MARTHA’S GARDENS • by Jeff Switt

“I said it was aliens from space what took her.”

Detective Southby looked away as if I had said something really stupid. He stuck his spiral notebook and pen in his coat pocket. The blackened circle of grass centered in my back yard was the subject of their attention.

I continued my explanation. “She was working in her gardens when the temperature dropped really fast. Like opening a freezer door in August. We looked up. A darkness descended from something that looked like an upside-down hot tub. Not twirling like a tornado but quiet and swaying. Like a cobra snake.”

I could tell I wasn’t getting anywhere with this kid-cop in a suit.

“You see — Martha walked right into it — this darkness. She clutched her garden basket and digging tools to her chest. Pulled her straw hat down, over her ears.”

Southby again began taking notes.

“Then these green leafy vines dropped down and wrapped around Martha and began lifting her upward. She smiled at me.”

He interjected, “And, you didn’t try to grab her?”

“Oh, no,” I replied. “We’d talked about this before. Her and me.”

He stopped scribbling.

“Talked about it?”

“Yessir. She insisted some time ago, if space aliens ever tried to grab one of us, the other would just let them go.”

The detective paused. I continued.

“We’ve seen those interviews with folks who got snatched and came back. Some were hokey, but some we believed. The only way for us to know for sure was, if we ever had the chance, then let them take one of us. And report back.”

Another policeman approached, his head shaking “no.”

“What do you mean, ‘No?’ ”

“No signs of accelerant. No human tissue. Charred clothing. Just black grass.”

***

The police detained me for forty-eight hours. My attorney told me something about habeas corpus. No body. No crime. They gave me a lie detector test. They said I passed. A shrink interviewed me. Made some snarky comment about my age. They let me go.

***

Over the months that followed, I tended to Martha’s gardens the best I could. As much as I wanted, my heart wasn’t in it. Already I was second-guessing our decision. The black spot gradually faded, and the grass grew back — greener than anywhere else. Every day I thought about Martha. Our fifty years of marriage without children. Just each other. Best friends.

I awoke early on the anniversary of Martha’s disappearance. I sat on the patio with my coffee, staring into the sky, into space, feeling the loneliness that had overtaken my life. Feeling age overtaking my body. From the center of the green spot a flickering caught my attention. It danced like a green and purple flame without a wick, transparent and mysterious. I ambled to it and kneeled and put my hand to it. I felt a coolness which licked my palm like a puppy. I thought it might be a sign from Martha and looked upward. There was nothing. The flickering went away. My longing for Martha lingered.

Come morning, something tropical looking had sprouted from the spot where the flame had danced. The aroma from its five leaves tantalized my senses and I picked one. As gardeners are tempted to do, I tasted it as one would an herbal leaf. Its flavor was similar to lavender. It cooled my mouth like mint. I felt a tingling on the back of my hand and watched a large age spot begin to fade. I took another bite. And another.

I just knew the leaves were a gift from Martha.

For the next four mornings I savored a leaf until they were gone. Wrinkles beneath my eyes were fading. My hair, thicker and darker. I no longer needed reading glasses. A knuckle joint, broken during a high school football game, became flexible and without pain. My breaths came deeper without obstruction. I no longer walked on wobbly legs. I felt like a young man again, not seventy-five. I worked at her gardens with a new spirit.

Each morning, I took my usual seat on the patio and looked toward the green spot, wanting to see another leaf. There was none. In fact, the green spot was fading, and along with it, my new-found youth. My joints ached. My hands shook. I wiped a tear. I was alone. I cried.

A motion at the back of the yard caught my eye — a figure on hands and knees digging among some failing begonias. I started to call out. Instead I approached on wobbly legs in cautious silence. As I got closer, it turned to me and greeted me by name, “Hi Ed. It’s been so long.” It was Martha’s unmistakable smile and voice, but on a face younger than I could remember.

“Martha?” I whispered.

She rose and held out both arms. I quivered, wanting to grab her and hold her, but I feared that this Martha was only an apparition.
She wrapped her arms around me.

“I told you I’d come back for you, Ed,” she said, then kissed my cheek. “I have so much to tell you.” She gathered her basket with one hand and held firmly to my arm with the other.

Martha escorted me to the spot on the yard where she had disappeared a year and more ago. I followed Martha’s gaze upward as the darkness again descended. Tendril arms encircled us as we clung to each other. As they lifted us upward, Martha smiled.

“Their gardens are lovely, Ed.”


Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to fuel his angst, other days to curb it. This is his eighth story at Every Day Fiction.


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