Welcome to the Phantom Garden
I (virtually) met Susheela when she became my primary editor over at GMP. Since then, I’ve followed her writing through her website and through Facebook. Her writing is haunting and very much in the vein of Neil Gaiman in my opinion. There is a definite flavor added from being born and raised in India and coming of age in that culture that I’ve yet to find elsewhere. She talks of gods, ghosts, and the struggle that is being human. She also teaches creative writing in Singapore and dabbles in fiction and poetry frequently.
The story she submitted for our enjoyment is haunting. Her details draw you in and make you feel the presence of the surrounding garden of haunted past lives. Enjoy!
By Susheela Menon
There was once a woman who grew a flower for every scar that burned into her heart. She grew violets and roses, bougainvillea and lilies.
She dipped her fair hand in the soil, fed it and spoke to it. She cursed the sun if it was too harsh and blamed the rain for flooding her garden. She dug the mud sometimes and wrinkled her nose at the worms underneath. She touched the stems and the leaves; they promised her color and fragrance. She clipped wild, thorny limbs and hung a basket of dry grass hoping wild birds would nest in it.
Soon, her pain took the form of flowers, making her jubilant and proud. She hadn’t shed a single tear or leaned on alcohol. Something told her it was too early to sing a song, but she brushed it off, pouring more soil and water and what not.
The woman with the scarred heart sat amidst her blooms one day, smelling the jasmine and stroking the red hibiscus. She was soon lulled into a deep sleep, as the horizon darkened and a cool breeze swept the blooms. She dreamt uneasy dreams and opened her eyes to a growling sky. It was a whirlpool of clouds, spinning a storm above. Bright streaks of lightning flashed through.
She steadied the bamboo and tied the climbers together. She looked at the trembling roses and held them tight, their thorns piercing her pale fingers. The wind toppled her plants and pots, letting loose an army of worms that crawled up her thighs. She struggled to rid herself of creepers that wound around her torso, strangling her like unshed tears.
Shadows of past lovers slithered before her eyes and reminded her of all their lies. Pots carrying beautiful blooms fell onto the ground, revealing roots that gripped the meager soil. The big bamboo sang a macabre tune as the wind whipped through it. Unable to stop the chaos, she broke down and cried.
Morning found the woman standing amidst the ruins of her phantom garden. She glared at the crystal clear sky, blue and beautiful. Its peace betrayed its barbarity as much as the dance of the gentle wind dismissed last night’s rage. A lone flower swayed, its white petals inviting the birds and butterflies. Everything went back to being, to just being. They were part of the illusion. And so was she.