Escapism into Gardening
Alice began by digging small holes into each pot with her pinky finger. She then sprinkled into each row with strawberry seeds sized like grains of sand. She had absolutely no idea what she was doing, but already, she felt professional. With a sweep of her thumb, the seeds were covered and ready for a dose of water.
Sweat traced her brows as she moved on to the next batch. She anticipated how they might grow big enough to transplant into what might become her garden. It was all change and control. She could control how much sun they would be exposed to, how much water they would absorb, how acidic the dirt would be. Alice had decided last week she needed gardening in her routine, or else she would just go mad. Knitting had failed, and cooking had never turned into anything greater than a necessity. Alice refused to even remember her detour into embroidery. She needed, no, craved, some sense of domesticity. Gardening would do.
After two weeks, two sprouts exploded from one pot as if some force had enchanted them to reveal themselves. From a single seed, she saw an evolution that seemed to rush by the day. In a month, thin stems shifted their way up into hot air. They smelled like new beginnings and fresh mornings and there still were buds to grow, fruit to come. Each night, Alice overlooked her creations, watered their roots, and checked on the newly formed veins sprawled along the leaves.
Alice devoured Farmer’s Digests between meals. She read for any signs her cucumber plants might fall victim to the nature of nature. The stems might grow weak, the leaves might become infected, the roots could deoxidize or whatever scientific term Alice pretended to understand. It was her duty, her responsibility, to tend. She nurtured and lived vicariously, only finding happiness when her garden was or at least seemed to be growing. She escaped under each root, and found solace within the warm earth. She could not bear to wait, so she gardened.
One and a half months later, her physician called to teach her something she already knew: “Ms. Green, we have the results from the lab.”
“Oh.” She had been watering the sunflowers by her doorstep. She held her phone to her ear as she passively tilted the plastic watering can over, to spill nourishment onto the garden. This was her third attempt at sunflowers. They were beginning to grow, approaching the height of her kneecap. The were brighting in hue, just like her library book said they would.
“I would like to share my condolences. We know how difficult this might be for a woman like yourself, of your age. We should tell you that you are not alone. Many women in their late twenties experience the same condition. And even with infertility there’s many options available, such as…”
A lump tumbled in her throat. Her hands were suddenly sore. “Thank you, sir. When do I see you next?”
“I believe July 21st, Miss.” Alice set the container down on the threshold and combed through her hair. These plants were her children. They must be her children. She just wanted children.
“Thank you,” she paused in search of some formality to let this call come to an end, “Have a nice day.”
“Same to you.” Alice closed the door and went inside to prepare a cucumber salad, fresh from her yard.
Any available second was poured into gardening. Green overtook her home; vines conquered walls and shelves stacked with seedlings. Each inch of space left ground for life to sprout itself. Weekends turned into Home Depot trips, nursery stops, and hours upon hours of weeding. She could almost derive joy from ripping those invaders from the earth and dangling their roots, no thicker than white thread. Alice knew in the back of her mind that even alligator weeds and tassel flowers were life too, but she needed to protect her offspring.
“Allie, are you sure this is healthy?” Brooke said, daughter next to her. The pair plus Alice stood adjacent to her small kitchen, where watermelon seeds were being harvested beside the fridge. By the pantry, a line of baby dill waited to be introduced to the front yard.
Alice turned from her pot of snow peas, securing their vines a last time, “What do you mean?”
Brooke was staying for the weekend, on some stop between Key West and Disney World, with Molly, who had just turned ten. Alice knew there was some kind of secret motive. Brooke had always been like that.
“When was the last time you called Mom? How is she supposed to even know if you’re alive or not?” Alice knew exactly how long it had been. Five weeks and five days. Five days since Alice found out from the doctor.
The call to Mom was miserable. Why did she have to cry so much? Alice hated nothing more than her mother’s pity and over the phone she couldn’t ignore her sobs over something she never had the right to mourn over. She already had grandkids from Brooke, and Mark’s wife had just gotten pregnant. This was Alice’s sadness to feel, but any sort of tragedy had go to poor old Mom. And now she needed a messenger, but Brooke had never been an angel. Mark wouldn’t’ve been too bad, Alice thought. I wouldn’t mind Mark at all.
“I don’t know. Why doesn’t she just call me?” Alice asked.
“She does! God, Alice, just care about someone else for once!”
“What the hell does that mean?” Alice hated conflict and she sure didn’t want to fight in front of her niece. Brooke might have just forgotten Molly was there at all. “Whatever. I don’t care. Have fun at Epcot or wherever.” She turned to fill a pail with water. It was getting hot this June and the potatoes needed another round. But Brooke wasn’t leaving.
“Bye, Molly,” she said with tension attached to every letter. Without looking back to her family, she walked into the backyard. And Brooke just had to follow.
“This isn’t okay, Alice! Look, look, I get it, okay? I know you need to cope or whatever the hell this is, but you have people you need to talk to! Mom needs all of us! And you’re just out here, being selfish with your little pet project, closing yourself off like always, just ‘cause you can’t even think of adoption!”
Alice couldn’t turn to watch Brooke turn red in a hideous blend of righteous anger and instant embarrassment. “Shut the hell up, Brooke! Shut the hell up, go get your little girl, and live your own life! Tell Mom I said hello if you want, but I’m done!”
“I said go!”
Alice stared into the mess of tomatoes, cabbage, and carrot plants. A greenhouse had evolved from just fifty square feet of land. She could hardly walk between her crops. She bent down to inspect the patch closest to her.
Creeping beggarweed had been continuously spawning into and from the ground. At the hems of her pants, spurs and seeds hooked into the denim, clawing down and locking tight. She had taken a night shift at her job so she could spend the day weeding, but she couldn’t stop the tide from spreading. She couldn’t protect her children.
Brooke had gone to the guest room to collect her things. When she returned to the backyard, she said, “Okay, Alice. You got what you wanted. Me and Molls are getting out of your hair.” These plants were her children.
Brooke kneeled to her daughter and held Molly’s shoulder. “Say goodbye to your aunt, Molly. She needs all the support she can get, right Brooke? This is what you want, right?” They must be her children.
Molly whispered a quiet “bye,” and the two went off to their car, tugging their luggage behind. Alice’s vision began to blur. She hadn’t slept in days. She couldn’t afford to. She found a trail of bite marks through a lettuce leaf. A caterpillar for sure. Tears flowed down from the bags under Alice’s eyes. She just couldn’t control this small garden. She couldn’t love it strong enough. She couldn’t tend against the will of Mother Nature. She couldn’t grapple against wind and sun and water and earth. She felt her back fall against a poblano plant, its thick stem cracking under her spine. Her hair let loose from her ponytail into the dirt. Her fingers dug through the roots, her long nails snapping and breaking off.
She just wanted children.