FICTION: Gardens by David Meiklejohn [excerpt]

We stopped going to school after our parents died.  Grieving would distract us from our lessons, we reasoned.  Who could be expected to learn cursive while under such duress?  And because evading the army of replacement parents occupied much of our time, no one could reach us to prove otherwise.

Friends were the new enemies.  We spent our evenings locking the deadbolt, checking the peephole, latching the chain. People came by often, and when they did we pretended we were sick or dying or dead or gone.

The house we lived in smelled like moist shag carpeting, and we scrubbed it without mercy.  Sponges shined up the cakey floors.  Our wrinkly fingers paled from the soak of bleach water.  The old and moldy furniture smelled like itself, so we moved all of it onto the front lawn, where it looked lovely.  And after eating in our new sunlit dining room, we stepped inside to sniff out our work.  Nothing had changed.  The smell remained, full-fledged and fetid, and it grew stronger as we walked from room to room.

We realized it had to be us, our own bodies, our odor blossoming in the gaps where tables and chairs and sofas once rested.  We soaped ourselves for hours and walked around again.  We were clean but the air was still nauseous.  How else to explain it but to blame our blood?  And we were covered in.

This is justice: levering our bathtub out a second floor window using rollerblades, a headboard, and two titanium baseball bats.  The back claws caught on the sill and wouldn’t budge, mounting the tub outside our home like a plane wreck, streetside, full gore, spiteful.  We chucked clumps of grass at it for hours each day.  A week later the tub was painted in dirt, and we smelled like grass, earth, and sweat: the new us.

What did we do with the new tragedies around us?  We buried them.

On the first floor we built forts from the clothes of our parents.  Pants became chimneys, nightgowns curtains, six dress shirts buttoned together and made a teepee.  Had our parents been alive they would never have noticed.  Reminiscing about our parents’ inattentiveness panged us with shame: all the squandered opportunities, the years spent fortressless.  We vowed to always think of these ideas ahead of time, next time, starting that day or starting the next.

[Ed: The full text of Gardens is forthcoming in the premiere publication of Exit Strata. You can find David Meiklejohn, who is also a documentary / indie filmmaker, here in the meantime.]