The Garden Keeps His Confidences
by Mat Winser
The back wall had a trick to it. Jennifer, never Jenny, knew that now. But it was temporal knowledge, like lottery numbers: invaluable ten minutes before, completely useless after the fact.
She remembered looking out over the garden just after they had returned to the house from honeymoon, seeing the manicured lawn, the elegant trees and at the very end, a high wall keeping back an ivy-choked plot. A cast iron chair—once white now weathered gray and rust red—sat in the middle.
“Is that part of our garden too?” Part of her warming at the possessive ‘our’.
“No, no one knows who owns that, we’ve never been able to find out, or get into it.”
Now she knew he was a liar, another fact that was useless. Jennifer shouted his name over the wall, assuming at first that this was a joke, a cruel joke of course, but just a joke. He didn’t answer and she couldn’t hear him laughing; wouldn’t she hear that if it were a joke?
She kept shouting and jumping to try and see over the wall until her legs buckled and she fell hands first into the ivy. Spiteful hidden thorns probed her skin, tasting her blood, and she snatched them back.
Needing to catch her breath and think, Jennifer walked to the centre of the garden and examined the chair. It looked sound, although tinged green with algae, and the paint was rusted through in several places. Without thinking about what could be living under it or on it, she sat down. It settled slightly into the fabric of the ground.
She had thought them to be hopelessly in love. The meeting was beautiful; an impossibly handsome man meets an impeccably
groomed woman at a perfectly orchestrated party. She had never been expecting whirlwinds, was a modern woman and
knew she shouldn’t, but she got them anyway. Her friends told her she was in love and so lucky, and she bathed in their
jealousy, warming herself in their reflection of her.
So of course she married him, of course they honeymooned on an island and of course she moved into his large house—more of an estate—and busied herself making a home. She had surprised even herself by giving up work and moving into a 1950’s mode of being.
It was getting darker; she could hear the birds starting to roost, settling down in cosy nests away from the damp night air. Jennifer wondered if he would let her out now, open a door in the wall and say ‘Sorry’ or ‘I went too far’; she would even settle for ‘You should have seen your face.’
Then she noticed a movement in one of the upper windows, his pale face peering out in the gloom, and she knew this wasn’t a game. Even at this distance, she could see that he had no expression at all. He was looking at her, but he might as well be seeing only the garden. A chill ran through her that had little to do with the falling night.
She choked back a sob; her hands still hurt from thorns and she still couldn’t quite believe her situation. Was she still the same person that had made Eggs Benedict for breakfast and planned a visit to a garden centre to buy fruit trees?
She ran through the events. They had decided to go for a walk in the garden, or had he decided? She had leaned against the wall for what she thought was a kiss. There was a vertiginous sensation of pushing and falling, and then she was through the wall. She scrabbled to find the exit, bloodying her hands in the process, but nothing.
Her memories of herself from this morning had the sepia tint of nostalgia already. How had that person become this one, trapped behind a wall, sitting in a rusty chair?
Something about that thought broke through her self-pity—the chair?
What about the chair?
Of course, she was being so stupid. The wall wasn’t that high; she could
use the chair to get over. She stopped for a moment. What would she do then?
Jennifer shook her head to clear it, worry about that later. First get out of here. Getting up she looked for him at the windows, but he wasn’t there and none of the lights were on. This was her chance. She gripped the back of the chair in both hands, expecting it to come away from the ground, but it stayed firm, slipping through her fingers and taking more skin off her already abused hands.
Cursing and flapping her hands as if the air could heal them, she looked at the legs of chair; they were curled about with ivy. She tried to clear it, but it was too thick and her already tender hands couldn’t cope with it.
She decided to pull the chair and see if she couldn’t use that to pull the vines free. But the more she pulled, the more the chair resisted, and in her confused state, it almost seemed that the ivy was tightening its grip. She slumped back on the chair and began crying in earnest, giving herself up to the sobs and exhaustion. Just then the rain started to fall; she was soon soaked through.
Jennifer was dreaming of a moment in their marriage that had spooked her at the time. She had been reading the paper and found a joke she liked. Thinking that she should share it, she spoke it aloud. She knew that the delivery was wrong, but she was sure that he would get the punch line. Looking up from the paper, she found him looking at her without expression. It wasn’t a face that said ‘That’s not funny’ or ‘Be quiet, I need silence’; it was as blank as virgin clay. Nothing, the null at the end
of the universe.
She met his eyes, thinking that maybe he was daydreaming.
“Are you okay?”
Like a switch flipped, his face became animated again.
“Sorry; I was miles away, what were you saying?”
A chill ran up her arms like a sudden cloud; she had a feeling even then that he hadn’t been anywhere else, had been right in the room with her, thinking something about her.
Jennifer woke with gooseflesh standing proud on her arms. A raging thirst cut through the cold and the fear. She could hear the dripping of the ivy all around her, so she crept to the wall and collected drips on her tongue. She was crying again, but at least her thirst was gone. She couldn’t sleep any longer, so she spent the night shivering on the chair.
The next day, her thirst returned, like an itch in the back of her throat. She quenched it on dew and fallen rain gathered on the leaves all around her. Then she noticed her stomach rumbling; try as she might, she couldn’t help thinking about all the good things that she had packed into the cupboards and the freezer. A parade of soup and toast, cheese sandwiches, and chocolate ran through her head, making her stomach complain more and more and finally cramp in a
spasm that bent her double.
Jennifer couldn’t remember how long it took to starve to death, but she suspected it would be a long and miserable time. Her hindbrain, wired for survival, was already starting to whisper to her that she could always find insects and eat them. But she refused to listen. She had eaten in some of the finest restaurants on earth; she wouldn’t eat insects.
A movement in the house caught her eye; there he was again. Staring out as if everything in the garden were rosy, as if his wife weren’t imprisoned in plain view. She waved to him again, trying to get his attention, trying to get release, but his eye slid over her like glass and he carried on down the stairs.
She tried to lift the chair again, trying to turn her anger to strength, but it wouldn’t move. She kicked it hard and heard a slither. The blood ran out of her face as she saw the vines of ivy moving slightly in order to grip the chair legs better.
Now she had nowhere to sit, too afraid of the ivy to sit on the chair or rest against the walls. She paced around the garden until her legs ached and her back protested. Sheer tiredness eventually gained ascendancy over fear and she flopped onto the chair, slouched back and closed her eyes.
The light told her that she had slept for some time and she felt better for the rest. She started to think more logically about her situation. The first thing to do was to try and find the gate that had dropped her in here in the first place. Using the chair as a compass, she traced around the walls, trying to be careful not to puncture herself on the thorns that seemed to cover the wall, but ending up bleeding anyway.
There wasn’t a seam or a sign that the wall had ever moved, but she was determined to find it, it must be there. Try as she might though, she couldn’t find it at all. Then a huge pain clamped her right middle finger; screaming, she pulled her hands back to her chest. A thick black thorn was jammed right under her nail, blood already blooming around it. Before she had a chance to feel faint, she gripped the thorn and pulled it clear of her finger. Blood dripped from the wound and she felt her finger throb.
Unwanted thoughts of infection or tetanus filled her head and she had to sit back down before her vision grayed out entirely. There wasn’t a way out, or not one that she could find, which amounted to the same thing.
Jennifer looked up to see him looking right at her.
“Let me out!” Yelling at the top of her voice, she looked right at him. His eyes met hers and then glided away again.
“LET ME OUT,” her voice sounded thunderously loud. But he had wandered away from the window, either to watch her from the shadows or to somewhere else in the building.
Would someone else hear her if she shouted again? The geography of the area was already starting to get vague. That was the problem with these enormous city gardens; no one would hear you, and no one would help even if they did.
“HELP ME, HELP!”
She shouted again and again, getting louder and louder until her vocal cords cracked and she tasted iron in the back of her throat. Surely her friends would notice she was missing? But she didn’t hold out much hope, she didn’t speak to them nearly as much now she was married, had all but decided that he was the only friend she needed.
Later the hunger was worse and she was tormented by a half delirious dream of sitting down at one of her favorite restaurants for dinner, waking just as she was taking the first bite of her starter. The cold seemed worse on that second night and she wasn’t sure if it was because she was hungry or so very tired.
There was a rustle in the undergrowth near her feet; her hand snapped out with a predator’s speed, a speed she didn’t know she had. The mouse squeaked when she lifted it. It struggled in her hand until with efficient brutality, she snapped its neck. The raw meat and blood tasted like fine steak to her hungry system and she had to be careful not to bolt the food and overload her stomach.
That became the pattern of her days, hunting and sleeping. Her clothes gradually shredded to rags and fell to mulch down into the garden.
The sky turned light then dark then light again, but she had learned not to trust it. Sometimes she saw his face at the window and sometimes she didn’t, but she was finding it harder to remember who he was.
Then one day, she wouldn’t have known how many, she saw another face at the window—a woman. She could tell by the hand trailed lightly across the shoulder and his expression as he pointed out at the garden that he was married again.
Shock cut through her acceptance and she started to wave at them desperately. She knew he wouldn’t answer, but surely the other woman would see and do something?
Jennifer heard a voice behind her, barely more than a whisper on the wind.
“It’s no use.”
She shook her head, sure she was finally going mad.
“I said it’s no use.”
She half turned and saw the vaguest outline of a face poking out of the ivy, translucent and so pale.
“Did you see me?”
“When you looked at the garden, when I waved at you?”
“There was nobody there; you weren’t there.”
“Of course I was.” The voice was still feather light in the air but now shaded with a touch of scorn. “Did you think you were the first?”
“I would have seen you, if you had been there.”
“She doesn’t see you, like you didn’t see me, like I didn’t see the one before.”
“Before?” She didn’t like the sound of that at all.
“There have been many.”
“It doesn’t matter, he feeds the garden and the garden protects him. You’ll be in my place soon enough.”
She turned back to the house, but they were already gone. Hope dashed is crueler than none at all, and she wept bitterly for the lost opportunity. The face and voice were gone by the time she stopped.
“Please come back; please tell me what to do.”
Her voice sounded weak, but what could she do? After the solitude of the garden and the loneliness, she longed for company, even such as this. Day followed night followed day; sometimes she saw him but never the face in the ivy again. Jennifer gave herself up to the garden, immersing herself in the rhythms of it, giving her consciousness to its vegetable thoughts.
She wasn’t surprised to find herself fading to translucence and starting to pass through the chair. So far under the garden’s influence was she that it didn’t occur to her to try and pass through the wall. Instead she welcomed the lightness, and the thirst and hunger falling away.
And as she had been told, one morning her half sleep was broken by shouts. She surfaced to find a version of herself in the garden, looking aghast at the wall. She could feel him walking away. Jennifer bided her time, waiting for the day to deliver her message, just as her predecessor had done. When the message was given, she joined her sisters at the garden’s heart, deep in the walls, and shared silent memories of the smell of coffee and the taste of chocolate melting on her tongue.
Mat Winser currently lives in Three Bridges in West Sussex with his partner and two demanding cats. He has been writing since the age of 12 and has written in a variety of genres, including science fiction and horror.
Under his own name, he has sold short horror stories to a variety of websites including http://www.akkadian.com (sadly now defunct) and http://www.bloodlust-uk.com Mat has also written a serialised fiction piece for the BBC Southern Counties web pages.
In addition to writing, Mat is also a keen cook and amateur musician, creating spicy food and strange electronic noises.