“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.
― A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
Annie woke up to sunshine streaming through her bedroom window, her wild red hair creating a fiery halo around her pale face. She turned to look at her husband, sleeping soundly beside her. She fantasized about grabbing his hair, pulling his head back and slitting his fucking throat from ear to ear, his warm blood pooling around her as she sunk into the mattress. Instead, she peeled off her thick down comforter and lazily slid of her big, soft bed. She tread softly down the white carpeted stairs of her immaculate home, and into her bright, sterile kitchen. She made herself a cup of coffee and stood staring out the window into her garden, noticing her plants begin to wake from their long winter slumber. Clad in her thin, gauzy robe, she purposefully pulled on her tall black rubber boots, and made her way outside. Holding her hot cup of coffee, the warm sun caressed her pale skin through the thin layers of her pajamas and for just a moment, she felt the joy of being alive.
Annie had a strict routine in the summer, a morning ritual really. Before Annie could properly start her day, she needed to check on her precious plants. Years ago, when Annie found out that she was unable to have children, she soothed the deep wound by gently and methodically caring for her garden. She thought of, and treated her plants, like children. In the beginning, she knew that her garden was not a substitute for children, but the lines had blurred over the years. And then, slowly, over time, her garden had taken over almost every aspect of her small, tight life. It had been years since she had gone on vacation, years since they had spent a weekend away in the summer.
On this morning, she took stock of her tender newly sprouted garden, what needed pruning, thinning, watering, fertilizing. In perfect sloping letters, she wrote each of her notes in a carefully organized journal, her notes grounded her, they created continuity in her otherwise disjointed life. The journal was sectioned by plant type, bloom time, color, watering preferences, as well as sun and shade requirements. This particular journal went back ten years. The the first day of every month had a photograph of what the garden looked like. Under each photograph is a description of Annie’s thoughts on what she could change or add to make her garden more perfect. Annie’s journal was the sacred text by which she lived her life.
The deck gently steamed as the sun began to dry the wet wood. Annie stepped to the left off the deck and began assessing her rose bushes. They would need to be sprayed for aphids (she noted carefully in her journal). She admired the tiny buds of the light pink bush, one of her favorites. It was “vintage” and had thick, full blooms; last fall, she had stolen it out of the yard of the house that had been demolished on her street. Annie had dressed in all black, in the dead of the night she snuck into the yard with her bucket and shovel. She had made a game of it. It was a nice neighborhood, Annie could have taken the rose in the daylight, but the game was a thrill.
Annie wanted to remember that house, it was her dream house with big windows and a wrap around porch, but it was sold and torn down long ago. “A great tragedy,” Annie had thought to herself. That house held the dreams that Annie had had so many years ago. Annie thought to herself, “A little on the nose to have it torn down.” To comfort herself, she would often tell herself, “I don’t care about anything as much as I used to.” Knowing full well she did, she did fucking care. So much it ached. Annie knew that her mind was like a carefully organized evidence room. Each experience had its place and each experience fit into its space. Perfectly organized. Some of the thoughts, she would take down and look at. Some of the feelings she would unbox and luxuriously let herself feel for just that moment. It all had to be put away though. There were boxes in the back that would never, ever, ever be touched again.
Annie’s yard gently sloped down in the back, she could see Mount Hood from her deck and there was a stream at the bottom of the hill. There was a remote area near the back fence that Annie could not see from the window of her house. Year after year she had stood there alone, at the window staring out and drinking tea, coffee, wine, and on the very darkest of nights, whiskey. Her living room had tall ceilings and a black wood stove. From that sanctuary, she looked out over her dominion. She watched the leaves grow yellow and gold and fall to the ground every autumn. She waited impatiently for the snowdrops and hellebores to show themselves every February, a sure and welcome sign that the rest would follow shortly. She felt a strange and deep contentment in those moments, watching something that she had planted take on a life of its own. Her work became its own being. She felt like God herself, setting life into motion and then leaving it to spread and consume the soil. Annie looked forward to her daffodils blooming each March, they were her piece de resistance.
Annie’s husband Eddie, had watched her plant each bulb last November. Despite the argument about the cost, Annie had spent hundreds of dollars on daffodil bulbs. She had seen an episode of Midsomer Murders on the BBC in the last year. In one scene, the front yard was a complete mass of daffodils. This prompted Annie to recreate this phenomenon in her own yard. They would bloom and grow before the grass needed cutting, fulfilling her unquenchable need for beauty. Despite Eddie’s frustration over the cost, he felt for her out there, alone, in the rain and cold of November. She wore a thin, tan colored rain jacket over her thick brown wool sweater. Her jeans were soaked and Eddie was sure the water had run into her black rubber boots. Annie was obsessed with there being one perfect yellow daffodil, one white and yellow and one perfect, full cup daffodil per square.
Eddie remembered her crouched over her stakes and twine and measuring tape. She wanted it to be perfect, wanted he thought was not the right word, she demanded it be perfect. Eddie watched as Annie measured the lawn, she placed a stake every foot, hammering it in with a sledge hammer that looked comically big in her tiny hands. Annie had been a perfectionist before, but this was painful for him to watch. It was as if she was driven by a force beyond her control. She cut and tied and hammered the twine and stakes until it created a thick, spider web like covering over the entire lawn. Her plan was to divide those small squares into even smaller portions to accommodate each type of bulb per square. She never stopped moving and Eddie laughed to himself as he noticed her mumbling to herself under her breath, stopping to make notes in her garden journal.
Eddie watched through the window and made Annie her favorite Lavender and Chamomile tea. He put the kettle on, chose her favorite mug, and carried the boiling hot liquid out to her in the garden.
As he approached, Annie, yelled, “Watch out! Don’t you dare trip over my twine!”
Eddie, slightly annoyed answered curtly back, “I am just here to give you a break. Look, I made you tea. It’s your favorite.” Annie reached out to grab the drink and tried to take a sip, “still too hot” she thought to herself.
Annie smiled weakly, reluctant to leave the train of thought she was currently on and turned her attention to her husband. Her eyes rested on Eddie, he smiled at her, red hair, untamed and stuffed into an old black knit cap, pale face full of something fierce and tantalizingly wild. Eddie remembered why he had fallen in love with her almost ten years ago. He remembered seeing her on the platform of the subway. Her journal had fallen out of her purse and she walked on without noticing it due to the fact that her hands were brimming with other art supplies. She was stunning he had thought to himself, unable to believe his luck as he ran up to her to return her lost item… He was snapped out of his reverie by a shriek. Eddie had made a grave error, he had stepped on the twine, pulling down stakes, the more he tried to free himself, the more entangled he became. The full force of Annie’s anger rained down on him like hot ash.
“Fuck you, you son of a bitch!” she yelled, throwing her sledge hammer at him.
The hammer barely missed his face. Eddie yelled out in pain as the hammer tore into his foot. Eddie yelled for Annie to help, but it was as if she did not even hear him. She had thrown her favorite mug onto the ground and had gone back to work in the garden. Eddie could barely breathe the pain was so excruciating. Eddie panicked, he limped back into the house and barely managed to drive himself to the hospital. It took them two hours of excruciating pain in the waiting room to be seen. Once he finally was, he was kept in the hospital overnight so that his mangled foot could be properly treated. Annie never showed up, she never called.
When Eddie came home from the hospital the next morning, limping and wearing a cast, he hoped for at least an apology from his wife. He thought she would understand what she had done, that she would have missed his body next to hers in bed. He was wrong. He came home the next afternoon and walked into an empty house. She was still outside working. She was over halfway done, the incident was never spoken of again. He had gotten in bed and passed out in a fog of pain medication only to wake with Annie naked beside him. He was confused. He still hurt, but she used her body to be close to him again. He felt that her physical closeness was her way of apologizing.
While laying in bed in the ER, Eddie, waded into a deep pool of memories. He knew he should leave Annie, but then he would remember. Remember what life was like before Annie, the loneliness, the despair. He remembered how outside of everything he felt. When he met Annie, it was as if he had found himself, he looked into her eyes and felt as if he was a wary traveller who had found his way home. Watching Annie in the garden on this beautiful morning pulled him out of that deep place, he forgot the pain that she had caused him and felt a softness toward her. He stayed inside and watched as she continued to count each plant, noting the ones that were larger, lamenting the ones that did not make it through the mild Portland winter. He watched as her thin, pale legs carried her down the slope to the lower recesses of the garden. Annie soon disappeared down the slope into the seeming abyss of the wooded recesses of the garden.
Annie, strolling through the damp grass, stumbled upon something that sent a shudder up her spine. A sapling had grown in her flower bed! Furiously she strode toward the tree, ready to rip it out of the ground. She was mumbling under her breath as the red hot anger rose up her neck.
“Stupid fucking tree,” she mumbled.
As she grew closer to the small sapling, she became increasingly confused. There seemed to be human feet, and legs, but growing out of the torso were a clump of plants, as if the body had been carved out to create a planter. It was not until she saw two red tulips coming out of where the eyes should have been and a single sword fern unfurling from the mouth, did the awful truth set in.
Annie screamed. Annie screamed until her husband, terrified by the sudden cacophony dropped his coffee cup and ran down to the back garden. It took him only seconds to reach her, he took to her side, out of breath and caring only about Annie. He followed her gaze to the rotting body.
“What the fuck is that?” Annie screamed.
“Are you ok? What is it?” Eddie asked.
“I did not plant that, no I did not. I did not plant that.” Annie said over and over to herself. Eddie did not need to wait for Annie to answer his question. The body, bloating, decomposing and bursting with rich blooms appeared before him. Eddie felt sick. He looked at Annie and wondered how she could be more concerned with plants out of place in her garden more than she was concerned with a dead body.
“We have to call the police!” whispered Eddie, barely able to make his mouth move.
“I do not want to call the police! They will walk all over everything, they will touch everything, no police.” Annie said, beginning to hyperventilate.
Eddie stood next to her, knowing he needed to give her a minute to breathe before gently urging her on. “You know we need to call them.” Eddie gently urged her on.
Annie, sick to her stomach and terrified by the sight tried to fight Eddie on the matter, she did not want the police trampling her perfect, precious garden.
“They will touch everything. I do not want them to touch my garden.” Annie said. But Eddie knew, this was more than just maintaining Annie’s perfect garden, this was a human being. Eddie decided that he would do whatever necessary to make it possible for Annie to have police in the yard. It was a God damn human body, he thought to himself, if anything warranted attention, a dead body did.
Eventually she had to give in. They called the police. And they came. In a flood of lights and sirens both chaotic and composed. They descended on the scene like blue ants. Following the pheromone trail of the one before.