Anyway, it was meant to be something light enough to float on water. Broad enough to carry a crowd and the cargo from more than one life.
As a fiction, it wasn’t a success.
Planned as a tri-part, multiple perspective piece as-told-by the ubiquitous and omnipresent He and She and a (accidentally, per He; tragically modulating to wantonly, per She) snapped-off and dried-up delphinium stalk –
also known as Dead Flower, who would (you would think) be the least interesting of characters, but who turned out to be
- itself, (“Okay, so it died. Flowers do that. Flowers die. Let’s say this together, flowers die all the time.”),
- a synecdoche of the whole newly planted garden, only barely recovering from repeated depredation and devastation (per She), aka necessary home improvement and repair (per He), and thus providing an opportunity for the display of two very different philosophies of horticulture (“There was no way in the good green earth that just one day of missed watering could have resulted in so many yellow leaves flattened against the ground like dried-out thirsting tongues. He had forgotten.” vs. “That everything looked shrivelled to her eyes was just bad luck, a sudden hot spell, maybe he missed a day while she was gone. A day or two. He wasn’t a gardener. He had watered most of the days. Okay?”)
- (and, more surprisingly to everyone) a subconscious emblem of a younger relative of She who had lately been assiduously bent on self-destruction: (“All that holiday weekend, calling home to be talked down, to make promises, to bargain, to beg for help, to ask for money, to assure them everything was just fine as pie, to say ‘you don’t need to worry about me, you don’t need to worry, I’m fine, I’m good, I’m feeling no pain.’ “)
It was not a happy plot.
As how could it be?
Involving far too much sobbing both in the garden and a thousand miles away (bewildering to He, and likewise to She, though at differing levels of irritation and self-pity.)
Enlightenment came not soon enough. Though it seemed a nice touch in a work of fiction to find enlightenment through a character’s conscious use of fiction – not in the sense of falsifying – but in the drawing of some kind of narrative thread between all that pervasive bawling (“As if your mother had died, for pity’s sake,” said He in exasperation. And She in drenching grief flooded by sudden recall: “She had held her mother’s hand up under her chin, feeling it cool and familiar against her sunburn and suddenly rasped out ragged sobs. Unthinkable, what they both were thinking. ‘I have no more tears left,’ said her mother, weary and emotionless, ‘Not even when I realize he may not make it until we come back,’ and the awful bawling that was her own noise died away.”) A kind of connect-the-dots that She thought He should have been able to string together without her spelling it out, but which She herself only realized in the moment that She offered it to him as a story or rather a more desirable conclusion than that She was completely bonked-over, not to mention unreasonably attached to short-lived botanical specimens. (“I think,” She said, “it’s not really about the garden. I think what it is . . . is my brother.”)
And even if realizing that the hot and angry tears over Dead Flower (“that sweet pale blue all dried and turned to ashes”) were partly, certainly more appropriately, being shed for the sake of that younger relative of She (“There was no connection between that buttery-blond youngest child of not so long ago and her own youngest child. Though she kept calling the one by the other’s name. Correcting herself sharply, with a quick shoulder glance. No connection, except the same sweet and crooked grin. No connection, except through the murmury chambers of her own heart.), it was an insufficient enlightenment.
And not entirely true.
Because even if it helped He to feel he was not forever hand-cuffed with a crazywoman, it was not exactly true that it wasn’t really about the garden ( ” ‘I think I’d just plant grass,’ more than one of the workmen had said, on their many occasions, swinging down off their loud and heavy tractors, dusting their hands off, like they’d done her a favor, clearing out the brambly roses and overgrown jungle of leaves and pale flowers. Horticides. It was their retreating backs she’d thought of too often while pick-axing the ruined and compacted clay.”)
And there was some trouble with the resolution – should it really be told from Dead Flower’s perspective? and how would that be done? (“Crunch, crunch, moulder, moulder, everything turns back into dust at last.”)
Not a satisfying conclusion.
But the only alternative involved more weeping, the silent side-by-side kind as He and She sit together holding a hymnbook between them (you can see this is already problematic – hymnbook resolutions having died out in a previous, more grave and tender, generation).
And certainly, this is no place at all for sentimental fictions – even if they were just fictions and not some kind of self-indulgent self-confession – especially if they end with two voices warbling in and out of audible music, choking back and dripping tears on each other’s laps as the full realization that the words they’re singing apply to them, to the person sitting next to them, to those they love who are faraway and lost, to the whole wide garden of the world:
Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today.
The depths of my sad heart are troubled.
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Not the right kind of fiction at all, even if there had been a funny touch there right before the end when the song had been announced as “Mother (the Tempest) is Raging.”
“So you think they put spy cameras up in our house?” She (both Mother and Tempest) had whispered to He and they both had shaken a little with muffled mirth.
(This being before the impending repetition of squally weather, before the silent shaking sobs were to descend upon them both.)
He had looked at She with happy relief at this glimmer of returning sanity, and She likewise had returned his grateful glance.
Sanity lying somewhere on the differential of truth to fiction. Being that convenient approximation that allows even the writer to laugh with tears in her eyes.