She lay open as the flowers that tumbled down the walls, insouciant and haughty in the infinite knowing of sun and bucolic perfection. Here she was a breath of diving, the joy of having left yet not yet arrived, mid-air with the taste of sweet macaroons from Paris in her mouth, only an afternoon of kisses scribbled as her one ‘to-do’. In this place, no one could falter for there was nothing to fail at. She would love them no matter. Adoration billowed like tufts of cumuli, and love poems were like opiates she gave for afternoon tea. She was as pliant as a doting grandmother but just wicked enough to recognize the nuances of their desire. She only wanted a moment. It was a kind of craving she was aware of but sang over top, ditties and show tunes from the war, drowning out any sounds at all of the outside world. In her mind she watched her imagination sedulously; she was in love with love.
One day a gentlemen came to the small wooden door at the rear of the garden, below the Magnolia tree. He was very neat and trim, with a navy suit and gray tie with tiny squares within which she saw a spark of orange. He wasn’t entirely without colour then, she thought. His face was expressionless, but his eyes were dark and full of information that he held back, asking instead, could we sit down?
Since she loved everyone, and everyone loved her, she smiled, and gave a small laugh, as if to say, don’t be ridiculous, of course we shall sit down! She glided over to a perfect bench, below hanging honeysuckle that was just now coming into bloom. She leaned towards it, inhaling. When she opened her eyes, he was staring very seriously at her. Something in her felt suddenly different. A painful tightening in her chest she did not recognize. What was wrong?
“I have some news I have to tell you. ” His eyes were like bullets, black and determined to hit their mark.
She burst into tears.
“I know this will come as a shock. It is not my favourite job, but one, nonetheless I am paid for so there it is, the real reason I am here.” His breath smelled faintly of cloves and she wondered if she kissed him could she make him stop?
She leaned into him but he took her by the shoulders, his hard purposeful fingers digging into her soft skin. She cried out but he did not waver, staring calmly, purposefully, into her face, searching for a moment to tell her.
“This is not real.”
She felt then an upside down sensation, like when you are at the very top of the swing and your head is back and then you snap it forward suddenly and look into the sky.
“You are not real. Now get out of my garden!” Her voice shook, not used to being raised.
But he held on and kept at her, hurtling his bullets, shooting her over and over with those dark, hard, sniper eyes until she went limp and he let go of her shoulders.
“Now. You will have to grow a hide. I can help. Do you have birds?” he asked, more gently now, and she looked up, hopeful.
“Yes, I have lots and lots of birds, why I have the most darling little Juncos, and Robins, and of course those clever crows and…”
He interrupted her, “Start with crow feathers. When you are covered, then add a layer of your darkest, richest soil. After that, take those rose bushes and cut off the buds…”
She gasped, “No! Not the roses!”
“…cut off every last bud, you will need to in order to survive. Listen carefully to me!” he bellowed and snatched her wrist like a handcuff. She felt a hot, sick feeling come up through her eyes, pour down her cheeks, and slip down past her jaw as she stared into his face. It was like stone his face. It couldn’t be changed. It couldn’t be loved.
“Take those good, strong, thorny branches and tie them around you, head to toe–this is important! Every inch, leaving only your eyes, nose and mouth.”
“But why?” she wailed. “I don’t want to leave! This is my home.”
“Don’t you see? Your home has left you.” His voice had lowered and he looked down then, and for a moment, she thought he would let her go, but no, his eyes met hers and he whispered, so quietly she nearly missed it, begin now. Then he stood and left, as abruptly as he’d entered.
When he was gone, she saw that the Magnolia tree had cast a shadow she’d never noticed before. She couldn’t bear it. He was right. Something was happening. And so she prepared. She diligently began her hide.
It was dark when she was done, standing in a cage of thorns below a violet sky, the edge of night no longer a warm blanket to her but a harbinger of danger, of something more real that she did not yet know, had never known. Against this new world, she was glad to have this hide, happy for its thorny protection and suddenly she smiled for within it she could still taste the sweet macaroons from Paris, deliciously melting on her tongue.
She went to the door and lifted the latch.What was outside? No matter. She had a hide. She would find out.