To Tend a Garden
by Filip Wiltgren
The garden is a wasteland, mounds of rock-strewn sand so dry it flows around my
toes as I walk through it. The few thorny stumps that prickle the yellow earth are all dried
gray. The garden is desolate, but not dead. If it was dead it wouldn't exist.
So I sink to my knees and shove my hand into the sandy earth. I remember the
roses in bloom, whites, reds, yellows, purples veined in indigo. And the spices. The whole
garden smelled of coriander, thyme, saffron, and always a hint of spearmint. There must be
life here somewhere. There must. I pick a small mound and start digging.
The sun hangs overhead, its heat pounding me, but I keep digging. My hands are
soon ruined, the tips of my fingers leaving trails of blood in the dirt.
The damage doesn't matter, nor the pain. I will be well as soon as I wake up. If
only I could find whatever it is that remains alive here. As long as there is life in the earth, I
can restore the garden. I can bring it back. I can make it a place of healing again.
I feel something buzz in my ear. I try to shake it away but it returns with
maddening persistence. Sand grits between my teeth and I choke on the dust. Bzz-bzz-bzzzzzz, louder and louder. I smash my hand against my head, and the garden is gone.
It is dark. The alarm buzz-buzz-buzzes on my nightstand. Anna is shaking me.
"Mama," she shouts, "mama, mama."
I rise, dragging a hand away from my tired eyes and take hold of her. She quiets
when she sees me moving. We've done this before. Her skin feels hot, her cheeks are red. A
remnant of sleep and thick covers, nothing else.
"Did you see the garden?" she asks, and I smile at her, nodding my head.
"When will you take me there?"
"Soon, Moonbeam, soon."
I don't want to lie to her.
That night I tell her the story of the witches of Babylon, how the city fell, and the
witches took the great gardens away stone by stone and leaf by leaf, and hid them.
"And as long as the garden lives, the world lives," she says, finishing the story for
"So it is," I say.
"So it is," she echoes.
Her hands are smooth, her voice bright, her hair midnight black. The kids at
school tease her about her eyebrows, but I tell her that in ancient times, having eyebrows
that grew together was a sign of wisdom. Rich ladies painted their foreheads with kohl to
make it look like they had bigger eyebrows. She nods, but I can see tears hiding in her eyes.
I stroke her head until she falls asleep. The last thing she does is take my arm and hug it like
a teddy bear.
I liberate it from her sleeping grip and leave her.