Photo prompt: Wall – Tamara Rogers

Growing Pains

My garden started just like they all do, an empty landscape filled with nothing but potential. I don’t remember the first thing that took root there, but I do remember how quickly the space filled up. The soil was rich and fertile, the sun never stopped shining. No effort was required to nurture those early seeds, it was as if they grew themselves. Every flower was the first of it’s kind, a new experience to be cherished. I stopped to savour each one, to admire the colours, the textures, the delicate scents. Each flower was individually beautiful, but together they formed my very own tapestry, a landscape unlike any other. I spent a great deal of time wandering, enjoying my various creations.

As with all young things I took this entirely for granted. I was enthusiastic and limber, keen to expand my gardens, to push past the boundaries that had been so carefully laid out for me. I tired of the seeds I had been given, they no longer held my attention. I tried new arrangements, new combinations, new designs, but over time each lost their lustre. I ached to try new things.

For a time I was sated by travel. I would trek to far away places and leave with handfuls of exotic seeds. I wove these throughout my garden. They were my centre pieces. I would talk about them to anyone that would listen. They complemented my existing arrangements, made me see them in a whole new light. My garden was entrancing once more, but I still felt as if something was missing.

It wasn’t the garden which proved to be my downfall, it was the walls. I misunderstood their purpose. I assumed they were there to contain me, an impenetrable barrier designed to keep me in check. I stared at them for hours, imagining what lay beyond. I was sure it was nirvana, something new to experience, something to fill the ever growing void.

I scratched at the bricks, poked holes in the mortar, desperate to catch a glimpse of something new. It never occurred to me that what lay beyond might be dangerous. I was foolish enough to believe I was invincible. Over time the wall became unstable, the foundations corroded. The next time I pushed against it, the bricks came tumbling down. I stared at the gap with a mixture of fear and excitement, but I wasn’t yet ready to step through. I built a gate to plug the hole. I told myself I would only venture outside on special occasions. I forgot that gates open both ways.

My first trip outside was unforgettable. I was right, those walls had constrained me, strangling my potential. Now I was free. I discovered illicit chemicals with the amazing ability to transform my once familiar space. My flowers bloomed beyond anything I had ever seen. Their scents became intoxicating. My garden changed completely. It stopped being a place I simply visited and became my sanctuary, my little piece of Heaven. I spent all my days there, locked inside a prison of my own creation. A prison with no walls. I never wanted to leave.

The chemicals brought with them unwanted intruders. I remember that first weed, the ugly green blemish on my otherwise perfect garden. I tore it from the soil without a second thought. The next day there were two in its place. Within months I could barely keep up. I spent more time protecting my existing designs than planting new ones. My precious garden began to contract. My body ached from the effort of constant battle. I was no longer young. How did I let this happen?

In a panic I stopped using the chemicals. I naively believed that my garden would revert back to a pure state, that it would once again become one with nature. That didn’t happen. Instead my flowers began to wither and die. The soil was no longer fertile, it was poisoned. The sun had dipped, now there were only storm clouds in the sky. New seeds refused to take hold, they would sit on the dry barren earth until the wind carried them away. Weeds were the only thing that grew. My garden slowly transformed into a nightmare. There was no escape.

I stared at the gate, contemplating running through it and never coming back. I’d leave behind what little colour I had left for that endless dark horizon. I came close, I stared at the bottle of pills and mentally counted them out. How many to break down the walls entirely and let the storm in forever? How many to be certain?

It’s at my lowest moment that the phone rings. It’s an old friend, checking to see how I am. They’ve heard about my drug problem and want to help. I barely remember their voice, those memories are overgrown, lost to the weeds. So much of my minds garden is in a state of disrepair, but somewhere behind the clouds a single ray of sunlight breaks through. The flowers turn towards it, drinking in the warmth. I am reminded of the former glory, the tapestry of memories that I had cultivated. I was never happy with them before, they always felt incomplete, but now I appreciate their beauty. My friend asks if I would like to grab a coffee and I agree before I can stop myself.

It will take hard work and effort to rebuild the walls. I understand now that there are no shortcuts. I need to get my hands dirty and work the soil. There’s still space for new memories, I’m not done yet. I won’t be taken by the storm, I’m going to use it. I have finally realized the truth. A garden needs both sunshine and rain to truly flourish.

This story originally appeared in The Flashdogs Solstice Dark anthology. The newest Flashdogs anthology – Time is available now.