THE DROWNED GARDEN • by Sophie Greenwood

My first day alive, four days before my last, was cold and bright. The Woman had made me sometime in the morning when the air was damp and the garden was quiet. Before she gave me my eyes, I could already hear her ragged voice: sometimes talking to me, then talking away from me. She sounded kind and I decided that I would like her a lot.

“Remember to pat him down smooth,” the Woman said. “And don’t make his head bigger than his body.” A child giggled somewhere to my right.

When she set my eyes carefully into the surface of my face, parts of the sockets they’d carved fell to the floor like sheets of frosting and I could finally see. Hazy patches of colour at first, then, all at once, three flushed, smiling faces bobbing into vision. Flecks of snow swirled downwards from the iron-grey sky and landed on the blanket of white that had already settled over the ground. Sunlight was being diffused through the clouds, making the garden look as if it were held under an old Kodachrome slide.

The Woman wore big, grey gloves and a blue, shapeless jacket that hung below her ankles and grazed the snow as she moved. On the lower half of my face, she had arranged a handful of pebbles and bits of gravel into a horseshoe. I grinned at her. The children, two of them, were bundled up in coats and hats and scarves that were all too big for them. They lumped two snowballs together, the girl straining with the weight of the bigger ball to set on top of the other. The boy waited eagerly with a carrot in one hand and a handful of small rocks in the other. The Woman, glancing over, shook her head and laughed.

On either side of my body, the Woman stuck thin, nearly-naked branches and took two steps back. The wind fanned through the remaining few leaves on my left hand.

“Look, Ma, he’s waving at you!”

“D’you reckon?” The Woman smiled, looked me over. “Yeah, I reckon so too.”

***

When I reached adolescence, the children ran out of the house at dawn, their dog zipping between their ankles, and bolted over to drape the hats and scarves they’d been wearing the day before on us. My scarf, pink and hot, clung to my skin like Fuzzy-Felt. The children grinned through shivers and clouds of hot breath which stung my face. Their cheeks, flushed and plump, grew as they laughed and ran around us in circles.

The Woman watched, smiling, through the frosted window. She stood amongst oily patches of twinkling lights and held a mug of something steaming.

“Isn’t this amazing?” I said to my lopsided friend beside me, admiring the endless rows of snow-covered roofs set against the ashen sky.

When he didn’t respond, I glanced downwards and saw the dog snuffling around his base. I tried to shoo it away, and, when that didn’t work, tried to call the children over to distract it. No luck: they had disappeared, as had the Woman when I looked back towards the window.

I watched as the dog stopped in its tracks, raised its head to look at me, cocked its leg for a few moments, and darted back towards the house.

I looked at my friend’s yellowed front, at the pieces of white tumbling down from his chest.

“I’m sorry it did that,” I said.

A pause. I wished it would start snowing again.

“It’s okay.”

***

By the time I’d made it to adulthood, the Woman and children had stopped coming to visit me. I saw them through the windows of the house sometimes, sat at the dining table, legs swinging, laughing at each other. The Woman cried sometimes, when the children weren’t around. None of them looked in my direction.

The snow on the ground had started to thin and green tufts began to sprout from the patches that had been completely eroded. My friend beside me had stopped talking to me too. His head had fallen, toppled to the side as his body softened and spread into the grass below. It rested an inch or so away from me, one button hanging from his crumbling face. The place where he had stood was still yellow, darkened by the mud seeping up from below.

When the sun started to set low behind the hills and the garden fell dark and quiet, I imagined pushing warm air out in a pale white cloud from the pebbles lining my mouth. I tried, straining, until one pebble wobbled and fell, plopping into a neat cavern in the snow.

***

“I bet next year it’ll snow even more.”

“You th-think?”

“For sure.”

The two children were muttering to each other under the porchlight around the corner of the house. One was crying, trying to spit his words out between sobs. The other spoke softly, comforting her brother. She was older by a year or two, I’d guess. Old enough to understand that there was less snow this year than last and next year there will be less again.

My body had faded almost completely into the ground, my head crooked and grey. Only one of my arms remained intact, where it hung limply from my body. Small patches of grey, glossy slush mottled the lawn and withered as faint, yellow rods of midday sunlight passed over them.

I looked up and into the window. The Woman stood amongst the warm dining-room lights, hands buried in her pockets. Her shoulders were hunched and she looked at me with soft eyes. As the sun floated over the treetops and met the house’s concrete roof, I smiled at her. When I did, the wind wafted through the leaves at the end of my arm, where it finally broke and tumbled onto the grass below me.


Sophie Greenwood is a non-binary writer based in London, UK. After graduating with a degree in English Literature and Film Studies, she now lives with her partner and their slightly overweight cat. She is a Pisces.


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