When I became an adult I got married, bought a house with a yard and learned to garden. I joined a gardening club. My husband says I’m desperate in everything I do. I left the house one day to go see the garden of one of our club members. She was retired. Her garden was beautiful, and she was teaching us about pruning. We all brought our hand pruners and got to try out everyone else’s. In broad daylight, I lopped off two branches of hydrangea before realizing my mistake. “You have to cut above the bud,” Anna said. “Don’t worry. Hydrangeas grow on dead wood.” I watched her trim the same branch down to the next bud and she said to me, “Like this? Now try on that other cane.” I did it and felt a little better. We went next to a row of Buxus sempervirens, shaped like balls along the ground. Anna showed us how to use gloved hands to feel for the shape, distinguish the new growth from the old, shear back the new growth from the top down to the correct shape and step back after every cut to check the overall form. We all got to feel the plant and its denseness, and touch the leaves and branches. She said not to be afraid of pruning because plants always grew back. I knew that since I was young, but could not believe it when even the carrot head I used to place in saucers of water would only grow briefly before dying. I knew that was because of a lack of nutrients. Anna’s carrots would always grow, I thought, and her hedges and bushes, trees and flowers. When I went home and struggled again with the dandelion roots in my garden, I thought that perhaps my carrots don’t grow, my bushes look spindly and half-dead, and my flowers bloom late because I am not fully adult yet. I told this to my husband when he got home from work. He said I was probably thinking too much and he could call a weed control company to come on the weekend. He forgot though, and I didn’t want to remind him.
I thought that to be a parent one has to learn first to love unconditionally, like we are told that parents must, towards their children. When I was young and stupid I asked my father: Dad, who do you love most. He said, Your mother of course. No, I said, me or Christa. How could I choose between you two, he said. I knew he could, though, because I had seen him give Christa a five-dollar bill when he thought I wasn’t looking, and grin and roll his eyes at her after he’s made a joke about how slow I always am, or complain to her about how he can never understand me and how I never make sense when I talk. At the time Christa said I was just being sensitive and I’m sure he says stuff about me, too, that’s just how he is.
It was Christa that Dad liked best, and it was Christa who Dad hated most when she started dating Ben. Ben was not rich, not from a good family, not trustworthy, the wrong height, the wrong job, smiled too much, social climbing bastard son of a bitch. Dad was wrong. Ben was kind, hardworking, attentive, everything good for Christa. Christa knew this, so she married him and they moved to Seattle where Ben’s new job was. She’s still there now. Because there was no one else, I became the favourite.
I got married to a nice guy that my dad liked. Two years later we’re divorced now. Between Jeremy and Olivia I can’t help but like Olivia more. So I give them both five-dollar bills. Dad also likes Olive more. I see Jem looking when Dad gives her a treat when he thinks no one is looking. I say to him, Don’t worry Jem, Mummy loves you very much. He said to me once, No you also like Olive better. Whenever I say that now he says nothing and runs to his room.
Having a vision on things, and wanting it so badly to become true, I could set forth on a journey to see only the things I want to see and shape, therefore, the world I live in, in that way. Or I could, with my bare hands, scrape and pry until I have fixed each rock at its exact place to order the lines that run through them until I am satisfied.
(To scrape with my own hands—what a thought.)
Can I, create the world in complete alignment?
And I imagined what it would look like: my hands, worn white, pushing the last tract of dirt into place. A shift in the sunlight, the glare moves sideways from my eyes, and I can see.
Mother and children walking towards the bus stop, all in a line, (row of ducks.) Henry is front, stick in hand, walking aimlessly, hitting everything he sees. Alex next, thinks he’s smart, dictionary under his arm, knows A by heart. Mark behind, always behind, hand in pocket, finger in ear, bumps into brother, trips into road. Mummy in rear, hand on belly, round with baby, hoping for a little girl, to hold her hand, like she held Mummy’s.
One building stood since the beginning when the road was first laid. Convenience store, insurance firm, coffee shop, consignment, bakery—was its last configuration (read left to right.) Several trees were felled before that, among them, the screaming of birds. A notice was up since last year. Avoiding the alleys and their ruin, which someone said was built in the gold rush. Its time has come! It will be felled in a year’s time. Men are smarter than birds and they know to abandon their home before it is felled. (Why is it being felled? None of your business!) The windows were empty long before the power shovel came. The first wall came down with a bang. Bang! Crash! Spectators across the street were unharmed in the process. I took a picture and another when the building disappeared. In the void, the land forgot what its purpose once was. Then accidentally rained the next day, pouring wet everywhere. The ground became mud and puddles for the first time in a century.
The building across the street was felled two years before, but I forgot what used to be there. Now it’s a grocery store with people stacked three-high above it. Soon, they say, the road will need to be widened. They’ll cut up the sidewalk for that. That’s why no one smiles any more.
Walking into the room, the elevation changed and I found the air thin. I breathed deeper by instinct, and my lungs contracted on finding that they did not draw in more oxygen as a result. My chest felt heavy.
―You’ll get used to it, she said.
It took me a while. For the first month I walked as close to the ground as possible in an attempt to take in more oxygen.
Thomas is five and he hates peas. He is given a class assignment to write about his favourite things. He writes:
“I like everything. But I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate peas.”
A girl grows up differently from a boy. While the boy is memorizing the names of dinosaurs, the girl goes to the grocery story with her mother who teaches her how to choose ripe, unblemished fruit. Later, as the girl’s husband picks apples without checking them for bruises, she will get angry and as he asks incredulously why it even matters, she will cry back, It matters, without fully understanding why.