An Old Woman and her Garden
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An old woman fought loneliness with her garden, passing the time between naps by singing to the things that grew there. She loved every one of her crops, from the tiny sprouting needles to the hard stalks that swayed and flexed above the ground. They shined white in the day, and at night the small patch gleamed against the side of her house like teeth in a massive jaw.

The old woman had lived by herself for many years. Her house would be small if she had a family, but because she was alone, it was the perfect size. She filled the house with things—figurines, National Geographic back issues, litter boxes for the dozen cats that came and went—until she was snug inside.

She had lost her husband years ago. There was nothing left of him except for many thousands of dollars, tucked away in an old coffee can. The old woman clipped coupons and shopped at discount stores. She folded her leftover newspaper and shopping bags and stacked them until they reached the ceiling.

The old woman never grew anything except bones in her garden. She had never tried to plant anything else. She didn’t know if regular things would grow from her soil, and never thought about it aside from brief moments of curiosity. She never tried to plant bones anywhere else, so she never found out if her house was special or if she just had a talent.

It had started by accident with Osiris, one of her cats. He died one night—an ancient, scrappy beast who moved on peacefully. She buried him before his body was cold. Almost two weeks went by before she noticed it: a sliver, eggshell white and sharp as a pin.

She didn't know what to do, so she laid down plant food and watered it every day. Over weeks, the sliver grew and grew. Eventually, a pink cap formed over its end. The old woman expected the cap to become a flower, but little by little it took shape and became a joint. Another bone grew out of the joint, and after a few more weeks there was a kitty’s arm, skeletal but easy to recognize, claws gripping the earth. She cared for it, like all her beloved pets. Rough cords grew little by little from the base of its arm to the ends of its fingers. She knelt beside it night and day, singing songs and petting it gently, so it would know it wasn't alone.

During the months that it took for the arm to grow, the old woman tried planting bones of other kinds. Chicken bones. Bones picked from mice the other cats left at her doorstep. Bones from birds she found rotting on the sidewalk. Even the bones of a small deer she found at the side of the road. Some of them grew, but none as well as Osiris.

She tried putting down blood flakes and hair and eventually ground beef straight from the grocery store. She poured chicken broth and carrot juice and raw eggs into the soil. Still, most of the crops turned dull yellow, like rotten teeth. They became brittle and collapsed without taking root.

Osiris got healthier and healthier. One day she saw the arm moving, straining for a chunk of tuna she had left there. She rushed to dig him up. Osiris shook himself off. Clumps of dirt stuck to his mossy coat. He opened blank, white eyes as dull as quartz. He yawned and she saw a set of perfect granite teeth.

It wasn’t quite Osiris, she knew that. But it was close enough for her to take it in. The thing would lay beside her at night. It wasn’t warm, like Osiris used to be. It was damp and smelled musty and it didn't purr, but the old woman knew that it was hers. It brought her presents—rats and raccoons and, occasionally, dogs that it somehow dragged from the neighborhoods around her house. She never planted any of these because she was afraid that if they grew up, they would remember what had happened.

As time went by, it became harder and harder for the old woman to take care of herself. She began to forget which of the crops in her garden had been there the longest, which ones she could expect to blossom into life, which to uproot and hide in her shed. Eventually she couldn't remember how many there were, and became confused at all the holes appearing in the dirt.

It was after she actually saw one emerge on its own—a bat that she didn’t remember planting—that she knew she needed help. An old woman shouldn’t have to finish life alone. She thought about it for a long time. It wouldn’t be easy to get what she needed, but the old woman was alone and had little left but time. She considered sneaking into a hospital or a university, but she had never been one to break the law and didn’t know how to begin going about it. So the old woman started her old rattling car and drove around, always late at night. It took a long time, countless miles along lonely roads, but she found what she was looking for eventually. It was very late at night when she saw the pickup truck, flipped over, lying crumpled at the bottom of a small ravine.

The old woman stopped her car and made her way carefully down to the wreck. Hope started to flood from deep inside her, filling her up, making her warm. She’d found exactly what she needed. The young man hung upside-down, trickling blood, face cast in a delicate sleep. He was beautiful. It was hard work, on her hands and knees, hacking away at the seat belt with her rusted garden shears. It took a while, but she got him down eventually, careful not to let him fall on top of her. Dragging him up the hill was even harder and she was afraid that someone would stop, would see her and take her to jail; but the old woman did not give up and eventually she got him into her passenger seat. The rest was easy.

She planted him in the patch of ground behind her house and waited. She mixed the soil with steak, and tomato juice and bacon and sometimes beer—everything she could think of to make a man grow. She bought a portable radio and played music for him, always singing along. At night she held his bony hand and knew that the loneliness was almost over.

The old woman gradually cleaned her house. She hired a truck to take away the magazines and shopping bags. She bought a machine to shampoo the cat smell from her carpets. On the night her new husband stirred she was there, waiting. She helped him up and gently brushed the dirt from his cool skin. She looked into his dry white eyes and pressed his rough cheek to hers. She took him by the hand and led him inside.

She showed him around the empty house—nice, but now a little cramped. As she led him down the hall to the bedroom she told him about how they’d have to renovate. They needed space for children, if they were going to make it a home.

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