The Garden I Grew
He hurt me, you see. That’s what you have to understand. I put a lot of faith in him and he took that faith, screwed it up, threw it away. Just like that, as if it’d never meant anything in the first place.
And that’s why I grew the garden I grew.
So it wouldn’t happen again.
There was sunshine on the day I met him. A bright, chirpy day. I was running, late, milkshake, in hand, not looking where I was going. Classic, right? Classic bordering on cliché?
“Oh my God! I’m so sorry! I’ve got some tissues in my bag.”
“It’s all right. Really.”
“No. Let me. Here.” Pawing him shamelessly and making the whole milky wet mess even worse. “So terribly sorry. Sorry, terribly sorry about this.”
“It’s fine. Really. I’ve got a hanky. I’m on the way home.”
“My name is Mona.” Hand held out in the air, that first small act of faith.
“Doug.” He reached out to shake my hand.
“I’m dreadfully sorry. Really.”
“Well, I suppose you could make up for it by buying me a drink.”
Cheesy. Oh, so cheesy.
But here we were. Under neon lights, in the dimness, just metres away from the brightness, just a little south of the music, and the small clot of dancers – 7pm, the pioneers only were out on the floor.
“So, what do you do when you’re not running around spilling milkshakes on people?’
Fairytale beginning, right?
Shame about the ending.
“So, look… so you see… it’s just… I don’t feel any passion for you, really. Do you see?’
“No. Please elaborate.”
“I’m not the bad guy here… I mean we tried. I wanted to make it work too.” A long pause, the kind where something is waiting to jump out from behind that pause and sink its teeth in. “And…”
“I ran into Mandy last week.”
“You know… my ex.”
“And we got to talking.”
“And I’m really sorry…”
And I learnt. I learnt that sorry can be a bladed word; this word that’s supposed to soften the edges off wrong-doing; this word that’s supposed to bring reconciliation and forgiveness, hugs and tears, and warm, soft, citrus light. It turns out that that word can be sharp and cold, it gets right down into the bone and it has no inclination to take prisoners.
“So…” he said.
“You’re making this so hard.”
“I’m… I’m making this hard?”
“I just want to part ways, to stay friends, to be… free…”
“No, I didn’t mean ‘free’ like that. I didn’t… but you, you’ll be free as well, you can go out and find somebody. It’s all for the best really.”
Well, here’s what the best looked like. Closed doors and unanswered phone calls. A dimness in a lounge where all the curtains were still closed. Whipped cream, apple crumble, corn chips and cookies. TV shows so generic they all just ran into each other. Barefoot and pyjamaed.
Life after Doug.
This message: “Mona. Call me back. We haven’t been out in ages. Me, you, Rhonda, Darlene: we need a girl’s night out. Get you over that loser, okay? Yeah? Call me back, we all think you need to stop wallowing and start living. Okay? So, call me.”
Did I call Fiona?
I wanted to. A part of me did. But the other part was deeper and darker, heavy, sticky, impenetrable. I felt like I couldn’t move. There was another me; another woman, younger and prettier and full of confidence and hope, but she was just out of reach. I could see her, but my fingers couldn’t touch her. And I wanted to call her over, but somehow I’d lost my voice.
And so I planted my garden.
And it was beautiful.
It was a mash of roses, primroses, sunflowers, freesias, irises, geraniums, marigolds, giant daisies, tiny forget-me-nots; there was clematis competing with jasmine in its race up the walls. Fast-growing shrubs sat like jewels amongst the flowers, green and serene, shining in the sun. And the weeds took their turn – dandelions and buttercups, clovers and thistles, they all wanted a place in this thickness of vegetation.
And unknowing, even to myself, I was growing a wall.
The wall became a riot of colour. The years helped it grow big and strong. The bright flowers learned how to hide dangerous shadows: thorns and poisons and hidden chasms found their way into the garden. The vines knotted together, embraced; they developed a tensile strength that might have been the match for any chainsaw, should one ever dare to come here.
And I. I sheltered behind it. I felt my skin harden and cool. I could feel that coolness as it melted beneath into the flesh, seeking out fat cells, veins, bones. It was soothing, it was a lullaby sung in textures, and I welcomed it. There was a pool, an unmoving thickness, and I was invited inside, allowed to drift and sink and make myself one with it.
You think I’m depressed, don’t you? Just wallowing in having been dumped?
But no. I might have started out that way, but believe me, I became something more than that. I was stone and steel, polished marble, slow-moving magma. I reached into the age of the earth, into its slowness, and I drank from that.
The years flowed all around me – like a sturdy rock in a swift stream – and then the decades, and then the centuries.
What? Should a rock need to eat, or dance, or talk or even be remembered?
The garden grew. It grew over the house, over the roof, re-uniting in the middle. Indeed, if there had ever been a house there, it seems as if the world forgot.
There was this one day. This one day, when I looked in the mirror, and I saw a faint blush of flesh, I felt a tingling warmness along the back of my neck.
I felt… fear.
And it’d been so long since I’d felt anything, that I hardly knew what to do with this feeling. I was maybe supposed to shake or cry, or call somebody up or something. But how did that little glass-and-plastic thing beside my bed even work?
And this rectangle, in the middle of the wall, all out of sorts with the wallpaper. I was supposed to do something with this. I struggled with those old, old memories. That’s right, this thing opened, it led somewhere, out into some kind of world. If I turned this knob, and then that knob, if I pushed…
At first the garden was resistant, at first the garden would have none of this. It had been grown to be a wall, it’d been grown to keep what’s inside this house separate from that traitorous, hard-edged world, and now it was just supposed to part and let the indoors and the outdoors merge again? Not likely. The flowers flared in protest. Those that could, breathed fire; those that could, curled around the doorway, they reached for my arms, tried their strength against mine. Oh, but I was still made of stone, I was flowing stone against wood and fibre. As the flowers bloomed and shuddered in my face, I brushed them aside. I barged through the layers of woven vinework, through petals and thorns and thistles, and stood in the midst of my forest.
There was sunlight overhead, though I could barely see it, and there was fresh air fluttering through the gaps, finding its way into my hair.
And then a new world, as finally, I cleared the outer walls.
And this was a world that was murky with green and golds, with buildings that had grown in my time away, roads that were smoother and more coloured. In the air there were holographic signs. I’d been away so long.
A boy sat against my wall, with an apple from one of my trees in his hand.
I sat down beside him.
He looked at me. Half his face was a mesh of wires, and his eyes were amber-gold. “Are you from inside there?” he asked.
“What’s it like, then?”
“A house. Just a normal house. I think the TV might be considered small now.”
“Was it lonely?”
“I can’t remember.”
“So, what are you going to do now?”
There. There was a question. In a changed world that had forgotten about me – in fairness, a retaliation, since I’d shut it out first – where was I supposed to find a place?
“Did you stay inside too long?”
“I think so.”
“You’re not the only one.”
“Forests got popular for a while. There’s another one just down on Fair Street. I don’t know who lives there.”
“Can you show me?”
“Can I keep eating your apples?”
“Okay then. You scared?”
“Whoever’s in there, they’re probably as weird as you.”
I reached for his hand; he stuffed an extra apple into his jacket pocket. He flashed me a grin made of multi-coloured teeth. I wondered: can I get that done?
“Ready?’ he asked me.
Ready. Well, that’s one hell of a term right now. But I flashed him a smile made of old, glass teeth: “Bring it on,” I said.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work