Garden of God
When I was short my grandfather told me that the world sits like a child staring at you with glass eyes. I had the sawed-off shotgun lying across the backseat and a trunk full of cocaine. The details of that truth sank into my neck. She was nestled in the passenger seat letting the low hum of a buck ten lull her down to a close sleep but she was still awake in her eyes. She’s good to have around for work. A woman never could do the world like me but I don’t wanna admit it really to anyone other than the Lord peering into my soul that she’s a better strength morally than I am. She had a baby that died. It came out dead. She carried it and the man took off and when the baby came dead she hated the world, but then she dealt with it like nothing I’d ever seen or thought possible. That’s around the time I thought she’d be good.
‘Once we step in we’re gonna have to let ‘em all know,’ she said.
I put my other hand on the steering wheel.
‘I’ll handle it,’ I said.
And afterwards, after we’d dumped the coke and got all the money and got the hell outta there without having to kill or get shot, we stopped at a motel on Route 6 and sat together on a cheap rug counting out money and it was almost like I loved her. I’d never thought that for the life of me but she sat there across from me counting that money and it was like the cash had no value and she was all there was. Her slender hands straightening out the cash and her hair hanging over it. It was something just to see that much pleasure animated onto her face. She looked beauty serene bliss and it rocked into me like an iron bar someone takes to your skull.
The whole town was in a tiff considering that pond is so valued. It freezes over in the winter and is where many learn how to skate. The pond is a point of nostalgia for the past, present, and future. People think about how their unborn kids will love the pond. During the summer it’s just as integral for swimming, so there was serious concern when it came out that getting near the pond made you hazy and woozy. Howard Matthews was one of the first to realize it. He stood beside the pond on a warm day and started to get blurry and couldn’t really see and the smells got worse and it was like he was standing in a strange chemical garden. Not that he’s been to whatever a chemical garden even is, or that he knows what it’s like to inhale chemicals, but that’s how he felt and it was bad and he left and told his wife and his best friend, Jeff, about the pond and Jeff honestly thought there might just be something wrong with Howard, but then Jeff went over to the pond and got woozy and felt lightheaded and had to sit down and then ran up the street and realized Howard was telling the truth.
I got locked down with the thought I needed to be hitched to a soldier ready for this world. Was told as a girl that I needed pigtails and breasts to make a head turn but I kept to thinking what it was about that television that never been announced. It came from the ground and the dust, that thing. It talks like a piece of furniture on speed but it ain’t got no real strength. I shut it off mostly. Mom never let me watch it anyway.
Terry asked me whether or not I lived for danger. Sounded to me like a guy trying real hard to puff his chest out. In my seeing things, it’s the people who talk like shit that don’t got nothing to show for it, but Terry was kind. He offered me a place to rest and not ‘cause he wanted to lay down next to me. He just had a face that I knew wasn’t sour. You can tell right away with some people right in their eyes and their jaw whether they’re kind.
I guess what he saw in me was I don’t scare too easy. When it really starts to roll and burn lots of people get such a feeling in them that they can’t even talk, never mind get through what the fuck it is you got going. I been around grown men when faced with it for real who cower and fall and can’t even move. It’s a feeling in my chest, I think, that I just don’t feel. It starts to move and the danger is real and it’s almost like I get calmer. More comfortable. Like when you see a little kid do something cute. Something opens up in me. Must come to me from a different time. Maybe one of my ancestors saw so much shit and was inured to it that it got passed down to me.
Terry had a real weird thing on the side of the coke and all that. Took on the task of disposing of tubs of shit that some company didn’t know how to do legally and paid him to do it. Asked if I wanted to help him out with that too. The money for that one is absurd, and I get the sense he doesn’t even need my help for it. You just dump these tubs of shit into ponds and parts of the beach no one ever goes. I think Terry gave me that gig just for the thanks of being around. The money for the coke is good but the stakes are high.
I asked him one time why he did all this. Why he didn’t just do things regular and make an honest living. We’d just finished with a pickup and had tons of cash and the coke was all gone. He was holding the shotgun. We were staying in a motel. He told me that he’d always been told by everyone in his life that a legit job was just as good as putting a gun in your mouth. He told me it took him so many years to realize that an honest living wasn’t actually suicide that it was too late. After he told me that he put the shotgun under the bed and asked if I felt like going to bed. I told him no, but that he could turn out the lights.
Far as I could see there wasn’t no reason for the pond to be acting up like that. If I’m gonna be totally honest I gotta admit that at the very start of all this, for one reason or another, I got to thinking this had to do with forces out of our control. Now, I have never had these kinds of thoughts. I mean, I think I’m fascinated by darkness just as much as the next person, for sure, but I’ve never seen something and jumped to the conclusion that the devil was at work, and I do have to say that’s what I jumped to the first time I went around there. Probably just because of stupid human things, really. It being at night and I’m over by the pond and all of a sudden you get sick like it’s a flu or something and you step away from the pond and you realize it’s the fucking pond that’s making you sick. Now, the thought didn’t last long, me thinking it was dark magic or something beyond us that was making the pond like that. The higher thinking part of my brain and thoughts jumped in pretty quick, and that’s really when I started thinking something much more sinister. Like being told as a kid that the perfection of the pyramids might be due to aliens orchestrating them, but then you get older and learn it was just slaves who did it. I started thinking that people were dumping shit into the pond. I spoke to the cops about it and they sorta laughed at me, which I didn’t fucking appreciate. I go all the way into the station, risk being seen talking to them, and they have the fucking gall just to brush it off like it’s nothing. Like they have anything else to concern themselves with. This town ain’t got shit going on so if you ask me, the pond being turned into a dump has got to be on the top of their priority list. They don’t fucking care.
After I spoke to the cops I was feeling down about the whole thing, kinda like I was a chump. I went over to my sister’s house unannounced and knocked on the door. She’s the type that makes everyone feel warm and welcome. She’s got her hands full now with three little ones running around, but she invited me right in and asked if I wanted to stay for dinner. I said no. Her husband is fine. He’s a good man but she wears the pants. Better she be in control of a man and make it her way than the other way around. That’s all I cared about with her marrying someone. That he’d respect her and treat her well. That’s kind of a thing you say, everyone says, but not too many actually believe. Some people are just plain evil in this world and care nothing about nobody other than themselves and it infects everything, really.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked my sister. Her name is Daisy.
So I explained to her what happened with the pond. She sat down and heard me out. Her eyes and the shape of her face reminded me of my mother. I even started to get emotional just looking at her about the way she reminded me of my mother and grandmother, even, and the world as it is and the way it gets passed down through the generations. I could feel my heart. It made me stronger, sitting there with her. It made me weak, too, for the moment feeling so emotional and vulnerable, but strong, too, knowing that when I left I was going to leave behind the fear that I’d brought to her house, and that she was providing me with something you only get from a person that loves you.
‘Monitor the pond,’ she said. ‘If you really think this, and it sounds like you do, and it also sounds like it’s the truth,’ she said, ‘then collect evidence and prove what you know.’
‘I just might,’ I said.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Louis, my sister’s husband.
‘I’ll tell you about it later,’ Daisy said.
‘You want some food?’ she asked. ‘Lou is making salmon.’
‘No, that’s fine,’ I said.
Her son Joshua came over to me. He’s two but he ain’t terrible. He throws tantrums, sure, but mostly he walks around in a very adult fashion, inspecting his world and trying to make sense of what’s at stake. He came over and looked me in the eye. He has a very stern look about him. Like he has a wisdom into the world that I really only thought you get with age, but looking at him, I guess, I have an understanding of what instinct really means. An animal knows how to care for her young because of lineage and the ones that came before her. She’s connected to the dead. They’re gone, most are gone, but their truths and discoveries are in our eyes. In our thoughts and hearts. It’s all passed down through the generations and I was thinking about this looking at little Joshua. He pointed up, and his mother grabbed him and raised him up to the ceiling and he touched it with his finger. Then she brought him down and held him close to her and kissed him on the cheek. That’s what she does, my sister. She lifts people up in that way.
I left her house knowing that I had to find something out. I left her place affirmed and as I left I was reminded of how sick the pond makes you feel.
Tonight been drinking heavy nonsense for the rejoice we got. All the cash. All the cash and the coke gone reimagine what our lives are like the two of us, the girl and me, and she be the woman by my side in the war we have. Don’t make no sense for us but it’s the challenge we got. Sky is out tonight in droves with stars.
‘Have you ever seen those stars?’ she asks me.
‘Have you ever been down so far that you thought you were gonna die?’ she asks, sitting down, falling, really, next to the pond.
‘Death is war,’ I say. ‘All war comes to men who challenge. Love is real, yeah,’ I say. ‘Love is part of me like my arm, but so is war. Two arms? War and love.’
‘War and love,’ she repeats, pulling down more liquor.
I’m holding a giant tub of shit. I start pouring it down into the pond.
‘Do you love anyone?’ she asks.
‘I love plenty,’ I say, the glub glub glub of this toxic shit ringing out into the night and rocking down through and into this pond.
‘Want me to grab one?’ she asks.
‘We only got this one tub tonight,’ I say.
That’s all I got to say. That’s all we gotta do. Just this one tub of shit.
‘I feel woozy,’ she says.
‘What?’ I ask.
She stands and stumbles and vomits on my shoe.
‘I gotta go to the car,’ she says, roaming.
I feel a little sick but it’s not terrible. She must not have as strong a stomach to this foulness as the tension when you stand with a gun in your hand and the ones you face have the same.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Huh? I ask.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ asks a voice. I can’t see too good across the pond.
‘Who’s there?’ I ask.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Who the fuck is there?’ I ask.
Their bodies are floating in the pond. He hobbles with the empty chemical container to Daisy’s house, wanting to talk with his sister about what to do. There’s blood all over him.
He’ll be tried, found guilty, and executed. Not enough proof for self-defense.
But the pond will improve. The pond is saved.
About the Author: Jake’s short stories have been published by Litro, Ginosko Literary Journal, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Pitkin Review, JCS Press, Soft Cartel, Eunoia Review, Calico Tiger and others. In August of 2016, The Flea Theater presented his play entitled Holy Moly and its tandem novel, A Country for Fibbing. Broadwayworld states “it marks the first time a play with a correlating novel have been simultaneously released in the United States.” His play The Devil is on the Loose with an Axe in Marshalltown was listed in Playbill’s ’13 Shows Not to Miss Off-Broadway August 1-16.’ In October 2017, he read at the College of Southern Maryland’s Connections Literary Series.
He is currently the Director of the Academic Advisement Center at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, where he also teaches in the English department. Jake earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College.