43 - A Short Story - The Garden

Feb. 4, 2020

Her garden, the one place in the world she felt safe, at peace, one with herself and nature. Peaceful, quiet. Colorful, where the colors handed her every imaginable aroma, helping her relax and forget about the life she lived. In the center was a rose tree full of pink roses with just enough shade for her to sit in, protected from the bright sun beating down on her world.

The garden isn’t big. Just 20 feet by 30 feet, roughly, but filled with an incredible variety of color. Flowers from all over the world filled this little space. There were paths to walk, like a maze, but they all ended at that rose tree. The sounds of the city were far away and easily forgotten here. The sounds of birds and bees, the soft fluttering of butterflies – those were at the heart of the garden. They helped her forget what would be soon coming. This little piece of heaven on earth was hers and hers only, and nobody, not even he, was allowed to enter.

She arrived at the same time every day, just a half-hour before sunset. Slowly walking among the flowers, pausing to gently touch and smell many of them, feeling the soft petals and leaves, and smiling and whispering to each one. They seemed to respond to her love by giving her an amazing place to come and be herself, or anybody she could imagine. And she imagined being somebody else often. Life inside the garden was the life she cherished and wished she could have all day long.

Sitting under the rose tree and listening to the sounds around her she watched the sun set over the far away mountains. First bright yellow, then slowly morphing into a strong orange, and finally deep red, it sank behind the Wishing Well Mountains. She gazed at the colors in the sky, fading away to dark blue, then dark purple, and finally darkness. She gazed at the changing the world around her.

The peacefulness of the garden was interrupted, as it is every day at this time, by the sound, or more appropriately, the noise, of her husband’s car. That unmistakle sound that a car makes when the engine has been modified as much as it can be, and then the mufflers removed so it can be even louder. That’s what he did because it matches what his personality has morphed into - loud, obnouxious, rude, selfish. And as is the case with such personality traits – he didn’t care. He didn’t care if it interrupted your peaceful, relaxing time in your garden; he didn’t care if it was louder than your family conversation at the dinner table, a block away; he didn’t care if it broke your concentration while catching up on the daily news. He just didn’t care.

The noise finally ended when he entered the driveway and turned off the ridiculous car. He got out, all smiles and proud of what he just did to the entire neighborhood and every home along the street. She had quickly stood up from under the rose tree and hurried into the house, put on an apron, and started preparing something for his dinner. All the while wondering, “how did we come to this?”

It hadn’t always been like this. He wasn’t this person when they met some 20 years before. If he had been she wouldn’t have even given him the time of day, let alone her heart, her love, her care, and attention. Her life. “How did we come to this?” The ever-present question she had yet to find an answer to. She hoped to find it in the garden, but such a place of beauty is not for such thoughts. It was for escaping to other, more pleasant thoughts.

He walked in, threw his hat and jacket on a chair, kicked off his dirty boots and pushed them aside, but still in the middle of the floor, all without even looking at her, not even a kiss on the cheek.

“How was your day today?” She asked the same question every day at the same moment and received the same answer. Well, it’s been the same answer for some time now. It wasn’t the same answer before, but before what? What changed?

“Same as always,” he grumbled back at her. “I’m hungry, where’s my food?”

“It’s just about ready.”

“I’m tired of waiting. I’m going out.”

What happened to your patience? What happened to you? “But, it’s just finishing right now.”

He yanked on his boots, stood up, and stormed off, leaving her holding the plate with the food he was too impatient to wait for. “What did I do wrong?” Tears started to fall from her brown eyes. She sat down at the table and ate the dinner, alone, sad, and frustrated by the man she once loved with all her heart.

A few minutes passed into a few more minutes and she was washing the dishes, cleaning up the kitchen, when she heard his cell phone ringing. It was in his jacket pocket, the jacket he hadn’t taken with him when he stormed away. She picked up the jacket, found the phone, removed it from the pocket, all while looking nervously around the room – was he here? Of course not, he left in a huff. She pressed the green button and put the phone to her ear, and listened.

“Hey man! What’s up? Why have’t you answered any of my calls? Are you there? Say something! I want my money and I want it now!”

“Um, hi, this is his wife. He’s gone out and left his phone behind.”

“Oh, shit, sorry.” And the other man immediately disconnected.

What was that about? Money? Is he in some kind of trouble? What money? What’s he doing?

She went to her laptop and logged into the bank account. Normally he takes care of the banking, the finances. He told her it was the man’s responsibility. She didn’t argue with him. That was pointless and a waste of breath and time. What she discovered shocked her. They had less than 500 dollars in their account, and she saw two big withdrawals, cash withdrawals. And there was a bank loan as well, one she didn’t know about. What was he up to? What did he do with their money?

She decided enough was enough. That wasn’t just his money. It was hers as well. This time she would stay right there and wait for him to return, then she would look him in the eyes and ask Just what the hell are you up to? Where’s our money? What did you do with it?

One hour, two hours. She was getting tired. Three hours, four hours, where was he? Why was he out for so long?

Finally, around 1am, she heard his obnoxious car coming up the road, pull into the driveway, turn off, and the door slam closed. He came back into the house and saw her waiting for him.

“Why are you still up? You know what time it is?”

“Why have you been out so long? Where did you go? What have you been doing all evening?” She was almost, but not quite, yelling at him, her hands shaking a little as she wiped a tear from her cheek.

“Oh, relax! It was nothing. Now, go to bed.”

“You had a phone call.”

He felt his pockets, looking for his phone, “I did?” Now he was the nervous one.

“Yes, and the man said he wants his money. What money is that, darling?” She said darling with a lot of sarcasm in her voice. “Would that be our money?”

“What did you do?” He yelled at her, grabbed his jacket and searched the pockets for his phone. She handed it to him. “Why did you answer my phone? MY phone! Not yours! You don’t touch my phone, get it?”

“Yes, I answered your phone. And I checked our bank account, and guess what I saw?”

“I told you to stay out of the bank account, remember? I told you I would take care of it!”

“Well, it appears you’re not doing such a good job of that.” And immediately after the words she regretted saying them.

He raised his arm as if to hit her, something he’s never done before, then changed his mind, turned and rushed back outside. The noisy car fired up, the wheels screeched for all to hear, and he was gone, again.

Now her mind was reeling. A man called and said he wants his money back. So he’s not having an affair. He took out a bank loan. So they didn’t have enough money for whatever it was he was doing. What was he up to? Had he started gambling? I’ve never known him to be a gambler. It was far too much money for somebody drowning in alcohol, or prostitutes. But what could it be? Who was the voice on the phone?

With all these thoughts running through her head she slowly faded off into a restless sleep.

When she woke up she was still alone. He hadn’t returned from whereever he had gone not too many hours before. She brewed some coffee, took a cupful out to the garden, sat under the rose tree, and let her mind wander off to other, more pleasant, thoughts. But only for a short while, as she would have to be going to her own job shortly.

That afternoon when she returned home there was another shock in store for her – the house was empty! Everything was gone! Absolutely everything, as in 100% of everything. What on earth? What happened? Where’s all my stuff? My furniture? My pictures? My dishes? Where’s …” She was in shock at the sight. She fell to her knees and cried. She dropped her head into her hands and sobbed. She slumped onto her belly on the floor, now just about wailing, Why? Why did he do this? Why!? And she lay there, crying, for a while, until she had exhausted every ounce of strength in her.

She struggled, pushed, pulled herself up. Standing on wobbly legs, she looked around at the empty house, not a chair in sight. She sat on the floor. And cried again.

Finally, she got up and walked out to the garden, at least it was still there. He hadn’t taken that away from her. She thought maybe it was too much work for him to dig it all up so he just left it. She walked among the flowers, touching them, petting their leaves, smelling their scents. Tears falling on the petals. She watched the butterflies and bees kissing each one, passing the love from one to the next. She wanted someone to do that to her. Flowers have a power over her, over just about everyone. It took a few minutes, but she eventually gave in to the power of the garden, smiled, relaxed, and sat under the rose tree. She felt like the garden smiled back at her. She forgot about the house, the things that were now gone, the husband who turned his back on her, and submerged herself in the love that was coming from all around her in the garden.

As she sat under the rose tree it dropped a pink petal onto her lap. She looked at it, just sitting there, one petal. But was it lonely? It wasn’t alone, it had her, it had many other petals up above, it had many flowers of every imaginable color all around it. She thought I am alone, but I’m not lonely. I have all my friends, my flowers, here in the garden. They love me unconditionally, day after day, unending. She gently lifted the soft pink petal off her lap, raised it to her nose, smelled the scent of it, and it was good. It filled her heart with love that only comes from the natural world around us; it filled her mind with thoughts of wonder, sweet thoughts of Him who gave all of this to us. And she fell asleep.

All the crying had drained her of all her energy, and she slept all evening and all night. It was a wonderful, deep sleep, there under the rose tree, surrounded by love, by beautiful colors, and wonderful aromas.

And he had not returned. No noise to interrupt the neighborhood. No complaining or griping. No demanding his meal Right Now! It turned out to be a wonderful, rejuvinataing night, something she desperately needed.

Morning came and the rising sun woke her from her slumber. She looked at her watch and thought Oh my gawd! What have I done? I didn’t cook him dinner! What’s going to happen? Another rose petal dropped onto her lap and she came back to reality – he wasn’t here, he hadn’t returned last night. She let herself smile, a little guilty for feeling some kind of comfort in that thought.

Back in the house, she prepared for another day a work. At least she had her clothes, still hanging in her closet. He hadn’t taken those. And he had left a few toiletries, just enough for her to take care of herself. He hadn’t been generous in any way, mind you, but he did leave her a few personal things. She went to work, refreshed by a night in the garden. Determined to not let what happened ruin her day.

That afternoon when she returned home she looked at the empy kitchen – no appliances, no cookware, no, well, nothing. What could she do? She sighed. She called a restaurant and had dinner delivered, and ate in the garden under the rose tree. She thought, “what could be better?”

But reality hit when she notice there wasn’t even a garbage can in the house. Okay. She had to do something, but what? Where to start? She called the bank and spoke to the manager but he had no information about the loan or the withdrawals. She called his brother but had knew nothing, and hadn’t even talked to him for several years. She called the one friend of his she knew, and he too, claimed to know nothing, but said he had been acting strangely lately, but had no idea about what he was up to.

All dead ends. She still had her laptop. But he never even touched that, as far as she knew. She did a history search on it just to be sure. And no, nothing there as well.

She went to the local bar hoping to find him, but he wasn’t there. She asked the barkeep and some others about him but they hadn’t seen him that day. She went to two more bars and got the same results.

It was getting late so she went home. The house was empty, not even a bed, nor a chair. She slept outside in the garden again. It was a sweet refuge she could never live without. There she felt comfort from the flowers that she wasn’t getting from her husband. Here she felt the companionship he wasn’t giving her. Here she felt needed and wanted. Here she felt love. And that is what she needed now more than anything else.

The next day she took the day off from work. She asked around the neighborhood and eventually found one man who had seen him in a bar on the other side of town. She drove across town to that other bar and asked around and discovered something interesting.

Yes, he had been there, many times. But, only to meet another man, always the same man, and he would give the man a small package. She wondered if maybe that small package had been their money. The barkeep told her he never stayed, never drank, only gave the man the package and then left. And then the barkeep complained about the noise from his car. She thought what a strange thing for the barkeep to complain about when his own bar has loud music playing. Oh well. At least she had a little more information.

Outside the bar, she started walking down the sidewalk to her car, when someone came up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder, “Hey lady, the guy you’re asking about, who is he to you?”

What a strange question, she thought, and replied, “He’s my husband”.

“Oh, I see. Well, I think you can find him at the General Patton over on South 13th.”

“What’s that? Another bar?”

“No, it’s a club, of sorts.”

“Of sorts? What does that mean? Is it a place I shouldn’t, or can’t, go?”

“Well, they do permit women, but you might want to take someone with you, a man, I mean.”

“Just tell me what is it? What kind of place is it?”

“Look, it’s a rough place for rough people, the kind of place for people like your husband.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? What kind of man is my husband?”

“You don’t know? You don’t know what he does?”

“I know he does his job, every day, at construction sites. He’s an engineer.”

“Well, he’s an engineer of sorts, yes, I suppose you could put it that way. And I know he’s done some work at one or two construction sites, in the past.”

“Would you just be straight with me? What are you talking about?”

“Lady, I don’t want to be rude, or disrepectful, but your husband is in deep, deep shit.”

“Tell me!”

The man looked around then said, “He killed a dude who was part of the Rotan gang. You’ve heard of them, right?”

“Yes, of course I’ve heard of them. But, my husband killed a man? No way! He, he couldn’t have!”

“That’s the word on the street. Now the leader of the Rotans is taking him for everything he has.”

“And more than everything he has,” she added.

“What? That’s not possible, they haven’t taken any body parts, yet.”

“No, but he took out bank loans to get money, he drained our account, he, apparently, sold everything we had in our house, except my clothes. And I mean everything! Literally, everything!”

“Holy shit! I had no idea. Look, that is what I know. What happens next, well, that’s up to that Rotan guy. It’s usually not good.”

“Do the police know any of this?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, I’m going to the police, we’ll find him and that Rotan guy and get to the bottom of this!”

“I wouldn’t recommend that.”

“Just try to stop me!” She shouted back as she stormed off, this time not for her car but for the nearest police station.

He shouted back at her, “They probably won’t help you, not with those Rotan guys.”

She just ignored that last bit and left him behind. At the police station she spoke with the captain and explained the situation, everything she had learned, and the situation with their money.

The captain said he would put some people on it and let her know what they find out.

That night again, she slept ouside under the rose tree. Even with all the upheaval in her life, sleeping in the garden was the best thing for her – she was getting the best sleep of her life out there. But she knew it couldn’t last.

He still hadn’t returned.

The next day, after work, she did some shopping – a bed, living room furniture, kitchen stuff. She had to get some semblance of a normal life back in order. And in doing so maxed out her credit card, but what choice did she have?

With the house now looking as it should again, and life returning to something that was actually better than normal, she was beginning to feel a little better. But the problem of her husband was on her mind, always. Her only respite from that was her time in the garden.

She contacted the police captain almost every day, asking for updates. He kept telling her the same thing, nothing new yet, we’ll let you know when we have some new information.

One week, two weeks, three weeks. Still no husband and the same response from the captain. Something has to come of it, what’s the hold up? She thought maybe she should go to a different police station and file the same report.

“Look, sir, you’re not giving me anything. I’m going to file a report at a different station, with a different captain, and see if they can do anything.”

“That won’t do you any good. The report is in the system so all the stations in the precinct have it. I told you we’re working on the case. These things take time. You just need to be patient.”

“Patient? I’ve been patient for three weeks! I’m losing my patience, sir.”

“I understand. Just, please, bear with us. This is turning into a bigger investigation than we expected. I can’t give you any details. I’ll let you know what I can, when I can. Okay?”

“Hmm, okay.” She got up and left for home.

Another week passed and the captain called her, “Can you come to the station today? I need to talk to you.”

The flood of information hit her like a tsunami. She couldn’t move in her chair she was so stunned. Words were nowhere to be found. She stared into the space between herself and the captain. He stopped, looked at her for a moment, and said, “I’m so sorry to have to give you such news. I’ll give you a minute to collect your thoughts.” He walked out of the office and quietly closed the door behind him. She didn’t move, not even a blink of her eyes, now with tears emerging from them.

What? … What did you say? … Um, okay. … Sure. How can such a thing happen? In our lives? He wasn’t that kind of man when I met him. Not for all the years we’ve been married. How? … I don’t understand. … It doesn’t make sense.

Her mind was flooded with the same questions and responses, over and over again. She wanted to be sitting under her rose tree, not in this police station, not in the captain’s office. Not hearing the story he told her. It can’t be true. Can it?

He had been acting strangely the past 4 or 5 years, but it came about slowly. He never said anything about it to her, he kept his life to himself and did a bang-up job controlling hers at the same time.

She stood up on wobbly legs, turned towards the door, took a step, and the door opened.

“Oh, just a minute more, if you don’t mind,” said the captain.

She sat back down, gladly.

“We found an account, a bank account. He had opened it about year ago, do you know about it?”

She shook her head side to side while staring at the floor.

“It was opened in your name, with his as the secondary. Here’s the account info.” He handed her a piece of paper, she didn’t look at it. She put it in her purse, another day, maybe, not today.

She managed to get out a few words, “May I leave now?”

“Yes. Please, if you need someone to talk to, here’s the name and number of someone who can help you.”

She slowly stood up, numb from head to toe, turned, and walked out of the office. The other officers were looking at her and whispering as she walked through the station to the front door, but she didn’t notice any of that. Her mind was reeling, she couldn’t believe it still, that it was true, that he was now gone, forever.

Outside the station she walked to her car, slowly, not paying attention to anyone else on the sidewalk. She bumped into a woman, said ‘scuse me, smiled and continued onwards. He was gone. Forever. She was beginning to realize the depth of it.

At home she put her purse on the table, took off her shoes and socks, changed into some comfy clothes, and went out to her rose tree. With a smile slowly forming she fell asleep.

A few days later she finally looked at the paper the captain had given her. The bank account was indeed in her name. She contacted the bank to confirm that and arrange to talk to someone about the account. The account had exactly the amount of money needed to repay the loans he had taken, to replace the money he had taken, and replace everything from the house he had taken. It was the exact amount. How could he have known the exact amount? She wondered.

Well, that’s not important. She use the money to take care of all those debts and was feeling much better about her situation. But it was so very strange. There’s no way he could’ve known what the exact amount would be, not when he opened the account a year before. It just makes no sense.

She was doing some cleaning in the garden, wondering all those things, when a butterfly landed on her hand. It was a beautiful black and yellow Swallowtail. Her thoughts changed to focus on the butterfly. She watched it, its wings slowing rising and lowering, it was looking at her, eye to eye. “What are you doing Ms. Swallowtail?” she asked. It bumped its head up and down a couple times. She slowly stood up, walked over to the rose tree, and sat down underneith it. The butterfly stayed with her and continued to look at her.

She thought she could feel the love of nature coming from that butterfly, from the rose tree, from the many flowers around her, the bees buzzing around, the hummingbirds flicking around from flower to flower in the tree at the edge of the garden. She was sure she could feel the love pouring into her heart. Then she fell asleep.

When she woke up she was surrounded by garden, as far as she could see, a garden as big as the whole world. Flowers of every imaginable color and scent.

She was going to be fine.