(Image with permission of Becka Wolfe).
Something She said in the Garden
Finley J. MacDonald
“I have some bad news, I’m afraid. The young woman, Orchid, has gone missing. We are quite concerned for her safety. Over the past year, some disappearances have not turned out well. If you know anything about any of this, Andrev–if you are involved–I promise you, we will see that you are well represented. Just tell me what you know.”
Mouse stares down beside the white hem of her dress on tile, the sandal edging toward the bath. Upon the liquid surface, two, black reflections shake. Tuft at the base, a white feather floats and trembles in glare. From a distant hall, female voices dip and peak like swallows over hedges. Complex, ringing clusters of notes well up. Mouse tries to make out words. Cordon off the sky . . . Sky upon the sea that drank you. Sky upon a sea that drank her. Sea of dirt, crime, blood, slavery.
Mouse can feel the eyes of this woman taking measurements. What was the name? Perpetua. Of the hollow cheeks. The giddy urge has been replaced by a cold pound of clay. The face gone basalt. He has been gulled, taken unawares by discursive chatter. Eyes cold autumn. He has to look down at the stone tabletop. A winged insect stumbles along the base of the wine jug.
Orchid’s eyes, in the right light, were spokes of blue acid. Sometimes, with naked, childish hunger leaking in. After they had made love, wet from the sea, she lie with one leg across him. Her hand, a bit of red upon it from herself, was touching his skin. As if that skin were sacred. His face, his arms. The tattoo, blotted across his chest. Witchcraft, the way she was cutting through prison-grit and spittle. Her hand presiding over a horrid sacrament: his soul there, heart of a dog. Bitter, burnt seeds in its leathery rind. So small that it could be captured and pressed in the fist. He had shoved her off him. She trotted after, voice lost in the surf.
The woman is speaking.
“Andrev, you must tell me. Did you harm her?”
Perhaps he had. In no more than closing his eyes. Somehow, she mirrored him. Making love was an agony. Like incest must be. Mouse had closed his eyes but still heard: I would die for you.
“I need a cigarette.”
The woman lifts a leather bag. Her hand roams around inside. A metal case is laid upon the stone, lid folding back. Mouse picks one cigarette from the row. The end of the cigarette pushes unsteadily into the flame above her thumb.
“Do you know where she is?”
“Where is this man you call uncle?”
“Long gone, I guess. Said he was taking the ship out.”
“What do you know about him?”
“He is my uncle. I don’t really know him. Built like a bull, got a big beard. In a fight, he cannot be whipped. No saints in my family, but he was the only one I was never allowed around. I always was afraid of him. ‘Shut your little mouth, boy; gut you like a fish’. Everybody said he’s a firebug. You know, a house burner. Always in and out of jail. Like me. He told me he had killed before. This time he seemed friendly enough. He said, come along to this island, this paradise. So, I went.”
“What did Orchid say about him?”
“She didn’t want to talk about him. At all. Suited me. I can believe that Uncle Thondup would sell me off. Easy as breathing. I’d stake my mother on it that Orchid would have nothing to do with it.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Everything. Once, while she was sleeping, I busted, just to the garden. When she found me, she was crying. She held onto me like she had just saved me from from a shark. It isn’t safe, she kept saying. This girl is touched, I thought. Maybe she was hip-deep in something with Thondup—it’s possible. But she wouldn’t have let me go for money. She wanted eat, drink and sleep nothing but me. Strange, I know.”
“When did you last see her?”
“On the beach. She was keen to get me up on a horse. She was hollering at me, stay on, stay on. I stayed on, by the gods, and that damned steed took me miles, halfway round the island. Then I thought I’d stay put. It was getting so as I couldn’t breathe. I thought maybe I could push off this rock on a fishing rig.”
“How did she seem that last day? Was she afraid?”
“No more than usual.”
“Did you kill her, Andrev?”
“She was smothering you.”
“Don’t ask me that again. I didn’t harm a hair on her head.”
“Did you have relationships with any other women while you were on this island?”
“Have you ever been in the company of— a chief justice here?”
“What? You’re joking.”
“You’ve heard of Justice Makepeace?”
“You’ve heard the name, certainly?”
“No. The only time I ever met any damn judge is when the hammer was coming down. I never met ‘a chief justice’.”
“You’ve no idea about the trial? It has been in the newspaper every day for months.”
“No. I don’t read well. I never read a newspaper.”
“Justice Makepeace has been charged with betrayal of the public trust. Orchid was a part of our case. Without her, we are greatly compromised. Can you think of anything she might have said that could help us?”
Along the wall, fat bees with dusted heads buzz and land heavily and push in and out of blossoms like purple, hanging helmets. An unbroken melody sinks and climbs, a goddess of sorrow wandering in a forest of loss.
“There might be something. Something she said that morning in the garden.”