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Rabbits in the garden, p.2

Rabbits in the Garden, page 2


Rabbits in the Garden

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  Natalie, who’d been holding out her present for Avery, immediately drew it back and set it aside in dejection, but Avery snatched it up with a smile and enthusiastically started tearing away the wrapping paper. She ripped the lid off of the box and gasped joyfully at the pink, plaid jumper inside. She held it up against herself and swayed from side to side as if dancing with it.

  “I like it! It’s so pretty,” she said. “Don’t you think its pretty, Mom?”

  Based on Faye’s wide-eyed expression of shock and disgust, it was obvious that she didn’t think it was pretty at all.

  “What is this, Natalie?” she snapped as she yanked the dress away from Avery and shoved it into her eldest daughter’s face. “What kind of a present is this to get your twelve year old sister? It doesn’t even reach her knees! It looks like something a tart would wear!”

  “Mom, it’s not that short.”

  “I don’t know what kind of dresses you’re wearing off island, but they’d better not be anything like this piece of trash.”

  “They’re not. I didn’t think it was trashy, I swear. I didn’t know Avery’s size, so I just guessed.”

  “Size has nothing to do with it, young lady. I can’t believe you spent your money - -no, my money - on this. I’d suggest you use as doll's clothes, Avery, but I’m not so keen on your dolls dressing like tarts either,” she said, threw the jumper into the garbage, and then exhaled loudly as she shook away her frustration.

  She pulled Avery up from her seat and gently placed her hands over her eyes as she nudged her toward the back door.

  “Are you ready for the best present of all?” she whispered and Avery nodded emphatically.

  She heard the click of the lock turning and the crisp swish of the door opening, and even though she knew she was being ushered outside, Avery couldn’t guess what awaited her. Even when her mother pulled her hands away and chirped, “surprise!” Avery wasn’t sure what she was being shown. All she saw was the garden. It was a beautiful garden, but it was just a garden: her mother’s garden.

  “Happy birthday, Avery!” she exclaimed, but when she noticed her daughter looking around in confusion, she jumped in front of her, threw her arms open, and said, “It’s yours, Avery. I’m giving you the garden.”

  “You are? Why?”

  “Because it’s important for you to learn responsibility, and other things too.”

  “What other things?” Avery asked with her nose crinkled in puzzlement, and Natalie, leaning against the door, said,

  “Go on, Mom. Tell her.”

  “Natalie,” she replied in a warning tone and gestured for her to go back inside. “We’ll talk about it later, Avery. Let’s just enjoy the rest of your birthday.”

  She got plenty of presents she preferred over the garden, but with each piece of paper stripped away and every bow untied, her mother hovered ever closer, studying her reactions. Natalie recognized what Faye was doing. She’d come to know it well after fourteen years and was glad to be rid of those hungry eyes since being shipped off to boarding school. By the time Avery had opened her last gift, the sun had already set and she was exhausted, but before she was allowed to go to bed, her mother insisted she write the first entry in the diary her grandmother had given her. Laid open on her lap, she rested the pencil against the paper with no idea what to write.

  “Why don't you write about your favorite present?” her mother suggested pointedly.

  In actuality, the diary had been her favorite present, but when she saw the eager smile creep across her mother’s face, she wrote deliberately,

  “Today, Mom gave me a garden.”

  Even though she’d seen it coming, Faye still gave a little gasp of joyful surprise and kissed Avery on the top of the head.

  “Goodnight, birthday girl,” she sang and walked out of the room with a proud, victorious stride.

  Avery sighed as she closed the diary. In her bedroom, she looked out the window at the garden bathed in moonlight. Now that it was hers, it looked somehow different, and she found herself concerned by each sudden crunch or flutter from the backyard.

  “Try not to worry about it,” Natalie said when she walked in and saw her sister staring outside in distress.

  “How can I not worry? I don’t know anything about gardening.”

  “You don’t really need to know much to take care of this one. Gardening isn’t really the reason Mom gave it to you.”

  “You mean the responsibilities and other things?”

  “Mostly the other things, but we'll talk about that later tonight, okay?” Natalie replied. “Did you have a good birthday?”

  “Very good. I was hoping Daddy might come though,” Avery said bashfully.

  “You say that every year. I think it’s time to give up on that dream.”

  “I can’t help it. I miss him. Him and Aunt Lily.”

  “Well, they’re gone, Avery, and I really don’t think they’re coming back. Dad, well, we know where he went, and as for Aunt Lily, I don’t think she’ll ever show up around here again, not after that fight her and Mom had. Personally, I don’t blame her. I miss you and all and I do love the island, but I certainly don’t miss this house.”

  “Why not?”

  “I hate to say that it’s because of Mom, but it’s because of Mom. You’ll understand in a few years, I’m sure.”

  “At least she doesn’t force me to go to church anymore.”

  “That’s because she gives you enough sermons for a lifetime right here. She just disguises them better than a priest does.”

  “What did Mom and Aunt Lily fight about?”

  “I don’t know. Sister stuff,” Natalie replied and playfully swiped at Avery’s hair.

  “But we never fight about ‘sister stuff’,” she said as she batted back.

  “I’m sure we would if I still lived here, if Mom hadn’t hidden me away like a bad secret.”

  “Did she ever put you in charge of taking care of the garden?”

  “Yes, but not for very long. I guess I wasn’t a very good little gardener because she ended sending me as far away as she could.”

  “That’s not why I did it, Natalie,” a voice chimed from behind them, and both girls gasped in alarm.

  Their mother walked into the room with a sad expression on her face and her hands to her chest as if Natalie’s words had loosed an arrow into her heart.

  “Girls, you know I only want the best for you. Yes, even you, Natalie. I wanted you to stay, but everyone agreed that boarding school would be a much more productive place for you,” Faye continued as she walked in and cupped her eldest daughter’s face with rigid tenderness. “You’re so smart, Natalie. You needed to be challenged.”

  “I’m smart too,” Avery chirped.

  “I know you are. That’s why I’ve entrusted the garden to you. It was important for Natalie and it will be important for you. You’ll learn all kinds of things, things even your sister doesn't know.”

  She kissed both of her daughters on the cheek, but as she walked out, she gently grabbed Natalie’s wrist and began towing the girl behind her.

  “Goodnight, Avery. Happy birthday,” Natalie whispered before her mother pulled her out of the room, and although Avery didn’t quite understand why her sister looked so defeated, she was definitely sad to see her go.

  The next morning, the smell of bacon coaxed Avery out of sleep and she bounded out of bed and down the stairs to see her mother cooking a breakfast fit for a king.

  “Good morning, Miss Twelve Year Old,” Faye warbled as Avery gave her mother’s waist a tiny squeeze.

  “Morning. Where’s Natalie?”

  “She decided to leave early.”

  “What? Why?” Avery squealed.

  “I don’t really know, sweetie. I know you were happy to have her back. I guess I should’ve never given you the garden in front of her. Maybe she was angry. Maybe she was jealous. I tried to change her mind, but we still ended up at the boat. I’m sorry, Avery. I did try.

  “It’s okay. I'm just sad is all.”

  “I understand how you feel. I bought all of this food and there’s no way we’ll be able to eat it all ourselves. Maybe you could call a friend? Stephanie Miller from next door?”

  “Can I call Paul?” Avery asked hopefully.

  “What’s wrong with Stephanie?”

  “Nothing. I just like Paul more.”

  “You what?”

  “I like him more.”

  “I see. Well, alright then. Call Paul,” she replied with a hiss. “But after breakfast, we have to talk about your birthday present.”

  “Which one?”

  “The garden, of course,” she answered and pouted her bottom lip.

  “Oh yeah, I know. I was just kidding,” Avery chuckled shakily and jumped to knock the phone off of the cradle.

  Luckily, she caught it before her mother could glare at her for letting it drop so recklessly and asked the operator to connect her with number 1551. Paul was ecstatic to go to the Norton house that morning. He was always happy to see Avery and pleasantly surprised when Avery’s mother allowed him into their home, but to see her that morning of all mornings made him happiest of all.

  Avery refused to eat a thing until he arrived. While the food got cold, she stared at the door in anticipation as Faye stared at her daughter in concern. The fervent knock on the door jolted Avery out of her seat, but when she scrambled toward the door, her mother hollered after her.

  “You’re a lady, Avery! Please act like one.”

  She huffed as she smoothed her dress, fixed her hair, and pulled the door open with a grin she thought enormous until she saw Paul’s.

  “Good morning,” Faye said as she ushered him inside. “What do you have behind your back?”

  “It’s a present for Avery. I forgot to bring it yesterday.”

  “You two were together yesterday?”

  “We ran into each other at the Campground,” Avery said as Paul slipped around Faye and handed her the present.

  She pulled the ribbon slowly, unfolded the paper, and gasped in amazement as she beheld Paul’s gift.

  “I hope you like it. I hope it fits.”

  She held up the pink plaid jumper, the same one Natalie had gotten her, and smiled as she looked at her mother who was standing with her arms folded and a severe scowl carved across her face.

  “You don’t already have it, do you?”

  “Not at all,” she replied sweetly. “I’ll go put it on right now.”

  “Avery, do you really think that’s appropriate? To leave your guest here alone, I mean?” Faye asked.

  “It’ll just take a second,” Avery said and skipped off to go change.

  When she came back in the dress and twirled dramatically, Paul clapped and Faye’s face blanched.

  “Avery, sit down,” Faye whispered forcefully, and she grudgingly obeyed.

  Faye resumed her activities, always with one eye on the children, and when she noticed they had stopped eating and started speaking quietly to each other, she marched over to the table and startled Avery into dropping her fork.

  “What have you been up to this summer, Paul? Besides running around with my daughter,” she asked.

  “Working in my dad's garage mostly. I'm supposed to be visiting my grandparents in Boston soon, but my Grampa is sick right now so we might wait until the fall.”

  “I'm sorry to hear that. Don't you think being around his family might be good for him though? God willing, he'll pull through on his own, but perhaps seeing the young face of his grandson would lift his spirits.”

  “It's really my mom's decision. She always says that summers give us our greatest memories, and the season passes too quickly.”

  “I agree,” Avery chimed and shrank slightly when she felt her mother's eyes fall upon her. “I mean, it seems like summer's just starting and then its time for school again.”

  “Sometimes I think the summers are too long,” Faye commented, and as soon as Paul placed the last bite of scrambled eggs in his mouth, she snatched away his place and swept all of the food from the table.

  “Thank you, Mrs. Norton,” he said timidly and then asked Avery, “So, do you want to go to the Flying Horses today?”

  Avery looked up at her mother hopefully, but Faye’s eyes answered the question before Avery could even ask it, and she replied despondently,

  “I think I have stuff to do.”

  “Oh. Well, thanks for inviting me over anyway. The breakfast was really good,” he said, trying to disguise his disappointment.

  “Have a lovely afternoon, Paul,” Faye said with a nod and quickly escorted him to the door.

  Avery ran after him, but before they could flash even the hint of goodbye to each other, Faye closed the door and flipped the lock.

  “Mom,” Avery whined, but her mother only smiled, clapped her hands, and chirped enthusiastically,

  “To the garden?”

  Faye took Avery’s hand and led her out to the garden as if it was the very first time her daughter had seen it. The bird-feeder swayed from side to side as the chickadees hopped up and down the perches. The eastern bluestars stood tallest, surrounded by a thick crop of yellow daylilies, and scattered in patches all around the garden were bountiful bushes with black raspberries hanging heavy on thorny stems. The sun glinted across the dew-kissed skin of the tomatoes, and every blossom was opened wide to soak up each and every ray of the sun. The flowers appeared as a varied company of dancers too mesmerized by their own beauty to sense the seasonal curtain call, and the vegetables stood as a proud army in formation, awaiting the call to culinary arms. It was quite a sight to behold.

  As mother and daughter sat on the stone bench at the garden's core, Faye breathed in the pleasing aroma of the vegetation and sighed as if life couldn’t get any better. But then she looked at Avery and she realized that if the girl was open to her lessons, it could get better still.

  “Avery, do you remember the story about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden?”

  “I think so.”

  “And how it all got ruined because of evil finding its way into the Garden?”

  “I guess.”

  “Well, it’s not actually true. It’s a metaphor, you see. Do you know what a metaphor is?” she asked.

  “Like a symbol?”

  “Exactly. The Garden of Eden is a symbol for an ideal world. The Garden was poisoned by evil in the form of the serpent that persuaded Adam and Eve to disobey God, and likewise, there are several things that can poison our world. Water, for instance. The world is a garden and it must be given good, clean water if it’s to flourish and grow.”

  “There’s bad water?”

  “Indeed there is. The bad water makes the garden wilt and pale with disease, and sometimes it will cause the garden to sprout fat weeds that kill the healthy plants. Then the insects come and devour them, and the fruit will rot from the inside out. The beautiful garden you see before you will lose all of its beauty.”

  “How do I know if the water is good or bad?”

  “It’s tricky, for sure. Sometimes you can tell right away: the spigot might be rusted or the water might smell funny, but sometimes, everything might look clean and pure. But once the water starts to flow, it’s too late. That’s why you must assume that all water is bad. The garden and the world would rather die of thirst than poison, and that goes for all of the living things that are nourished by the garden: the birds, the bees, the rabbits…”

  “The rabbits?”

  “Oh yes, Avery. The rabbits are very, very important. They eat from this garden more than any other creature. They are like us. The world is a garden and we are the rabbits. They nourish themselves on this garden as we nourish ourselves on the world. Do you understand?”

  “I think so, but if the garden gets bad water and the rabbits eat from the garden, what happens to them?”

  “They become sick, and once that happens, there is no helping them. It’s best to put such patheti
c creatures out of their misery,” she replied and Avery cocked her head in confusion. “You must understand that the bad water isn’t limited to this garden. As I said, the world is a garden, and there are many veins through which the bad water can flow. You never know exactly where or when you might find it, so you must always been on alert and avoid the places where it’s most likely to run.”

  “But there isn’t any here, is there?”

  “Not yet. Hopefully, not ever, but that depends on how well you take care of your garden,” she answered.

  “Should I get the watering can?” Avery asked.

  “Not yet. Let’s just sit a while longer. There’s something I want you to see.”

  They sat for almost an hour in silence. Avery’s eyelids started to droop, and with each passing minute, she contemplated asking her mom if she could leave, but she was never able to muster the courage. Her mother remained sitting up straight, completely attentive, and Avery did her best to mimic her. Then all of a sudden, Faye flinched, and she grasped her daughter’s hand.

  “There,” she whispered as she pointed at the cabbage patch. “There, do you see them?”

  Avery stood slowly and tiptoed over to the patch where she saw the cabbage leaves rustling slightly. She gingerly parted the leaves and saw two rabbits. They stared up at her with large, red eyes but then resumed their prior activities which appeared to be some form of rabbit wrestling.

  “Rabbits?” Avery asked, puzzled.

  “What are they doing? Eating the cabbage?”

  “They might have been. There are bite marks, but they aren’t eating it right now. They're playing, I guess.”

  “One on top of the other?”

  “Yes. What are they doing?” she asked, but when she looked back, she found her mother standing directly behind her with one of her many paisley gardening bags in her hand. With a smile, she withdrew a pair of gardening shears, and before Avery could question her on it, the shears flew past her face and down into the cabbage patch.

  The blades pierced through the top rabbit’s head and the bottom rabbit’s back. When she pulled the shears up, the bottom rabbit slid off but the top remained skewered with its mouth hanging agape. She screamed in horror as her mother twisted the shears and the rabbit’s face turned to Avery, seemingly frozen in its death rattle. She tried to run away, but Faye’s bloody hands held onto her daughter, staining the dress Paul had given her.

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