Whenever her hands began to shake, and her mind traveled to the violent past, Thelma retreated to the garden. This is where the death that once followed her now rested, beneath the dirt, growing its roots peacefully; tame and silent. And so, on a quiet Sunday morning, Thelma sat on her knees, in the young soil, happily tending to her various plants. Long, gray hair flowed unapologetically down her spine, shifting as she reached forward and planted new tomatoes and flowers and herbs. She didn’t care to separate and organize the plants; she knew they would grow, she knew their roots would reach deep into the earth and their stems up towards the sun.
She listened to music while she worked. Wordless songs; a diverse group of artists, from Shostakovich to Beethoven to Eno. Always at a relatively low volume; perhaps she held onto the hope that one day the plants would whisper to her, words they’d forgotten to say when they had their bodies.
As she rubbed her gloved hand over the soil, leveling it, a soft wind animated the plants: they danced and waved in the warm breeze. She looked down at the banana pepper plant, smiled. “Hello, darling,” she whispered. She removed a glove and carefully placed it beside her. Stretched her hand out to the stem. A long, thin leaf gently wrapped itself around her finger. She giggled.
“Sorry that it’s been so long,” she said. The leaf tightened its grip on her finger. “I know, I know, I just miss you so much… it’s so hard sometimes.” Slowly, her smile faded. A glint of despair splashed into her gaze; a drop of blood into a glass of water. A troubled memory of the cold phone in her hand and the television on mute. The plant loosened itself, and Thelma suddenly felt soothed by its loving grasp. “I love you, Lucas,” she whispered, and the blood dissipated, and the water pinkened but stayed clean, and the plant let her go and she closed her eyes and exhaled. She moved on to the Rosemary.
“Hi, Nicole,” she said. She petted the perky rosemary plant and brought her hand to her nose, sniffed its earthy and sharp scent, smiled. It shuffled in the windless air, vibrating ever so slightly. “I wanted to tell you--I finally got around to finishing that book you always loved.” She couldn’t say it, but Thelma had thought of Nicole with each word she read.
She moved on to the pea plant.
“Lucy,” she looked down. “Hi, my love.”
These small, personal interactions continued on throughout the hour she spent with her plants; her children, her lovers, her friends. Lucas, Nicole, Lucy, Evan, Sibylle, Alfred. Many more peeking out of the ground; small and delicate green plants, indistinguishable to the untrained eye. To Thelma, though, they were Frankie, Sidney, and Harry.
She removed her floppy hat and laid down, carefully, her long hair sprawled out through the plants, winding around and over leaves and stems, like thin streams from a river. Her old body rested in the soft soil, and the plants leaned into her, embraced her and thanked her and loved her. They never stopped loving her, did they? She looked up at the serene blue sky, dotted with large and extraordinary clouds, which drifted silently along their milky path. She opened her mouth, as if to say something, but she kept silent, and relaxed. Her body against the ground, she could feel the blood in the soil, the death in the earth, the bones deep below. She felt safe, calm. As the plants stumbled and reached towards her, her mind reached towards them; her roots intertwined with theirs.
She could see them all, when she closed her eyes. At first, it was Lucy. Her best friend, a young but old woman, sitting across from her at a diner, eating fresh mac-and-cheese and pulled pork on a bun. She watched herself through Lucy’s eyes. The pea plant wavered, remembered. The smell of southern food, the early evening light, the soft country music that danced in the air.
Lucas’ eyes: Thelma, walking in as he scribbled on his homework, “How was school?” She was so young, then, so vibrant. Smiling, hair teased, eyes wide and awake. Lucas, smiling back, talking about what he learned in his favorite classes.
Evan, Nicole, Sibylle, Frankie, Harry, Alfred, Evan. Sidney, finally. It was Sidney who brought the tears to her eyes, the rigidity to her upper body. She lay in a hospital bed, poked and prodded arms outstretched and limp, head lolled to one side, eyes still aware. Uncomfortable beeps and metallic scrapes, dim lights and tortilla walls and cheap disinfectant floating around the room. Thelma watched her, standing at the foot of the bed, anguish in her eyes, anguish from somewhere deeper within her, somewhere permanent.
Sidney closed her eyes for a long moment and then opened them once again. Thelma, laying in the garden, could feel the life leaving their bodies. When Sidney opened her eyes again, Thelma had crawled into the bed with her, curled up beside her. Sidney looked down at her then slightly-gray hair, and Thelma felt the love from her stare. Sidney closed her eyes, Thelma opened hers with a jolt. Dirt on her neck, sun on her skin. She slowed her breath, placed a hand over her heart. She sat up, gently, her hair flowing back towards her body, resting itself once again on her spine. She looked forward, at the trees that lined her backyard. Then, she looked at the little spout, the one named Sidney. A growing carnation. She placed her hand above it and it pressed itself into her palm.
Thelma stood. “Think I’ll make some lemonade,” she said aloud. She liked talking aloud, those days. No one around to hear her. “Maybe bake a new loaf.” She hoped these words reassured her loved ones that she was okay, that she wasn’t quite ready to join them in the garden. So on Thelma went, back into her little blue house, her mouth a soft smile, her cheeks damp and red. The garden fell calm, the air wide and heavy with a hint of summer moisture. And then, almost impossibly so, a whisper floated aimlessly from the garden, ephemeral and light.