Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Boy in the Garden — I

 THE BOY IN THE GARDEN


CHAPTER I.


I was seven when I was taken to Misselthwaite. As the car neared the castle through the gravel path between the tall, dry from winter trees, I’d been impressed, overwhelmed by the sight that looked so much like the beautifully illustrated books mother would read me not so long before she died, in worlds of princesses and dragons, and I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. A first impression, because then, after being dropped off with a single bag and a doll tightly pressed against my side, I thought it looked somehow cold, bare, with vines growing on the stone walls outside, uncared and untamed, just like I would be in the years I spent there.

Inside, even the furniture seemed bony, uncomfortable, not made for sitting. The halls were cold, but the rooms warm, and the walls would wail at night, but aunt Martha would sush me about any thoughts of ghosts, even though she couldn’t stop my imagination from running wild. While she tended to the place, I roamed around, alone, exploring the manor and the grounds, finding my way through the woods and making friends with stray dogs, and then I would go to my mostly empty room at night and stay there. The owner of Misselthwaite was Mr. Craven, a rich, old and lonely widower, and my aunt told me never to bother him, that he didn’t like children and that it would take very little for us to be kicked out, so I was sure never to walk in his part of the castle, where most of his quarters were. I also never came out at night. Ghosts.

It wasn’t until several months later that I met Colin. 

It was day, and I heard the sounds coming from the East Wing — Mr. Craven had left that morning to take care of some businesses in town, so I felt brave enough about going there. I followed the sounds to the third floor, finally convinced that it wasn’t the wind, or the ghosts, that it was too human and too real the closer I got to them. It led me to a door that wasn’t entirely closed, and so I could see what was going on inside. A big woman walked around this large bed, and it took me a moment to realise that a boy was lying in front of her, and she was bending and straightening his legs in repetitive motions, like a stretch. Curious and eager, I stayed there and watched, until the boy’s head fell to my side and our eyes locked. I waited, my feet ready to bolt at any time he decided to rat me out to the woman, who would then report back to Mr. Craven, but he never did. She would keep massaging and stretching his legs, and those strange sounds left the back of his throat, but our eyes didn’t part once. I waited until she seemed ready to leave and I hid so she wouldn’t see me, then shyly walked inside, closing the door behind me.

The room was bigger than mine, and the walls were beautifully painted like a garden, with birds and trees and a big, magical castle in the distance, and I recognized the view as Misselthwaite itself. Then I stared at the boy. He looked about my age, very thin, ashy blonde hair, pale skin and dark eyes that seemed as interested in watching me as I was him.  

“Hello.” I walked closer. “I’ve never seen you here before.”

Not a word from him. 

“I’m Mary. I live here.” I’d been starving social interaction with anyone other than the dogs and the much older kitchen staff, so I was rather impatient. I frowned, irritated. “Why won’t you talk to me? My mother said it’s rude not to say anything when people are talking to you.”

Soon I would find out that he couldn’t talk, only make those noises I’d heard before. It took me a while to realise that his fragile frame was wrapped around the blankets and that his right arm seemed smaller, pressed to his chest, his wrist bent awkwardly, and that there was a big wheelchair next to the bed. I could tell there was something wrong with this boy.

“You can’t talk?” He made those sounds again and I frowned, trying to decipher them. “I can’t understand you.” It seemed like he was used to that. I pointed at the wheelchair, “Is this yours?” He nodded yes. I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sick?” No. “Can you walk?” He rolled his eyes. I guess it was pretty stupid of me to ask.

I heard some noise outside and, startled, moved away. Before I could walk out the door, he called me in his mysterious language and I turned around. His eyebrows were up. “I’ll find out your name,” I said. I promised. “And I’ll come tomorrow.”

And I did, for the next several years. 


***

twelve years later

Dear Mary,
...They’re selling Misselthwaithe, and I am uncertain of our future here. If you wish to see it one last time, you must come for the Last Ball…



I stand in front of the manor exactly like I did once, many years ago, carrying just as many bags and as equally intimidated. It’s strange how some things never change — I don’t have a doll this time, but I wish I did. I tighten my grip around the handle of my single bag and circle back to the servants’ entrance, so familiar to me not only because that’s where we were allowed to go inside, but also it’s also the least amount of steps out of the castle, and through where I used to smuggle Colin outside. Colin. My heart clenches in my chest, drums, cartwheels, it’s almost too much, until Aunt Martha steps out with a big smile and a tight hug.

“I’m glad you came, child.”

To that, I simply smile. She carries my bag inside, even though she’s too old for that now, and shows me to my old room, even though I’m pretty sure I haven’t forgotten where it is, and tells me the fireplace isn’t working, so she doubled the amount of duvets in my bed. That, too, isn’t a novelty, because the fireplace never worked in the first place. Then she leaves me alone to unpack, telling me tea will be served at four. Like nothing’s changed.

I drop down on the bed with a loud sigh. I stay there, staring at the ceiling as the canopy flows around me with the wind and a few birds singing outside, feeling like I’m ten and nothing in the world could really bother me, dissociated from my current body, from my current mind, for hours at no end, until a familiar bell rings outside, calling us all for tea, waking me up from my trance to join the staff. 

Over the years, most of the people left Misselthwaite and it’s operating, poorly, with even fewer people than back when Mr. Craven was in charge, and they weren’t a lot to begin with. I know most of the ones left, mostly because they’ve grown old in this old place themselves, and they hug me, fondly remembering the spinning, dancing child that liked to sit in the kitchen and cut vegetables just so she would have someone to talk to. During tea, as we pass biscuits around, no one mentions the fact that they’re selling the estate, that their futures here are uncertain, and no one asks what I’m doing back here. Instead, we chuckle at amenities and John, the driver, tells the same stories he used to tell when I was a child, and no one dares correcting the details.

I then walk around the castle, finding the odd corners where I used to play hide and seek by myself, the mostly empty, abandoned rooms no one even bothered to clean anymore, where I’d spin and spin and spin until the whole world was upside down, the hidden pathways with the least amount of steps through where I’d get Colin outside so we could play together in the garden. I can almost hear our mischievous giggles echoing through the walls as we evaded his carer and the stretching exercises he dreaded so much. We thought we were outsmarting everyone, but come to think of it, she couldn’t possibly have been fooled by us.

Full with memories, I walk around until it’s fully dark outside and the whole place starts to feel terribly haunted once again, then I stay in my room until it’s too cold there, but I don’t feel like sleeping yet, so I grab a book and head to the library. Back then, I would only do it late at night, fearing it would bother the ever-cranky Mr. Craven. But he isn’t here anymore, and the fireplace there always works.

___

“Colin.” I halt, holding the mug and the books I’m carrying from one of the shelves. My heart fills with something I can barely contain at the sight of my- “Colin.”

It’s like seeing a ghost. 

After I left, I would sometimes wonder if perhaps my entire childhood in this castle had been an illusion, if I’d made it up with my head, Colin, Mr. Craven, Miss. Weller, the garden. I’d been so violently ripped off of it that it felt almost intangible, untrue, a trick of my mind to cope with the years ahead. But I’m here now, and I’m old enough to know that it was true, and he’s here too, flesh and bone, not the kid I remember him as but… grown up, a man. 

I’m a woman, too, I suppose, but it seems easier to deal with that when you’ve lived every single one of those years.

Colin’s hair is darker now, although it could be blamed on the low library lights, and I can swear I see traces of a beard across his face, like he hasn’t shaved in a few days — that someone hasn’t shaved him. He isn’t small anymore and it occurs to me that I wouldn’t be able to carry him down the stairs like I used to; he seems tall even if he’s crookedly sitting down in his chair, but he’s still bony and somehow fragile. I want to wrap my arms around him, tight, but not too tight because it always seemed to me like he could snap. And he smiles at me, a crooked, adorable smile that’s been absolutely untouched by time, save for the charmingly wrinkled corners of his eyes, and moves the wheelchair closer by pushing the joystick with his good left arm.

I press the books to my chest, like they could shield me from getting any closer. I wish for a moment that he could lift me off my feet and spin me around the room in pure joy of seeing me. Instead, I stand there.

“I didn’t know you were here.” I say. I asked. They told me he didn’t come here anymore, not since Mr. Craven passed away. “I…” Please, say something. But, of course, that’s stupid of me to ask. I swallow, putting the books down on the low table. “It was really cold in my bedroom. I can’t believe they still haven’t fixed the insulation system in this old castle. Of course, Milord wouldn’t notice that from his royally warm and big room in the East Wing. We, the help, must freeze to death every winter.”

He’s still smiling and does a half-shrug, because his right arm doesn’t really move. Colin opens his mouth and I prepare myself to hear his voice for the first time in many years, holding the hem of my cardigan until my knuckles are cold. 

“I’m…mmhm”, From then on, with a sinking feeling to my chest, I realize that I don’t understand what he says. 

“What? ”I lower down to the armchair, forearms to my knees, leaning forward, trying to hear him better.

“Mmm.” It sounds like vowels strung together, noises that don’t make any sense to me.

“I don’t…”

He looks away and I see that he knows I can’t get past the first syllable, and drops his head back into the headrest with a frustrated sigh—with me or himself, I can’t tell.

I swallow.

“It’s been a while.” I say, wrapping my hands around the mug, dropping forward a bit, disappointed. His speech, obviously, didn’t get any worse. I just got bad at understanding him. I try to shoot him a smile. “I’m rusty. Be patient with me.” 

I’ll get better, with time. Although it seems like we don’t have much of that, do we?

That look in his eyes mostly dissipates, and he nudges the chair closer until our knees bump, causing his left leg to jump off the footplate, taking a few long seconds to settle down again.

“New ride, uh?” I ask, touching the unused right armrest, where his tightly bent elbow sits. It’s a modern, motorized chair that he can steer himself and seems to accommodate his body a lot better than the one of our childhood. “I think I like it better than that old chair I used to push you around in. I did drop you a lot.” I look down. “Though you did deserve it.”

He laughs, that slightly strangled, familiar laugh, and I feel my heart resting a little, in a way, but also doing its own kind of dance inside my chest. I place my hand on top of his, pressing it as it twitches. “I really missed you, Craven.”

“Me too.”

At least that’s what I think he says.




COLIN

I almost forgot the way she moved.

Like every movement has a purpose, like even the slightest flicker of her hands are light, calculated, choreographed. A feather and a swan and… a ballerina. 

We stay in the library together a long time, and even though I don’t want her to walk between the shelves, away from my reach and my sight, I’m curious and eager to watch her gracefully move to replace the books she’s apparently given up on reading. Mary. Mary

After the initial stupor of seeing each other, I’m reminded once again of how strangely fluidly our conversations used to flow; even back when she could understand me, talking wasn’t easy and I’ve always been perfectly happy to sit and listen. With Mary, if I’m silent, she can read me like no one else, and it hasn’t gone away—our talk is never one-sided, so when my eyebrows chime in, she acknowledges them, pitches in her own voice the questions I’m asking in my head and the remarks I’m making with my expression, fills in the gaps when needed, instinctively aware like she could read my mind. She does that now.

Mary talks about the last season, about her italian flatmates, about ballet. The dancing, travelling and lockdown, asking and then deducing that I must have been here through the worst of it because of how conveniently removed from society it is. Still, she doesn’t talk much about her life. My tongue is stuck inside my mouth with its stupidly heavy muscles, and I sort of regret that, because despite knowing me and allowing me to participate in the conversation, in a way, she’s leading it  in a very safe fashion. I want to ask the important questions, to press, to talk

“London.” I say. I hope to god she understands me, and after I repeat it for the third time, it’s like a lightbulb turns on inside her head.

“Oh, London. I haven’t been there in a while.” She says, propping one leg over the armchair armrest, her head falling back as her eyes travel. “We did Giselle there a few years ago, with the Royal. It’s—magnificent. I got a solo.”

Her eyes are glistening. I urge my tongue to obey. “I know.” I say.

She frowns. “You-know?”guessing the word. I nod. “How? I didn’t see you.” I was in the balcony. “You must have been on the balconies.” I smile. “Why didn’t you…?”

I shrug. There’s a lot I want to tell her, a lot that I can’t say, and not because she wouldn’t understand me. I don’t tell her that I was there every night that season. That I saw her night after night and that I had flowers delivered night after night after night.

Later in my room, as Tim gets me ready to bed, I’m too busy thinking about Mary to attempt to help him. Instead, I trust that he can get it done himself—it’s not like I’m much help, anyways. I would bet that he doesn’t even notice that I’m not trying today. He can move me effortlessly, and struggles only with getting my right arm through the sleeve, as per usual, and doesn’t fail to mention for the millionth time this week that we must get a botox appointment soon. I don't bother telling him that I suspect the botox shots aren't doing much for my contractures anymore—we knew that day would come.

“Is that the ballerina?” He asks as I’m leaning against his shoulder so he can slip my pyjama pants on while still in my chair. I mumble yes. “I wasn’t sure, since I was holding the binoculars to your face the most of the time.”

“You delivered the roses.” I say as soon as he leans me back.

“She was very different then.” 

“It must be the stage makeup.”

He shrugs, like that’s not it. I give him a curious look, but he doesn’t elaborate any further.

Once I’m fully dressed, I move to the bathroom and Tim brushes my teeth as I passively look in the mirror and think, then he holds me forward so I can spit. His hand grazes my chin as he cleans it with a wet cloth. “Do you want a shave?” He asks.

The mirror is low enough that I can  keep looking at my reflection. The light shadow is growing on me—clean shaven, I look too much like my father. He would disapprove of this, as I don’t think he ever could grow one, or for that matter, any hair whatsoever, so when I hit fifteen and got the first hints of a beard, he had my aides shave me every morning for years. Deep inside, I believe it had more to do with him not being able to deal with me looking like a real man than anything else. It made it easier, for him, if I resembled a child. But I remind myself that I call the shots now. 

“No.” I say, taking the reins of control over my body, even if it’s for something as stupid as facial hair. Maybe I’ll want a moustache, a goatee, a full late 1800s type of beard, maybe I’ll prefer it smooth, but either way, it's up to me. Right now, I like it the way it is.

Tim wordlessly complies and wraps up my night routine, transferring me to bed in a single effortless lift, and props me against the many pillows. I release a heavy sigh with the position and gravity switch, relieving my crooked spine off my own weight, making it a little easier to breathe. Sensing this, he places a hand on my hip and adjusts it so that I’m not so curled up. “Is that good?” He asks me, adjusting the blankets, and I nod. I could purr in satisfaction.

“What did you mean by that?” I ask, finally. Referring back to Mary and to what Tim had seemed to find strange about her, then and now. Tim looks confused, so I add. "Mary."

“Nothing in particular.” He shrugs. I shift my head to give him a look. “She looked sick back in London. Comparatively. That’s all.”

I wonder exactly what that means, knowing it’s my own damn fault for not taking a look myself, for staying in the balconies and not even bother with signing the flower cards. For being a coward. I let my head fall back against the pillow.

Before Tim turns off the lights and walks away to the sitting room, where we’ve set up a bed years ago, he asks: “Is that why we came here on such short notice?”

I don’t answer. He knows it is.


16 comments:

  1. Thank you, I love the story. Please continue.

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  2. I looove the beard bit so much 🥺🥺

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  3. I love the story, please write more chapters. 😊

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  4. I love this so much.

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  5. Great start, and now I am waiting for more! /Nessy

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  6. Holy shit, what an awesome surprise! Such a great start, I'm eagerly waiting for more!! Love your writing.

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    1. That's an awesome compliment coming from you! I love your high quad/cp stories and they totally inspire me. Thank you!

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  7. Lovely. Love it so far.
    Jeanie

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  8. I remember loving the Secret Garden so much, and also thinking about Colin later in life. I wrote a polyamorous story with Colin (who had CP), Mary and Dickon, but never did anything with it. This was a pleasure to read and I hope you’ll write more!

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    1. Wow! You should totally publish it, I would absolutely read it. I could never get over Colin not having actual CP and had strong feelings about him not being a disabled character, as a kid I just ignored that ending lol

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