There lies a little known river garden in a place that holds great importance to the protagonist. But why? What memory does this garden hold for him? And why does he boat his way to this nature's haven daily?
Find out the answers through his personal narration of the lamented truth.
They called it the Garden of the Dead. With tree branches too accustomed to the river to stay erect, they sink into the water. Their leaves are green and fresh and clean. They’ve mercilessly grown on the crumbly earth of the grass-covered banks, beyond which grow tall plants with flowers and dew-covered leaves, and wet bushes with purple leaves. Finally, to complete heavens jungle, they are paternally looked over by large, old and magnificent willows, spiny pines, silver firs and oaks.
I gently rowed my hardwood boat over a glassy surface of water. Brown and pink salmon darted beneath me as I stroked the paddles. The sky was dark and heavy and shadows were cast everywhere.
Then, just as I approached the garden, another large willow stood spiraled out of the water, its long, strong branches hanging low in the water. I veered the boat to the right at the river bank. After stepping out of the steady boat, I tied it to a tree beside me.
The gardens natural entry showed two oaks facing each other with their large branches entwined. I entered through the castle like opening and was immediately greeted with the delicate scent of cherry blossoms.
And then I was standing in my beloved Garden of Eden.
Beloved, because to me it wasn’t just a beautiful island. I had had several memories there. One was actually buried somewhere.
I sifted through the branches that stuck out and walked through the heavy undergrowth. Ahead of me, there was a cut out muddy path that I began to follow. Up above, hundreds of cherry blossom petals sailed by. I looked up and became satisfied to see patched of the winter sky through the leafy canopy.
I let the cherry leaves fall into my hands as I walked.
Then, post several branches and shrubs later, my destination lay before me. My brown eyes focused on the largest tree in the area and then travel up to its pinkish-white growth. The trees behind it were all like background instruments playing while it seemed to be the angelic lead singer.
The circular area before it was rained upon with flower petals. Only after a 10-foot radius did the leafy growth of its surroundings resume.
I walked further towards it and lay a hand on its humungous bark and crusty outer layer. Above, its branches protruded out in all directions, reaching out towards the sky. And several of the baby-pink flowers on them took off and flew away.
My eyes suddenly grew sad and then, I flung myself onto the tree and embraced it.
“I miss you. I love you,” I cried.
I shut my eyes and controlled the tears. It was twenty-three years ago when I married. Her name was Leah. Very often, we spent our time together in the garden. It was our own little escape island. We’d always talk and laugh or contemplate on life or simply just sit quietly at its wooden benches. But there was a time when she had reluctantly revealed to me her true feelings towards a man she had known almost her entire life. Obviously, it did not go down too well with me. I was hurt and shattered from within. But I never let it show. Instead, I tried to assure her that it was all her decision. That I could no nothing more than give her my love and life. But she couldn’t forgive herself and threatened to diminish her life if I didn’t do it for her. I tried my hardest to calm her down but she rushed to the river bank and leaped.
“No! You can’t swim!” I yelled.
She was very much aware of that but leaped anyway. My heart was beating so fast I thought it would explode. I cried as I ran after her. However, when I reached the bank, she was far ahead in the water, beyond the dying willow, struggling for air. I leaped in too and swam as swiftly as my body would allow, but it was all for futility. It was too late. She had drowned.
I brought her to the surface with death looming in my mind, and held on to a wet branch, crying while she lay in my arms, lifeless.
That very night, I brought her body back to the garden, accompanied by Jennifer, the closest friend we had. And with the required legal permission, we buried her silently in the centre of the garden, under a dull, yellow moon.
She was gracefully draped in the red silk blanket she had always held on to as a child. My tears helped soften the earth as we dug.
Then, as soon as we were done, Jennifer added the cherry blossom seeds her grandmother had passed on to her years ago, onto my wife’s cold body.
Two years later, after paying daily visits to her, the now twenty-three year old cherry blossom tree had begun to grow. It was a weak plant at first, but then grew larger and stronger with every passing year, flowering in spring, and then donning its fruits in summer.
And so, after more than two decades, I had never failed to understand what nature had done for my wife, and for me. Even though the meat from her body had withered away, mother earth still granted Leah a new life. Taking her mere skeleton, the earth voluntarily enveloped it with her divine roots and soon flowered it into a plant, and later into the wondrous tree I had been standing before, that day.
And for that, I would always be grateful.
I gently let go of the tree and then wiped my tears. Soon, I began walking away, but flashed one last look at it. High above, tattered, strewn and dirtied among the branches was the red silk blanket Leah was wrapped in. I smile and then continue strolling back towards the river.
A few minutes later, when I reached the end of the garden, I became distracted by an object across the river. My eyes searched for it among the willow’s branches for a few seconds and then soon spotted it.
A naked woman sat on the twisted bark of the willow, behind the dangling branches, facing diagonally across the river beyond. As she looked on, her hands played about with a pink petal. Her long black whipped in the light breeze to construe her face. The branches swayed too in the silence, and then she was gone.
I wiped the tear that rolled down my face, untied the boat and then mellifluously stroked away, humming the Cowsills’ ‘I Love the Flower Girl’.