some kind of implement to use as a makeshift weapon. He spotted a shovel stuck into a patch of loose dirt and quickly pulled it free with both hands. He held the shovel’s blade outward like a spear and cautiously approached the monstrosity.
Petey sensed the oncoming threat and snapped at the extended gardening tool. Josh pulled back slightly, making sure to keep his only means of defense just out of reach of the toothy jaws. He swiveled the shovel in his grip, and swung it like a baseball bat, sinking the edge of the blade into the red speckled bulb. Petey let out an inhuman screech and almost dropped Tova from where she was suspended nearly ten feet above the ground.
Petey hastily tried to wrap one of its grasper leaves around the wooden handle. With a squelching sound, the plant yanked the shovel free. It promptly whacked Josh on the side of the head, producing a metallic clunk sound, and sent him spinning into a heap of jumbled limbs on the previously uprooted shrubbery.
“Josh!!! Are you all right!?” Tova called out, still dangling upside down.
“Mommy, I don’t want to go to school today,” Josh replied groggily from his cushion of scattered greenery.
“Josh, wake up! Don’t go to sleep!” Tova worried the shovel-strike might have given him a concussion.
“Five more minutes... I’ll still make the school bus...” Josh murmured.
“No, get up! Help me!”
Josh’s eyes fluttered open and he slowly regained his senses. Petey, thinking its opponent was disposed of, wasted no time in bringing Tova around toward its gaping maw. Josh watched in horror as the plant-creature flipped Tova into the air. Tova’s scream was stifled as Petey swallowed her in one gulp. It rotated its colossal ‘head’ toward Josh and defiantly unleashed a belch of satisfaction.
Josh knew he had one chance to save Tova before the creature began digesting her. With a look of grim determination in his eyes, he charged the botanical monstrosity. Wrenching the shovel from Petey’s leafy grasp, he struck at the exposed stalk that supported the gargantuan, carnivorous flower. The first swing sank deep into the thick stem and Petey shrieked as lime-green goop oozed from the cut. Josh quickly pulled the shovel’s blade free and continued chopping away at the piranha flower’s bared weak spot, and Petey began to convulse while squealing from the pain. Josh ignored the deafening sound and cut through the majority of the trunk, which caused Petey to slump over.
With one final stroke, Josh severed the remainder of the shoot. Petey’s vocalizations suddenly stopped and the gigantic bulb fell free of its base and crashed to the ground with a wet splat. Unaware of the momentum behind his last attack, Josh was caught unprepared as the immense bulb rolled back toward him, up the shovel, and flattened him. He disappeared under its bulk with a loud whump before he could cry out. The garden was suddenly quiet.
The jingle of keys startled Josh, almost making him fall off his chair. Tova jerked awake, and her face thumped lightly on the table as her forearm shifted from its supportive position under her chin.
“Closin’ time, folks. I’m gonna have to ask you to start makin’ your way to the exit,” the security guard drawled, gesturing toward the entrance with his flashlight. Josh stole a glance at his wristwatch. It was well past his anticipated concluding time for the date, and the sun was already beginning to set. Embarrassed, Tova quickly slipped the strap of her purse over her shoulder and stood up shakily, still sleepy. Josh rubbed his eyes briefly and rose to his feet as well.
Josh and Tova wobbled toward the exit. Josh stumbled over something and bent down to pick it up. It was a display sign for “Dionaea Serrasalmus.” He turned it over in his hands, quite puzzled. Looking upward, he saw a damaged section of a nearby display with yellow caution tape surrounding it. Frowning, Josh turned to the security guard.
“What used to be here? Where did they take it… Louie?” Josh inquired after quickly reading the guard’s name tag.
“Oh that?” The guard ambled over and poked at the tape with his flashlight. “Used to be some exotic import or somethin’. One day it bit a kid, and he had to go to the hospital to reattach a finger. He was a lucky one, that youngster,” he held up his left hand. Josh noticed the pinky was missing from the middle joint to the fingertip. Tova grimaced and looked away while Josh shuddered slightly. “They had to move them flowers into a special case so they couldn’t hurt no one anymore.”
“Sorry about your finger,” Tova said, embarrassed.
“Oh this?” He held up his shortened digit. “That’s from a firecracker accident from when I was nine. T’ain’t nothin’ really. It’s been all healed up and stuff for years now.” Tova and Josh exchanged looks.
“Well, y’all best be moseyin’ along now,” Louie broke the awkward silence. “Don’t make me call the cops on ya,” he tapped the radio on his belt. “Y’all come visit us again, just make sure it’s durin’ operashunal hours.”
“Thank you... uh... sir,” Josh replied, a measure of uncertainty in his voice. “Let’s go,” he suggested and turned to Tova. She nodded without a word and they began walking toward the exit.
When they were out of earshot, the security guard started chuckling.
“Hee hee!” He wiggled his abbreviated finger in front of his mustached face. “Get’s ‘em every time!” He exclaimed to no one in particular. Louie started walking back to his post, stopped for a moment, and threw a look over his shoulder.
“Ain’t that right, Petey?”