Mrs. Burch died in her sleep after living for one-hundred and two years. During her lifetime, she had survived the Great Depression, experienced the backlash of every twentieth century war, and barely missed the Titanic. She used to move around on a walker, but her mind ran marathons. Her thin fingers once played Chopin on her piano, and even her mistakes sounded like music. Though her body failed her daily, my wonderous neighbor fed life to her gardens every morning she crept out of bed.
Easter Sunday, her house was empty and dark, locked by the key of her caretaker. The car had been removed, and the shades inside prevented light from creeping in. Her piano had been arranged upon purchase that it be returned to the shop once Mrs. Burch died. For weeks, nobody went in or out the door, in front or behind her house. Except me.
I made my way down the stairs that led off her porch and entered the garden. It burst with the life of glorious, overwhelming webs of lush green vines. They hung in heavy strings from the looming pines and shingle roof. Her house was tucked into the corner of the woods under a canopy of wide oak branches. Behind it, dirt paths carved their way through Mountain Laurel and blood red Knock-Out Roses. Up from the ground popped scattered Lilies in orange and yellow dots, sending warm, sweet scents twirling around me.
I stepped onto the dirt pathway that preceded down a short hill, landing me in an intersection of more verging trails. I walked straight—all of them circled in on each other, so I knew I would not get lost.
Under the trees, moisture thickened the air. Its musty odor stuck to me and wrapped me in an earthy blanket. My attention shot upward to the clinks of a windchime somewhere above me. I followed the angelic sound, diverging from my path and taking one to my right. The shrubs started to change from their dense forest bushes to pale, airy strings.
A scene of jade and brick appeared before me. Bushes that had been taller than I drooped to the ground in short stems. My slow steps became softened by the moss that stretched over the brick walkway, almost like a welcome mat inviting me to Mrs. Burch’s backdoor. Though the air was stagnant, the petite butterfly windchime sang in a wind of its own.
Close as I was, the music it delivered seemed to have grown lighter in sound. I believed, on some level, the windchime was the garden’s last opportunity to hear Mrs. Burch’s life again through music: a lullaby kissing her flowers goodbye.
I pressed my face to the glass of her back door and peered inside. Clay pots sat on the concrete floor and on cheap shelves in the dark. The variation of deep and bright leafy vines intermingled with each other, knotting all the way down the wall. Only a woman like Mrs. Burch could grow a dozen healthy plants in a basement with hardly any natural light. I turned to walk away but stopped at the sight of her black wall lantern. A sparkling wet web, home to a microscopic spider, almost scared me out of my flip flops, but I stayed and watched the insect weaving his broken web. How easy it would have been to remove the scary spider from existence, but I chose not to; he belonged there more than I did.
The bricks disappeared as I walked up the trail, opening to a gravel semi-circle. A pair of white, iron chairs and a single little table sat against the edge of the gravel that bordered glossy Magnolia trees. Rocks crunched under my feet with each step until I took a seat. Despite the cold iron pressed against my legs and barely fitting between the arms of the gnome-sized chair, I took a moment to look around me.
Mrs. Burch’s life still gleamed behind her home. Light burst through the branches above in pale beams. They offered wide rings of illumination like nightlights in the day. The songs from the windchime must have flowed a different direction; here, every noise seemed to have quieted down. It was as if Mrs. Burch’s flowers had their heads bowed in mourning, the bugs and leaves silenced in farewell. Beside me, a skinny vine had slithered up and attached itself to the tree. I plucked a purple flower from it and placed it in the center of my palm. The petals began to weaken already, drooping, dying in my hand. I touched my fingertip to a petal, feeling its flawless velvet skin. Later, I would press it between the pages of my Bible.
I stood to leave. It was Easter, after all, and dinner would be starting soon. Back on the path, daylight brightened, warming my flesh as if I had been in a dark, wet cave this entire time. The trail opened, the bushes stopped, and no more flowers bloomed. The air no longer smelled like mist but crispy pine needles and dry mulch. I shot onto flat ground on the other side of the front yard. Then, stopped. A concrete plaque with brown words painted on it rested against a tree stump. “The Earth laughs in flowers,” it said.
Perhaps the garden had not been mourning. Rather, it was laughing in remembrance of Mrs. Burch, at her joy, and at her life.
M.M. Cochran is a YA writer and author of Between the Ocean and the Stars (summer 2022). With an educational background in English and creative writing, she has worked in the journalism industry, as well as the agenting and publishing industry, and she is currently a freelance book editor for her service, Elegant Editing. Now pursuing a career in publishing and becoming a full-time novelist, she spends most of her time editing and writing in her novels. Meanwhile, you can find M.M. collecting coffee mugs or slipping into an oversized sweater, wishing for a white winter.
Featured Image by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels