By Whitman La Torra
Each spring on the second week of February we would sow mother’s garden. Each hole would be dug to exactly one-and-a-half finger lengths and spaced two fingers from the next. Each column would be precisely offset to ensure it’s neighbours holes would be two fingers away at a 45-degree angle. We would plant each one so that it was different from all of its neighbours. We’d carry seven bags of seeds, planting each in its turn, first dahlias, then anemone, marigolds, iris, pansies, tulips, and roses. One after another, each in its turn, placed exactly when and where mother believed it should.
Nothing ever grew in the garden. Everything was too close, it had no room to grow. Each plant strangling its neighbours, wrapping roots around throats until her last breath. She would say that they would look perfect, symmetric, vibrant. Each flower at the center of a hexagon of different colors, but there was never anything but drab brown. What grew were stunted dark green shoots, withered before a single bloom.
I would have to gather them up in the summer. Mother would order me out under the hot sun to gather up the corpses of my siblings. My gloved hand would tear them from their malformed homes and toss them into the trash by the handful. My parched lip imitated the cracked earth I roused with my blood-stained hands. I would not be able to come in until the garden was ready. I would toil under the sun until my skin was red and cracking. At night I would toss and turn, searching for the perfect position to protect my tender flesh.
Her house was always dry. No rain fell there, every drop was meant for a better destination. But she was sure that God would provide, no need for her to lift a finger. The clouds never came, though. She just watched through the kitchen window as another batch withered under her gaze. They could have gone to someone that would care for them. A mother who would have nurtured them. Yet every year she would try again, never changing, same plot, same expectation, same disappointment.
It would be about June when she would start to get angry. To yell, to break things. She would empty her lungs, trying to grow plants through anger alone. It would be a week of constant complaint and anger. She would scour the seed catalogue for a miracle seed. A new type every year, some different strand of the same seven flowers. A “sun lover” seed, or a “drought resistant” strand. Mother would complain how beautiful the neighbor’s flowers were, why couldn’t ours be the same. Or better. We ought to have been better.
My garden fits in my windowsill. Seven pots, none larger than a teacup. Prickly cacti scared of every touch. Sometimes I forget to water them.