|Who are you?” she asked.
“Who am I?” the other girl answered back.
Stella eyed the girl in the same way she inspected an article of clothing. She checked her stitching and hems to see how well she was made. She looked over the girl’s materials and design to see what level of quality was used in her creation. Once she was satisfied with her observations, she folded her arms against her chest; her stare intently upon the stranger. “Yes. Who are you?” she said again.
The girl smiled, slowly scratched her head and laughed softly “I’m not so sure you’d like to know that just yet. But you can think of me as a friend if that will help.”
The girl’s smile was very disarming, Stella relaxed.
Though disarming, her cheerfulness was a curious contrast to her appearance. The young woman looked like a dark thunder cloud had come down and bled itself all over her. She was all black clothes and dark details, pale skin and black eyes. These things were nothing Stella cared to dwell on; appearances were usually deceiving anyway. She knew this well. To the world Stella figured she appeared to be nothing short of an all-American young woman, fresh and healthy… full of life. Such things were just not true.
”Well…” Stella began. “Are you alone?”
The dark young woman’s smile brightened “No, I’m not alone. You’re standing right in front of me aren’t you?”
Stella laughed, giving into defeat. “All right smart ass. I won’t like knowing who you are, but you’re a friend, and you’re not alone because you’re standing with me. As far as I’m concerned you’re a complete stranger though. A stranger who happens to be on my grandfather’s property. I can over look that. I mean it doesn’t really matter. So while you’re trespassing, why don’t you give me a hand. Grab that bag.” Stella pointed towards an old army bag near her feet.
The dark young woman said nothing but reached down and grabbed the bag. Stella turned and started up a hill, the other woman followed, moving to walk next to the amber haired woman.
”So what are we up to today Stella?”
Stella looked over at the dark cloud at her side choosing to ignore that she’d never given her her name. How many ways were there to find out who a person was these days? For all she knew this gothic queen could have been some freak from an online chat room, an obsessive dyke who’d gotten a crush on her and decided to seek her out. If that were the case she’d be disappointed.
“Well, today I’m going to go tend to my garden. I may not get a chance to again.”
The other woman tugged at the bag she carried. “And this is what you use to tend it? It’s heavy but it doesn’t feel like tools.”
Stella allowed herself a small, private smile. “There are ways to tend a garden that are much more fitting than gorging at it with a bunch of blunt tools. I prefer a more creative method.”
The other woman shrugged her shoulders as if to say “whatever” and they continued up the hill in silence.
Though the woman was a stranger, her company was surprisingly comforting. For the first time in awhile Stella felt as though she were hanging out with a friend. Friends were a luxury that belonged to her at some time in her life. A time that seemed very ancient and almost surreal these days. Her friends hadn’t left her though, or been cruel and turned from her when her problems surfaced. No, it was nothing so after-school-specialish. She had shut them all out till none were left. She’d done very much the same thing to her family. Better to let go of them so she would not fear missing them when she left.
The other woman’s perky voice cut into her thinking. “So where are you going?”
Stella looked up, confused for a moment “What? What do you mean?”
Stella shrugged. “Just going away. I’m not sure where. I’m not sure anyone knows where exactly till they get there. I mean, I don’t have any guides to help me out and the people who are already there aren’t telling anyone what it’s like. They’re kind of selfish that way.” she paused, then pointed. “My garden is just past that weeping willow tree there.”
The last part of the hill was quite steep. It had both young women tugging at the long weeds growing out of the ground to help pull their way to the top. With bit of effort on both their parts, they got to there. What lie beyond was like another world.
Stella’s garden was a small square of land circled by a string of weeping willow trees. The long drooping branches of the trees seemed to guard it and hide it from the world beyond. It gave it a sense of being quite private. The garden itself was what caught the eye: A spiraling array of flowers, in every color and breed under the sun. They were not planted with any regard to that color or their breed of flower. They grew wild even though many of these flowers were far from wild anymore.
Stella beamed. “Quite a sight eh? I get a five finger discount at the local plant shop. No one says anything about it. I mean who’s going to chase a girl stealing seeds when you’ve got some guy selling crack in front of your store? The only problem is I can’t really pick and choose what I get.” She looked around at the riotous array of colors. “I used to try and plant things with some sort of organization but finally I just gave up.”
Stella reached into a bag she had been carrying, withdrawing a slim paper package. She used her teeth to tear the top of the package open and then flung the contents over the flowers and grass of the garden.
“Let nature do with them what it wants right? That’s how it was meant to work.”
The other woman laughed softly. It sounded more like a sigh, sweet and slow passing through her lips.
“You remind me of someone I know, though your feet are better planted on the ground.” she said. “Still, I almost expect to see a butterfly on your shoulder.” she paused, looking sad for but a moment.
The look of sadness made Stella feel all the more somber. “What is it?” Stella asked.
The other woman knelt down, gently pulling a blush colored bloom to her nose. She was careful not to pick the flower. “How long have you been dying Stella?”
Stella did not answer. Instead she quietly moved to take the old army bag from the other woman’s hands. She pulled the zipper down and rummaged around inside it for a moment. Finally she withdrew a plum colored velvet coat, which she pulled over her torso. She also withdrew a hat that looked like a top hat but was somewhat shorter. On one side two scarlet colored silk roses were sewn. On the other side a massive black feather sat. She sat the hat atop of her head and gave the top a tap. Lastly she withdrew a book.
“What do you think friend? Do you like Shakespeare? How about a Midsummer Night’s Dream? Something comical… if we can get such humor today.”
The other woman sat down, folding her legs Indian style. She nodded her head “Sure. I’ve always been quite fond of Shakespeare. Is this how you tend your garden then?”
Stella nodded. “Yes. I think my voice has more effect on them than any of the chemical based flower foods. And as a colorful blooming plant I feel my style helps me blend in among them. You know? I am but a tall moving flower among the short and still ones.”
Stella began to read from he book. Loudly at first, but slowly her voice started to soften till she was simply silent. She looked looked over at the other woman with eyes very serious and sad.
“I found out I had cancer two years ago. They said all treatments would help but most likely not cure. Half of the treatments seemed worse than the disease. At first I was willing to do anything, I mean I wanted to live. But after awhile I realized I wasn’t living, not truly living when I threw up after they pumped all those chemicals into my body or living when I sat in my bathroom crying because my hair was falling out in clumps…” absently she ran her hand through the shortcut crop of amber hair on her head. “So I decided to stop treatment… it’s my life or lack of one, I had that right. My parents argued against it but the doctors had made it clear that nothing was going to save me in the end. They were just attempting to prolong the inevitable. My doctor said I’d have maybe half of a year, at the most a full year. And it was an alright year… until I started hurting. It’s like I can feel the cancer in me. It’s like corruption…” her voice trailed off.
Stella moved through the flowers and sat down next to the other woman. The stranger took her hand, offering a smile that held no sympathy, just understanding. Stella tried to continue.
“I decided I just couldn’t live with it anymore. I’ve been thinking of ways to take my life, but I know I won’t. I was raised to believe that suicide would send your soul to hell with no reprieve. It’s not even that really. Life is sacred and I should appreciate every moment. I feel like I’d be thumbing my nose at the graces that gave me this life; as little of it though I’ve had. So I just spend my time praying that death will find me before I get so sick that I end up in the hospital. If that happens I could end up on machines. I can’t bare the idea of that. I’d rather take a rest among my flowers here and never wake up. I’d be happy becoming apart of my secret garden.”
The other woman’s pale hand let go of Stella and moved to touch the young woman’s cheek. Her cheeks were hot and flushed, being fueled by all the things that were scaring her. She wasn’t afraid of dying, she was terrified of having to live this way. So sad that there were things that could do this to a beautiful creature, but that was nature. As Stella had said, nature, do as it will.
The stranger’s hand moved to the back of Stella’s neck, gently pulling the girl’s head towards lap. Stella adjusted herself so that she laid against the ground, her head cradled against the black velvet clad lap of this odd woman. Stella relaxed, comforted.
“When I was little I was terrified of death, mostly because I thought death would be painful. If death should come to me in my sleep then it might not be so bad. That comforted me for a little while. But then one of my cousins once told me that if I died in my sleep the sandman would get my soul. That terrified me even more. I mean, the idea of the sandman, a creature that pours sand into your eyes to make you sleep! Who thinks things like that are cute fairy tales for children?”
Stella couldn’t see it, but this question made the other woman smile.
“Anyway, I got over all that, lost my fear of dying. The only thing that really mattered was that I get to live my life some what before death found me. I’d like to have lived more… I’d like to have a lot of things different, but I’ve got no time for regrets… not now. And honestly? I don’t regret one single moment. They’re my moments and even when they were bad I’m glad they were mine.”
Stella looked up at the stranger who was looking intently at the flowers around her as she held the other woman in her lap. There was something so sweet about her, something that made Stella quite happy to relax there, with her head on her knee as she tried to ignore the pain that was slowly coming back to her.
Stella’s hand moved to touch her stomach. It had gotten to feeling sour all of a sudden. She sighed and tried to keep relaxed, but the more she tried, the tighter the knot in her stomach became. On top of that she felt very sleepy, like a nap was going to catch her before she could stop it. Her lids began to droop, and there was a buzzing in her ears. Beyond the buzzing was that soft laugh that sounded more like a sigh. It was the other woman’s voice cutting through the buzzing sounds.
“Let yourself sleep Stella. I promise the sandman will leave you alone.”
There was only a moment of panic as Stella tried to decide if what she felt was her agitated body finally giving into sleep. One moment she was all tensed muscles and an ever growing buzz in her ears, the next moment there was silence and her body felt light. There was no more pain. There was no more worry. Her eyes came open and she looked into a body engulfing brightness all around her. It felt more peaceful than falling comfortably asleep in her own bed.
“Now that didn’t hurt so much did it? You snoozed through most of it.”
Stella looked towards the voice. The strange woman made of thunderclouds and sweet smiles was looking down at her. She was the only thing keeping her company in that comforting brightness. She then realized her strange companion made the concept of death more of a noun and not a verb.
“I’m dead?” she whispered. She sat up and looked at the stranger. “You finally answered my prayers…”
The strange woman shrugged her shoulders. “Yes, you’re dead, but I didn’t answer your prayers. You’ve been close all day. I just came to find you, that’s what I do. I decided that I wanted to get a chance to visit your garden first. I don’t do that with everyone.”
Stella smiled, even found it in her to laugh a little. The stranger extended her hand towards the amber haired girl, all smiled. “Stella, take my hand.”