By the time I ditch my bike near the last garden row, the sun’s rays are retreating behind the stand of pines that surround the old house. My breath puffs frosty in the autumn dusk.
The last time I was in this garden I was fleeing for my life.
Why I choose to visit this place of desperation, I do not know. Perhaps to lay to rest the memories that haunt me. I do not know. But I am drawn to this place once again.
I find the mounds where mammoth zucchini leaves shade the fruit of the vines beneath. In the spring of this year, we had planted in the Native American way. ‘Three Sisters’. I smile at the thought. In the center of each mound, a corn stalk stands sentinel duty. Green and wax beans, dependant upon the stalk for their support, send tendrils toward the sky. Zucchini leaves protect thirsty roots. Each plant supports the others in their growth.
My smile turns to a grimace. Two weeks ago, in this lush portion of the garden, the ‘Sisters’ helped me escape.
Sinking to my knees and closing my eyes, allowing the gigantic leaves to embrace me, I remember.
“Where’s my supper!” I cringed when I heard Jack’s bellow, my hand involuntarily shielding my bruised cheek
Had I missed anything? I scanned the table with frantic eyes.
I could hear him hang his work jacket on the hook by the entryway door.
I grabbed a knife from the holder and the loaf of homemade bread from the plastic bag.
Already he was removing his steel-toed boots and scuffing his feet into slippers. I had little time to make up for my forgetfulness. Slice after slice filled the cutting board.
He came from behind without warning. Pain shot through my palm. I stared stupidly at the knife in his hand, at the blood streaming from my hand and staining the kitchen linoleum.
He pushed his face close to mine. “Why isn’t supper ready, woman?”
My gaze traveled from his furious eyes to the knife. His knuckles were turning white from his grip. I sensed that the demons I had prayed against for so long had taken full possession of his faculties.
“Where have you been all day? What have you been doing?” I started to speak but his open hand drove the answer from my lips.
“You’ve been in that garden, haven’t you?”
I trembled and my hand throbbed.
“Praying again, I suppose.” His hand found my bruised cheek. Tears pooled in my eyes.
“What’s the sense of keeping you around, woman? Tell me why you should live!”
Get away. Run while you can. The Lord’s warning was clear and my legs obeyed.
I stumbled from the house and ran toward the garden. Where could I hide? The screen door slammed. He followed me. Huddling under the zucchini leaves, I prayed for invisibility. Close by, I heard Jack swear under his breath, then return to the house. My eyes closed and the Lord granted sleep.
Nearby rustling sounds startled me to wakefulness. I lifted my head above the leaves, wary of any movement. In the milky light of the moon, close to where I lay, a doe raised her head from the lettuce she was nibbling. Flicking her tail, she picked her way toward the end of the row and melted into the brushy darkness beyond. I glanced toward the house before following her example.
That was two weeks ago. I stayed with family members, dreading my husband’s attempts to find me. He never would.
One evening, my husband reacted to the tormenting voices inside his mind. The authorities discovered his body slumped in his favorite armchair, discharged pistol at his side. Strange, how much passion and pain I experienced while he was alive, and how little anguish and sorrow I felt at his death.
My mother, who accompanied me to identify his remains, listened helplessly as afterwards I vented my long-restrained anger. For the first time in months, I could speak my mind without fear. But my heart was not satisfied.
I come to the garden this evening to seek something. As I pray for wisdom, I receive it. There, in the darkness, kneeling by the ‘Three Sisters’, I know what I must do. The words almost threaten to close my throat as I obey.
“Lord,” I whisper, my breath crystallizing in the air, “I choose to forgive.”
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