By Julian Faustini
Patches of yellowed grass cover Martha’s backyard. The summer drought might finally wither the bonsai tree she doesn’t have the heart to cut down.
She waits for the 10-o’clock sun to rise above the red wooden walls of her house. From the kitchen window, she watches a shaft of light on the apex of shadowy lilac trees as it slowly descends, unveiling their purple flowers, dusted foliage, and thin trunks. The coffee in her mug is almost cold now.
She dabs her forehead with some paper towels and her lower back, too, where the dark-blue t-shirt is damp. Coffee makes her heart beat faster, but she swallows some more, bitter and black, and walks into the garden from the back door.
Martha’s hand hurts a little as she spins the faucet handle to load a 10-liter watering can. Mat’s presence still haunts her; his vibrant voice echoes in her ears: The more water, the less refills you need to cover the whole garden. So, she fills it to the brink, yet her weak arms cannot carry its weight.
She pours some water out onto her splayed toes and bared ankles, and the blades of grass flatten for a moment but bounce back upright again. She lifts the can and walks on the flat river-stone path to reach the pots. She’s fully awake; it’s not the caffeine, but the refreshing sensation that swells up from her feet to her knees.
It’s the first summer she gardens alone.
Twelve large pots are lined up on a low, long bench along the cedar-boarded fence. She proceeds from left to right, so she never leaves out any of them. She wets the burgundy dahlias, passionate like the heart of a just-married woman; the sweet-scented white jasmine; the azaleas, whose red flowers never live as long as Martha wishes them to. The bonsai tree comes next. An aged red pine. Its needles are yellow-green, the ground dry like desert sand.
This drought will do it, she thinks.
She moves on to water the yellow angel’s trumpets, lively and intoxicating, and as she does, Martha takes in air and bits of their solace.
An orange-breasted robin lands on the top of the fence. It chirps as if to remind her that Mat poured an abundant liter to his bonsai and misted it until droplets tipped off the foliage and down to the ground again. Martha waves her hand to scare the bird away and keeps on watering the large hibiscus—her favorite. She feels sorry now. Two withered flowers lost their rosy color. She plucks them off their stem and barely holds back her tears.
The bonsai is the only thing she has left of Mat. She can still see him at times, wiring and pruning its branches, or trimming fresh and resinous candles. He spent hours alone before the tree, seeking an aesthetic ideal to reproduce a contagious beauty. She used to photograph his serious expression from the kitchen, the dedication in his eyes.
It’s not that she’s happy about not having any of his pictures to look at anymore. But she needs her memories of him to wane with the end of the summer.
A yellow ladybug climbs on an elongated leaf of the magnolia, while Martha empties the can into its pot. Mat had a lot of water left at this point, she thinks, when a fresh scent of honey surprises her. She inhales. Air in. Air out. But she knows the smell of only one man’s skin could bring her senses to life.
She reaches the faucet, spins the handle, and the water falls to fill the watering can.
Mat’s side of the bedroom closet is now filled with bed sheets, and blankets, and bathroom towels. She misses the smell of his clothes, and the smell of his skin before the chemo changed his scent, and the smell of coffee on his breath before his lungs collapsed. She wishes she had not gotten rid of his things.
If only I could sink my nose in his gardening t-shirt once again, she thinks. It had a blue butterfly on the back.
Martha waters the colorless peonies; the meaningless roses; the next pot; the next pot; the next one again.
She walks back to the bonsai tree.
She pours water in it. And tears.
Julian is the debut writer for the new fiction section of the Writers Initiative!
Julian Faustini is a writter working and leaving in London, but originally from Italy. He has recently completed his first novel and will be publishing this soon. For further updates and news, from Julian, please see his Facebook link here