Thursday, February 7, 2008

Queen of the Night

The Night Blooming Cereus, also known as the Queen of the Night, is a desert plant and part of the cactus family. For 364 days (365 on leap years) it really isn’t much to look at. In fact, some people consider it to be downright ugly. It’s scraggly. The leaves and stems indicate its relation to other cacti but they’re flattened and seem almost sickly. It’s a rather unassuming shade of gray rather than a healthy looking green. The Cereus plant I remember had twined itself around the truck and lower limbs of a Poinsiana tree, and for the majority of the time it looked one short step away from death.

But once a year, on a moonlit spring night, the Cereus would more than make up for its previously slouchy, lack-lustre, appearance. On that night the tuber-like buds unfurled into huge, glorious, creamy blossoms and released the most unbelievably hedonistic scent into the warm night air. My aunt, who owned the plant, would make an event of it, and that one night of the year it was guaranteed I would be allowed to stay up late, even if I had school the next day. We would sit on the veranda, the small ‘whistling toads’ chirping in the background behind the adults’ voices and laughter. Aunty June would keep the lights dim and the Cereus blossoms, stroked by the rays of the full moon, took on a soft otherworldly glow. And weaving its way into and around everything was that heady perfume. It was magical, a moment out of time.

The Cereus hides its true beauty, only revealing it when the time is right. There is nothing contrived about the moment when the blossoms unfurl. Instead it is natural, primal. In Night of the Cereus, when Marcus and Melanie first meet, the scent of the Cereus provides a backdrop for seduction. For one night the restraints they customarily operate under are released and they experience passion as sweet, as deeply intense, as the scent of the flowers. Instinct draws them together and a chance encounter blossoms into a night of sex so overwhelming neither will ever be the same. But Marcus and Melanie each have secrets that could destroy their fragile connection, and just as the beautiful Cereus blooms wither in the morning light, so could their newfound love.

Warning! The night and the man aren’t the only things that are hot in this novella. The sex’ll make you want to turn on the air conditioner, even in the middle of winter!

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