On Wednesday, I watched her steal a daylily from my garden. On the following Sunday, she chose an orchid.
At first I thought she had mistaken them for hers. After all, our neighboring gardens nearly overlapped. It was on Thursday, I watched as her despairing gaze visited my home. Then, when she failed to see me hiding behind the curtain, she reached over and plucked a tulip.
I respected that she was so careful—as though the flowers were built of shattered glass and she was afraid of cutting herself. She always chose specific flowers. Perfect specimens, regarding every petal. Her visits were infrequent enough to never affect the garden’s growth, as it still flourished with over a dozen breeds of flower.
The reason behind her thievery was a mystery to me. Although she had been my neighbor for years, she hid beneath a dark baseball cap as though she was ashamed to look at the world. But she was not fearful. No, she stood tall and proud. One could gain a moment of confidence just by watching her.
Her name was Ava. That was all I truly knew about her. I had made idle attempts to get to know her, but small talk could only get me as far as knowing that tomorrow might be a little cloudy. Her confidence made her challenging to face. I could never find the guts to press a conversation, let alone a confrontation. Truthfully, I hadn’t thought much about her until she started stealing from me. Before then, I was only aware that she didn’t appear to like other people much. So, I left her alone.
Perhaps I should have confronted her on the first day I caught her stealing. Something had prevented me, however, from swinging open the window and demanding to know why she didn’t take from her own garden. Part of me wanted to see where she went with it, the other half was focused on how depressed she appeared as she buried the flower in her palm. I couldn’t build up the courage to interrupt that, not until Monday came.
In the early hours of that morning, I caught her once more, delicately pulling up one of my flowers, which would now only have hours left before it wilted away. They only existed for a moment in time, after all.
Opening the window felt wrong, but I did it anyways, if only to let in a carefree breeze that swept by me and raced eagerly into my home. I did not welcome it. I was already too focused on the girl in my garden, just as she was focused on me
“Excuse me, but . . . just . . .”
Talking was hard. It was always hard. Fighting my tongue to allow the worlds to roll off, rather than cram them back down my throat, was a constant battle. I suddenly wanted to shut the window in hopes that I could shut out that gnawing anxiety. She was stealing and yet I was worried I had interrupted her.
“What are you doing?” My question fumbled out at last, but the breeze was no longer there to carry the vibrations of my quivering voice atop its vigorous waves. Instead, my words dropped to her, placing a visibly heavy weight on her shoulders.
“I’m sorry.” Unlike myself, she did not hesitate. She paused for only a moment and, in that brief passage of time, I watched her collect herself before she straightened to look me dead in the eyes. “I know what I’m doing is wrong,” she said with the same despairing look she had on Sunday, “But I need this.”
It was hardly an answer, barely the distant cousin of an explanation. I watched her focus on the flower. “What do you do with them?” I asked, borrowing enough confidence to lean slightly out of the window.
“I give them to someone.” The vagueness covered her intentions like a widow’s veil.
“To who?” I asked. “Why can’t you bring your own?”
“It’s not that easy to explain,” she responded.
“Then can you show me?”
I hadn’t expected she would crack, let alone cave. Strange as it was with our usual reluctance to share words, I was frantic that come Friday, there would be more than just a flower missing from my garden.
But somehow—miraculously—an agreement was made and I found myself walking side by side with mystery. There was no connection between us other than our overlapping gardens and stolen flowers. Though, that was enough to lead me away from home on a short leash of curiosity.
Of all the places I could have imagined she would bring me, a graveyard was the last of them.
We entered through its gates, the fences’ sword tips stretching towards the late August skies. I wanted to tell her to turn around. I wanted to tell her that everything was okay. She didn’t need to show me so much. She didn’t need to show me where the flowers went after all. Hell, if she wanted to, she could leave me right at those gates and, come Saturday, I could turn a blind eye when her hand trespassed onto my property to snatch away a rose. But I didn’t say anything; instead, I swallowed my words.
When we came to a little gravestone that had the name “Sebastian” carved into its concrete flesh, I lost all my borrowed confidence.
“He loved your flowers.” As she spoke, she lowered the carnation onto the head of the grave where it would eventually fade away. “We always told him to take the flowers from our garden if he wanted them… but when we weren’t looking he would just reach over to yours and . . . ”
The wind caught her words, sweeping them away as easily as a stolen daisy, leaving us both in silence. The momentary inability to speak was cruel, but I understood it all too well.
“He was your brother.” I remembered him. A head of messy brown hair and a wild smile that lasted even through the vicious effects of chemotherapy.
“He never kept the flowers, he just gave them to people.” Her expression was haunting, as though her eyes saw the past while her body lived in a tormentous present, fearful of her future. “They made him happy, so I guess he thought they would make others happy too.”
I had asked where the flowers went, but I hadn’t anticipated they would be only one of many in a cemetery of roses. A dying garden.
More often than not, I think about that visit. Though the world may have continued to spin around in its usual pattern with merciless ignorance, everything changed for me. I began to sleep with my body curled into a fist of protest. The fleeting memory of a lively smile on a dying body became the centerpiece of my dreams.
Now, every few weeks, I meet with a girl who hides beneath a dark baseball cap to plant a variety of flowers, in our overlapping gardens. Then, on scattered days of the month, I wave to her from the window as she passes by.
Then, on Tuesday, I watched her borrow a daffodil.
SAMANTHA THAYER is a creative writer studying both English Literature and Interior Design in Montreal. She was born and raised in a small town that has inspired many of her creative works. When she is not pursuing creative endeavors, she is working in professional pet care or furthering her education.
Copyright © 2019 by Samantha Thayer. All rights reserved.