Teena M. Stewart
Mimi wove her way through the maze of floral undergrowth in Mr. Sara's garden. She now sprawled under the shade of a fragrant bush, chomping on a teardrop shaped bulb. A spray of fuchsia flowers was caught under her collar, embellishing her white coat like a frivolous insignia.
"Mimi," called a faint voice. "Mimi, come here. Where are you?"
The dog lifted her head and sniffed the air, rotating her ears to catch the sound, then returned her attention to the bulb.
Camellia Burgeson entered Mr. Sara's garden through the side gate and was immediately lost in the twisting hedges. It amazed her how small the yard appeared from the outside and how enormous it seemed now.
She turned a corner, following the hedge far above her head. It appeared to break into an opening at the far end of the path. She no sooner started down the path then she stopped suddenly because of the persistent sensation of being observed. A careful scrutiny of her surroundings reassured her. Turning, Camellia gazed back in the direction she had walked but the gate was no longer in sight. She retraced her steps to the corner where she had turned, but was still unable to find the opening.
"How could that be?" she wondered. "I haven't gone that far," but try as she might, she could not see the garden entrance.
Camellia had always been secretly curious about her neighbor's garden, but her lack of height made it impossible for her to see over the brick wall that separated her back yard from Mr. Sara's. She was able to glimpse parts of it from over the gate that led to his yard.
What she had seen had not really satisfied her curiosity, but had only increased it. Mr. Sara seemed to have a fondness for the unusual. Where her side of the wall was lined with pink climbing roses and skirted by white candytuft, her brief glimpses of the other side captured a garden filled with the most exotic and exquisite plantings she could have imagined. Large hedges and flowering trees eclipsed the rest of the garden. During the summer the garden's heavy fragrance hung over the neighborhood like a vapor.
Coupled with the mystery of the garden was the mystery Mr. Sara himself. His black eyes smoldered with some passionate emotion and Camellia found it uncomfortable to meet his direct gaze for very long. Although he spoke with a heavy, foreign accent, she could never determine his national origin. Once she had asked him but he only smiled and shook his head from side to side as if to say "That is my secret, my dear."
Mr. Sara's actual name was an unmanageable linkage of consonants and vowels, resulting in something like Saraswathiyanara. After several unpleasant encounters with Americans butchering the pronunciation, he had settled on the compromise of Mr. Sara to his neighbors.
Camellia shuddered involuntarily as she thought of him and gazed around the garden.
"Darn that dog," she muttered.
The maze continued straight for a few more feet and then took a severe right angle, leading into an open area that was hemmed in by boxwoods. Camellia struggled to mount a stone bench that stood in the center. Her head just cleared the top of the boxwoods. She scanned the rows of hedges and trees but could see little but more of the same.
"Mimi," she called timidly, in a near whisper. "Mimi, where are you?"
She thought she could make out a movement in the shrubs nearby. Hopping down she walked in that direction, making the necessary turns and twists.
Passing through a flower-laden arbor she hesitated for a moment. A sense of foreboding washed over her. Surrounding her were the anthropomorphic shapes of dark and twisted trees. They leaned over like old men, reaching their twisted limbs outward so that they formed a dense canopy over her head. So dense was their covering that she had to strain her eyes to make out their forms. For a moment she was frozen in fear. As she gathered her courage to walk to the far end of the grove, a shadowy movement distracted her.
Camellia was neither young nor slender and her recent explorations had left her quite breathless. The sudden movement startled her so that her heart pounded furiously in her chest. She was certain that if the light were brighter, the throbbing would have been visible to the naked eye.
A figure appeared from behind one of the trees. As it strode towards her it passed into a brief patch of sunlight and she was better able to see the features. A short, gentleman dressed in the green coveralls of a gardener, continued towards her at a purposeful gait. His skin was tanned to the consistency of leather.
"Mrs. Burgeson," he called confidently as he neared Camellia. "Your dog, she is loose."
Camellia felt quite sheepish as she recognized the "apparition" as Mr. Sara.
"Yes, and I'm afraid she's in your garden again. No matter how I scold her, she just can't seem to resist. I guess I can't blame her." She shuddered again as she looked around her. "It is a beautiful garden."
By this time Mr. Sara stood face to face with her. In their dark surroundings Camellia could sense, more than see the dark pupils of his eyes.
"Come. We find her." He turned left passing out of the grove into a group of hedges and was gone. "Mimi," he called, no longer in sight.
He was a man of abrupt nature and Camellia could never quite accustom herself to his apparent lack of manners. She scurried after him, turning the corner in time to see Mimi surface into the sunlight from under a clump of exotic lilies. The dog crawled sheepishly towards them.
"See. She come when I call," said Mr. Sara scooping up the dog and handing her to Camellia.
"Mimi. You bad dog. You heard me calling for you. Look at you. You're filthy and what do you have in your mouth?"
Prying open Mimi's mouth, she removed a half-eaten bulb. A look of horror swept over Camellia's face.
"Oh, Mr. Sara. I'm so sorry," she said mournfully handing him the mangled bulb.
Several emotions seemed to pass over Mr. Sara's brown face before he was able to speak again. He continued to stare at the bulb in his hand.
"Was it important?"
"Cannot replace. Cannot replace," he said shaking his head. Silently he lifted his head resting his dark eyes directly on Mimi.
The dog growled menacingly.
"Mimi. Stop it," cried Camellia, horrified. She gave Mr. Sara an apologetic look. "I can't understand what's gotten in to her."
Mr. Sara said nothing as he continued to stare at the dog. Suddenly Mimi gave a short cry of distress and jumped out of her mistress's arms scurrying through the same hole where she had entered.
For a moment Camellia was left totally speechless.
"Mr. Sara," she offered. "I'm so sorry. Can't I please pay you something for the damages?"
"No. No. No," he said emphatically shaking his head. "Is no good now," he declared and with a wave of his hand he wheeled and disappeared into another opening in the hedge.
"Well, I swear," exclaimed Camellia in complete amazement as she stood staring after him. She stood for a full minute longer, pondering his odd behavior, then turned and entered her own house.
* * *
Someone was insistently and impatiently ringing her doorbell. Camellia opened the door to see Mr. Sara standing there holding a small plant.
"Mr. Sara," she said, surprised. "Come in."
"No. I can't stay. I come to give you plant."
"But, I'm the one who should be buying you a plant. I feel so awful. Can I at least pay you something for the damage?"
"No. Cannot replace," he said, shaking his head emphatically. "You take this. We make a truce." He held the terra cotta pot towards her.
She reached out to accept the plant. "Is this some type of ivy?"
"Yes. Ivy," he said already descending her front steps.
"Does it need any special care?" she called after him.
"No. Just water, sun. Put with other plants. It likes other plants."
"Thank you Mr. Sara. I'm sorry again about the garden."
"That's O.K. We make a truce," he said, and disappeared around the corner of the house.
* * *
She was a horticulturist in her own right, fussing over her plants like a grandmother over her grandchildren. Only last year, she hired a contractor to put in a bay window. Now her dining room was like a miniature greenhouse. An enormous spider plant hung idly to the right of the window, basking in the warmth that radiated through the sparkling panes. A row of mixed plants lined the window seat, two African violets, one philodendron, an aloe plant, a snake plant, and three odd plants, which she kept for medicinal purposes.
To the left of the window, on a wrought iron stand was her Angel Wing Jasmine with its delicate white flower clusters. The plant was intolerant of direct sunlight and she babied it more than the others because of its delicate constitution. She had kept it for three years now since the day her husband gave it to her on Valentine's Day. He died shortly afterwards. Camellia panicked when it developed a tropical malady but she managed to successfully nurse it back to health. Perhaps these struggles endeared it all the more to her.
Camellia scrutinized the variety of plants and found there was just enough room to set the tiny ivy to the left of the herbs. It looked at home, settled into its new environment.
She liked to have both her breakfast and lunch by the window, her window. In the early morning she would sit with her paper and coffee, reading Dear Abby and Miss Manners while Mimi cozily rested her head on her mistress's fuzzy slippers. Lunches were spent there as well. Camellia not only took nourishment from her standard Weight Watcher's meal, but also from the warmth of the sun that was fully awake by that part of her day. She liked to watch it shift position as the day wore on, like some sort of bizarre sundial as the reflection of the panes and plants' silhouettes moved across the floorboards.
* * *
For lunch today Camellia dined on Weight Watcher’s lasagna and two heavily buttered slices of white toast. She settled in with her romance novel and groped for her fork. Her hand missed its mark and after several attempts she found it necessary to gaze down from the book and reposition her hand on the utensil. Upon returning her gaze to her reading her eyes skipped across the shelf of plants. She proceeded to re-read the same paragraph which she had just nearly finished reading, but something by the window pulled her eyes back to the plants. It was the ivy.
A tender green shoot, lighter in color, extended out from the rest of its foliage and was wrapped around the base of the African violet adjacent to it. She studied it in disbelief.
"How could it have grown so quickly? I only put it there yesterday."
She puzzled on what type of ivy it could be. There was nothing that unusual looking about the plant itself. Its leaves were a standard spade shape and there was a healthy gloss to them, but the shoot was incredibly thick, almost disproportionate to the tiny plant that produced it. She reached over to unwrap its grip on the violet. Taking the tip of the shoot, she carefully uncurled it from the other plant and moved it to the opposite side of the ivy.
By the end of the day, the shoot had moved back to other side of the ivy and was again attached to the African violet.
"Well, if that doesn't beat all," she said, examining the two plants. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you had a mind of your own. I can't have you choking out my other plants."
She went to the kitchen drawer and returned with a pair of scissors. Quickly and efficiently she snipped the shoot off near the base.
"There, that should take care of that. That'll do you some good anyway. You need a little more fullness before you start putting out shoots."
* * *
Camellia shuffled over to her usual morning spot, a steaming hot cup of coffee and two doughnuts in her hand. She glanced down at the headline of the paper and sipped on the coffee as she slid into the chair. The morning sun felt good on her face and she lifted her head to catch it more fully. She let her eyes pass over the plants in the window and then to the newest one, the ivy.
Two long, thick shoots projected from the ivy but instead of climbing towards the light, they grew out at an odd angle, into the shade near the Angel Wing Jasmine. She traced them with her eyes and let out a gasp. The thick shoots were wrapped securely around the other plant from the base of the Jasmine to where the first bloom had been. Instead of a healthy green stem, it was now brown and brittle. The flowers that bloomed so fragrantly the day before, were now shriveled and lifeless.
"No," she cried, jumping up and spilling her coffee on the paper. "No. No. No. Please no," she gasped. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she rushed to the plant. She ripped the ivy tendrils away from the Jasmine. With nothing left to support it, the Jasmine plant fell over, its stem severed near the base where the ivy had choked it.
Snatching the ivy from the window she ran to the back door and opened it. She threw it into the trashcan at the back stairs and then stood there shivering, her eyes on the plant receptacle. Mimi, anxious over her mistress' behavior, stood at her feet sniffing and whining at the trash can, then became distracted and ran off into the back yard. Recovering herself Camellia slammed the trash can lid and returned to the dining room.
She picked up the Jasmine and confirmed that there was no help for it. Not one sprig of green was visible to give any hope of reviving the plant. Again tears rolled down her cheeks and she chastised herself for her foolishness. It was only a plant after all. She could buy another, but no matter how she tried to convince herself she could not help but mourn the plant. Respectfully, as one might bear a coffin, she carried the plant to the back door, but she could not bring herself to discard it just yet.
* * *
It was getting late. Odd, usually Mimi was scratching at the back door long before now. She probably found some rabbit to track or was busying herself with digging a hole. A vision of Mimi digging a hole under Mr. Sara's fence made Camellia rush to the back door. It was quite dark outside. Camellia flipped on the light and opened the door.
"Mimi. Mimi come," she called.
She listened for the jingle of tags, but heard only the usual night sounds.
"Mimi. Mimi come," she urgently called. There was still no response. "Where is that dog?"
The halo from the outside light fell on the trashcan. The lid was pushed off center. From the inside of the can, a mass of ivy tendrils spilled over the can's edges and onto the ground. The foliage pooled at the base of the can forming a lumpy shape. Camellia bent, wide-eyed over the mound. It looked for all the world like a topiary of a small animal. Something shiny gleamed beneath the leaves. Camellia reached down to feel a small, metal object. There was something soft and furry beneath it.
"Why, those feel like tags. Why would Mimi's tags be..."
Camellia bolted upright--suddenly aware of two things. The first was the overwhelming sensation of being watched and the other was the sound of her own shrill screams echoing throughout the peaceful neighborhood.
Teena Stewart is a freelance writer and manager of Smart Words, a writing, editing, desktop publishing and web design business. Upcoming publication credits include a story in Stories for the Extreme Teen’s Heart 3 (Multnomah). She, and her husband, Jeff, just completed Money for Marriage, a pocket guide book with Larry Burkett. Teena is also a consultant/speaker with Ministry in Motion which trains and equips leaders and volunteers to use their spiritual gifts and abilities for Christian ministry. She has several non-fiction books in the works. This is her first fiction publication.
Published by permission of the author.