The Garden

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A couple go to find a business partner whose help they need, only to find him otherwise occupied.

THE GARDEN

They had arrived at twilight, but at least they didn’t have to spend the night in a motel or an hotel on the road. Monica was tired of being so long in the car but had insisted that Ernest keep going till they got to the village.

The all-day journey had taken them from sea level to the mountains. Lunch had been at midday at a motorway restaurant and that, with some sips from Monica’s thermos, had been their only nourishment. Ernest was smoking non-stop and Monica ate biscuits continuously without even tasting them. The atmosphere inside the car was of smoke, boredom, and tiredness. They had been married long enough to be able to maintain calmness in spite of the exhaustion.

At the first sight of the village lights Ernest and Monica exchanged glances of relief. While entering the village they realized that it was much larger than it had first appeared. It didn’t take them long to find an inn, there were several to choose from but the one they decided on was the most central. The coolness of the night added to the mountain air took them by surprise and, leaving the car parked outside the inn, they almost ran towards the entrance that was lit up by a black metal lamp with green glass that danced in the wind.

Monica and Ernest went into the inn, grateful for being out of the car and inside a place that was both warm and comfortable. The entrance was made of wood with rustic ornamentation, and chairs of leather and wood. The landlord was an elderly man. The couple greeted him with, “Good evening, do you have a room available for us tonight?” The landlord gave them a key and called out the name of his wife to show them the way.

The wife, who was of an age similar to the landlord, appeared from a dark part of the house, “Good evening. Come with me, please.” Monica and Ernest were too tired to do anything but follow her. There was no lift as the building only had two floors. Halfway along the corridor the wife opened the door to their room. As she put their suitcase on the floor she said, “Dinner will be served in the dining-room in half an hour.”

Monica went to the bathroom while Ernest looked at a map and read a letter. “I don’t feel like doing anything else, other than wash my face and hands. The only thing I want is to have dinner and go to bed. Have you tried the bed?”

Ernest put the map and the letter into a small folder and sat down on the bed. “It seems to be quite comfortable.” He stood, and straightened up the bedspread.

Five minutes before the half hour was up the two travellers went down to the dining-room. There was an appetising smell of roast meat and potatoes. “I’m ravenous,” confessed Ernest to Monica.

“Me too,” she replied.

There was a huge trunk of wood in the fireplace and the atmosphere was very hospitable. The dining-room also served as a restaurant and the two visitors didn’t know which of the people in the room were visitors like themselves.

The landlord’s wife and two girls of fifteen or sixteen served the dinner. Monica and Ernest, after having spent so much time on the road and after a home-made dinner, only desired one thing – bed. Without wasting any time after dinner they went up the staircase to their room. In the least time possible they got undressed, put on their pyjamas, and got into bed. “Monica, we mustn’t waste any time tomorrow. As soon as we’ve had breakfast we must go and find Joel.”

Monica grunted, “Yes, Ernest.”

 

The next day Monica and Ernest woke up to a cold and sunny day. They went downstairs to see the landlord’s wife, helped by the two girls from the night before, serving breakfast. There was something strange about it all but, but neither of them was sure what it could be.

The landlord’s wife, who had received them the night before, said, “Good morning. Sleep well?”

Monica and Ernest said they had, and then Ernest asked, “Can you please tell us how to get to this house? We have come from the town to see a friend,” and he showed the lady a piece of paper with an address written on it.

The lady looked at the address, was silent for a moment, then said, “When you leave here go to the right and up and up till you reach the top of the hill, there is a house there. You’d be better off asking for more information there.”

“Thank you. Good day.”

 

Once in the street they didn’t speak till they were well away from the inn.

“Did you see how she gave no answer till she had carefully prepared it?” Monica asked Ernest.

“Yes, there’s something weird going on, but that doesn’t worry me. We’ve come to find Joel. He is essential for the new contract. The sooner the better. We must get back home by tomorrow, so stop thinking about other people’s business.”

There was indeed a house at the top of the hill. It had been painted not so long ago, but close-up the lack of freshness and cleanliness was noticeable. The garden was uncared for. Ernest rang the bell. From somewhere inside the house a voice screamed, “Round the back.”

They turned round and opening a door in the fence went round to the part at the back of the house. There was no lawn, only a mountain of hay, chickens, ducks, and a dog wandering about. In the background there were children playing on a car. The garden was a complete mess. An elderly man opened the door of the house and greeted them. Ernest explained to him the reason why they were paying an unexpected visit.

His reaction was similar to that of the landlord’s wife in the inn, “Follow me, please.” And closing the door, he accompanied them to the road.

The three climbed the hill on a well-used path. They were surrounded by open countryside and the mountains beyond with their peaks white with snow, and further down on the sides of the mountains were dark trees. Nature was the dominating element here. The walk didn’t take long. The pathway ended in a huge garden full of flowers. Among all that wild nature was this cultivated nature.

Monica and Ernest looked at it in silence while the man showed them where they had to tread. There were paving stones instead of a pathway. The three of them were like goats jumping from one stone to another. Then the man stood still. They were in the midst of a sea of huge flowers. Their guide was talking but neither Monica nor Ernest could make out what he was saying. “Come nearer, here’s Joel. I’m his father.”

The couple hesitantly approached the man standing next to a yellow flower that was the height of a child. “Joel, some friends of yours from the city have come to see you,” and turning to them the man said, “At times it’s difficult for him to talk, please be patient. He is happy you have come to see him.”

Monica had a lump in her throat. Ernest, clutching hold of his wife’s hand in order to calm himself from the feeling of insecurity and unreality, went up to the flower that moved its head with its enormous petals towards him.

“Joel, is that you?” Ernest asked with a note of incredulity in his voice.

The petals trembled a little and from inside the pollen a voice began to speak. At first it was unintelligible, but the more it spoke the stronger it became. “Who are you?” asked the voice.

“We are Monica and Ernest. We miss you very much in the company and now that we have managed to get a new contract, we need you.”

The flower shook its petals for a moment. “Ernest, how kind of you to come, but can’t you see I am occupied.”

“Since when was being a flower an occupation?”

“Well, it is. I can’t leave here.” The flower sneezed and some petals fell onto the ground, but it went on talking. “I’m very sorry. But don’t worry, I haven’t got a cold. It’s the rotten pollen. It gets into your nose and eyes. It’s quite annoying.”

Monica and Ernest looked closer, and among the pollen they could make out the movement and the moisture of two eyes, then a nose, then a mouth. It wasn’t easy to see the features due to the pollen.

“Joel, how did you get into this situation?” Ernest asked.

“You’ll have to ask my father; according to him it’s because I was living an anti-natural life, and this is a type of punishment. To be in the world, but in another dimension.”

Monica clutched Ernest’s arm and he, following the sign she had given him, looked up from the flower and stared at the other flowers. “The others are people too?”

“Yes, we all are.” The voice of the flower started to sound weaker.

“Are you all men?”

“No. There are women too.” The flower closed its petals a bit.

Joel’s father said to them, “He looks a bit tired. He always gets like that when he wants to sleep a while.”

“Joel, what am I to tell them at the office?”

The flower, making one last effort before falling asleep, answered, “Whatever, you like. Bye, and thanks for the visit.” The flower closed its petals against the mountain wind and lowered its head to sleep and dream.

The trio turned round to find the exit. It was then that Monica and Ernest realized that they weren’t the only visitors in the garden. The couple kept holding hands all the way back to the village. Joel’s father walked in front of them. They walked in silence. They were frightened, but he said nothing because he was a man of very few words.

When they arrived at the messy house they saw that the children were still playing on the car. Ernest went over to the car, cleaned the mud off the number plate, and saw it was Joel’s car. It was his BMW, only a year old. A feeling of pure fury went straight to his head. “What’s been going on here? Do you think it’s right that these kids destroy other people’s belongings?”

Joel’s father looked at Ernest in disdain and disinterest. “My son has been punished for not leading a normal life. We lived a simple life, but with dignity. The only thing that interested him was to get rich, at the expense of family and old friendships. He was unscrupulous. He loved those things, cars, his house, his music centre. But he didn’t love anybody – not even himself. You may criticise us, but Joel didn’t behave himself as he should have done.”

Ernest felt uncomfortable. “Then you have all punished your own children so as to take advantage of their property?”

In a voice full of compassion, the man replied,” We don’t want his things.”

“Then what are those children doing on Joel’s car?”

“First of all they are Joel’s brothers, and secondly Joel no longer needs the car. It was a toy for Joel, and now it’s a toy for the children too.”

Monica asked, “Why a flower?”

The man continued talking in an attempt to make them understand, “He had to return to nature in order to be purified.”

“And then what?”

“Be born again and have a second opportunity.”

“And who are you to decide these things?”

With an expression of surprise on his face, Joel’s father answered, “But I haven’t decided anything.”

The couple stared at each other. “So Joel was not a man and became a flower. Is that what you are trying to say?”

“Joel had stopped being a man a long time ago.”

“And the other flowers?”

“Them, too. With your permission I’d like to get on with my work. I don’t think we’ll see each other again. I’m grateful for your visit. Have a good trip back to the city.”

They both felt like two children being sent off, “Good bye, Sir, and thank you.”

Before leaving the yard Monica and Ernest stood staring at the hens and the children clambering over Joel’s car, which had been an obsession for him in maintaining it and cleaning it.

They almost ran back down to the inn.

 

Outside the inn there were cars that had not been there when Monica and Ernest had left to go and search for Joel. Ernest looked at his watch. It was lunchtime. The landlord showed them the day’s menus which were written on a board at the entrance to the dining room.

“I’m going to wash my hands. And you?” Monica said.

Ernest took Monica’s arm as his way of answering. Getting the key from the landlord the two walked up to their room. Monica was in another world since the meeting with Joel’s father. The state of her face and hair reflected in the mirror a faithful portrait of her turbulent emotions. The wind had messed up her hair and had removed her make-up. Monica washed her face and hands as if she wanted to remove any reminders left on her of the morning’s experience. Hair combed, perfumed, and well made-up Monica opened the bathroom door to see Ernest almost asleep in an armchair.

The morning’s events had taken away their appetites; but the walk to the inn, plus the cold, was stronger than them. At the smell of hot food, the two felt a sudden hunger. The fire had been lit in the fireplace, and the dining-room was the only place where Monica and Ernest felt comfortable.

They were full of food, wine and coffee when they returned to their room. Now Monica was able to talk about what had happened. “Ernest, can we leave today? There is no reason for us to stay here.”

Ernest wanted to sleep. The last thing he wanted to do was the return journey. “Can you wait till morning to go back? This has been a very exhausting day and in a few hours it will be night. I think that it would be better to sleep here now and leave at first light.”

Monica knew that Ernest was right, but the desire to put a distance between them and the village in the shortest time possible obsessed her. Monica shut the curtains to hide the view of the village and lay down beside Ernest who was already sleeping. One after another the visions of the morning as they had happened passed through her head. She was crying. From fear? For Joel? She didn’t know. That garden, so pathetic with the young people from the village trapped in it. What had convinced them to return to the village? Well, it wouldn’t be so difficult. Any lie, such as a grandmother or a mother ill. But how did they get into the garden? Joel who was so strong. What did they do to get them to go up to the garden with them?

The room was in semi-darkness, the only light filtering in from beneath the door, which came from a lamp in the corridor. Monica woke up with a headache and her nerves on edge. The clock said eight o’clock. “Ernest, we have to go down for dinner.”

Ernest rubbed his eyes, “Dinner time already?”

“Yes, come on, hurry up. We have to pay the landlord.”

“What time shall we leave tomorrow?”

Monica without wasting a second said, “At three o’clock.”

“So early?”

“Yes, it’s better. We’ll be far away from here before the village wakes up.”

“Very well.”

They paid their bill but they didn’t inform the landlord of the time of their departure. The dinner was very good and abundant and the atmosphere friendly. They filled the car with petrol in the garage opposite the inn. They packed their case in the bedroom and the wait began. They were dressed and ready to go. Monica wasn’t able to sleep but Ernest slept straight away.

The noises in the place were never ending not one minute passed when there wasn’t the sound of a door, steps, voices, cars, and the noises that every old building has, which are their own. Monica thought that she had never heard so many different noises. At a quarter to three Monica woke Ernest up. It didn’t take them more than a couple of minutes to pack up their things and open and shut the door to the room and go down the stairs. The dining-room door was still open and the ashes in the fireplace smouldered red in the darkness.

The couple pushed the car till it was a little distance from the inn, then got in and started up the engine. When the sun rose the village was already in the distance and they both felt safer.

 

Joel suffered horrible pains on the day that Ernest and Monica had visited. The pollen annoyed him very much and in spite of having his legs trapped inside a stalk he was still able to feel them. For some days Joel had had the sensation that he was losing his faculties. He could hardly speak and at times the stalk bent over double. The leaves that were his old arms were becoming weaker and weaker. I am dying, the flower thought, and if it had been able to cry it would have done so.

Joel’s father was standing in front of the flower. Carefully, the man removed the dead leaves and a baby was there. He wrapped the baby in a blanket he had taken with him for just this reason and the man took him home. He entered the kitchen and said to his wife, “Joel has returned.” The two old people stood and stared at the wonder of seeing their son again.

 

Monica and Ernest reached the city on the evening of the same day they had left the village. The lights from the houses, the street lights, lights from all over the city were like precious stones to them. Ernest felt furious with the village and Joel’s father. For him what had happened to his work-mate was nothing less than a murder. Monica was afraid. The man and the woman in the inn, Joel’s father, the lack of young men and women in the village. If mother nature is as possessive as Joel’s father would have us believe, then I prefer not to have this mother, and live outside of nature. And what if all this was just a leg pull on Joel’s part?

“What are we going to say to the rest?” Monica asked Ernest.

And thinking for a few minutes, Ernest replied to her, still concentrating on the road which took them nearer and nearer to their home, “That he’s out of touch.”

They weren’t alone on the road but formed part of a long line that snaked its way into the city, through tunnels, other roads, and overhead passes. Monica and Ernest felt safer in the city, among what they knew; the pollution, the noises and the people. They knew that they had lost Joel for ever.

 

They had arrived at twilight, but at least they didn’t have to spend the night in a motel or an hotel on the road. Monica was tired of being so long in the car but had insisted that Ernest keep going till they got to the village.

The all-day journey had taken them from sea level to the mountains. Lunch had been at midday at a motorway restaurant and that, with some sips from Monica’s thermos, had been their only nourishment. Ernest was smoking non-stop and Monica ate biscuits continuously without even tasting them. The atmosphere inside the car was of smoke, boredom, and tiredness. They had been married long enough to be able to maintain calmness in spite of the exhaustion.

At the first sight of the village lights Ernest and Monica exchanged glances of relief. While entering the village they realized that it was much larger than it had first appeared. It didn’t take them long to find an inn, there were several to choose from but the one they decided on was the most central. The coolness of the night added to the mountain air took them by surprise and, leaving the car parked outside the inn, they almost ran towards the entrance that was lit up by a black metal lamp with green glass that danced in the wind.

Monica and Ernest went into the inn, grateful for being out of the car and inside a place that was both warm and comfortable. The entrance was made of wood with rustic ornamentation, and chairs of leather and wood. The landlord was an elderly man. The couple greeted him with, “Good evening, do you have a room available for us tonight?” The landlord gave them a key and called out the name of his wife to show them the way.

The wife, who was of an age similar to the landlord, appeared from a dark part of the house, “Good evening. Come with me, please.” Monica and Ernest were too tired to do anything but follow her. There was no lift as the building only had two floors. Halfway along the corridor the wife opened the door to their room. As she put their suitcase on the floor she said, “Dinner will be served in the dining-room in half an hour.”

Monica went to the bathroom while Ernest looked at a map and read a letter. “I don’t feel like doing anything else, other than wash my face and hands. The only thing I want is to have dinner and go to bed. Have you tried the bed?”

Ernest put the map and the letter into a small folder and sat down on the bed. “It seems to be quite comfortable.” He stood, and straightened up the bedspread.

Five minutes before the half hour was up the two travellers went down to the dining-room. There was an appetising smell of roast meat and potatoes. “I’m ravenous,” confessed Ernest to Monica.

“Me too,” she replied.

There was a huge trunk of wood in the fireplace and the atmosphere was very hospitable. The dining-room also served as a restaurant and the two visitors didn’t know which of the people in the room were visitors like themselves.

The landlord’s wife and two girls of fifteen or sixteen served the dinner. Monica and Ernest, after having spent so much time on the road and after a home-made dinner, only desired one thing – bed. Without wasting any time after dinner they went up the staircase to their room. In the least time possible they got undressed, put on their pyjamas, and got into bed. “Monica, we mustn’t waste any time tomorrow. As soon as we’ve had breakfast we must go and find Joel.”

Monica grunted, “Yes, Ernest.”

 

The next day Monica and Ernest woke up to a cold and sunny day. They went downstairs to see the landlord’s wife, helped by the two girls from the night before, serving breakfast. There was something strange about it all but, but neither of them was sure what it could be.

The landlord’s wife, who had received them the night before, said, “Good morning. Sleep well?”

Monica and Ernest said they had, and then Ernest asked, “Can you please tell us how to get to this house? We have come from the town to see a friend,” and he showed the lady a piece of paper with an address written on it.

The lady looked at the address, was silent for a moment, then said, “When you leave here go to the right and up and up till you reach the top of the hill, there is a house there. You’d be better off asking for more information there.”

“Thank you. Good day.”

 

Once in the street they didn’t speak till they were well away from the inn.

“Did you see how she gave no answer till she had carefully prepared it?” Monica asked Ernest.

“Yes, there’s something weird going on, but that doesn’t worry me. We’ve come to find Joel. He is essential for the new contract. The sooner the better. We must get back home by tomorrow, so stop thinking about other people’s business.”

There was indeed a house at the top of the hill. It had been painted not so long ago, but close-up the lack of freshness and cleanliness was noticeable. The garden was uncared for. Ernest rang the bell. From somewhere inside the house a voice screamed, “Round the back.”

They turned round and opening a door in the fence went round to the part at the back of the house. There was no lawn, only a mountain of hay, chickens, ducks, and a dog wandering about. In the background there were children playing on a car. The garden was a complete mess. An elderly man opened the door of the house and greeted them. Ernest explained to him the reason why they were paying an unexpected visit.

His reaction was similar to that of the landlord’s wife in the inn, “Follow me, please.” And closing the door, he accompanied them to the road.

The three climbed the hill on a well-used path. They were surrounded by open countryside and the mountains beyond with their peaks white with snow, and further down on the sides of the mountains were dark trees. Nature was the dominating element here. The walk didn’t take long. The pathway ended in a huge garden full of flowers. Among all that wild nature was this cultivated nature.

Monica and Ernest looked at it in silence while the man showed them where they had to tread. There were paving stones instead of a pathway. The three of them were like goats jumping from one stone to another. Then the man stood still. They were in the midst of a sea of huge flowers. Their guide was talking but neither Monica nor Ernest could make out what he was saying. “Come nearer, here’s Joel. I’m his father.”

The couple hesitantly approached the man standing next to a yellow flower that was the height of a child. “Joel, some friends of yours from the city have come to see you,” and turning to them the man said, “At times it’s difficult for him to talk, please be patient. He is happy you have come to see him.”

Monica had a lump in her throat. Ernest, clutching hold of his wife’s hand in order to calm himself from the feeling of insecurity and unreality, went up to the flower that moved its head with its enormous petals towards him.

“Joel, is that you?” Ernest asked with a note of incredulity in his voice.

The petals trembled a little and from inside the pollen a voice began to speak. At first it was unintelligible, but the more it spoke the stronger it became. “Who are you?” asked the voice.

“We are Monica and Ernest. We miss you very much in the company and now that we have managed to get a new contract, we need you.”

The flower shook its petals for a moment. “Ernest, how kind of you to come, but can’t you see I am occupied.”

“Since when was being a flower an occupation?”

“Well, it is. I can’t leave here.” The flower sneezed and some petals fell onto the ground, but it went on talking. “I’m very sorry. But don’t worry, I haven’t got a cold. It’s the rotten pollen. It gets into your nose and eyes. It’s quite annoying.”

Monica and Ernest looked closer, and among the pollen they could make out the movement and the moisture of two eyes, then a nose, then a mouth. It wasn’t easy to see the features due to the pollen.

“Joel, how did you get into this situation?” Ernest asked.

“You’ll have to ask my father; according to him it’s because I was living an anti-natural life, and this is a type of punishment. To be in the world, but in another dimension.”

Monica clutched Ernest’s arm and he, following the sign she had given him, looked up from the flower and stared at the other flowers. “The others are people too?”

“Yes, we all are.” The voice of the flower started to sound weaker.

“Are you all men?”

“No. There are women too.” The flower closed its petals a bit.

Joel’s father said to them, “He looks a bit tired. He always gets like that when he wants to sleep a while.”

“Joel, what am I to tell them at the office?”

The flower, making one last effort before falling asleep, answered, “Whatever, you like. Bye, and thanks for the visit.” The flower closed its petals against the mountain wind and lowered its head to sleep and dream.

The trio turned round to find the exit. It was then that Monica and Ernest realized that they weren’t the only visitors in the garden. The couple kept holding hands all the way back to the village. Joel’s father walked in front of them. They walked in silence. They were frightened, but he said nothing because he was a man of very few words.

When they arrived at the messy house they saw that the children were still playing on the car. Ernest went over to the car, cleaned the mud off the number plate, and saw it was Joel’s car. It was his BMW, only a year old. A feeling of pure fury went straight to his head. “What’s been going on here? Do you think it’s right that these kids destroy other people’s belongings?”

Joel’s father looked at Ernest in disdain and disinterest. “My son has been punished for not leading a normal life. We lived a simple life, but with dignity. The only thing that interested him was to get rich, at the expense of family and old friendships. He was unscrupulous. He loved those things, cars, his house, his music centre. But he didn’t love anybody – not even himself. You may criticise us, but Joel didn’t behave himself as he should have done.”

Ernest felt uncomfortable. “Then you have all punished your own children so as to take advantage of their property?”

In a voice full of compassion, the man replied,” We don’t want his things.”

“Then what are those children doing on Joel’s car?”

“First of all they are Joel’s brothers, and secondly Joel no longer needs the car. It was a toy for Joel, and now it’s a toy for the children too.”

Monica asked, “Why a flower?”

The man continued talking in an attempt to make them understand, “He had to return to nature in order to be purified.”

“And then what?”

“Be born again and have a second opportunity.”

“And who are you to decide these things?”

With an expression of surprise on his face, Joel’s father answered, “But I haven’t decided anything.”

The couple stared at each other. “So Joel was not a man and became a flower. Is that what you are trying to say?”

“Joel had stopped being a man a long time ago.”

“And the other flowers?”

“Them, too. With your permission I’d like to get on with my work. I don’t think we’ll see each other again. I’m grateful for your visit. Have a good trip back to the city.”

They both felt like two children being sent off, “Good bye, Sir, and thank you.”

Before leaving the yard Monica and Ernest stood staring at the hens and the children clambering over Joel’s car, which had been an obsession for him in maintaining it and cleaning it.

They almost ran back down to the inn.

 

Outside the inn there were cars that had not been there when Monica and Ernest had left to go and search for Joel. Ernest looked at his watch. It was lunchtime. The landlord showed them the day’s menus which were written on a board at the entrance to the dining room.

“I’m going to wash my hands. And you?” Monica said.

Ernest took Monica’s arm as his way of answering. Getting the key from the landlord the two walked up to their room. Monica was in another world since the meeting with Joel’s father. The state of her face and hair reflected in the mirror a faithful portrait of her turbulent emotions. The wind had messed up her hair and had removed her make-up. Monica washed her face and hands as if she wanted to remove any reminders left on her of the morning’s experience. Hair combed, perfumed, and well made-up Monica opened the bathroom door to see Ernest almost asleep in an armchair.

The morning’s events had taken away their appetites; but the walk to the inn, plus the cold, was stronger than them. At the smell of hot food, the two felt a sudden hunger. The fire had been lit in the fireplace, and the dining-room was the only place where Monica and Ernest felt comfortable.

They were full of food, wine and coffee when they returned to their room. Now Monica was able to talk about what had happened. “Ernest, can we leave today? There is no reason for us to stay here.”

Ernest wanted to sleep. The last thing he wanted to do was the return journey. “Can you wait till morning to go back? This has been a very exhausting day and in a few hours it will be night. I think that it would be better to sleep here now and leave at first light.”

Monica knew that Ernest was right, but the desire to put a distance between them and the village in the shortest time possible obsessed her. Monica shut the curtains to hide the view of the village and lay down beside Ernest who was already sleeping. One after another the visions of the morning as they had happened passed through her head. She was crying. From fear? For Joel? She didn’t know. That garden, so pathetic with the young people from the village trapped in it. What had convinced them to return to the village? Well, it wouldn’t be so difficult. Any lie, such as a grandmother or a mother ill. But how did they get into the garden? Joel who was so strong. What did they do to get them to go up to the garden with them?

The room was in semi-darkness, the only light filtering in from beneath the door, which came from a lamp in the corridor. Monica woke up with a headache and her nerves on edge. The clock said eight o’clock. “Ernest, we have to go down for dinner.”

Ernest rubbed his eyes, “Dinner time already?”

“Yes, come on, hurry up. We have to pay the landlord.”

“What time shall we leave tomorrow?”

Monica without wasting a second said, “At three o’clock.”

“So early?”

“Yes, it’s better. We’ll be far away from here before the village wakes up.”

“Very well.”

They paid their bill but they didn’t inform the landlord of the time of their departure. The dinner was very good and abundant and the atmosphere friendly. They filled the car with petrol in the garage opposite the inn. They packed their case in the bedroom and the wait began. They were dressed and ready to go. Monica wasn’t able to sleep but Ernest slept straight away.

The noises in the place were never ending not one minute passed when there wasn’t the sound of a door, steps, voices, cars, and the noises that every old building has, which are their own. Monica thought that she had never heard so many different noises. At a quarter to three Monica woke Ernest up. It didn’t take them more than a couple of minutes to pack up their things and open and shut the door to the room and go down the stairs. The dining-room door was still open and the ashes in the fireplace smouldered red in the darkness.

The couple pushed the car till it was a little distance from the inn, then got in and started up the engine. When the sun rose the village was already in the distance and they both felt safer.

 

Joel suffered horrible pains on the day that Ernest and Monica had visited. The pollen annoyed him very much and in spite of having his legs trapped inside a stalk he was still able to feel them. For some days Joel had had the sensation that he was losing his faculties. He could hardly speak and at times the stalk bent over double. The leaves that were his old arms were becoming weaker and weaker. I am dying, the flower thought, and if it had been able to cry it would have done so.

Joel’s father was standing in front of the flower. Carefully, the man removed the dead leaves and a baby was there. He wrapped the baby in a blanket he had taken with him for just this reason and the man took him home. He entered the kitchen and said to his wife, “Joel has returned.” The two old people stood and stared at the wonder of seeing their son again.

 

Monica and Ernest reached the city on the evening of the same day they had left the village. The lights from the houses, the street lights, lights from all over the city were like precious stones to them. Ernest felt furious with the village and Joel’s father. For him what had happened to his work-mate was nothing less than a murder. Monica was afraid. The man and the woman in the inn, Joel’s father, the lack of young men and women in the village. If mother nature is as possessive as Joel’s father would have us believe, then I prefer not to have this mother, and live outside of nature. And what if all this was just a leg pull on Joel’s part?

“What are we going to say to the rest?” Monica asked Ernest.

And thinking for a few minutes, Ernest replied to her, still concentrating on the road which took them nearer and nearer to their home, “That he’s out of touch.”

They weren’t alone on the road but formed part of a long line that snaked its way into the city, through tunnels, other roads, and overhead passes. Monica and Ernest felt safer in the city, among what they knew; the pollution, the noises and the people. They knew that they had lost Joel for ever.

 

They had arrived at twilight, but at

 

 

They had arrived at twilight, but at least they didn’t have to spend the night in a motel or an hotel on the road. Monica was tired of being so long in the car but had insisted that Ernest keep going till they got to the village.

The all-day journey had taken them from sea level to the mountains. Lunch had been at midday at a motorway restaurant and that, with some sips from Monica’s thermos, had been their only nourishment. Ernest was smoking non-stop and Monica ate biscuits continuously without even tasting them. The atmosphere inside the car was of smoke, boredom, and tiredness. They had been married long enough to be able to maintain calmness in spite of the exhaustion.

At the first sight of the village lights Ernest and Monica exchanged glances of relief. While entering the village they realized that it was much larger than it had first appeared. It didn’t take them long to find an inn, there were several to choose from but the one they decided on was the most central. The coolness of the night added to the mountain air took them by surprise and, leaving the car parked outside the inn, they almost ran towards the entrance that was lit up by a black metal lamp with green glass that danced in the wind.

Monica and Ernest went into the inn, grateful for being out of the car and inside a place that was both warm and comfortable. The entrance was made of wood with rustic ornamentation, and chairs of leather and wood. The landlord was an elderly man. The couple greeted him with, “Good evening, do you have a room available for us tonight?” The landlord gave them a key and called out the name of his wife to show them the way.

The wife, who was of an age similar to the landlord, appeared from a dark part of the house, “Good evening. Come with me, please.” Monica and Ernest were too tired to do anything but follow her. There was no lift as the building only had two floors. Halfway along the corridor the wife opened the door to their room. As she put their suitcase on the floor she said, “Dinner will be served in the dining-room in half an hour.”

Monica went to the bathroom while Ernest looked at a map and read a letter. “I don’t feel like doing anything else, other than wash my face and hands. The only thing I want is to have dinner and go to bed. Have you tried the bed?”

Ernest put the map and the letter into a small folder and sat down on the bed. “It seems to be quite comfortable.” He stood, and straightened up the bedspread.

Five minutes before the half hour was up the two travellers went down to the dining-room. There was an appetising smell of roast meat and potatoes. “I’m ravenous,” confessed Ernest to Monica.

“Me too,” she replied.

There was a huge trunk of wood in the fireplace and the atmosphere was very hospitable. The dining-room also served as a restaurant and the two visitors didn’t know which of the people in the room were visitors like themselves.

The landlord’s wife and two girls of fifteen or sixteen served the dinner. Monica and Ernest, after having spent so much time on the road and after a home-made dinner, only desired one thing – bed. Without wasting any time after dinner they went up the staircase to their room. In the least time possible they got undressed, put on their pyjamas, and got into bed. “Monica, we mustn’t waste any time tomorrow. As soon as we’ve had breakfast we must go and find Joel.”

Monica grunted, “Yes, Ernest.”

 

The next day Monica and Ernest woke up to a cold and sunny day. They went downstairs to see the landlord’s wife, helped by the two girls from the night before, serving breakfast. There was something strange about it all but, but neither of them was sure what it could be.

The landlord’s wife, who had received them the night before, said, “Good morning. Sleep well?”

Monica and Ernest said they had, and then Ernest asked, “Can you please tell us how to get to this house? We have come from the town to see a friend,” and he showed the lady a piece of paper with an address written on it.

The lady looked at the address, was silent for a moment, then said, “When you leave here go to the right and up and up till you reach the top of the hill, there is a house there. You’d be better off asking for more information there.”

“Thank you. Good day.”

 

Once in the street they didn’t speak till they were well away from the inn.

“Did you see how she gave no answer till she had carefully prepared it?” Monica asked Ernest.

“Yes, there’s something weird going on, but that doesn’t worry me. We’ve come to find Joel. He is essential for the new contract. The sooner the better. We must get back home by tomorrow, so stop thinking about other people’s business.”

There was indeed a house at the top of the hill. It had been painted not so long ago, but close-up the lack of freshness and cleanliness was noticeable. The garden was uncared for. Ernest rang the bell. From somewhere inside the house a voice screamed, “Round the back.”

They turned round and opening a door in the fence went round to the part at the back of the house. There was no lawn, only a mountain of hay, chickens, ducks, and a dog wandering about. In the background there were children playing on a car. The garden was a complete mess. An elderly man opened the door of the house and greeted them. Ernest explained to him the reason why they were paying an unexpected visit.

His reaction was similar to that of the landlord’s wife in the inn, “Follow me, please.” And closing the door, he accompanied them to the road.

The three climbed the hill on a well-used path. They were surrounded by open countryside and the mountains beyond with their peaks white with snow, and further down on the sides of the mountains were dark trees. Nature was the dominating element here. The walk didn’t take long. The pathway ended in a huge garden full of flowers. Among all that wild nature was this cultivated nature.

Monica and Ernest looked at it in silence while the man showed them where they had to tread. There were paving stones instead of a pathway. The three of them were like goats jumping from one stone to another. Then the man stood still. They were in the midst of a sea of huge flowers. Their guide was talking but neither Monica nor Ernest could make out what he was saying. “Come nearer, here’s Joel. I’m his father.”

The couple hesitantly approached the man standing next to a yellow flower that was the height of a child. “Joel, some friends of yours from the city have come to see you,” and turning to them the man said, “At times it’s difficult for him to talk, please be patient. He is happy you have come to see him.”

Monica had a lump in her throat. Ernest, clutching hold of his wife’s hand in order to calm himself from the feeling of insecurity and unreality, went up to the flower that moved its head with its enormous petals towards him.

“Joel, is that you?” Ernest asked with a note of incredulity in his voice.

The petals trembled a little and from inside the pollen a voice began to speak. At first it was unintelligible, but the more it spoke the stronger it became. “Who are you?” asked the voice.

“We are Monica and Ernest. We miss you very much in the company and now that we have managed to get a new contract, we need you.”

The flower shook its petals for a moment. “Ernest, how kind of you to come, but can’t you see I am occupied.”

“Since when was being a flower an occupation?”

“Well, it is. I can’t leave here.” The flower sneezed and some petals fell onto the ground, but it went on talking. “I’m very sorry. But don’t worry, I haven’t got a cold. It’s the rotten pollen. It gets into your nose and eyes. It’s quite annoying.”

Monica and Ernest looked closer, and among the pollen they could make out the movement and the moisture of two eyes, then a nose, then a mouth. It wasn’t easy to see the features due to the pollen.

“Joel, how did you get into this situation?” Ernest asked.

“You’ll have to ask my father; according to him it’s because I was living an anti-natural life, and this is a type of punishment. To be in the world, but in another dimension.”

Monica clutched Ernest’s arm and he, following the sign she had given him, looked up from the flower and stared at the other flowers. “The others are people too?”

“Yes, we all are.” The voice of the flower started to sound weaker.

“Are you all men?”

“No. There are women too.” The flower closed its petals a bit.

Joel’s father said to them, “He looks a bit tired. He always gets like that when he wants to sleep a while.”

“Joel, what am I to tell them at the office?”

The flower, making one last effort before falling asleep, answered, “Whatever, you like. Bye, and thanks for the visit.” The flower closed its petals against the mountain wind and lowered its head to sleep and dream.

The trio turned round to find the exit. It was then that Monica and Ernest realized that they weren’t the only visitors in the garden. The couple kept holding hands all the way back to the village. Joel’s father walked in front of them. They walked in silence. They were frightened, but he said nothing because he was a man of very few words.

When they arrived at the messy house they saw that the children were still playing on the car. Ernest went over to the car, cleaned the mud off the number plate, and saw it was Joel’s car. It was his BMW, only a year old. A feeling of pure fury went straight to his head. “What’s been going on here? Do you think it’s right that these kids destroy other people’s belongings?”

Joel’s father looked at Ernest in disdain and disinterest. “My son has been punished for not leading a normal life. We lived a simple life, but with dignity. The only thing that interested him was to get rich, at the expense of family and old friendships. He was unscrupulous. He loved those things, cars, his house, his music centre. But he didn’t love anybody – not even himself. You may criticise us, but Joel didn’t behave himself as he should have done.”

Ernest felt uncomfortable. “Then you have all punished your own children so as to take advantage of their property?”

In a voice full of compassion, the man replied,” We don’t want his things.”

“Then what are those children doing on Joel’s car?”

“First of all they are Joel’s brothers, and secondly Joel no longer needs the car. It was a toy for Joel, and now it’s a toy for the children too.”

Monica asked, “Why a flower?”

The man continued talking in an attempt to make them understand, “He had to return to nature in order to be purified.”

“And then what?”

“Be born again and have a second opportunity.”

“And who are you to decide these things?”

With an expression of surprise on his face, Joel’s father answered, “But I haven’t decided anything.”

The couple stared at each other. “So Joel was not a man and became a flower. Is that what you are trying to say?”

“Joel had stopped being a man a long time ago.”

“And the other flowers?”

“Them, too. With your permission I’d like to get on with my work. I don’t think we’ll see each other again. I’m grateful for your visit. Have a good trip back to the city.”

They both felt like two children being sent off, “Good bye, Sir, and thank you.”

Before leaving the yard Monica and Ernest stood staring at the hens and the children clambering over Joel’s car, which had been an obsession for him in maintaining it and cleaning it.

They almost ran back down to the inn.

 

Outside the inn there were cars that had not been there when Monica and Ernest had left to go and search for Joel. Ernest looked at his watch. It was lunchtime. The landlord showed them the day’s menus which were written on a board at the entrance to the dining room.

“I’m going to wash my hands. And you?” Monica said.

Ernest took Monica’s arm as his way of answering. Getting the key from the landlord the two walked up to their room. Monica was in another world since the meeting with Joel’s father. The state of her face and hair reflected in the mirror a faithful portrait of her turbulent emotions. The wind had messed up her hair and had removed her make-up. Monica washed her face and hands as if she wanted to remove any reminders left on her of the morning’s experience. Hair combed, perfumed, and well made-up Monica opened the bathroom door to see Ernest almost asleep in an armchair.

The morning’s events had taken away their appetites; but the walk to the inn, plus the cold, was stronger than them. At the smell of hot food, the two felt a sudden hunger. The fire had been lit in the fireplace, and the dining-room was the only place where Monica and Ernest felt comfortable.

They were full of food, wine and coffee when they returned to their room. Now Monica was able to talk about what had happened. “Ernest, can we leave today? There is no reason for us to stay here.”

Ernest wanted to sleep. The last thing he wanted to do was the return journey. “Can you wait till morning to go back? This has been a very exhausting day and in a few hours it will be night. I think that it would be better to sleep here now and leave at first light.”

Monica knew that Ernest was right, but the desire to put a distance between them and the village in the shortest time possible obsessed her. Monica shut the curtains to hide the view of the village and lay down beside Ernest who was already sleeping. One after another the visions of the morning as they had happened passed through her head. She was crying. From fear? For Joel? She didn’t know. That garden, so pathetic with the young people from the village trapped in it. What had convinced them to return to the village? Well, it wouldn’t be so difficult. Any lie, such as a grandmother or a mother ill. But how did they get into the garden? Joel who was so strong. What did they do to get them to go up to the garden with them?

The room was in semi-darkness, the only light filtering in from beneath the door, which came from a lamp in the corridor. Monica woke up with a headache and her nerves on edge. The clock said eight o’clock. “Ernest, we have to go down for dinner.”

Ernest rubbed his eyes, “Dinner time already?”

“Yes, come on, hurry up. We have to pay the landlord.”

“What time shall we leave tomorrow?”

Monica without wasting a second said, “At three o’clock.”

“So early?”

“Yes, it’s better. We’ll be far away from here before the village wakes up.”

“Very well.”

They paid their bill but they didn’t inform the landlord of the time of their departure. The dinner was very good and abundant and the atmosphere friendly. They filled the car with petrol in the garage opposite the inn. They packed their case in the bedroom and the wait began. They were dressed and ready to go. Monica wasn’t able to sleep but Ernest slept straight away.

The noises in the place were never ending not one minute passed when there wasn’t the sound of a door, steps, voices, cars, and the noises that every old building has, which are their own. Monica thought that she had never heard so many different noises. At a quarter to three Monica woke Ernest up. It didn’t take them more than a couple of minutes to pack up their things and open and shut the door to the room and go down the stairs. The dining-room door was still open and the ashes in the fireplace smouldered red in the darkness.

The couple pushed the car till it was a little distance from the inn, then got in and started up the engine. When the sun rose the village was already in the distance and they both felt safer.

 

Joel suffered horrible pains on the day that Ernest and Monica had visited. The pollen annoyed him very much and in spite of having his legs trapped inside a stalk he was still able to feel them. For some days Joel had had the sensation that he was losing his faculties. He could hardly speak and at times the stalk bent over double. The leaves that were his old arms were becoming weaker and weaker. I am dying, the flower thought, and if it had been able to cry it would have done so.

Joel’s father was standing in front of the flower. Carefully, the man removed the dead leaves and a baby was there. He wrapped the baby in a blanket he had taken with him for just this reason and the man took him home. He entered the kitchen and said to his wife, “Joel has returned.” The two old people stood and stared at the wonder of seeing their son again.

 

Monica and Ernest reached the city on the evening of the same day they had left the village. The lights from the houses, the street lights, lights from all over the city were like precious stones to them. Ernest felt furious with the village and Joel’s father. For him what had happened to his work-mate was nothing less than a murder. Monica was afraid. The man and the woman in the inn, Joel’s father, the lack of young men and women in the village. If mother nature is as possessive as Joel’s father would have us believe, then I prefer not to have this mother, and live outside of nature. And what if all this was just a leg pull on Joel’s part?

“What are we going to say to the rest?” Monica asked Ernest.

And thinking for a few minutes, Ernest replied to her, still concentrating on the road which took them nearer and nearer to their home, “That he’s out of touch.”

They weren’t alone on the road but formed part of a long line that snaked its way into the city, through tunnels, other roads, and overhead passes. Monica and Ernest felt safer in the city, among what they knew; the pollution, the noises and the people. They knew that they had lost Joel for ever.

least they didn’t have to spend the night in a motel or an hotel on the road. Monica was tired of being so long in the car but had insisted that Ernest keep going till they got to the village.

The all-day journey had taken them from sea level to the mountains. Lunch had been at midday at a motorway restaurant and that, with some sips from Monica’s thermos, had been their only nourishment. Ernest was smoking non-stop and Monica ate biscuits continuously without even tasting them. The atmosphere inside the car was of smoke, boredom, and tiredness. They had been married long enough to be able to maintain calmness in spite of the exhaustion.

At the first sight of the village lights Ernest and Monica exchanged glances of relief. While entering the village they realized that it was much larger than it had first appeared. It didn’t take them long to find an inn, there were several to choose from but the one they decided on was the most central. The coolness of the night added to the mountain air took them by surprise and, leaving the car parked outside the inn, they almost ran towards the entrance that was lit up by a black metal lamp with green glass that danced in the wind.

Monica and Ernest went into the inn, grateful for being out of the car and inside a place that was both warm and comfortable. The entrance was made of wood with rustic ornamentation, and chairs of leather and wood. The landlord was an elderly man. The couple greeted him with, “Good evening, do you have a room available for us tonight?” The landlord gave them a key and called out the name of his wife to show them the way.

The wife, who was of an age similar to the landlord, appeared from a dark part of the house, “Good evening. Come with me, please.” Monica and Ernest were too tired to do anything but follow her. There was no lift as the building only had two floors. Halfway along the corridor the wife opened the door to their room. As she put their suitcase on the floor she said, “Dinner will be served in the dining-room in half an hour.”

Monica went to the bathroom while Ernest looked at a map and read a letter. “I don’t feel like doing anything else, other than wash my face and hands. The only thing I want is to have dinner and go to bed. Have you tried the bed?”

Ernest put the map and the letter into a small folder and sat down on the bed. “It seems to be quite comfortable.” He stood, and straightened up the bedspread.

Five minutes before the half hour was up the two travellers went down to the dining-room. There was an appetising smell of roast meat and potatoes. “I’m ravenous,” confessed Ernest to Monica.

“Me too,” she replied.

There was a huge trunk of wood in the fireplace and the atmosphere was very hospitable. The dining-room also served as a restaurant and the two visitors didn’t know which of the people in the room were visitors like themselves.

The landlord’s wife and two girls of fifteen or sixteen served the dinner. Monica and Ernest, after having spent so much time on the road and after a home-made dinner, only desired one thing – bed. Without wasting any time after dinner they went up the staircase to their room. In the least time possible they got undressed, put on their pyjamas, and got into bed. “Monica, we mustn’t waste any time tomorrow. As soon as we’ve had breakfast we must go and find Joel.”

Monica grunted, “Yes, Ernest.”

 

The next day Monica and Ernest woke up to a cold and sunny day. They went downstairs to see the landlord’s wife, helped by the two girls from the night before, serving breakfast. There was something strange about it all but, but neither of them was sure what it could be.

The landlord’s wife, who had received them the night before, said, “Good morning. Sleep well?”

Monica and Ernest said they had, and then Ernest asked, “Can you please tell us how to get to this house? We have come from the town to see a friend,” and he showed the lady a piece of paper with an address written on it.

The lady looked at the address, was silent for a moment, then said, “When you leave here go to the right and up and up till you reach the top of the hill, there is a house there. You’d be better off asking for more information there.”

“Thank you. Good day.”

 

Once in the street they didn’t speak till they were well away from the inn.

“Did you see how she gave no answer till she had carefully prepared it?” Monica asked Ernest.

“Yes, there’s something weird going on, but that doesn’t worry me. We’ve come to find Joel. He is essential for the new contract. The sooner the better. We must get back home by tomorrow, so stop thinking about other people’s business.”

There was indeed a house at the top of the hill. It had been painted not so long ago, but close-up the lack of freshness and cleanliness was noticeable. The garden was uncared for. Ernest rang the bell. From somewhere inside the house a voice screamed, “Round the back.”

They turned round and opening a door in the fence went round to the part at the back of the house. There was no lawn, only a mountain of hay, chickens, ducks, and a dog wandering about. In the background there were children playing on a car. The garden was a complete mess. An elderly man opened the door of the house and greeted them. Ernest explained to him the reason why they were paying an unexpected visit.

His reaction was similar to that of the landlord’s wife in the inn, “Follow me, please.” And closing the door, he accompanied them to the road.

The three climbed the hill on a well-used path. They were surrounded by open countryside and the mountains beyond with their peaks white with snow, and further down on the sides of the mountains were dark trees. Nature was the dominating element here. The walk didn’t take long. The pathway ended in a huge garden full of flowers. Among all that wild nature was this cultivated nature.

Monica and Ernest looked at it in silence while the man showed them where they had to tread. There were paving stones instead of a pathway. The three of them were like goats jumping from one stone to another. Then the man stood still. They were in the midst of a sea of huge flowers. Their guide was talking but neither Monica nor Ernest could make out what he was saying. “Come nearer, here’s Joel. I’m his father.”

The couple hesitantly approached the man standing next to a yellow flower that was the height of a child. “Joel, some friends of yours from the city have come to see you,” and turning to them the man said, “At times it’s difficult for him to talk, please be patient. He is happy you have come to see him.”

Monica had a lump in her throat. Ernest, clutching hold of his wife’s hand in order to calm himself from the feeling of insecurity and unreality, went up to the flower that moved its head with its enormous petals towards him.

“Joel, is that you?” Ernest asked with a note of incredulity in his voice.

The petals trembled a little and from inside the pollen a voice began to speak. At first it was unintelligible, but the more it spoke the stronger it became. “Who are you?” asked the voice.

“We are Monica and Ernest. We miss you very much in the company and now that we have managed to get a new contract, we need you.”

The flower shook its petals for a moment. “Ernest, how kind of you to come, but can’t you see I am occupied.”

“Since when was being a flower an occupation?”

“Well, it is. I can’t leave here.” The flower sneezed and some petals fell onto the ground, but it went on talking. “I’m very sorry. But don’t worry, I haven’t got a cold. It’s the rotten pollen. It gets into your nose and eyes. It’s quite annoying.”

Monica and Ernest looked closer, and among the pollen they could make out the movement and the moisture of two eyes, then a nose, then a mouth. It wasn’t easy to see the features due to the pollen.

“Joel, how did you get into this situation?” Ernest asked.

“You’ll have to ask my father; according to him it’s because I was living an anti-natural life, and this is a type of punishment. To be in the world, but in another dimension.”

Monica clutched Ernest’s arm and he, following the sign she had given him, looked up from the flower and stared at the other flowers. “The others are people too?”

“Yes, we all are.” The voice of the flower started to sound weaker.

“Are you all men?”

“No. There are women too.” The flower closed its petals a bit.

Joel’s father said to them, “He looks a bit tired. He always gets like that when he wants to sleep a while.”

“Joel, what am I to tell them at the office?”

The flower, making one last effort before falling asleep, answered, “Whatever, you like. Bye, and thanks for the visit.” The flower closed its petals against the mountain wind and lowered its head to sleep and dream.

The trio turned round to find the exit. It was then that Monica and Ernest realized that they weren’t the only visitors in the garden. The couple kept holding hands all the way back to the village. Joel’s father walked in front of them. They walked in silence. They were frightened, but he said nothing because he was a man of very few words.

When they arrived at the messy house they saw that the children were still playing on the car. Ernest went over to the car, cleaned the mud off the number plate, and saw it was Joel’s car. It was his BMW, only a year old. A feeling of pure fury went straight to his head. “What’s been going on here? Do you think it’s right that these kids destroy other people’s belongings?”

Joel’s father looked at Ernest in disdain and disinterest. “My son has been punished for not leading a normal life. We lived a simple life, but with dignity. The only thing that interested him was to get rich, at the expense of family and old friendships. He was unscrupulous. He loved those things, cars, his house, his music centre. But he didn’t love anybody – not even himself. You may criticise us, but Joel didn’t behave himself as he should have done.”

Ernest felt uncomfortable. “Then you have all punished your own children so as to take advantage of their property?”

In a voice full of compassion, the man replied,” We don’t want his things.”

“Then what are those children doing on Joel’s car?”

“First of all they are Joel’s brothers, and secondly Joel no longer needs the car. It was a toy for Joel, and now it’s a toy for the children too.”

Monica asked, “Why a flower?”

The man continued talking in an attempt to make them understand, “He had to return to nature in order to be purified.”

“And then what?”

“Be born again and have a second opportunity.”

“And who are you to decide these things?”

With an expression of surprise on his face, Joel’s father answered, “But I haven’t decided anything.”

The couple stared at each other. “So Joel was not a man and became a flower. Is that what you are trying to say?”

“Joel had stopped being a man a long time ago.”

“And the other flowers?”

“Them, too. With your permission I’d like to get on with my work. I don’t think we’ll see each other again. I’m grateful for your visit. Have a good trip back to the city.”

They both felt like two children being sent off, “Good bye, Sir, and thank you.”

Before leaving the yard Monica and Ernest stood staring at the hens and the children clambering over Joel’s car, which had been an obsession for him in maintaining it and cleaning it.

They almost ran back down to the inn.

 

Outside the inn there were cars that had not been there when Monica and Ernest had left to go and search for Joel. Ernest looked at his watch. It was lunchtime. The landlord showed them the day’s menus which were written on a board at the entrance to the dining room.

“I’m going to wash my hands. And you?” Monica said.

Ernest took Monica’s arm as his way of answering. Getting the key from the landlord the two walked up to their room. Monica was in another world since the meeting with Joel’s father. The state of her face and hair reflected in the mirror a faithful portrait of her turbulent emotions. The wind had messed up her hair and had removed her make-up. Monica washed her face and hands as if she wanted to remove any reminders left on her of the morning’s experience. Hair combed, perfumed, and well made-up Monica opened the bathroom door to see Ernest almost asleep in an armchair.

The morning’s events had taken away their appetites; but the walk to the inn, plus the cold, was stronger than them. At the smell of hot food, the two felt a sudden hunger. The fire had been lit in the fireplace, and the dining-room was the only place where Monica and Ernest felt comfortable.

They were full of food, wine and coffee when they returned to their room. Now Monica was able to talk about what had happened. “Ernest, can we leave today? There is no reason for us to stay here.”

Ernest wanted to sleep. The last thing he wanted to do was the return journey. “Can you wait till morning to go back? This has been a very exhausting day and in a few hours it will be night. I think that it would be better to sleep here now and leave at first light.”

Monica knew that Ernest was right, but the desire to put a distance between them and the village in the shortest time possible obsessed her. Monica shut the curtains to hide the view of the village and lay down beside Ernest who was already sleeping. One after another the visions of the morning as they had happened passed through her head. She was crying. From fear? For Joel? She didn’t know. That garden, so pathetic with the young people from the village trapped in it. What had convinced them to return to the village? Well, it wouldn’t be so difficult. Any lie, such as a grandmother or a mother ill. But how did they get into the garden? Joel who was so strong. What did they do to get them to go up to the garden with them?

The room was in semi-darkness, the only light filtering in from beneath the door, which came from a lamp in the corridor. Monica woke up with a headache and her nerves on edge. The clock said eight o’clock. “Ernest, we have to go down for dinner.”

Ernest rubbed his eyes, “Dinner time already?”

“Yes, come on, hurry up. We have to pay the landlord.”

“What time shall we leave tomorrow?”

Monica without wasting a second said, “At three o’clock.”

“So early?”

“Yes, it’s better. We’ll be far away from here before the village wakes up.”

“Very well.”

They paid their bill but they didn’t inform the landlord of the time of their departure. The dinner was very good and abundant and the atmosphere friendly. They filled the car with petrol in the garage opposite the inn. They packed their case in the bedroom and the wait began. They were dressed and ready to go. Monica wasn’t able to sleep but Ernest slept straight away.

The noises in the place were never ending not one minute passed when there wasn’t the sound of a door, steps, voices, cars, and the noises that every old building has, which are their own. Monica thought that she had never heard so many different noises. At a quarter to three Monica woke Ernest up. It didn’t take them more than a couple of minutes to pack up their things and open and shut the door to the room and go down the stairs. The dining-room door was still open and the ashes in the fireplace smouldered red in the darkness.

The couple pushed the car till it was a little distance from the inn, then got in and started up the engine. When the sun rose the village was already in the distance and they both felt safer.

 

Joel suffered horrible pains on the day that Ernest and Monica had visited. The pollen annoyed him very much and in spite of having his legs trapped inside a stalk he was still able to feel them. For some days Joel had had the sensation that he was losing his faculties. He could hardly speak and at times the stalk bent over double. The leaves that were his old arms were becoming weaker and weaker. I am dying, the flower thought, and if it had been able to cry it would have done so.

Joel’s father was standing in front of the flower. Carefully, the man removed the dead leaves and a baby was there. He wrapped the baby in a blanket he had taken with him for just this reason and the man took him home. He entered the kitchen and said to his wife, “Joel has returned.” The two old people stood and stared at the wonder of seeing their son again.

 

Monica and Ernest reached the city on the evening of the same day they had left the village. The lights from the houses, the street lights, lights from all over the city were like precious stones to them. Ernest felt furious with the village and Joel’s father. For him what had happened to his work-mate was nothing less than a murder. Monica was afraid. The man and the woman in the inn, Joel’s father, the lack of young men and women in the village. If mother nature is as possessive as Joel’s father would have us believe, then I prefer not to have this mother, and live outside of nature. And what if all this was just a leg pull on Joel’s part?

“What are we going to say to the rest?” Monica asked Ernest.

And thinking for a few minutes, Ernest replied to her, still concentrating on the road which took them nearer and nearer to their home, “That he’s out of touch.”

They weren’t alone on the road but formed part of a long line that snaked its way into the city, through tunnels, other roads, and overhead passes. Monica and Ernest felt safer in the city, among what they knew; the pollution, the noises and the people. They knew that they had lost Joel for ever.


Submitted: October 23, 2011

© Copyright 2022 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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