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Greenhouse Gore

My vein plant had wilted again. The red veined leaves drooped over the sides of the terracotta pot feebly, announcing their mortal thirst and my apparent lousiness at caretaking. The weight of the leaves had bent the stems so much over time that it looked like this week’s resurrection was going to be an ordeal to straighten out. I’d have to call on Jesus for the millionth time for an ascent. But I’d seen this before. I’d learned immediately following its potting that the vein plant was greedy in its craving for water and that it considered my lack of punctuality the utmost infringement to its livelihood. In a few hours, after the roots licked up the water bleeding through the soil, it would reach for the skylight again.

“This isn’t your swan song, madame,” I said, picking up the tin watering can by the table. Old water sloshed at the bottom, and I dumped it on the ground with several good shakes before slipping out through the back door of the greenhouse and hauling it to the hose for a refill. It was a humid day. The wet slope of my neck was evidence. After the can filled up, I held the hose to my lips and drenched my throat. Wouldn’t do my plants any good if their caretaker died of heat stroke.

“Here comes the airplane,” I cooed, tipping the spout into the pot as the soil. “You know I would never let you die, you baby.”

With the drama queen watered, I moved on to inspect the status of my other plants. The devil’s ivy that’d been a nightmare to hang up on the ceiling was growing faster than I’d anticipated. It had only been a year since I almost lost my life on that rickety ladder, perfecting my double knots on the rope keeping the pot in place to ensure that there wouldn’t be a day when I walked underneath it when the ropes gave way, and the pot cracked my head open. Thankfully, my forehead hasn’t met the base of the pot just yet. Instead, the smooth green leaves dangling down from the vines greet me with hellos whenever I stride through them. Like Moses parting the Red Sea. Minus the Egyptians.

All my cacti are doing superb. They’re lined up like pocket-sized ceramic dolls on the window ledge where the sunlight is at its best. I rotate them often, so they don’t become slanted like the first ones I kept. Recently, I’ve stretched myself into the herb world. It took me a while, but I was able to sand down and paint over the old table that was in the center of the greenhouse where I arranged eight square boxes, filled to the brim with soil and nutrients. The herbs were still germinating, and I couldn’t distinguish between them all aside from the popsicle sticks I’d collected over the summer that read “oregano” or “thyme” in my straggled handwriting.

“Tatum, I think the greenhouse is almost complete,” I said, standing in the heart and admiring my fine handiwork from the past four years. Almost every inch of the glass house was in bloom.

There was no response from Tatum. I hadn’t expected one.

I toddled over to where she was against the wall and sat down beside her. The honeysuckles I planted had taken to her almost immediately. The vines curled around her ribcage, weaving in and out between each bone as if they had just left from a knitting class. The blooms were so dense that you could hardly see the fractures in the radius and ulna of her left arm. The skull was a little trickier for the honeysuckles to conquer but eventually the little white flowers poked themselves through her eye sockets and spilled over her jawbone.

“I think I might add just a few more things,” I said, looking around. “But really, I need to focus on the herbs since school is starting soon. I won’t have time to learn about anything new.” She was silent. But she grinned at me through the white flowers in agreement.

When I was six, Mr. Coffin died. And after he died, I asked my mom who was going to take care of his greenhouse. Every summer in the evening, I would peer over the fence that separated his yard from ours, standing on our empty old doghouse that Mom always told me to stay away from and watch him through the glass, sifting through the soil. He died on the eve of the spring equinox and the greenhouse, with all its freshly planted inhabitants, died alongside him. Mom said to leave the greenhouse alone although the doghouse was now an acceptable place to play in.

The greenhouse was spacious, and I was grateful for it. When I first crossed its threshold four years ago, it was clear that Mrs. Coffin had kept her distance from it; Mr. Coffin was the obvious green thumb in the marriage. Fragmented pots were strewn about every way. Green and brown vine corpses haunted the shapeshifting graveyard. A tornado that passed through last spring had smashed itself through the skylight, permitting hot air to seep in and there was another plant, one that I still cannot identify, that took full advantage of the greenhouse’s demise and began to haphazardly mark its territory wherever it could grow. I allowed it to stay.

Tatum was a surprise.

She was buried behind several bags of potting soil in that corner. It was on the third day of my renovation plans, when I bent over to heave one of the bags over to my potting station that her boney hand reached out and touched mine. I dropped the bag on her and tumbled backward over a rake. After a few moments of stunned, sedentary silence, watching the dust twirl through the sunlight whilst breathing heavily, I crawled over to her, lifted the bag off her bones, and apologized for my abrupt reaction. After all, she reached out to me first, looking for friendship in her shallow grave.

“My name is Molly,” I said. “I, uh. I live over there.” I pointed to the fence, empty doghouse behind it, and the brown roof that I lived under as if her eyeless skull could see it.

You really can’t blame me for the decisions I made at the time. I was only eleven when I found her, and I thought I would get in huge trouble for breaking into the greenhouse in the first place. Tatum had been dead for a long time; her withering skeleton proved it. She looked like the fossils you’d see at museums, all sickly yellow and susceptible to breakage by even the flick of a cat’s tail. Her ghost had abandoned these bones long ago. Who was looking for her? I was too young at the time to think about what Mr. Coffin might have done to her although the thought did make a fleeting appearance in my brain from time to time. But I didn’t tell anyone about her. Not even my mom. Instead, I crafted a garden for her to rest in, hoping my transgressions would be pardoned with each new blossom.

Tatum wasn’t the only girl Mr. Coffin held hostage in his greenhouse. On the other side of the glasshouse stood an ivory garden statue, sculpted into the figure of some ethereal young maiden whose face turned upward towards heaven. In the absent years of Mr. Coffin’s death, the statue had endured various casualties. Her right hand was missing, shattered at the wrist and a large crack oozed from her forehead across her face. I was able to squeeze in some tiny seeds into the cracks that started growing over her chest like crocheted sweater. It was an artful decision at the time. It wasn’t until this year that I realized the sprouts were doing more harm than good, eroding her away. I try my best snipping away the invaders I’d planted, but I’m preparing myself for the day that she cracks. I named her Persephone.

Actually, I almost named her Demeter, the goddess of harvest and agriculture, to bring good luck to my greenhouse endeavors. But then I remembered how my mother had taught me the ways of green-leafed beings and how to dip my hands into the cool dark soil. How she would sit me down on the porch and scrub the dirt out from under my fingernails. My mother was like Demeter. A harvest goddess. And as daughters of these goddesses, Persephone and I reigned in this greenhouse.

And that was my life.

One day, I decided to pop into the gardening store on the edge of town. There were old receipts from the store wedged in the table in the greenhouse and from my scavenging of Mr. Coffin’s abandoned remnants, I could tell he had good taste. Not so much in personal style from what I’d seen of him as child, but the greenhouse was well taken care of. Never mind the fact that he kept a dead girl’s skeleton for company. The old man had a pure fondness for ceramic pots, and I wanted to check out where he purchased his supplies.

There were two cashiers that worked regularly at the store, and I only liked one of them. Benny never said anything to me other than a mumbled ‘hello,’ my ideal social interaction. He would scan my pots, soil, plates, and gloves swiftly and play a curious game trying to fit them all in the bag. Then a mumbled ‘have a good day, Molly’ before sending me on my way and picking up his Sudoku puzzle once more.

The other cashier didn’t have a nametag. He always stalked me as I was perusing through the seasonal aisle. I never had to look at him to know he was eyeing me. As I got older, I learned to elude him by dipping into the blind spots of the store and running over to Benny. But that day, I wasn’t so lucky. Benny was nowhere to be found and I was stuck with no-nametag. He kept looking at my body, my skin, and the invasive gaze in his eyes made me want to peel my outer skin off my muscles and bones in one whole piece and hand it over to him so that he might leave me alone, like the way some people peel the skin off an apple in one piece.

I wonder which of these two cashiers Mr. Coffin was friends with.

I left the store with a starter plant for Damask roses, the only kind of roses that I think merit the critical acclaim from the romantics. I don’t really have anything against other types of roses, but my mom says they’re the best. She wouldn’t ever let me in on the secret of why, but then again, I also never saw her plant them herself. Maybe she didn’t truly believe in it as much as she claimed to.

It was drizzly outside which, coalesced with my malfunctioning bike chain, only added to the grim task of making it home. The rain wasn’t as menacing as it had been earlier in the day; it drifted quickly into a mist and spun itself in between the hovering fog. The rain made me sleepy and, presumably, the rest of the world as well. The road glistened with wet reflections of the white sky, the trees upheld mounted raindrops across their branches, flickering against any flash of light, and even the herd of cows huddled together to conceal any warmth the fog was attempting to steal from them.

To give my legs a rest, I stopped by the park that’s near the school to recruit a few helpers for my new greenhouse addition. Every time it rained there was a spectacle of worms wriggling in little rain dances across the sidewalks. When I was younger, I always tried to sneak some into the house and put them in a jar to keep as pets, but eventually, I’d get found out and Mom would make me take them right back outside and release them into the soil.

“They’re helping us grow our plants, Molly,” she’d say, but all the same, I kidnapped several of those at the park, promising that I was taking them to a better place. It was a good move. There were fewer of them left doing their collective rain dance which meant by the time I made it home, the clouds closed the curtains on their downpour and slipped away under the sun.

Before I reached the gate that opened into my backyard, Mrs. Coffin ventured out onto her front porch, holding a plate wrapped in tin foil. She called me over. I was dumbfounded. When was the last time I had seen her? I shoved my fistfuls of worms into my jacket pockets to hide my crime of abduction, feeling them squirm in between my fingers while Mrs. Coffin offered me a lemon square.

“How is your mother doing?” she asked. Her voice was fragile, like strings on an old harp that were being played for the first time in years.

I took a bite of the lemon square and savored the refreshing taste of citrus that burst in my mouth. “She’s doing well.” Really, when was the last time that I had seen Mrs. Coffin?

“I haven’t seen her in a while.”

“Yes. She’s quite busy.”

“I haven’t seen you in a while either.”

This statement hit my head with concerns. I hadn’t seen Mrs. Coffin in what seemed to be years, yet she appeared to be keeping tabs on me and my mom. Was she playing with me? Did she know that for the past four years I had been slinking through the hole between our fences, dipping into her dead husband’s greenhouse in the evenings, and fashioning my own botanical paradise? Did she know that in her dead husband’s lair was skeleton whom I named Tatum? If so, what does she think has changed? My routine has not been altered.

“Yes, I’m pretty busy myself,” I replied, avoiding the sight of her biting her lip, ripping the cracked skin off and blowing them into the grass like the shells of sunflower seeds. I wondered if those pieces of skin were falling into the dessert she was offering me.

As she was handing me lemon squares with her eerily smooth, wrinkly hand, I spotted that she was examining mine. I had a burn scar on my left hand near the base of the thumb. I was too young to recall the actual burning but my mom says when I was four, I had teetered into the kitchen from the living room and yanked on the white tablecloth causing a waterfall of hot tea, just poured from the kettle, to baptize me in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Graciously, the Lord spared the rest of my flesh from visible injury. It wasn’t too noticeable unless you were a widowed neighbor fixating on it.

“I’ve never known tea to cause such a burn,” Mrs. Coffin said after I told her about my toddler incident. Her glassy eyes were sifting through my face now, panning for some gold to satisfy her neighborly curiosity. “Is your mother sure that that is what happened?”

I shrugged which I understand might be an unpolite way to respond to an elderly woman, but I’d indulged myself in too many lemon squares and the excess tanginess had bitterly zipped my mouth inside itself to the point where constructing a coherent sentence would have been impossible. Besides, for what reason would my mom lie to me? It’s just a scar.

“Well, have a good day, dear,” Mrs. Coffin said, crumpling up the tin foil on the empty plate before taking one last vile glance at my hand. I watched as she wobbled across the creaky porch in that delicate shuffle that most old ladies walk in. The kind that made me nervous in thinking she might fall.

After licking my fingers, I shoved my hands back into my pockets and carried the roses and my worms into the backyard, setting them down in the patio in an old pot I’d filled with soil beforehand. I made myself a thermos full of hot green tea (the burning incident did not deter me from its tastiness), spooning some honey in, before gathering everything and taking it to the greenhouse. If Mrs. Coffin did know about my hobby, I don’t think she would mind.

“Guys, I think the old lady is on to us,” I said to Tatum and Persephone as soon as I stepped into the greenhouse. They looked back at me in shock. “Yeah, I know. It’ll be bad if she finds the three of us in here. Especially you, Tatum.”

The thermos was soon empty as I was telling the girls about my day, but I left the teabag in my mouth while making my rounds checking the leaves of my plants. The vein plant was hinting at an ahead-of-schedule tantrum. Some of the leaves on a single vine of the devil’s ivy were beginning to brown a little. I’d have to be sure to dispense my watering evenly from this point onward. The cacti were due for a sunlight rotation.

“I saw Sydney today,” I said. Tatum clapped her hands, but Persephone rolled her eyes. “He was walking his dog with Lily.”

Lily was Sydney’s little sister and Sydney was the boy in my history class who left a note in my locker the last day of school a few months ago. It had a bad joke on it. Lucky for him, I don’t remember it. Once we left the boundaries of adolescence and trespassed into high school, Sydney and I couldn’t look at each other for more than five seconds before turning away in a blush. He was trying to Casanova his way into my heart. I wish I still remembered the joke.

“His family is hosting a back-to-school pool party,” I announced, snipping off the hazardous hairstyle my fern was growing. “I’m going to ask mom if I can go.”

Persephone said she didn’t believe my mom would let me because she doesn’t know Sydney’s family. Mom didn’t like his bad joke either when I showed her the note that night and the next morning, when I woke up, I couldn’t find the note anywhere. Persephone thinks that she threw it away. Tatum said she didn’t understand why mom was so protective. That Sydney was a friend from school who was my age, and it wasn’t like I was meeting some stranger who would kidnap me. Persephone’s eyes rolled again, and this time she looked at Tatum. It’s funny that you’re the one saying that, she said.

The eyes of our greenhouse goddess met mine as the first rays of dusk slipped through the glass. Okay, now let me do my work, she said. I obliged her and took a seat beside Tatum, the two of us awaiting the daily evening show we had watched together for four years.

For just a few moments every day, when the sunset drenched the statue with all its dying light, Persephone would glow. When the sun hit her alabaster skin, she turned golden and when she turned golden, all the other golden things in the universe seemed to lose their shine to light up the ground where she stood. Streaks of sun refracting through the stickiness of honey dripping over the edges of hexagons in a beehive surrendered their sweetness when Persephone was aglow. The scattered paintings on my bedroom walls of looming light dimmed to color the flames in her eyes and hair. At sundown, the goddess looked more golden than the sizzled bottoms of cumulus clouds drifting in a sunset sky, than the gates of heaven that might open themselves up to me someday.

Magic, said Tatum.

“Magic,” I said.

We marveled at the magic drifting out of Persephone’s eyes and sweeping through the greenhouse, touching the leaves of every single plant like a sweet kiss. I believed that Persephone’s glow helped the seeds grow and the roots to strengthen. After every sunset, the plants seemed richer with life, teeming with color and shine. Even that pesky vein plant that kept wanting to die on me. They all absorbed the warm colors radiating out from Persephone’s eyes.

And your eyes too, Molly, said the bones beside me. They glow at sunset too.

Tatum said that my eyes remind her of a mid-day thunderstorm on the coast. The kind of rain that makes the palm trees sway back and forth in the hands of the salty breeze. The kind that brings out swirls of lime-colored currents out from the bottom of the ocean to intermingle with the blue waves. The kind that sends beachcombers indoors so only the seagulls and the crabs sift through the wet sand on the shore. I’ve never seen the ocean before. Only through TV screens and pictures. But I trusted the skeleton beside me and felt proud of my thunderstorm eyes.

After Persephone concluded her evening ritual, the greenhouse lulled me to an unexpected sleep. I fell asleep with the aroma of honeysuckles swaddling me in, a bony hand touching my arm, and a dream wandering through my body. A dream that lingered on the precipice of falling into a nightmare had I not been used to them at this stage of my life.

***

We didn’t know where the blood came from or to whom it belonged. All we knew was that the entire floor was covered in it and all the men were gone. Persephone, Tatum, and I. We didn’t say anything, just looked at each other in what I suppose was relief. Blood angels. My eyes were staring at the ceiling and my body was pressed on the cold, red floor, making snow angels. Except for it wasn’t in snow, it was in blood. Blood angels. I made millions across that floor, until they were all touching wing tip to wing tip.

Tatum was watching me from above and she said it looked like an abstract painting.

She was right. I thought about Michelangelo and how he probably relished painting God’s fingertips reaching out towards Adam and mankind up on the high ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and that everyone who saw it would bend their necks to gaze at those brushstrokes. But the demons that burn in hell would saunter across my tapestry of blood angels, their forked tails slicing across their throats, and bring the angels’ decapitated heads back down where the Devil lives. When I lifted myself up from the floor and joined Tatum above to examine my masterpiece, I cried.

All my bloody angels looked like Persephone.

I tried running back down to erase her from the floor, but Tatum grabbed my arms and held me back. It’s too late, she said. She’s already dead. She’s already dead.

I looked back at her, distraught. “You’re dead.”

And she just smiled.

***

When I woke up, the greenhouse was dark. The sky had assumed its nightly blue and black hues. Only a thin sliver of moonlight poked through the obscurity. I hadn’t ever slept this long in the greenhouse. My mom was probably wondering where I was. I was still thinking about blood angels when I hoisted myself up from the ground, whispering goodnight to Tatum and walking over to the table. My head hurt. It was hard to see in the dark.

It was quiet. I put on my jacket and began assembling my thermos and supplies together, and it was quiet. The devil’s ivy looked strange hanging down from the ceiling like that. Maybe it’s just the darkness, and it was quiet. One of my popsicle sticks had fallen over in the herb garden. Rosemary, and it was quiet. A gray cloud passed over the moon and stifled its white light for just a moment before dissolving into the night. I felt a shudder, that kind that you get during the night, vibrate up my spine and into my neck, and it was all very still.

And then it wasn’t.

The song of one lonely cricket tinkered against the glass.

I smiled sleepily. “Who is this that’s invading my Eden?”

But when I turned around, I found my singing cricket to have a human face. A face pressed so close to the greenhouse that its breath was fogging up the glass. I could taste the bubbling condensation in my mouth. The eyes looked blank, washed away by the glaring moonlight. A quiver rippled across the face’s wrinkly lip as the blank eyes focused themselves upon my own trembling face.

It was Mrs. Coffin.

I accidentally collided with Persephone as I bolted out the back door of the greenhouse and escaped into the night. I heard her crash and break into a thousand pieces. I never got the chance to mourn Tatum, but if I stopped to cry for Persephone, tomorrow might be the day that someone else mourns me. My heart pounded a doomsday tune that slit its way through my veins as I tore through the hole in the fence. In my bedroom, I knew that I was shaking. The moonlight had followed me into the house; I could see my legs wobbling. But I felt numb. I fell shaking in numbness while the doomsday song in my chest promised me one last night of peace. The turmoil ahead I would deal with the next day.

I couldn’t sleep that night and when I can’t sleep, I change the position of my body on the bed to where my toes lay where my head should be and my head rests where my feet usually hang off the edge of the mattress. I stared at the ceiling fan for a while and then turned my head to the left, my eyes trailing up the glass of the window to the upper right corner where enough light from the streetlamps exposed the body of a spider clinging to its delicate threads of silk.

I had seen this spider before. I watched it one day a few weeks ago, weaving its web on the other side of the window. After that, I never saw it during the day. It only came down from the roof at night, going to bed the same time I would. The weather the past few weeks was drenched in heavy rain and battering winds; we even had a tornado rip through. Once a storm ceased, I would stand eye to eye with the window, searching for traces of a web and never seeing one. I assumed that the storms had destroyed the web and killed the spider.

But then, every night, eight long legs would wiggle down to the upper right corner. How does that happen? How does a storm tear down branches of trees and demolish the roofs of homes, but not touch a web crocheted of invisible silk? Were you the sole survivor of the Great Flood? Did the lack of invitation to Noah’s ark scorn you into immortality?

It was raining this night too. Just a light rain with no cracks of thunder or flashes of lightning zig zagging through the sky. It had woken up the spider, the rain did. At first, it remained in its position, but when the wind started shaking the web, the eight legs desperately tried to pull the spider up to the roof where it could hide from the gloomy morning weather. Just when the spider reached the top, the wind and rain pulled it back down the web and the arachnid had to begin again. I thought about that nursery rhyme, the itsy-bitsy spider. I felt bad for him, but I felt worse for me.

An hour passed with me laying upside down on a bed in the night, watching a spider desperately climb up its web to escape the storm only to be brought down again by the wind and rain. Eventually, the clouds ceased dropping rain and the spider hastily pulled itself to the roof, leaving its invisible web swaying in the upper right corner. I hadn’t noticed that the sky was no longer black, but a damp shade of blue before I fell asleep.

***

A knock.

I woke to a knock echoing through the walls from downstairs. The clock said that it was past nine. Mom was at work, and I had the choice of ignoring whomever it was standing behind the front door or facing my fate. Slowly, I pulled apart the blinds from the window and saw several police cars blocking the driveway. Numerous people were strewn across the lawn, some in blue with guns strapped to their belts, others with gloves and plastic bags. One man dressed in a brown coat was speaking to one of the blues, holding a small notepad in one hand and a pen in the other.

He looked up at my window.

When I opened the door, it was this man who was standing on our faded doormat, and he was unwelcome. He quickly, routinely, flashed a badge in front of my face and asked if he could come in. I didn’t say anything, but pushed the door open anyway. He walked in, glancing around at the shoes pooling by the door, and followed me into the kitchen. I poured myself a bowl of cereal and sat down at the table, eating my last meal in anticipation of the death sentence I was about to receive, hoping that each spoonful into my mouth would push back the tears that were trembling over my eyelids.

“How are you doing today?” he asked, flipping open his notepad. I couldn’t read his eyes. They were blanker than the ones I saw staring at me through the glass last night.

“I’m okay.”

The man, in his brown coat, said he was going to ask me some questions. Questions about the Coffins, the death of one of them, their house, their greenhouse, my house, my mother, my life, my plants, my broken goddess, and the child bones buried in honeysuckles. I told him that I wanted to wait for my mom to come home before I said anything. And he sighed. And his breath fogged up my eyes like the face did last night.

“I’m afraid that’s what I am here about,” he said, softly tapping the end of his pen onto the table. “Your mother.” I was confused. Did he want her name?

“Her name is Anna Mickle.”

“Yes, I know. And your name is Molly Mickle.”

“Yes.”

“Except that it’s not.”

“What?”

He opened his brown coat and pulled out a manila envelope from the inside pocket, setting it on the table and sliding a picture across the table towards me. I put down my spoon and picked up the photograph. It was of a little girl, three or four years old, with a joyful luster radiating through her face, being held in the arms of an unfamiliar woman.

“That is you as a child,” the man’s voice came to my ears. His finger glided over the edge of the picture and pointed to the strange woman. “And that is your mother.”

We looked at each other. It was a staring contest. He sighed again and I didn’t breathe. I couldn’t let myself breathe.

“Your name is Rebecca Edmunds.” His head bobbled towards the kitchen window where the greenhouse was visible. “Those bones in there. It’s not confirmed yet, but that is the real Molly Mickle.”

Still no breath.

“When Molly died. We still don’t know how she died, but when she did, Anna did not report it. She instead went out west to the coast, maybe to mourn and deal with her grief, and-,” his blank eyes fell over me. “She took another child as a replacement for the one she lost.”

Breath. Where was breath?

“Your case was difficult to investigate. Mostly because it crossed state lines and the department that was handling it was understaffed. Our station only took over after we received a call from your neighbor.” He paused, to glance at the empty page in his notepad. “She, uh, visited some family members out west earlier this summer and saw your picture on a missing children’s board. The bulletin said that you had a scar on your hand from accidentally touching a hot iron one day.”

Breath.

“She called us last night.”

I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It’s one that I don’t have the wisdom or the vocabulary to put into words, into sense. But I felt something inside me fall away and for a moment, the greenhouse, when I first found it, abandoned with death crawling around its glass, flashed through my mind.

Standing up, I walked over to the sink and placed my empty cereal bowl under the faucet. I turned towards the window and gazed at the greenhouse, now crawling with people in blue and people in gloves. Mrs. Coffin was standing on her porch supervising them. When I leaned closer to the glass, I saw more people scavenging through our yard, poking their hands into the doghouse, and conversing about it excitedly.

The man in the brown coat’s voice floated to my ears again. “When was the last time you saw Anna?” I heard his pen click.

I asked if I could go back to the greenhouse once last time. He reluctantly agreed to escort me, turning towards the front door with a solemn expression, but I walked out the back, stopping to rip my damask roses, you know, the only ones I think deserve the critical acclaim from the romantics, out from the soil. The worms I would return to the sidewalks later.

My greenhouse was ransacked. Strangers were stepping over leaves and yanking down the vines from the devil’s ivy that got in their way. Two of the herbs squares I’d planted were knocked over on the floor. Someone must have pushed them aside a little too hard to make room for all their lab equipment. My watering can was tipped over on its side. A puddle dripping beside it. They were all dying.

The honeysuckles I planted around Tatum were gone. White petals rested on the ground around her like freshly fallen snow. There were no more vines curling around her bones, no more smiling flowers in her teeth. She looked the same way I had found her. Sickly yellow and broken. She wouldn’t speak to me anymore.

I moved forward towards the table to let a person in blue go out the door and felt something under my foot. I’d stepped on Persephone. One of the million pieces of her that were scattered across the floor, touching wing tip to wing tip. I knelt down, hoping to find her eyes, but they weren’t aglow anymore and she wouldn’t speak to me either.

A thorn from the roses pricked my finger. I couldn’t bring myself to lay down the flowers near Tatum’s and Persephone’s graves like I wanted to. The man in the brown coat followed me outside where I sat down in the grass watching everyone fly in and out of the greenhouse like flies. Mrs. Coffin brought out another plate of lemon squares and set them down beside me, but I couldn’t bring myself to try one.

Nobody spoke to me for a while. When the sun slipped down my back and a troop of ants was crawling over the untouched lemon squares, I saw the man in the brown coat look at me. But before he came over to dissect through my sorrows, I yanked a dandelion out of the grass and blew it out like a birthday candle, hoping at least one of my wishes would land in good soil.

***

You were the one whose wings I painted in blood in my dream. I didn’t know I was creating you, but then when the loneliness hit me and the real friends seemed far away, I said ‘hello’ to you and told myself that you were saying ‘hello’ back. Persephone, you were the friend that I looked for in real people. I scoured through this town looking for someone who watched over me while I slept even though you were breaking apart every morning. I said, ‘who needs other people when my best friend is a goddess.’ Of course, I saw your face in those blood angels. Why did I think the demons would take your head to hell, when Hades already stole you from your mother to his underworld? She fought to get you back, didn’t she? Your mother? Wasn’t the greenhouse our underworld, Persephone?

You were pulling a string out of your sweater when you told me that God wasn’t real, and I wanted to believe you because I thought that was the quickest way my lips would meet your lips. But then you said that imaginary friends were stupid, and I couldn’t tell you about Persephone in the greenhouse. I couldn’t tell you. You, Sydney, who doesn’t believe in God, that my best friend was the daughter of a goddess. You wrote a horrible joke that planted itself into the center of my chest, but I must have overwatered it because I still can’t remember it no matter how many times, I wish for it to bloom. ‘Let me be the devil’s advocate,’ you said, but I don’t think the devil doesn’t need any more help than he’s got.

You were cleaning the dirt out from my fingernails and asking why I was home so late when you told me that I shouldn’t let other people see the grime. See the secrets that were trapped on my fingers, and I said, “yes, mom,” because I didn’t want you to find out that I was skipping school to be in Mrs. Coffin’s greenhouse. But then I never thought to look and see what was bleeding out from underneath your fingernails because I never imagined it might be the blood of my birth mother weeping for her lost daughter. I never paused to ask why I couldn’t investigate the old doghouse, the one that sat there dogless every year. What did you keep inside there? I was Adam, obeying your commands because I was too scared to be Eve. You never let there be any serpents around me anyway.

You were rotting away in the garden that I had planted around you because I wanted your resting place to be beautiful when I decided that your name would be Tatum. We talked about chipmunks making homes out of our ribcages and the birdbaths that would fill up in our upside-down skulls after a storm. But then a man at my front door said my name is your name and I am who you are and that you were supposed to be what I am now, but I will never know who I could have been had you never died. That you, you, are Molly and I am Molly and now the greenhouse that we both raised will never see a Molly again.

In three days, my vein plant would wilt again.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Young Adult (YA)

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