by CHRIS CASTLE
There’s nothing finer than a garden in spring, is there? Every flower seems to explode as if summoned; every blade of grass upstanding, like some honest soldier. I think, yes I truly think, that this season is my favourite, if only for what nature provides and offers up to us lucky souls.
The men visited me again, Bobby, to ask me more questions. The faces and the uniforms change - the young ones, so proud of their uniforms and badges, have been replaced by tired looking souls, their faces as rumpled as their suits - but the questions do not. I have controlled my fear of them, as I have mentioned previously, and now each answer I provide is given mechanically, as if reading off of some invisible sheet. To while away the time, I count the amount of questions and how similar they were to the ones before. Suffice to say, the men go away, threatening without threatening, and promise to return. To ‘follow up with their enquiries,’ I believe is the phrase. I know they will, too.
The men occupy my thoughts, Bobby, even though I wish it wasn’t so. I wonder if they know any of the truth or if they are merely desperate, sad little souls, grasping at straws and praying for a coincidence, a piece of luck that will give them hope. I wonder what the men do in the night, when they are not thinking about me, if they return home to families or climb deeper into the night to escape. One man, the leader, looks at me, and I wonder if it’s not anger I feel in him but jealousy. I think, perhaps, that he is not driven by injustice at all but simply feels it unfair that others can get away with what he so clearly craves.
The buds on the seeds you favoured are so strong. I think if I entered them into competition they would win at a canter. A mischievous part of me wonders if it is not all the extra ‘compost’ I’ve put in the dirt that is making the garden so successful year upon year. I have a dream: all of those fingers, reanimated somehow, toiling in the soil, sculpting and cajoling the roots to develop and flourish. I imagine of each pair of hands, their palms a platform from which new life grows, and I think of how beautiful it all is. Bobby, do you not think of how fine it is for the detritus of the living to renew the seeds of nature each season into life? This is a dream (I know it’s silly) that makes me weep and when I awake. I feel tears on my cheek. I do not weep for the dead and how I made them so but for the joy, joy for how I have, in my small fashion, created a circle for nature to keep rotating.
No nightmares for me anymore, Bobby.
Does that make me a monster, to not recall what slipped away under my hands with a fine sheen of sweat on my forehead? If that is the case, then so be it. Perhaps I am what the men call me under their breath. However, I will not lie and say I am haunted by my actions for I am not. I perform a function that feeds The Garden; no more, no less. It is a callous action, maybe. Though in some cases, Bobby, I swear, as I look into their eyes, it is more of a mercy than anything else - but a necessary one. A soldier acts in war and is called a hero; a farmer rustles up meat and it is called a profession. I pluck material from the concrete and supply sweet fodder to nature’s garden and I am labelled…well, let’s not dwell on name calling, for you know it is something that has always bothered me. Let us just say that that over different eras, what was thought of barbaric has often been reconsidered as enlightened, given time.
The geraniums, I feel, are the triumph of this month; if I had to be pushed to select a highlight. Plants are such unpredictable things, aren’t they? Even when the weather is perfect and conditions appropriate, more often than not they tire, as if they collapse through nothing more than weakness or worse yet, sullenness. Is there anything as tiresome in the world as a wilting flower? All that potential to be beautiful, to be magnificent, wasted through ill-discipline. Bobby, I do not mind telling you that I still get furious with some of these potted plants, these little beasts, when they do not deliver after all the effort I have bestowed up them. When the time comes and I deem them unworthy, I uproot them with such fury that I can only imagine the ugly scene it must create on my features. I wield the trowel life the knife and dig at the ground with more fury than when I…well, suffice to say, I do not like The Garden to be disappointed by Its children.
Yet, I will not dwell on the disappointments. The Garden, I can say with an aching hand on a tired heart, has been a success this year and I think it would make you proud to see it. Sometimes I wish the plot could be closer to my house but then I pull back to reality and scold myself for such foolish thinking. It breaks my heart that I cannot wake up each day and see what we have created and it tears me apart also, to not even be allowed a photograph to hang on the wall to remind me of all its wonders. I am blessed with a wonderful memory, as you know, but reminders are no match for experiences.
Can I tell you a secret?
Late, late at night, I stand at the window of that dingy, scum infested apartment I call my home and I look out of the small window. I do not see the angry taxis or the drunken oafs with their cheap floozies, Bobby, no, I see The Garden in my mind’s eye and I superimpose it over whole rafts of the city. I have perfected the skill to the point now where in an instant, The Garden slips over the streets like a warm, perfect blanket and I can see it all. It is still a thin, light thing, almost translucent, but it is no worse for that. In some ways it is even better! Better, because I can see the soil as well as the stems, the worms as well as the buds, the bodies as much as the mud and the stones; all entwined, all connected. Nothing is writhing but everything is moving, tumbling in motion and feeding each other in the way only nature can. I see this, Bobby, and I allow the stars and the moon to creep in and complete the image in my head, so the garden is in some part silver and in other’s brown and it is so perfect it makes me weep until the garden is a blur and the stars melted and at last I can go to bed and sleep, even amongst the screams and the wails of the ugly city.
I know when we started all of this, we didn’t call it The Garden. In fact, I think you gave it a crude, brutal nickname, the way young men are wont to do. I won’t lie, Bobby, I went along with it, with you, and was thrilled by the darkness of it all, as you were. Yet, I am not a young man now and given time, I don’t see this place as a thing of chaos and rebellion anymore. Now, it is what I call home. In a way I have taken all the fury and reconciled with it and tried to make it something else, something beautiful.
Does that make sense, Bobby? Maybe it does, but perhaps it does not. Sometimes I wonder if I understand anything outside of these letters and the flowers but then…do I need to? I remember the first time you brought me to this place and sat me down. Do you remember? I sat on the hard dirt and you stood by the honeysuckle that somehow grew in amongst the filth and the waste. You didn’t even have to tell me to watch, to be silent, none of that. I was already entranced. Still as a statue, you stood and waited until the butterflies came and circled and skittered and danced the way they do and then you opened your mouth until one settled on your tongue. I remember thinking how beautiful your jaw looked, extended and wide as it was, and how it snapped down, whip-snap fast, to make the butterfly disappear. I imagined it, of course, but I thought I saw it still fluttering and dancing down the ridges of your throat, even at the end. Then the moment was over and you walked back to me, your hand open and waiting for mine, and you began to explain everything; the way the world was, the way you saw it, the way I wanted to see it - all after that moment when you shifted from being a man, a human, to being the Butterfly Eater.
Well, that’s quite enough of that. The reminisces of an old man looking back to his youth can sometime tread the fine line between nostalgia and tedium - so I will close this before it gets too dark to write. The pocket of soil needs to be refilled and I don’t like to dig after dark. I hope, as always, these pages reach you in the dirt and find you in the heartland of The Garden. I hope, too, that when they reach you, each word and syllable conveys what is in my heart and filters out the doubts that reside in my head. As always, I am jealous of where you are, but am comforted that I will join you there soon enough…
Chris Castle is an English teacher in Greece. He has been published over 300 times and has been featured in various end of year and best of anthologies. He is currently writing a novel. His influences include Stephen King and Ray Carver. He can be reached for feedback at email@example.com. Chris has become a regular contributor to our journal: His stories, Grid, Slumber, Last House on Vector Street, Stealing Three, Zombie Cake, Button and Pa and The Garden all consecutively appear in the January, April, June, August, October, and December 2013 issues of HelloHorror and its February 2014 issue.
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