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by Debra Every
from the archives
Mara’s fight with Johanna had started over the smallest of things. The borrowing of a blouse. Johanna knew how much Mara hated anyone wearing her clothes. And yet the blouse had been borrowed. Typical. The artist in Johanna responded to any urge, answered any call.
With that opening gambit, a banquet of long-held grievances progressed from food source to food source. In the end, they reached The End—six years together, gone. Johanna’s final flourish was the slam of the front door cracking the air like a slap across Mara’s face.
The room wasn’t big enough to hold Mara’s anger. She wheeled around, strode to the back of the house and out the door into the garden. But this was Johanna’s domain. Scents of gardenias and white camellias wrapped around Mara’s throat and squeezed. Mara parried with an attack to the tiger lilies, ripping them out, root and branch. They dangled from her closed fists like animals’ entrails dripping clods of dirt. The sky joined in the fight sensing Johanna’s outrage at being violated. Torrents of rain tore at Mara’s hair and clothes as she rounded on the peonies; and then the petunias; and then the rows of hibiscus. Nothing was safe. Nothing was sacred.
When she was spent, Mara’s hair was matted to her head; her clothes, molded to her body, her hands, arms and face caked with mud. She stood, dripping, amidst a battlefield of dead bodies strewn from border to border—a graveyard of the unburied. Then, and only then, did the full impact of what had happened hit.
Johanna was gone.
Mara leaned against the linden tree and wept; her sorrow merging with the rivulets of rainwater at her feet. She could hear Johanna’s laughter, the way it mirrored the broad strokes of color from her canvases. She could feel the chaos of Johanna’s chestnut hair poking through her fingers as she brought her face in close. Never again would Mara be coaxed from her ordered existence, seduced by Johanna’s abandon—to taste her, to smell her.
She scanned the ruined flowerbeds and knew what needed to be done. She had no choice. Mara would recreate what Johanna had built.
Two days later with trowel in hand, she bent to her work planting a garden stolen from the canvases of Georgia O’Keeffe—feminine and erotic and seductive. Her homage to Johanna.
Mara imagined the blooms to come. In one corner would be lilies, their petals spread open like white thighs; their six slender filaments fluttering in the breeze. Provocative jack-in-the-pulpits would lean against the house, coyly covering their stamen with their striped hoods. To the left, bluebell vines would live, their deep purple petals as fragile as butterfly wings. And at the flowers’ center—oh, at their center—a sweet bud of passion.
By late afternoon, she sat at the little round table in the center of the garden—streaks of dirt on her cheeks; the muscles in her arms throbbing; sweat dripping down the sides of her face and between her breasts.
And all around her was the glory of Johanna.
Mara went to the garden every morning. She stayed until dark, taking her meals in the shade of the linden tree. She couldn’t bear to be away. In the beginning she would read or make entries in her journal. But she soon put those trivialities aside so as not to distract from the study of a leaf or the exploration of a scent. When Mara was tired, she would lay herself down and take languorous naps in the sun. The grass’s fringe caressed her. Ants and beetles explored the topography of her face. The soil—sometimes cool, sometimes warm—would make of itself a featherbed for her comfort as its fragrance wove her dreams into visions of flowers spreading open like vast beds—a place to lie with Johanna.
Time passed. The southern spring turned to a southern summer turned to a southern fall turned to a southern winter. Mara remained outside watching the changing of the guard, as one day, one season, poured into the next. The garden rejoiced with a cotillion of peonies in pink organza; with candlelit waltzes of gardenias in full bloom; with calla lilies whispering in the corner as they offered their most private gift from within their white cups.
And so on. And so on.
Mara took less and less interest in food or drink, preferring, instead, to spend her infinity of time absorbing the sun or tasting the droplets of rain that fell on her upturned face. Until, one morning, something changed.
The day started as any other. Dawn pressed itself to Mara’s lips. Birdsong playfully nibbled her ear. Mara tried to raise her hand to brush a lock of hair from her eyes. But something was keeping it bound in place. With a gentle tug, she freed herself and looked down. Fine tendrils of green were attached to the inside of her hand, poking through, growing out of her skin.
The wonder of it took her breath away.
As days passed, the tendrils grew. Mara would sit for hours, staring at her fingertips and palms, brushing their feathers of green against her cheeks, down her neck and between her breasts.
Every evening she would lie on the ground…next to Johanna.
Every morning she would wake with another sprout, another ringlet, another piece of herself, reaching out into the world…toward Johanna.
She slept more often than not. There was no reason to rise. Everything Mara needed was provided by the garden. As she sat with her back against the linden tree, green shoots grew from her arms, her ankles, her legs, destined to become branches bound for the soil.
And soon, very soon, she was tethered to the earth.
Mara explored the rich world below, feeling the moist, warm, fertile comfort of home. The ends of her roots reached for one flower or another. When she found the underground spiral of the calla lilies’ roots, she wound herself around them until they were joined. The poppies welcomed her with love. The sturdy structure of the gardenia’s roots seemed to reach out to her as a mother would her child. “Here,” they seemed to say. “Let us show you the way.”
Mara traveled further and further through the soil until her roots had spread to every flower and every bed. Branches came up from the earth and wrapped around her ankles, welcoming Mara to her new home. Never had she felt so in tune with her world. Her new friends found their way between her legs and over her stomach, winding around her waist and neck in a wisteria coil’s embrace. She was now banded to the linden tree. They were of a piece. One and the same. Young vines traveled over her face, tickling the sides of her temples and twisting through her hair. Her legs took root and slowly thickened like the wide, barked base of a sapling turned to tree.
When she was thirsty, the rain quenched her. When she was hungry the soil nourished her. She would open her mouth and, with rounded lips, allow her breath to merge with the current of air that surrounded her. And below the surface, Mara understood every stone and every creature that lived deep within.
They gave, they took.
She gave, she took.
They were in perfect harmony.
Mara. And Johanna.
It was spring again. A full year since Mara’s rebirth. Whenever she considered the limitless possibilities of her new life, her heart quickened. Mara’s reach now extended as far as imagination allowed. She could go anywhere, see anything, feel more deeply than she had ever felt, all while sitting within the safe boundaries of her garden. And it wouldn’t have happened if not for the changes she had allowed. Her feet had transformed into roots, mimicking those of the tree behind her. Her left hand was now buried deep within the earth, the fingers growing longer and stronger as they burrowed downward. Her right hand was joined to the base of the linden tree; mushrooms and moss, nesting between her fingers and traveling up her arm.
And then there were the children. All Mara’s branches had sprouted leaves. They were her babies, tender and sweet. She would never again be alone. She sighed as they traveled up her body, reaching for every crevice and fold—except for her one eye, peacefully closed, showing through the foliage.
The only sound was the wings of insects fanning the air into a gentle breeze.
The only scent was the fragrance of flowers joining one to another; a siren song of sweet surrender.
A voice, nearly forgotten, called her name.
Mara opened her one eye and peered through her leaves. There, framed in the doorway of the house, scanning the garden, searching, was Johanna.
She had come home.
Debra K. Every is the author of many short stories and two novels, GENESYNC PROTOCOL (speculative thriller) and DEATH IN FIVE (supernatural thriller). DEATH IN FIVE has been shortlisted for publication by Woodhall Press. Her work will also be appearing in the upcoming issue of Arzono Press’ 2023 Annual – an anthology of prose and poetry. While she has written all her life, Debra comes from a diverse background of music and business—both of which have informed her work.