short story–gardening in suburbia

so, happy halloween, all! i wanted to share a story with you that i first wrote way back in (coughcough) high school for a seasonal writing contest. i forgot all about it for years until a halloween reading was announced for the writing group i belong to. as i’m not much of a horror writer, i dug this one out and overhauled it completely, leaving only the bare bones of the original behind. i hope you enjoy it!

Gardening in Suburbia

The man squinted into the overly bright sky. There was nary a cloud to be found, just a wide expanse of a reversed calm ocean which left him feeling as if his body was compact. Insignificant. A speck of dust amongst a great vastness.
            It was a good feeling, considering.
He stayed this way, squinting into the blue, until the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He didn’t have to turn around to know who it was. This was how it was between them, how it always had been. How he figured it always would be.
            “I’ve been thinking that perhaps we ought to start a garden.”
            There was a very long pause, once he’d anticipated as she came to stand next to him. “Oh?” she asked, and it was done warily. “What brought this on?”
            His body shifted just enough that a small sliver of his arm brushed against hers. It was always good to have this bit of contact, even though it chilled his blood considerably. “It’s what one does in a place like this, is it not?”
She glanced around their new backyard. While clean and tidy, it was barren of any of the extraneous plants and ornamentations many of the other neighbors had. This had been a purposeful choice on her behalf, and until this day, he’d supported it wholeheartedly. “All right, then,” she said slowly. “A garden we shall have.”
            “Some other things, too.” He tested the waters delicately. “A table perhaps. Some chairs?”
            This clearly surprised her, for her eyes widened. They were very lovely eyes, dark and expressive, black pools he’d long ago drowned in. “Are you sure?”
            The grass in front of him was neat, mowed and edged to exact perfection. It was something to surely be proud of, but it was also…
            Simply grass.
            He shrugged and said quietly, “It would please me.”
            It was obvious she tampered down any further comments about their past for the moment, but she did it, as he knew she would. It was so rare he ever asked for anything. He was content to be the giver in their relationship, the provider, so when these moments came up, she tended to take them seriously. “Very well.” Her voice was muted here in their open space. “There is a store nearby that I think will serve our needs. I overheard one of the neighbors informing another that a spouse was dispatched to it for various home improvement sundries. If we go now”–and here she peered into the sky–“we will still have enough time for tonight.”
            Our needs. Music to his ears.

The drive to the store was a serene one. The windows were down in their leased Volvo and a radio station blared cheerful yet misogynistic lyrics and he was driving and she relaxed in the seat next to him. It was good to have these small moments, where they were simply people out doing what people did.
            It made him feel like who he was, at the core. Who he’d been. 
            Who he hoped to reclaim in the end.
           She broke their silence first. “Women around here cook.” He reached over and turned the music off so he could hear her soft burr better. “They bake. Somebody came by yesterday with brownies.”
            “Did they?”
            “I accepted them and then threw them away.”
            “Ah,” he murmured softly.
            “It was a . . . kind gesture,” she continued. “To welcome us, I believe. I also overheard a couple other women discussing a bake sale to help with one of the local schools.” Her dark hair swished as she lolled her head towards him. “I should try baking sometime.”
            He couldn’t help but tease. “To help fundraise for school?” 
            Those black eyes, much like buttons, blinked slowly at him and then focused elsewhere. “Perhaps,” was all she was willing to concede.

The store she’d led them to was enormous, like a giant’s box set to earth and then surrounded by flat, gray concrete. It reeked of sawdust and of oil and a bit of staleness. They wandered the labyrinths inside, pushing a germ-infested metal cart forcibly highlighted with orange plastic.           
            “It’s dead in here,” she commented as they gazed upon faucets they had no need for.
            He did not answer. She didn’t need a response, nor, did he believe, wanted one.
            Eventually, as they deliberated tables both glass and plastic, she asked, “This garden you want.”
            He ran a finger across a plastic table and suppressed a shiver. It felt wrong, like an abomination. Plastic did no being any favors, especially him. “Yes?”
            “May I have input?”
            It was a carefully considered question, that was to be sure. And an encouraging one as well. “I would be delighted to have your ideas, leannán. What did you have in mind?”
            “It has been . . . awhile since I have had the opportunity to sow earth, but as you surely must remember, I once possessed what was considered a very fine green thumb.”
            Her ability to manipulate plants was legendary and shouldered much of the impetus of how he’d come to be hers. He’d remembered this, of course, as he’d pondered the decision to own a garden once more over the last few days.
            Youth was always a rosy time to reflect upon. It was glorious how memories could make past wrongs come out looking liking shining examples of exactly the right things to do.
            “You did, indeed.” His words were soft as he selected a small, wooden table which could be folded up. 
            “Botany is a lost art nowadays. Everything is so . . .” Her gaze wandered off, her eyes darker than normal. And then she sighed. “I miss the old days. I miss the magic and simplicity that came with life.”
            As did he, ironically.
            “I would like to do this for you, muirnín. I would like to craft you a garden to be proud of. May I do this for you?”
            He thought back to the garden he’d found himself in so many years ago, of the soft, peaty loam and the dense, earthy scents that’d so easily overwhelmed him. She’d not possessed such a garden in ages, not since he’d joined her. It’d been a concession to him–an unspoken one that offered loyalty and penance. For many years, he’d been grateful for just such a thing.
            Now . . .
            Now those rosy memories were tugging at him in such vicious, sentimental ways.
            He conceded this change of heart to her with a small, deft inclination of his head, fully understanding what he was agreeing to.
            They selected a couple of chairs in silence–wooden and slated–and paid for them and the table at a register run by a very pretty girl. She must have been in her twenties, flushed with enthusiasm and hormones, and fawned over him without nary a glance at his other.
            The girl pressed the receipt into his outstretched hand longer than necessary. “Are you new around here?” 
            Her name tag read Siobhan. He’d known a Siobhan, once. She’s been a fun one, the Siobhan of his past.
            A smile was passed to the girl who looked nothing like the one from his youth, and she blushed.
            “Too old,” was tut-tutted from behind, but it was laced with distraction.
            He turned away from the sales clerk and studied the woman he’d bound himself to. Her eyes were scanning–-narrowed and calculating, plotting exact measurements.
            For him. Once more.
            “If I recall correctly,” he said gently, “I wasn’t young, either.”
            Her black eyes flicked to him as they walked toward the automatic doors. “This is different. I am going to create a masterpiece for you, and it will require time to flourish. We are staring fresh, muirnín. Good gardens always require youth to start with.” She paused and tentatively reached a hand out to lay against his forearm. It was cold, as always, but somehow it was the most lovely feeling in the world, an addiction he’d never been able to stave off. “I want to give you something beautiful, like you’ve given me.”
            He stared at her in awe over how obsession and love could be so easily intertwined in situations such as theirs.
            “Excuse me,” came a small voice to their left. They both swiveled and looked down at a child dressed in green with round patches decorating her garb. She motioned to a table nearby, resplendent with boxes. “We’re selling cookies. Would you like to buy some?”
            “Darling child, I would be delighted,” his mate told the child.

Later that evening, as he sat at his wooden table, he watched her set to work in the birthing of their garden. Her nails were already black with earth, but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, a glow set about her that he hadn’t seen in centuries.
            She was content, for she was doing what she’d always meant to be doing.
            Not everyone could lay claim to having a nursery rhyme created for them, he mused. But she did, his lovely, lovely Mary. Because of him, she’d squelched her true nature for too long, but he’d been ready to give her this opportunity to stretch her muscles and reclaim a bit of who she’d once been.
            Who he’d been, before she’d buried him that first time.
            He reached over and tore open a box of cookies. There were six on the table, two for each girl that now found herself feeding the new garden.
            Mary, Mary, how does your garden grow? he thought with a stab of furious pride. He’d been the first, the only to have his fortune reversed. With silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row.
            His bells were long gone.
            “We’ll need more,” Mary told him as she brushed her hands against her long skirt. “Three isn’t enough to do what I want. I’ll need a good dozen, at least.”
            A cookie was offered to her. “Of course.” 
            She took the treat from him and clearly savored the minty chocolate, as a low hiss of satisfaction emitted from somewhere deep inside her chest. And then, “Belladonna would look gorgeous back here. Hemlock, too. Perhaps some nightshade. And some white oleander, to be sure.”
            His smile broke wide.
            Maybe this new home, this new place, was exactly what they needed.

© 2011 by Heather Lyons


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