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The Greenhouse

Illustration by Anna Tsuda

 

The white roses are her favourite.

Delicate snow petals, spilling out from the centres, like a ballerina’s tulle frozen forever mid pirouette.

A violent assault of deep reds, canary yellows, rich blues; each more colourful than the last surround her in the greenhouse. The roses are like her children, all scrambling for her attention, for her eyes to linger for just a second more upon their technicolour cries.

Amid the harlequin chaos the white roses sit patiently, quiet, solemn. Their subdued silence sings loudest of all.

She still loves every rose in the garden of her greenhouse though. She feels guilty for having favourites.

At first she would visit every so often; a few minutes at first, which turned into a few hours, then whole days.

Eventually leaving became too hard. So she just never left.

It’s peaceful here. She feels secure. It’s not like how things were on the outside. Dark and shadowy and turbulent. Everything was too overwhelming as though she was being suffocated by the invisible grasp of her monsters.

Sometimes he comes to visit her. He is the one thing from the outside that she allows in.

She knows that he wants her to leave, leave the safe haven she has made for herself in the greenhouse. But she can’t.

When he talks she gets drawn into what he has to say. It makes her feel wistful, a strange twinge of melancholy fluttering in her chest.

He lulls her with soft coaxing anecdotes; how there was a galah in the backyard that didn’t run away when he approached it, how the leaves of the elms on his street were starting to golden, or how he’d left the stove on to boil water and had come back to a pot burnt black. He tells her how much he misses her. So, so much.

He reminds her that there is life outside. She would have forgotten long ago otherwise.

Each time he’s with her, her greenhouse starts to get fuzzy, like the remnants of a dream before it slips through your fingers like sand.

It scares her.

Memories of the outside start to seem more vibrant, more alluring.

Memories of dipping her feet into the cool wet sand of the ocean, sitting next to a cosy fireplace with heavy rain outside, homemade spaghetti nights, fighting over who got to finish the last serving.

Memories with him, experiencing all those things.

Memories with him; shivering, trembling, shallow breaths, burning holes into her skin with his mouth.

Every day he comes, the roses decay. She keeps finding more of their shrivelled little corpses scattered along the branches of the bushes, faded and stained brown.

She desperately puts her nose to the buds, searching for a hint of fresh perfume but all she can smell is death.

There is a bitter taste in her mouth, metallic like she has gargled blood.

It’s all his fault. Poisoning her with his stories, taking her away from her garden with his allure.

When he’s there, the gold rays of sunshine that stream down through the glass seem to taunt her, knowing that she will never venture beyond the walls to feel its warmth on her skin.

One day he comes to visit, but she ignores him.

“Go away.” She is pruning the roses carefully with a small pair of clippers. She doesn’t look at him. Looking at him is too hard.

“Why?” He asks.

She continues to prune the roses as if he weren’t there. Snip. Snip. Snip.

“What’s wrong?

Snip.

It hurts to breathe. The silence chokes her.

Snip.

Snip.

“You can’t come visit me anymore,” she says finally.

“What? Why not?”

Snip.

Snip.

Pause.

“You’re killing the flowers.”

Sni-

Her hand falters, slipping, dragging against the rose bush’s thorns, slicing into her flesh like butter. Her fingers are on fire. She is on fire.

Her eyes flash up at him, burning. “You’re ruining everything.”

He sighs. “Why can’t we go back to how it use to be? When you weren’t like this?” He asks exasperated.

“What do you mean?”

“I hate you being here, in this place. I hate you not being at home with me.”

“I like it here. I feel safe here.”

“You’ll be safe with me.”

“I’m safe in my greenhouse.”

“Ha. Your greenhouse?”

“Yes!”

“Don’t you understand? This isn’t real – none of this is real!”

“Wha – “

She feels dizzy, the rose bushes, the earthy scent of dirt, the greenhouse walls all start to blur and distort. The vibrant colours start to fade, dissolve; sickly sweet sugar-coated lies.

“Wha- what do you mean?”

The glass walls start to crack. The sun streams into the darkest corners of her mind. It’s liberating, it’s horrifying, it’s terrifying. Fuck.

The world is grey. Grey linoleum floors and dull grey walls. A thin grey mattress covered in a single sheet on a cool metal bedframe. She blinks. Hard. Once. Twice. Why won’t the grey go away?

Where are her roses? Where is her garden? Where is her greenhouse?

“You’re crazy.” His voice cuts her like jagged glass. “You’re fucking crazy! Why can’t you just-“

“Stop!” Her vision is blurry. Everything hurts. Why won’t it stop? Stop. Stop. Stop.

She plunges the rose clippers straight into his chest.

Stop.

He chokes, staring at her in wide disbelief. She gazes back blankly at him.

With one sharp jerk she wrenches the blade out. Then she thrusts it back in again. Again. Again. Again.

The blood spurts out of him slowly at first, a rusty drink tap being turned on for the first time in years. And then it gushes out all at once.

Everything is red. Warm, warm, warm on her fingers and hands and arms and clothes.

The room is spinning.

The walls, the bed, the floor are all marred with splatters of crimson. She looks down at her hands, a pair of blunt craft scissors glistening red clutched tightly in her fist.

She scans the walls around her, garish childlike drawings of roses scrawled with coloured crayons, cut out clumsily and thumbtacked on every inch possible.

This isn’t real. It can’t be.

She blinks. Hard. Once. Twice.

And then it all rushes back.

Everything is still again. Everything is better. The greenhouse walls, the flowers, the colours have all solidified again. Everything is real again. Familiar. Safe.

The dirt of the garden bed is soaked with blood, still warm. Alive.

Small white rosebuds are starting to dot the branches around her.
She smiles. They are beginning to grow again.

Joanne Fong

The author Joanne Fong

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