her own garden

Short Stories / Sunday, February 4th, 2018

She’s staring out of the window as if her life depends on it, as if every single time she blinks all hell could break lose and the world could be turned upside down. Her eyes search the woods surrounding her house, the space in between the thick tree trunks and the space between the branches almost bare of leaves. They search the sky above the trees, they search the grass below them – it seems like nothing could ever escape them. And still, absolutely nothing stirs; no animal, no falling leaf, not a whisper of a wind. All in her sight is lying perfectly still, almost as if it were a painting.

As it is, in this particular case, it is a painting.

This world (and she herself) have been created out of quick strokes of a brush, her body and her mind are only hers because someone else willed them so, her thoughts are only there because someone else put them there, in cyan and lavender.

She’s a woman of colour.

All she ever does is sit in her house and look out of this dreary window onto this dreary forest, bound to wait for an eternity and more for something to happen, which is impossible as her surroundings are painted and so is she. But she wonders –

There must be something more to life than waiting around behind a glass for her world to change, mustn’t there? Not even an artist could be so cruel as to let her starve of boredom, feeding on occasional crumbs of hope in this house of browns and greys. When she moves from her chair by the window, she almost always takes some of the oily paint with her, impressed upon her white apron from sitting on the chair all day long. When she walks into the simple kitchen; a stove and a table and another chair, and touches the walls by mistake, her hands are tarnished with stone grey paint.

She herself has almost become a painting by now. She lives on eggshells, constantly, in this house barred with colours and in this world someone else appointed her to guard forever. Since she can remember, this little hut and this view upon the forest is all she has ever known. At night when she lies in her bed of white and yellow, drawn with bold strokes of an old brush, she dreams of the endless vastness that lies beyond her forest. She dreams of oceans she has never seen and of star-spangled night skies looming above them, she dreams of high mountain ranges, taller yet than the clouds that wrap around them, she dreams of brooks and groves and emerald green summers of the heart. And when she awakes in the mornings only to realize that she is still confined in her cage made of oil and heartbreak, she’s fit for crying before breakfast.

‘How I wish to leave this place and seek all the adventures I’m dreaming up for myself’, she thinks during the endless hours of daylight spent sitting by the window, waiting for something or someone to rescue her, which or whom she knows will never come.

And then one night, she dreams she hears a voice. (She thinks it’s a dream. It’s the voice of her heart, though, and that is always as real as the next voice.)

“Then why, oh why, my child, don’t you take off your shoes and run as fast as your bare feet might carry you against the wind?”

“How?” she cries in her sleep, anxious for the voice not to disappear. She has never heard one beside her own voice and she grew tired of that one long ago.

“You get up and you open the door and you leave.”

“If it were just as simple as that, I’d have done it a long time ago,” she says offended.

“You didn’t, though.” And then the voice falls silent and her dream wanders back to the dusty desert she’s just been exploring. And when she wakes up the next morning, she pities herself and weeps bitter tears of reluctance to believe that this is all that will ever be to her life. She thinks of the voice in her dream that told her to leave and scorns it for making her think that this is all her fault. She can’t leave, she is a painting and she is bound to live in this misery forever. This is the only thing she’s ever known, this is how it’s always been and this is how it will always be. Full stop. With a decided determination to brush these thoughts out of her mind, she starts her daily shift at the window, eyes gazing out at the trees ever the same in their colours, no shadow ever moving from trunk to trunk and she sighs.





Did she just see something moving there, behind the lifeless branches, a shadow of a body moving away from her? There! A quick glimpse of something white tearing through the woods. She jumps up from her chair so that it falls backwards without her even taking notice of it.

The unthinkable, the unimaginable, the forever-wish has happened. The world around her has changed. And without so much as wasting a thought on its improbability, she makes for the door and tears it wide open. (She didn’t even know it was possible to open it, so not inclined to try was she.) It gives way obediently, almost eager to finally let her out and let her feel the immovable yellow rays of eternal sunshine on her face. And without thinking of the danger that awaits, of the consequences she’s always feared, of anything that might go wrong, she chases after the white dress glinting in the sunlight before her, running through the woods always just  a few steps ahead, never quite to be caught. The air is cool and smells just like she always imagined it would; of summer and spring and wet earth.
“Wait,” she yells at the top of her lungs. Now that she’s so close to finding someone else, any other living and breathing thing, she is desperate to hold on to it. She doesn’t think she can bear losing this speck of hope. By now she can see from the way the other person moves that it must be a woman. For a split second, the other woman looks back at her, a small white face with watery blue eyes looming in the distance, and the next second she already faces forward again, picking up speed.

“Please, wait for me! I can’t go on for much longer,” the woman of colour yelps after the body in white weaving its way through the trees as quick as a weasel. But the fleeing woman never gives an answer and the distance between them keeps growing.

She has to confess to herself that she’s getting slower by the second – she’s not used to bodily exercise after a lifetime of waiting around on a chair.

“Wait,” she tries one last time, the word crawling from her throat in a faint whisper. But the other woman hurries along on a determined way only she seems to know through the brushes and the trees without another glance back.

Disappointed and weary, the woman of colour resigns herself to a slow walk to regain air in her lungs and to give her aching sides a chance to recover.

And when she comes upon a painted little brook flowing noiselessly and ever the same through the rocky ground, she pauses for a minute to quench her thirst from running.

And as she kneels by the side of the brook to set her lips against the water’s edge, something strange happens. She sees herself in the water.

And she recognizes the face with the watery blue eyes looking back at her, even though no mirror hangs in her house.

And she smiles for the first time in forever.

‘And sometimes we must save ourselves,’ she thinks.

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