BY SJ BUDD
Overnight the garden had perceptibly shifted, even Marilyn with her city eyes could see that. Betwixt the falling of twilight and the lifting of dusk the garden had taken on a luminosity of green, so bright it seemed to vibrate with joy. A shade of green that possessed a wild and savage nature in servitude to no one. Marilyn almost dropped her morning cup of coffee. It seemed to her that the garden had travelled back in time to a primordial state of being.
In the centre of the garden stood a large round green mound that had not been there before. All the border plants and trees leaned in salute to pay homage. Just last night nothing was awry and it was all due to the strange lady at the end of Whitsand Cliffs.
Only Saturday morning and already it had been one hell of a weekend. Frank her husband had suffered a brief lapse of secrecy and whilst looking through his texts as he showered Marilyn finally had the proof that he was having an affair. When that moment came she did not break asunder with rage but simply breathed in and out. It was all she could do. Quickly she took their dog and ran out of the house and along the cliffs of Whitsand Bay.
Marilyn had felt for some time that she was losing him. Her fingers trembled and her mouth felt dry and mechanical. To lose him completely would be unimaginable. He was everything to her. She couldn’t imagine a life without him. If he left her, it would be a mortal betrayal. But she smiled, she didn’t want to lose him. It wasn’t too late. She wasn’t going to give up. When she said her vows fifteen years ago she bloody well meant them.
Opposite Tregantle Fort there was a lay-by where an ice cream van was permanently moored selling Cornish ice cream perfection to the tourists that came to worship the sun on the golden stretches of Whitsand Bay. That day there was another vendor; an elderly woman sat in an old wooden rocking chair. She knitted as she hummed with remarkably dexterous fingers and nodded as Marilyn approached.
“See anything you like?” The old woman enquired with narrowed eyes but thought better of asking Marilyn why there were such large tears streaming down her face on a bright and lovely day.
Marilyn smiled politely. She had never seen this woman before and saw behind her a brightly painted wooden caravan and a horse tethered in the shade. The woman was selling pot plant of small and intricate flowers which shimmied in unison along with the breeze.
At the back of her stock stood an unusual green plant. Sturdy looking, dependable and strong rather than pretty and attractive. Marilyn peered in closer and shook her head. Somehow she felt a strange affinity to that plant, that it represented herself. There was an embryonic connection that was being established. She felt for the name tag written on green ribbon tied around its stem – Wishing Plant.
“A wishing plant?” Marilyn mused out loud, “How much for that one?”
The old lady put down her knitting in her lap and eyed Marilyn carefully like a father judging whether a suitor was fit to take his daughter’s hand in marriage. “For you? It’s free.”
“Free?” Marilyn asked again. It was just as well for she had just realised she had not brought her handbag and purse with her.
“Free.” The old lady announced reaching across to place the wishing plant in Marilyn’s hand. As she did so she squeezed her fingers and winked.
Marilyn smiled touched deeply by the old lady’s kindness, “I must give you something in return else it’s not right.” Marilyn looked down and unhooked her necklace with a large green aventurine crystal pendant hanging down. “I hope you will accept this in return.”
“Blessed be my child,” the old woman smiled, “now be careful with that plant, and be careful with what you wish for.”
That evening her husband announced he was going out with friends and grew vague with the details when she gently pressed him. Marilyn kissed him before he left but there was no warmth there. Hadn’t been for some time but Marilyn was determined to turn that around. After all, he was still here even if he was behaving like a sulking, morose cat who wants to be free from its owner and live someplace else.
“That plant is hideous,” he grimaced seeing her gift on the dining table.
“I think it has a certain charm,” Marilyn replied brightly willing for him to look at her as she spoke.
“It’s a wishing plant,” Marilyn exclaimed, “be careful for what you wish for.” She called out as he left.
Finding herself alone Marilyn spent the evening in her beloved garden nursing a large glass of red wine. The wishing plant had been given a prime spot in her garden and she looked over it making sure it had everything it needed to thrive. Before she went to bed she made a wish.
“I wish for my husband to stay with me always, here in our family home.”
The next day Frank, her husband had also noticed the change in the garden.
“What the hell is that?” He stood by the patio doors scratching his head at the large mound that had risen in the centre of their lawn. His skin smelt of stale beer. He had gotten in long after Marilyn had fallen asleep and had slept on the sofa again.
“I have no idea, darling. Can I fix you some breakfast?” She touched his arm and managed not to respond when he seemed to recoil from her touch.
“No I’m going to bed, I have a terrible headache. Please don’t disturb me and try and see if there’s a gardener that can fix that mess.”
“Of course Frank.”
Marilyn stayed in all day for when he woke. She needed to be around for when he wanted to confess to her all the things he had done behind her back. She needed to keep him close to remind him of how they once were and how great things could be again.
Later she heard him talking on the phone in angry hushed tones, “Don’t call me. I told you. We’ve discussed this.”
Marilyn appeared at their bedroom door as he abruptly hid his phone under the bed covers and smiled weakly at her as she came in to sit beside him.
“Feeling any better?” She stroked his greying hair as he brushed her aside and got up to dress.
“Much better thanks.”
“I’m going out tonight,” Marilyn lied. “Sandra just called and asked if I wanted to go for a drink and see a film.”
“Oh right,” he smiled, “Well have fun don’t worry about coming back early. You enjoy yourself, it’s been ages since you’ve been out.”
Marilyn nodded and headed for the door.
“When do you expect to be back?” He had tried too hard to sound casual and Marilyn noted without comment the urgency in his voice.
“Very late,” she smiled, “Don’t wait up.”
Sandra hadn’t called and once she had driven out of their village she had nowhere to go. Once she would have been able to turn to Sandra in this time of need but it had been so long since she had last seen her. It didn’t seem right. Marilyn had dedicated all her free time to her husband and kids. But now the kids were grown up and gone and so too was the husband. How had she not been able to have foreseen this? Affairs were what happened in other marriages, she had been so careful.
With no plan B Marilyn had spent the evening parked in a car park listening to the car radio running up a large parking bill. Reluctantly she started up the engine and headed back home. She couldn’t live on the edge like this. She needed to know whether he was going to stay or not. No matter how much she wanted to pretend none of it was happening to her marriage.
There were lights on when she crept back home letting the car roll down the drive making no noise. She tip-toed back into the house. There, in the garden she saw them.
Frank stood in front of the wishing plant looking down hard as if searching. His lips moved softly as if in prayer before he was reluctantly dragged away.
They were acting like a pair of drunk teenagers and on closer inspection Frank’s young mistress could not have long been out of her teens. Just where on earth had he met her? Frank held his new love as he swung her around the garden singing love song after love song. He used to do that with Marilyn.
Marilyn watched them from the kitchen as they disappeared farther up the garden into the darkness out of sight. It was very quiet now. So quiet that when Marilyn slid out her favourite kitchen knife from the block it made a high-pitched ring. She followed them out feeling hatred in her heart.
She halted when she got to the wishing plant near the patio and slumped her shoulders. There was still love in her heart for Frank. She ducked down out of sight behind one of the chairs and slid the knife into the darkness away from her.
“I wish for my husband to be with who he truly loves.” She said with heavy resignation as she took herself off to bed.
That morning she woke up knowing things had changed. She could sense him gone and made her way downstairs where everything reminded her of him. The painting in the hall they had bought on their honeymoon. The crystal vase he had given her for a birthday present. There was a stirring breeze agitating the curtains and she noticed the patio doors had been left open.
Was he really gone? She walked out into the garden hugging her arms in the morning chill. Once it had been her haven, her sanctuary but he had violated her space with his younger lover. Oh how the young come to kill the old, she lamented. He had left her for someone younger still full of life and optimism. It was so cliché yet it happened time and time again yet every time it was a bitter shock for the deserted wife.
She noted the mound was risen, bloated almost. She laughed strangely the sight reminded her of a nature documentary where an anaconda in Brazil had eaten a dog, whole, in one big gobble. Frank would no doubt be displeased.
From the back of the garden she saw frantic movement of limbs and ran down finally ready to confront. But there was only one voice not two. Frank was nowhere to be seen. Only his young mistress remained desperately trying to shield her nakedness as Marilyn approached.
“Where is he?” Marilyn demanded feeling a surge of power. She saw the young woman’s dress, snatched it up and began to look for her knife.
“Please,” the girl wailed in a tone just like her teenage daughter used when she wanted her own way. Marilyn began to tear at the dress as the girl ran up and pushed Marilyn as she claimed back her dress.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” The girl sobbed seeing Marilyn fall hard to the patio. Quickly the girl put on her dress and helped her up.
“My plant,” Marilyn wailed pulling at her hair. It was completely destroyed. The stem was broken in half and already the plant took on a downcast air.
“I’ll buy you a new one,” the girl spoke quickly.
“This plant was special, and you’ve killed it.”
The young girl bowed her head slightly and wiped the tears away, “He’s cheated us both.” She exclaimed between sobs. “I honestly didn’t know he was married and I don’t know where he is now but please believe me when I say he broke up with me last night. He said he still loved you. That he couldn’t leave you even if he wanted to.” The young girl spat unable to hide her hurt and anger.
“Really?” Marilyn replied in a softer voice. The girl simply nodded and fled. Marilyn hoped that would be the last time she ever saw that girl.
Marilyn took herself to the hairdressers that day rather than cry. She was so much more than that silly little girl. They had history and she spent all day making herself look as good as she did when he first met her over twenty years ago at university.
When she returned that evening her husband was still gone. Yet it almost felt as if he had just been in the spot she was standing. She checked the end of the garden and that’s when she noticed that the mound too had gone, sunk back down to the subterranean depths. The garden had come back down to its normal state. It seemed drained of colour, something had been taken. She walked over to where the mound had once been and only a circle imprint remained. There was something at the centre, she could feel it but if she took out a spade to investigate Frank would be so cross. He had spent a lot of time and money perfecting his lawn.
The broken plant lay dead on the patio its leaves withered and shriveled. She cradled the broken thing with both hands as she carefully buried it in the soil still hopeful it would regrow one day.
That night she could not sleep for he had still not returned. He hadn’t run off for all his things including his phone were still here. Maybe he was taking the time to find the right words to apologise? She would wait for him, for as long as he needed and came to their bedroom window overlooking their garden.
Below in the darkness was a rough coagulating shadowy form standing in the centre of the circle, where the mound had once been. The form moved in a jerky fashion as if trying to break free of its invisible shackles reached up towards Marilyn’s open window with an outstretched hand grabbing in vain at her. Not knowing what to do or feel she stood watching for some time. She had her suspicions about that shadowy figure of who it had once been, but she had broken her promise.
“Now be careful with that plant,” the old lady warned, “be careful with what you wish for.”
S.J. Budd is a UK horror/dark fantasy author fascinated with all things out of the ordinary. Her works have previously appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, Siren's Call Ezine, Innersins, Bewildering Stories, Aphelion, Deadman's Tome, Shadows at the door, Danse Macabre Magazine and Blood Moon Rising. You can find out more about S.J. Budd by heading over to www.sjbudd.co.uk or following her on twitter @sjbuddj.