The goddess garden

for Doris Lessing

I have been walking on the weekends to visit the goddess garden. Sometimes I wish that all life expected of me was one walk each day, to admire the things that grow without our encouragement. I wish that once my walk was over, I could disappear in the bowels of my home, to neither suffer nor experience joy, as I find both to be quite tiring. Instead, I have a job and a family I love, who love me back. I have meals to cook and eat, and a cat with a litter tray in the laundry.

On my walks to the goddess garden I count the lavender bushes. In our neighbourhood it is common to grow a globe-shaped shrub of lavender at the front of your garden, where neighbours can pluck sprigs for their hand vases. I wonder if any of my neighbours know their lavender is a type of mint, considered a weed in places such as Spain, where it grows wild. I doubt it, for I find that most people are oblivious in ways that surprise me. On my usual route there are 17 such lavender bushes, and I have dried lavender whorls in all my pockets. Sometimes the washing comes out dotted with lavender petals. By then the flower’s languorous smell is gone, and the clothes are a mess.

I like to go for my walk on either side of the middle of the day, when I hope there will be the smallest number of people out walking with me. The middle of the day can attract groups of people looking for a distraction, while morning and evening are popular with those who jog or cycle. I prefer to set out when the sun has reached the sky and my stomach has digested its morning meal. My legs feel strong and my face leans back to take its medicine.

The goddess garden doesn’t have a name, as far as I can tell. I suspect it hasn’t seemed necessary, because it sits within a bigger garden, known as a park, and to most it might seem as if it isn’t separate or special, that it merely exists within something greater. I call it the goddess garden because I think it deserves its own name, and I want it to be real. When you name something you are acknowledging it, and you are making it your own.

The goddess garden sits not in the middle of the park but slightly to one side, and at its centre is a tall sculpture of a nude woman with hair as long as her torso, and hands cupped in front of her breasts as if to catch something. Encircling her, at her feet, are rows of thick, hairy flowers. The flowers are purple – a rich, thick purple that stays on your tongue long after you have seen them. I feel a kind of vibration in my toes as I walk past these purple-headed flowers. When I arrive home, and my wife and children rush around me, and the air smells like cough medicine and apple peel, I wonder if the vibrations are the beginnings of multiple sclerosis. When I am visiting the garden, I don’t worry about my health.

My walk is delayed one Saturday, for reasons I try not to dwell on as I close my front door and go down the path to the gate. It is almost lunchtime, and I wonder how many families and couples and lonely older men I will see on the benches and lawns near the goddess garden. My thoughts evanesce as I get closer to the goddess and the purple rugs of flowers, and by the time I arrive I am liberated from the weather of my mind. It is a peaceful place. No one else is ever here, though they circle the edges closely.

My mind is as clear as morning when I enter the garden. The men kicking a football nearby are a silent movie I am not watching. I turn right, as I always do, to walk a full circle around the goddess and her flowers. As I near her front, though, I see something different. At her stone feet there is an offering: cellophane-wrapped in pink and blue, and tied with a white satin ribbon. I am stood still by the shock of it, and then I am angry. I want to pick it up and throw it clear away, to pick it up and take it out of the garden and stomp on it. I feel as if it is infected, as if it will infect this place and me if I let it stay. A bunch of flowers has been placed here, where there are already flowers growing and no need for more. The contempt the culprit must have for this place enrages me.

I pull my jumper sleeve down over my right hand, to pick up the crunchy package without letting it touch my skin. The flowers inside are healthy, and all the colours of a trifle. A waft of sticky sweet hits my nostrils and I retch. I imagine the flowers before they bloomed, before a bee or the wind rustled up against their stamens and pollen landed on their stigmas. They should never have been picked, should never have been forsaken, should never have been left here. I look up at the goddess and shake my head. She knows I am sorry, that I would have protected her had I known what was coming. My mind is as dark as a morning as I leave the goddess garden to find a bin.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 30, 2020 as "The goddess garden".

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