Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Three Short Stories Featuring Gardens

Title: Broken Glass
Author: Sabina Murray
Where I Read It: Manila Noir

"Now you go play, and when you think you know what happened to that man, the one that flew straight down, you come and tell us, okay?"
In "Broken Glass," a huge backyard, some of it laid out in neat gardens, other parts of it wilder, reflects the characters' social terrain. A young girl named Angela lives in a walled-off wealthy neighborhood in Manila. On a visit to her aunt's home, she hears her mom and aunts discussing an attempted break-in the night before. A security guard apparently shot the intruder as he was scaling a perimeter wall, but it isn't clear where the body is.

Angela goes out to play on her aunt's property. Along with clear paths she can easily follow, there are also sections - especially farther from the house - that remain overgrown and untended. She encounters different domestic employees who, like the gardens, give her safe assurances mixed with hints of danger. They're obliged to treat Angela well, but they also refer to dark things that Angela is too young and sheltered to understand. By the end of the story, she's a little less sheltered, and her safety feels more precarious. I like how the author shows the subtle destabilizing shift in the girl's life.

Title: The Flower Garden
Author: David Guterson
Where I Read It: The Garden of Reading

A teenaged boy is torn between two dreams: continuing to be with a girl he loves, and playing baseball. He feels the intense promise of both. He helps the girl with her garden, and when he's with her there, he believes their love will last forever. But then he heads to baseball practice, and the girl feels less real to him than the dream of trying out for a professional team.

The story starts in a golden haze of summer, when he's 17-years-old and eyed with wistfulness and nostalgia by the old people in his neighborhood. He's a world apart from these older people, though by the story's end he's taken a significant step towards them, with his young dreams crumbling. At one point, in winter this time, he revisits the garden. The story seems to ask whether a relationship (or someone's dreams) can survive that killing blast of winter, whether there's enough faith in spring and renewal.

Title: The Garden of Time
Author: J.G. Ballard (James Graham Ballard)
Where I Read It: The Garden of Reading

A husband and wife live in an elegant estate with beautiful gardens. On the horizon, a horde of people approach. The husband slips into the garden and plucks a blossom off a special kind of flower. The horde falls back. Every time they get closer, he picks another blossom. Each blossom stops time, for a short while. The horde can't overrun the estate, tearing it apart, as long as there are enough of these special flowers in the garden. There's a sense that the aristocratic couple live in a magic bubble of time, and that the horde outside inhabits a different time altogether. Soon, the aristocrats will run out of flowers, their bubble will burst, and the life they've cultivated in it will end once and for all.

This husband and wife face each day with resolution, going about their lovely routines, even when they know their efforts are futile. The story's poignancy comes from the desire to see that beautiful bubble stretch out for longer. But they can't stop time and forever live as if threats to their way of life don't exist. The most they can enjoy is a temporary reprieve. No new flowers are growing in their garden. It isn't a fruitful place. As beautiful as it is, it may also be stagnant. There is no permanence compatible with mortal life, and any change, whether it's considered good or not, goes hand-in-hand with destruction of some kind. The husband and wife can see no way to either directly confront the horde or adapt to any of the changes coming. The state of permanence they achieve in the end is a frozenness without possibility of growth; they're still beyond reach from the horde, but their time is past. They can only exist as reminders for people who care to look closely.

2 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

There does seem to be something about gardens and literature. There are so many examples that I can think of where they are included in stories.

All these stories sound good. in particular The Flower Garden sounds very meaningful.

HKatz said...

Gardens are a potent source of symbols and metaphors :)