Contest #248 shortlist ⭐️

Paradise Lost

Submitted into Contest #248 in response to: Write a story titled 'Paradise Lost'.... view prompt

17 comments

Drama Speculative

My late husband never did give me his green thumb. 

I remember when we first met, I was amazed at his ability to coax life into blighted tomatoes, pray seedlings into sprouting in lackluster soil, and convince frostbitten blueberry bushes to produce gallons. 

My late husband grew up on a ranch in Southern Texas, and his sweet drawl and lazy eyes persuaded me to have not one and not two but three drinks with him that sleepy summer night in Alabama. He was visiting the University of Alabama where I was a student and had lived all my life, and by the third date he was sitting on my parents front porch, drinking my mama’s sweet tea and telling her how to best keep her dahlias from the vicious aphids that they seemed to succumb to at least every other year. 

After he left, my mama turned to me and pronounced him a keeper and that if you don’t grab onto him and never let you, I sure will, sugar.

My daddy had laughed, but he was just as seduced as I was by Abraham’s firm handshake and careful way he handed my mama flowers he had picked himself on the side of the highway coming into town.

On our wedding day, Abraham made me my bridal bouquet out of Queens Anne Lace and baby’s breath that he grew himself, and in the middle, where it would be hidden for pictures and for my eyes only, a tiny dandelion.

He called me his dandelion, because of my yellow hair, and because although I thought I was quite ordinary, and insisted upon it, he thought me to be absolutely beautiful, and dedicated himself to proving it to me. 

Our first home was a tiny two bedroom stucco building in Mississippi where the heat stuck my hair to my forehead and made Abraham install a cold shower outside, hidden from our neighbors by a gauzy curtain. There was barely enough grass next to our cinder block front stoop to require a lawnmower, and it only took three steps to cross from our back door to our neighbors fence, but Abraham was a magician. 

Within six months, the cinder block was removed and we had a wooden porch with a swing and hanging ferns to create a private oasis where we could sit and talk late into the night, and not be distracted by the sharp cut of headlights on the street.

Our meager front yard was transformed into miniature raised beds, where Abraham would spend his evenings after getting off work at the steel factory cultivating carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and one year, a watermelon bigger than my head. He grew cilantro, oregano, thyme and basil, and in our backyard, he planted an apple and pear tree, and in their shade, raspberry and blackberry bushes. 

In the summer, our house would stand out from the rest like an explosion of tie dye in a sea of khaki fatigues, a hippie snuck into an Officer's ranks. 

I was desperate to be able to help Abraham tend to our little paradise, but whenever I tried weeding I would accidentally pull up his carefully tended shoots. When I tried to help him seed, I crowded them too close, and a season of sweet peas was lost. One day, after I had succeeded in yanking an entire tomato plant out of the ground while attempting to just harvest one, Abraham snapped at me that I must have the opposite of a green thumb.

You have a black thumb, Grace! You’re not to touch a single plant until it is out of the ground! 

I was disappointed by my failure, but also secretly relieved. The smell of newborn tomato leaves didn’t make my eyes close like it did Abraham’s, the feel of soil under my hands made me feel itchy, whereas my husband reveled in it. We came to the agreement that I would enjoy and watch at a distance, an arrangement that we both were content with.

I often said that the reason we never fought was because of Abraham’s plants. When I made him mad, he would go outside and weed for hours, vent his frustration on slugs and aphids, and forget what petty crime I had committed. When the opposite occurred, and my husband made me see red, he would slip outside and allow me to calm down in peace, bringing me a bunch of roses clenched in a fist with a sorry kiss, or a strawberry too succulent not to eat, the sweetness bringing me right to forgiveness.

Our grief was memorialized in the honeysuckle vine under which we buried three perfectly round stones with the names of our unborn babies on them, and our joy was poured into the butterfly bush next to which we christened our first son.

Our daughter was conceived under the stars and beneath a shower of apple blossoms, so my hair smelled faintly sweet and earthy for days later. 

The children grew up on our humble two acre farm in North Carolina. The South was in my blood and warm sun and tomato vines in Abraham’s. I worked as a teacher, and brought my students apples fresh from his two trees in the fall, berries in the spring, tender peas and sweet corn in the summer. Everyone knew the bounty wasn’t thanks to me. I would grin sheepishly as I handed out baskets of cucumbers so green they looked fake, sun gold tomatoes so full of sweetness they could make you cry. 

Mmmhmmhmm, people would say, where on Earth did you find a man like Abraham.

Your husband has a magic touch, Grace, I ain’t never tasted peaches as fine as this North of Georgia. 

Do you know you are blessed, child?

I knew I was blessed. Blessed to have a man with hands big enough to span a watermelon and strong enough to break ground and careful enough to cradle our babies heads. Blessed to be able to walk outside on a summer night, and gather a summer salad, carefully, of course, since I still had the most difficult of times discerning between tender lettuce and strong kale. Blessed to be able to watch my husband with our children in the garden, teaching them with unwavering patience.

Our daughter took to the garden with a ferocity that made it immediately evident her thumb was becoming viridescent as well. I would watch from the window as she spent hours in the garden with her father, her child sized straw hat bobbing alongside his infinitely broader one. I wondered what they talked about, as they pulled weeds and transplanted fragile baby plants away from their seedling nurseries and into the great big world of open soil.

I was jealous, just a little bit, of Abraham’s connection with my daughter. Or maybe I was jealous of my daughter’s connection with Abraham. I remember watching her tiny hands hold up a potato, dense with eyes, and look at it with wonder, like it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Abraham’s hand swallowed hers and the potato, and I watched the reverence in her face and the joyful concentration in his as together they tucked it under a quilt of soil, and gentle patted the dirt back over it, Abraham’s hand nearly three times the size of our daughters, but sharing the work completely. 

I wondered what it would be like if I had Abraham’s love of gardening, or at least just not the curse it was apparent I had whenever I so much as attempted to pull a weed. I would imagine briefly what it would be like if I was that much closer to him, and then I thought about our late night talks under the stars, our long walks down morning streets, and the devotion in Abraham’s eyes when I poured him a cup of tea from his chamomile flowers, carefully dried in an arc across our garage. I felt silly for my jealousy, my childish desire to not have to share, but when you have it all you can’t help but feel the primal urge to protect it at all costs. 

When our children went off to college, the house felt too empty. Abraham and I would sit on the couch together and feel the need to sprawl, to put our feet on the ottomans and our arms on the loveseat and our legs on the beanbag chair that was our daughter’s favorite. There was too much space and silent without the clutter and noise of children, and we found ourselves speaking quietly to each other , as though there were perpetual infants we were trying to keep from waking up. 

Then Abraham bought a bonsai and put it in the dining room, to fill the place where our son used to do his homework. He put a lemon tree in the kitchen where our daughter would perch on the edge of the counter and talk to me about her day, and on the windowsill he positioned tiny succulents, delicate and colorful. 

When our children came to visit they just laughed. 

I see you found a way to fill your nest right back up, our daughter said, and our son helped Abraham bring a spider plant into his old bedroom, forever the uninterested but dutiful son. 

I grew to love the smell of sun on the plump cheek of a perfectly ripe tomato, the taste of basil, the sound of rain on open flowers. Abraham was the love of my life, and because I knew I would never be the love of his, I grew to care for my competition, to love her beauty and bountiful nature until she became mine as well. 

When Abraham got sick, he wouldn’t let me help him in the garden. 

The day I can’t kneel under the sun and pull weeds is the day I don’t want to be alive anymore. 

No, the day I can’t kneel and weed in the afternoon sun and lift you into my arms and kiss you in the evening is the day I don’t want to be alive anymore.

Eventually, Abraham couldn’t lift me into his arms anymore, but he never stopped being able to work with his plants. The day my husband died he was thin as a scarecrow and he had to use a cane to help him between his overflowing garden beds. I watched from the porch, my own hands unfamiliar and veined and knotted together with concern in my lap. 

Somehow, inbetweeen the laughter and the life and the endless flowers and the innumerable kisses, Abraham and I had grown old. I don’t think we realized it until he got sick, painful evidence. We were too caught up in our lives to notice the others’ graying, and then whitening, hair and the way our faces had become lined as the leaves of a fittonia nerve plant. One day we woke up and barely recognized the face on the next pillow, and yet somehow, at the same time, Abraham was still more familiar and comforting to me than the sound of my own breath falling asleep. 

Plants live and die and bloom and wither with the cycles of the seasons, but we are anomalies. It takes so many springs and summers and winters for our spines to curve, our skin to grow fragile as tissue paper. It takes so long for us to find out we are impermanent that by the time we realize it, there is hardly any time left. 

After Abraham died I wondered what I would have done differently if I had realized our mortality was coming swiftly into view, like the sun about to crest the bloody horizon, tempting and terrifying. I decided that we weren’t meant to predict our futures though; just as plants grow on the faith that the sun will feed them again and again after each dawn, we had to learn to just grow side by side, and pray one would not fall before the other. 

I found my husband  next to the snow peas, their tender green vines clinging to a shakily crafted trellis. I knew he would be in the garden somewhere, but I hadn’t expected the spray of nasturtium flowers across his chest, the sweeping bow of a sunflower gracing his forehead, or the thicket of strawberries sprung up around his ankles. 

It was almost as if the garden was swallowing him up, like if I had been a second later, he wouldn’t be there at all. 

I felt almost guilty when they took him away, like I was stealing him away from the resting place he was meant for. The leaves in Abraham’s garden shivered and petals fluttered to the ground. I whispered an apology.

He was mine too. 

After Abraham died, the neighbors would talk about me, and more specifically, the garden I was left with. They didn’t think I knew, but I heard the things they said. Grapevines always end up back where they started from, after all. 

All those beautiful plants, just left to die. 

Poor Grace, she never did know how to take care of a garden, that was all Abraham- I swear, the green thumb on that boy! 

It’s a paradise lost, I tell you. 

It’s a paradise just lost. 

For the first few weeks after my husband died, I hated the garden. Every time I looked out the window I would feel my stomach knot with grief, and my teeth clench. Watching the tomato plants slowly yellow, the weeds begin their stealthy invasion, and the flowers curl into themselves, I hated their dependence on Abraham. I hated how painfully evident it was that they could not live without him, and how completely terrified I was that I couldn’t either. 

Eventually, I grew more sympathetic. One morning, nearly a month after my husband died, I found myself unable to open a jar of jam. I set down the jar, my hand shaking, and found myself looking out the window at the drowning garden. Tears came to my eyes and streaked silver down my cheeks, unexpected and breathtaking. 

After that, we grieved him together. 

On the porch Abraham built for us, I would sit for hours, pretending I couldn’t feel the neighbors eyes on me. I know they thought I was a crazy old woman, that they pitied me and my loneliness and my incompetence to save not only my husband, but all that he had created as well. 

I wasn’t lonely. Abraham was in the soil he tilled, in every seed he sowed, in each tiny yellow dandelion that he planted the walkways with. Abraham’s smile was in the curling necks of summer squash, in the braces of peaches hanging heavy from the trees. 

Two months after my husband died, the weeds went away, overnight, the plants went from yellow to the most shocking shade of green imaginable. 

The soil was black as night, and I could have fed an army in succulent ground cherries alone.

The neighbors whispered.

Praise the lord, she figured it out after all.

On the porch I sat peacefully and smiling and watching paradise bloom before me once again. 

Thank you,

I whispered in the wonderful face of the summer sun, and I heard his answer in the sweet hum of bees, drinking sweet nectar from the eternal flowers. 

May 04, 2024 02:48

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

17 comments

Alexis Araneta
18:22 May 10, 2024

Tana !!! What a treat to read ! Prose that's smooth as butter, such vivid descriptions. The way you described Abraham and Grace's love was just magic. Well-deserved shortlist spot !

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
00:43 May 11, 2024

Wow, I just read your latest story and it is beautiful!! What a wonderful compliment from such a great writer like yourself!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
18:46 Jun 05, 2024

A fantastic read, Tana! Such a profoundly beautiful meditation on losing someone and tending their memory despite the fear of failure and inadequacy. Thank you for submitting this one! I'm a month late, but it was very deserving of a shortlist spot.

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
21:20 Jun 13, 2024

Your kind words are so appreciated, they mean so much to me regardless of when they are said!!! Many thanks!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Grace Owen
03:18 May 29, 2024

I think this is the best piece I have read in a very long time. It brought me to tears! I really admire the beauty in your words, and it truly was wonderfully written. Congratulations on your shortlist!!

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
00:04 Jun 05, 2024

Oh my goodness. You are so sweet, thank you!! I can’t wait to see what wonderful things you create!!! Much love.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Philip Ebuluofor
20:00 May 14, 2024

Capturing I must confess. Best of the best. Congrats.

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
19:03 May 21, 2024

Oh wow, you are just so kind!! Thank you so much!!!

Reply

Philip Ebuluofor
01:36 May 25, 2024

My pleasure.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
John Rutherford
10:55 May 11, 2024

Congratulations

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
19:02 May 21, 2024

Thank you!! <3

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
17:25 May 10, 2024

Green is your garden. Congrats on the shortlist 🎉.

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
00:37 May 11, 2024

Thank you so very much 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kristi Gott
17:14 May 10, 2024

Congratulations! A very poetic and creative story with a beautiful ending when the garden magically revives with new life and the reader feels the dead husband's spirit has returned to tend to his beloved garden.

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
00:33 May 11, 2024

Thank you so much for your kind comment, it is so sweet and highly appreciated!!! ✨

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
10:59 May 09, 2024

Tana, all I can say about this incredible piece is wow, so beautiful and captivating. No fault in it what so ever

Reply

♡ Tana ♡
02:05 May 10, 2024

Oh my goodness, you are so kind!! I really appreciate your comment, it warmed my heart!!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.