CHAPTER 2 – THE WOMAN AND THE GARDENER

Mary Anderson Parks @ 2014

 

Through the window, I watch the gardener. He is strong and brown and happiness radiates from him. He might be the salvation I need. He is weeding the patch of dahlias, bending over to pluck out stalks, then crouching down on his knees to get a better pull on things. His face hasn’t yet turned in my direction but I see the strength and ease with which he moves and I know he must be young. They put me here thinking to remove me from the world but it isn’t so easy as they think, to remove me from the world or it from me. I fling the window open and prop my elbows on the sill, cup my hands under my chin and stare at him till he turns and looks full at me. I don’t move, except to blink, once. I don’t smile. And he waves and laughs and then I laugh too, and motion for him to come closer and he makes a sign of caution, a sign that I should wait.

I wonder how to close the gap between us, then swing myself over the sill and drop without thinking out into the world — and he comes running up to save me from the thorny grasp of the roses, and I am glad I did not stay in the window.

. . . . . . .

The day I go to the gazebo is a calculated move, of course. I am not hiding a bit from that. I bathed in honey-almond water and put on clean new underwear I sneaked out of the house to buy, lace all the way, and a lightweight flowered dress that drapes gracefully. I left off perfume because the garden is full of the scent of his flowers. He is working at the far end of the garden and I want to go closer but it hasn’t come to that yet. For now I am safe in this ridiculous gazebo. All I need is a tea table and a parasol. I laugh and take off the dress. Yes, that catches his eye, I can see his whole brown body tense and half turn in my direction and then I remember the big house hanging over the lawn, obscenely, hanging there with its gaping windows. Casually, as if there were nothing to it, I lift the dress from the floor and step into it and reach to button the one button at the V-neck and realize I have put it on backwards. Well that will cause comment when I return to the house. If I return. I feel my eyes darting about, searching for places the gardener and I could hide if we both wanted to. I glance over at him. He has moved a little, just a little closer, and I can see the laughter in his eyes now. He is relieved I’ve put my dress back on. Well yes, I am behaving very sensibly. I get on my knees and crawl across the little rocky floor of the gazebo and out into the garden and begin digging around some white petunias, gently, so as not to do any harm.

But his back stiffens, the glistening, sweat-beaded brown back. Standing on my knees to look at him, I see his muscles tighten and know this was a mistake.

So I pretend again. I can be quite patient. They’ve kept me a prisoner in that house for many months or maybe even years. I hope I am not getting old. The gardener is very young. I hope he is alone. It would be complicated if there were someone else, someone brown and beautiful and as young as he. I stand up slowly, watching him pretending not to watch me, and I pick the white petunias carefully, one by one, pulling them out by the roots until I have them all fragrant in my hand.

And then I wonder what to do next, quite appalled at the idea of having them in my room, taking root there, or dying. So I kneel and replant them, as I saw him plant things yesterday when I watched him from the window all day until the sun went down. And now he is coming toward me. He is going to offer to help. I slow the movement of my hands and arms, waiting, not knowing if he’ll notice my dress is on backwards. I don’t know what I’ll say. A mechanical kind of guy? No, not he. Warm and tender and talking. I have trouble, though, picturing that talking, hearing it in my mind. He never talks; he just works. Kneeling by the petunias, patting the dirt back, I look toward him hopefully. The sun is still strong, but my heart is sad and beating slowly and I feel now the reason for that. He is not coming toward me, or if he was he has changed his mind. I don’t want to be too forward and ruin everything. I return to the gazebo and stare at a rose and lose myself in its layers. I should look around more. There is much comfort in these little things. But my mind goes back to hiding as I look, desperate, time running out. All is too tended, too cared for, it will never work. I feel cold.

I must have crossed the space between us when I wasn’t thinking because here I am now, standing over him. He rises slowly to his feet. I look down at my flowered dress with its white background, white for purity. Yes, it is still on backwards, which means I probably haven’t taken it off again in this spell of forgetting, and that must be good because a slow, beautiful smile lights his face. He is strong and lithe and pantherlike when he moves, just the way I am. I love him fiercely. There is no need for words. No need at all. The words I hear in the house are horrible, dull, killing words, stifling joy. I don’t know if I am smiling and I touch my face to see.

I am surprised to feel tears on my cheeks. It wouldn’t be sweat, it must be tears.

“Are you all right?” His voice is tender but rough, like the layered rose with its thorns.

“Your voice,” I say.

“Yes?”

“It is quite lovely.” I feel grateful my manners have come to my aid. When what I really want is to fling my dress into the nearest flowerbed and run off with him to the woods.

“Is there a woods nearby?” I ask politely. He looks surprised. Then I see sympathy layer over the surprise — and something else? Is there something else? Do I need then to be watchful of him, too?

“You don’t get out much, do you,” he says.

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