The Stone Garden

Everything had been reclaimed by stone and earth. Annabelle had arrived upon the site bewildered; the garden she had once known was gone. A welcome sign, her little pride and joy, had been swallowed by a white chalk, like stone and gravel. Her plants were hardened and brittle and bent down low to the ground in their withered states. Her flowers were mere stalks of dead petals, all encased in white stone.

This was not Annabelle’s garden, but it couldn’t have been anyone else’s. In its heyday, the garden had been the perfect arrangement of flowers, for their scents, plants, for the oxygen, and herbs, for their medicinal properties. She had trees that provided fruit for food, without casting dark shadows over the rest of the garden, and a small vegetable patch at the very back. All of it was now encased in stone.

“How long was I away?” she asked herself. She ran her fingers over the plants as she walked down her yellow-stone path. It was resisting the whitening the rest of her garden had suffered, but already the plague that had taken her plants’ lives was stealing the colour from beneath her feet. A daisy snapped under her touch, a leaf cut her finger open, and she felt herself grow weak and tired.

When she had circled her garden, she returned to the welcome sign and sat in a bench she had placed beneath it. It was less comfortable now, covered in rough white stone. She could not sit for a long time, and yet she needed to. Her breathing was sharp and short and painful, and she wondered if maybe she was in a shock. She had heard about people reacting like this to loss. She had heard about pain so bad that people’s bodies just shut down to stop them feeling anything. She thought about that as everything went dark.

Annabelle remembered, or maybe she dreamed, that she had been away. She thought she had only been on a short holiday. She thought about the sun and the heat on her skin, and how she was sure she was going to get burned, but then she didn’t. She thought about standing in the ocean, the waves licking her ankles because that was as far as she would dare go.

It felt like a week, standing on that beach while her shoulders seemed to roast and her toes turned wrinkly from the water, and occasionally someone would bring her a drink. She would have something fruity, or something nutty – which felt strange – or something that tasted of dirt, which she didn’t like. She would have a large glass, and she would be so thirsty she would drink it in one go, and then she would have to wait.

All the while, she felt her voice go, and she gasped for air, and the more she breathed the more difficult it became. She couldn’t remember the sky turning dark as the night fell, or ever leaving that spot in the sand, or even sitting down, until she had to leave.

Then, she had just left, and she had arrived at her little garden. It was across a stretch of land from her house, away from her brothers and her parents. Her brothers were visiting, all of them older, all of them gone, and she lived with her parents while waited for college to start. Every day, she visited her little private garden at the edge of their land.

She didn’t remember flying home, or getting dressed at the beach, or even packing a suitcase. She didn’t remember bring picked up from the airport. All Annabelle knew was she had been away, and then she was looking at her little welcome sign.

She opened her eyes, and she was back again, and she looked at the welcome sign once more. It was even less of a sign than she remembered, like the letters were just sticking out from the wall. Her yellow path through her garden was paved over white, and her plants were becoming jagged and barren.

They needed water, like she’d had at the beach. Just a little bit of water at their roots.

Annabelle wanted to get them water. She needed to. But she couldn’t stand. She felt weak, and her feet felt heavy, and she struggled to breath. She needed her plants – not the flowers, not the herbs, not the trees, though they would help. She breathed in deep, and the plants turned green, and she felt a rush of oxygen enter her system. She felt a pang of hunger, and her trees and vegetables took on her colour.

Her feet felt heavier still, and she thought she was sick. Annabelle needed her herbs, and suddenly they took on colour. But she could not retrieve them. Now her hands, too, were heavy, and she was afraid to look at them. She needed to walk, and so her path turned yellow. Annabelle felt a panic in her chest, and tried to call for help. She needed a word, any word. The welcome sign pulled out from the wall.

She risked a chance at looking down, and couldn’t see the flesh of her fingers, or her toenails through her sandals. All the way up to her abdomen, and right up to her elbow, her skin had turned to chalky white stone. Even as she watched, the sensation spread.

The undeniable feeling of panic set into her chest, before that too stopped moving with the weight of the stone. She needed comfort, and her flowers blossomed, and she knew it was her or the plants, and she needed them to live. She gasped for air and for water, and it began to rain softly overhead, and just as the stone crawled over her eyes, she began to dissolve, to wash into her perfect garden.

She felt her plants, and she remembered taking a rest on her bench, and then she only remembered that her garden was important.

***

Photo prompt for this story: http://writingpromptphotos.tumblr.com/post/75087584687/a-welcome-sign-dublin-photograph-copyright-2013

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About Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is a writer, born, raised and still living in Dublin. By day he's a student and bookseller, by night he writes fiction and uses social media.
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