Jul/Aug 2015  •   Fiction

The Gardener

by Robert Garner McBrearty

Photography by Lydia Selk

Photography by Lydia Selk

Standing in the garden, I fired at my head, but my hand was shaking and I jerked the barrel upwards so the bullet flew over my head and into the trees beyond. I was deafened from the blast, so when the gardener came out of the shed carrying the spade, I had to punch at my ears a few times before I could make out his shout.

"What are you doing?" he demanded. He wasn't your usual kindly, earth-loving gardener. He was mean, lanky with sharp elbows. He was always yanking at the bushes and speaking angrily to the shrubs. I'd seen him whack with an ax at a fruit tree.

"I wasn't doing anything," I said. "Trying to shoot myself, I guess."

"This early in the morning? You'll be waking everyone." He took the gun out of my hand, tucked it into the pockets of his overalls. "That's just like you. Not worried about the way you inconvenience others."

"Sorry. I guess I was just in despair."

"Despair," he scoffed. "Despair. That's a big word for the likes of you. Despair, my ass."

He poked me with the spade. I leaped to the side, and he followed, jabbing at me, forcing me backwards towards the shed. I was ringed in by Bonzai bushes. "March, you," he said. "March." He prodded me along, backing me into the shed. He gave me a final push into a dark corner. "I'll give you something to despair about," he said as he locked me in.

The shed was cool and smelled of clay and mulch. I heard the sound of earth moving and the heavy trod of his boots. By and by my breathing slowed, and I thought one might do worse than spending the day in a cool, dark shed.

I heard the unlocking of the door. Light flooded my eyes.

"Out, you."

He was carrying a shovel, and he gestured with it but did not poke me as he led me across the garden, where he'd dug a deep hole.

"Well," he said. "Is it good enough for you? Will it do?"

He reached into the depths of his overalls, brought forth the gun and handed it over to me. He gave me an encouraging nod. "I can bury you right up now. Nice and neat."

I stood there, frowning, turning the gun in my hand.

"It's no bother now that I've got the hole," he said. "Earlier, I wasn't sure where I'd put you, but this should work nicely now."

"But I've changed my mind." I tried to hand the gun back to him. "I don't want to shoot myself after all."

He pushed the gun back toward me, forcing me to take it. "Come on, now. Don't talk nonsense. I can give you a little privacy if you'd like. I'll just step behind the bushes for a bit, and if you stand right here, you should fall right into the hole."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I won't be needing the hole."

He stood back, hands tightening on the shovel. His chin stretched forward and sharpened. "Oh, you're a fine one. All that effort to dig you a nice hole, and now you tell me you won't be needing it?"

"I'm afraid not. I've changed my mind." I flung the gun deep into the bushes. "Sorry."

He threw down the shovel. "After all that digging? That's it? Sorry?" He lowered himself into the hole and lay down on the muddy earth. He folded his hands over his chest. "Just bury me," he said. "You know you've always wanted to!"

I kicked a little dirt in on his face to make him happy, and then a little more, and then I had the shovel in my hands and was throwing the earth in as fast as I could to cover up the mean old bastard. As he sputtered and wiped the dirt from his face, I tossed the shovel aside. "That's it," I said, "We're done."

I left him crying out from his fine hole, "No gratitude! Not a word of thanks!"

As I took off running, his bellowing voice followed me, a mix of ancient fury and lamentation, but I kept on running, without looking back, and I've been running ever since.